Did you know that almost 80 percent of perceptual input in sports is visual? An athlete may have 20/20 vision, but this only means he can see an object clearly; it doesn’t mean he can tell where the object is in space, how fast it’s traveling, or whether it’s changing direction.
With sports vision therapy you can train your eye muscles to work better for you and enhance your performance—just as you would train your biceps. New methods focus solely on the eye muscles and retrain the way the brain processes visual imagery.
Sports Vision Enhancement Therapy
Sports vision enhancement therapy, or SVE, is a series of techniques and procedures that are used to train an individual’s eyes to work together with the body. Athletes in many different sports—in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL—use SVE to improve their performance. Many noted athletes have benefited from sports vision enhancement therapy, including Red Sox great Wade Boggs and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.
Sports vision enhancement therapy helps you to improve your peripheral vision, eye-hand coordination, and overall visual acuity. With the right therapist and the right program, you as an athlete can gain an edge over everyone else on the field.
What SVE Addresses
Training usually happens under the supervision of an SVE therapist, but if you’re hooked up with the right SVE therapist, he or she might be willing to make site visits on your practice field.
Here’s what the enhancement program targets:
Visual Acuity: It’s impossible to overstate the importance of seeing clearly when an object or player is in motion. SVE focuses on a player’s visual acuity and their ability to pick up visual cues and use them to their advantage.
Peripheral Vision: Peripheral vision is seeing out of the corners of your eyes. This is actually a very important skill that many athletes struggle with. Having good side vision enables a player to know where teammates, opponents, and balls, pucks, etc. are at all times.
Depth Perception: Athletes rely heavily on depth perception to quickly and accurately judge the distance and speed of objects and people on the field of play. Enhancing your depth perception can help you to react faster and more precisely in those crucial moments.
Visual Tracking: Visual tracking is the ability to follow a moving object easily, smoothly, and accurately with your eyes. With the help of a therapist, you can train your eyes to do this more effectively.
Visual Reaction Time: Your visual reaction time is the time you need to see and react to visual information, such as a ball coming at you full speed. This skill can be sharpened to a remarkable degree in a short period of time.
Visualization: Pretend you’re on a soccer team and your teammate is dribbling the ball. You begin running toward the goal, picturing your teammate passing you the ball and you scoring, all while your teammate is still dribbling around his opponents.
Your body movements tend to tune into what you’re concentrating on, so picturing where you want the ball to go can be helpful in increasing the chances that the ball will go where you want it to.
Therapists stress the importance of recognizing that everyone can improve their game if they routinely visualize their goal in their minds while using their eyes to concentrate on the ball.
Eye Hand Coordination: This is the ability to effectively coordinate your eyes and hands during a game. In some cases, eye-foot coordination can also be fine-tuned.
A great sports vision enhancement program can truly benefit you on and off the field. Excellent results can be achieved in a short time through dedication and practice. Depending on the sport you play, an SVE therapist can turn your ordinary game into an extraordinary game within months or even weeks by focusing on your particular needs. If you’re interested in gaining an edge over everyone else, and if you crave one-on-one training that benefits you as an individual, SVE could be for you.
Sports Vision Therapists
Find The Right Sports Vision Therapist
Many eye doctors will give you a referral if you ask for one. It’s also not a bad idea to ask your coaches if they use a specific eye doctor to treat the team—you want to make sure your eye doctor understands what an athlete needs.
Most sports vision specialists are optometrists, but some are ophthalmologists. An optometrist with expertise in sports vision can recommend proper eye wear and also design a vision therapy program to improve the visual skills you need for your sport.
The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD) are dedicated to the study of vision development in children. They also provide sports vision therapy to adults, although their main focus is on correcting childhood vision problems.
What Vision Therapists Offer
Sports vision therapists offer evaluations that are individually designed to improve sports vision skills. These evaluations go above and beyond the normal eye exam: They help to improve your eye-hand coordination, visual reaction time, focusing, eye teaming, peripheral awareness, tracking, and visualization skills. Certain locations offer programs that are designed to evaluate and enhance the visual skills of all types of athletes.
Some of these tests may include:
- A holographic light projection, displaying images in 3-D
- Computerized tests to measure your reactions
- Slides seen through a special viewer
- Actual on-field measuring of your reactions to various sports situations, meaning the therapist may attend your games to evaluate your vision performance first-hand
Agape Optometry Center offers a program called the Sports Vision Enhancement Program. This program includes protective eyewear, sport specific sunglasses, specialized contact lenses, and sports vision enhancement therapy. Here’s a brief description of each aspect of the program:
Protective Eyewear. This is for athletes who wear glasses when they are not playing. Prescription goggles can be customized to the individual.
Sport-Specific Sunglasses. Many sports are played indoors or at night, but most are played outdoors during the day, when the sun is shining. Sport-specific sunglasses are tinted according to which sport you play. For example, yellow or brown tint help to enhance contrast and can make it easier to see a ball against a bright afternoon sky or a field of grass.
Specialized Contact Lenses. These contacts have a larger design that drapes over the eye to provide greater stability. They can also be customized with tint. Brands include SportSight GP and Ciba ProSoft.
Orthokeratology is another option a sports vision therapist might choose for you. With Ortho-k you wear corrective, eye shaping contact lenses at night. The lenses allow you to go without contact lenses or eyeglass during the day, and they provide stable vision correction with unrestricted peripheral vision.
What Kinds of Athletes Sports Vision Therapists Treat
It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult or a child, or how many eye exams you undergo yearly. A sports vision therapist can treat any athlete who wants to improve their visual skills, especially players who struggle to concentrate, who are inconsistent in their performance, or who are affected by fatigue or game stress.
Sports Vision Tests and Evaluations
April is Sports Eye Safety Month, but many athletes don’t realize that maintaining sharp vision takes work all year long. That’s why we have sports vision therapy.
Eye training can be customized to suit the demands of specific sports, so baseball players receive training beneficial to baseball players, golfers receive training beneficial to golfers, and so on. An eye workout can be just as intense as a leg or arm workout in the gym, and sports vision testing and evaluation can mean the difference between just being competitive and having an edge over other players.
But not everyone thinks sports vision testing is important; currently there is no governmental support for this type of therapy. However, many universities, companies, and sports teams are now creating sports vision training programs for athletes.
Testing Points for Evaluating Athletes
With various tests, the therapist and athlete can evaluate the athlete’s performance and improvement. These tests are meant to evaluate athletes’ visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, depth perception, reaction time, and hand/eye coordination.
Tests therapists may utilize:
- Tracking fast moving lights
- Peg board
- 3-D computer imagery
- Random dot stereo testing
- Letter and sine wave contrast
- Computerized vision testing
Practicing tracking fast-moving lights can help to improve an athlete’s reaction time. Tapping sections of a pegboard as it lights up in different places (kind of like a Whack-a-Mole game) exercises hand/eye coordination, peripheral vision, timing, and accuracy of movement. Some therapists utilize a computer screen, displaying 3-D imagery to train depth perception.
Athletes whose vision is not 20/20 must use eyeglasses or contact lenses, and for these athletes, sports vision therapists use a form of testing called contrast sensitivity. Contrast sensitivity can be used many ways. For contact lens wearers, it’s used to determine which contact lens is most beneficial during play, and whether a toric lens or the spherical equivalent is better for the athlete during that time.
If an athlete performs outdoors, contrast sensitivity can be used to determine which sunglass tint and optics benefit the athlete most. Other factors such as glare also determine which sunglasses would help the athlete reach and preserve their best visual function during play.
Testing for Older Athletes
Although athletes young and old go through the same types of tests and evaluations, therapists take extra steps with older athletes. Since most “baby boomers” are now in the presbyopic age group, bifocal contact lenses are sought after more now than ever. These lenses affect the visual performance needed in sports of all kinds.
Contrast sensitivity testing can determine whether any loss in distance occurs with the bifocal lens. Older athletes particularly need to maximize visual acuity when going up against younger athletes, and contrast sensitivity testing is extremely beneficial.
They say that as we age, we are all destined to lose the precise vision we had as youngsters. Depth perception, hand/eye coordination, and reaction time are said to slow or deteriorate unless we take the proper steps to preserve our visual acuity.
Sports Lens Tint Guide
When performing outdoors, wearing tinted lenses is necessary to preserve one’s ability to focus and distinguish colors. But lighting and environmental conditions vary. This guide is intended to help athletes decide on lens tints.
Sunglass Tint Recommendations
All sports are different: Some are played indoors, while others are played outdoors. Some are at ground level, some are underground, some are underwater, and some are at high altitudes. With each sport comes a different set of environmental conditions.
Here is a breakdown of which lens tint is recommended while performing during various different sports.
Basketball: Basketball can be played indoors and outdoors. For indoor play clear lenses are recommended. There’s no need to worry about glare. For outdoor play grey or brown can be used to help reduce glare.
Baseball: Baseball is played outdoors on a green field and usually under a blue sky. Brown tint helps a player to spot the ball whether it’s on the ground or in the sky.
Golf: Like baseball, golf is played outdoors on a green field under a blue sky, although there are often trees in the player’s line of sight, as well as sand spots. Brown tint helps the player to identify the ball amid the green, blue, and tan colors.
Hiking: Hiking can be done at different altitudes. For lower altitudes, brown tint is best. For higher altitudes, dark grey is recommended.
Tennis: Tennis involves a bright yellow ball that’s moving very quickly. Orange, brown, and blue lenses help a tennis player see the yellow ball as it’s moving back and forth across the court.
Cycling: Like hiking, cycling can involve different altitudes, different seasons, and different times of the day. For low-light situations, yellow tint is best. Blue, brown, and amber tints help to increase contrast while on the road. Interchangeable lenses are perfect for longer rides.
Snow Sports: Amber is great at reducing glare and helping skiers and snowboarders see ice spots against the blue sky. Mirror coatings help reduce glare in bright conditions and are recommended on all tinted lenses.
Water Sports: Polarized grey and brown with mirror coatings help reduce glare while in and on the water. Hydrophic coatings are also recommended, but you’ll have to ask for this feature specifically.
Of course, these are only recommendations. An athlete’s personal preference will always determine what kind of lenses can best help them to perform better on the field of play.
If you play more than one sport, own a few pairs of sunglasses. Give yourself options, test them out, and figure out which one works best for you.
Always consider interchangeable lenses, too. This will reduce the amount of time you spend having frames fitted. One frame with several lenses will equal ultimate performance at any kind of sport.
Tinted Contact Lenses
Currently there are no contact lenses on the market that offer tint. However, you can ask your eye care professional if it’s possible for him or her to customize your contact lenses by adding tint. This customization is costly, but some companies can provide special tinting services for some brands of soft contact lenses.
Some brands of soft contact lenses offer UV (ultraviolet) protection. This can reduce glare and block the harmful rays of the sun while you’re enjoying outdoor sports. Unfortunately, the UV protection cannot be applied to the entire lens, but only to the area of your eye covered by the lens, leaving other parts of your eyes and the skin surrounding your eyes open to exposure. Because of this, it’s recommended that athletes who are involved in outdoor activities also wear tinted sunglasses.
LASIK and the Sports Advantage
Imagine how hard it would be for a non-athletic person to write a letter, drive to work, or surf the web with poor eyesight. Not being able to do your job or simple things around the house would definitely be a distraction.
Now imagine that you were an athlete who played sports as a career and depended on your eyes, and you needed glasses or contact lenses to see well. Wouldn’t you want to do whatever you could to help yourself see better? I’m talking about LASIK eye surgery.
LASIK eye surgery is a procedure that uses a laser to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. This can benefit athletes who suffer from more serious eye conditions while playing sports. Many athletes say it gives them the advantage they’ve always wanted.
The Sports Advantage of LASIK
LASIK surgery came around in 1997 and changed the way people viewed the world. Since then, athletes have been reaping the benefits of LASIK to help them see better and improve their game without the need of contact lenses or glasses, either of which could potentially harm their eyesight during game time.
Doctors say that LASIK helps the most when the player can’t see unless he or she wears contact lenses … and athletes who wear contact lenses while playing tend to experience irritation and discomfort. Besides, with all the physical activity involved in most sports, there’s a serious risk of injury involving contact lenses.
Still, there are some sports that don’t have any physical contact at all, such as golf, yet players still want and seek out LASIK. Tiger Woods was one of those players who got LASIK eye surgery. “For years I dealt with the hassles and frustrations of glasses and contacts. Then, I made the decision that changed my life.”
He goes on to say, “As a professional golfer my eyesight was just too important to risk. Some of my main competitors had LASIK and loved the results.” Tiger, like many other athletes, went to the TLC Laser Eye Center. “They provided me with the information that I needed and wanted to know. TLC answered all of my questions and helped me to be excited, not afraid of LASIK.”
Another prime example is the San Diego Chargers. Many key players on the team were having the surgery done, so the Chargers staff went so far as to appoint their own LASIK eye doctor to tend to all the players who were interested in stepping their game up a notch. Charger players say this has helped their visual acuity and depth perception and that they feel like it’s made a huge difference.
Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano (aka the Big Z) had recently begun a downward spiral in his pitching career. Most fans thought it was due to fatigue, but the Big Z knew it was something else. Then word got out that he was planning on having LASIK surgery performed at the start of spring training.
“My eyes have been bothering me for a while,” Zambrano said. “I have to take care of that—I have to see the strike zone good. It’s part of my job. I’m not blind. I have good vision. But there’s something wrong with my eye that has to be corrected.”
Is LASIK Safe for Athletes?
Research studies conducted by the US Military say that LASIK eye surgery carries little to no risk. Anyone who has the procedure done is told not to engage in any kind of physical activity for up to two weeks after the surgery, so as to allow the eyes time to heal and to prevent infections.
Numerous bacteria are found within the eyelashes and on the skin around the eye, and sweat from the forehead can contain bacteria that can easily wash into the eye. For this reason, bathing must be performed with caution after laser eye surgery so that water or other fluids do not enter the eye.
After a two-week healing period, most athletes who return to their sport report a large improvement, not only in their vision but in their overall performance. Some say it was the best idea they ever had and recommend it to anyone—not just athletes, but anyone who wants to improve their eyesight, depth perception, peripheral awareness, focus, and overall visual skills.
If you’re interested in LASIK surgery, search online or talk to your eye doctor. Take the next step and improve your life on and off the field.