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The Vision Coach

Winning coaches are experts at breaking down sport skills, analyzing plays, and providing specific feedback to improve performance.  However, when it comes to vision, the advice often gets generalized to comments like “keep your eye on the ball”, or “focus on” a target.   Coaches have the right idea.  They want their athletes to be attentive and aware.

Most coaches understand that vision plays a fundamental role in overall performance.  However, vision is quite complex, and training the visual system requires an extensive understanding of the eyes, brain, and body. The complexity of vision may be one reason that vision training is often overlooked as a potential area of gaining the winning advantage.

Fortunately, eye doctors who train vision skills are in a unique position to help athletes achieve their championship goals. In recent years eye doctors have become sought after experts for athletes and teams that are looking for the winning edge. These specialized doctors have found their place among the coaching staff as the team’s, “vision coach”.  With specific optometric tools, these knowledgeable vision coach doctors can identify hidden visual weaknesses that may be hindering performance.  They also have training programs and high-tech equipment to train and improve critical sport-specific vision skills.

Vision coaches work with athletes to identify which vision skills are most important for their sport. The vision coach then provides specific vision exercises that improve those dominating visual skills.   Some common vision skills include visual tracking, focusing, peripheral awareness, contrast sensitivity, reaction time, depth perception, and visualization.  How these skills are used vary from sport to sport and from athlete to athlete.

When it comes to sports that involve tracking a fast-moving object, the object may be moving faster than the human eye can track. In other words, “keep your eye on the ball”, isn’t really possible. Even when the athlete tries to lock their vision on a target, their eye movements may lack precision.  Inaccuracies in eye movements can lead to miscalculations in the timing or spatial localization. These types of visual errors may lead to injury or cost the athlete the championship.  That’s why training supporting vision skills becomes so crucial.   Since athletes must make split-second decisions based on the information their eyes provide,  their visual system needs to be well-tuned.  When athletes have precise visual data, then their reactions can become more precise.

This idea that training vision for sports is being tested by researchers.  A new randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by Duke University, provided evidence that training visual skills have a positive outcome.  Their research with collegiate baseball players showed that vision training has a significant impact on improving batting performance. In the future, we may have more coaches getting their athletes connected to eye doctor vision coaches. This is a win-win for athletes and optometry.

References:

Appelbaum, G, et al. “Dynamic Vision Training Transfers Positively to Batting Performance Among Collegiate Baseball Batters.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 51, 2020, doi:10.1101/2020.02.12.945824.

- Patti Andrich, MA, OTR/L, COVT

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Patti Andrich will be giving a OEPF course educating optometrists and their staff on the topic of “Reflex Foundations for the Emergence & Rehabilitation of Vision.” The course information can be found here. You can also learn about reflex integration