Swing And Miss Less With Vision Therapy, continued
Sports and the Visual Process, Part 2
A good sports vision therapy program (and in my experience any good vision therapy program) will help improve eye teaming/depth perception, speed, accuracy and flexibility of focusing, quality of eye movements, eye/hand coordination, reaction time peripheral awareness and visual acuity. That is certainly the case in my office. All of these aspects of the visual process are valuable for so much of what we do every day, including athletics. Working at a computer or at a desk, driving, preparing food, performing surgery…you name it; everything we do relies on our visual skills. And better visual skills pretty much guarantee better performance. But when it comes to sports there are few things more important than optimal visual ability. Most sports require split second timing and decision making. Good vision therapy enhances the speed and accuracy of visual information processing. This leads to faster and better decisions on the field, ice, court, etc.
I haven’t personally worked with professional athletes, but I have personally worked with hundreds of weekend warriors in many sports. I’ve also worked with many student athletes. I have not worked with many of these specifically for sports enhancement, but that has been a consistent area of improvement nonetheless. The most important thing to me is I’ve helped many children, who were not able to participate in any sport, begin to perform at an acceptable level – usually better than acceptable. These children and their parents were so happy to see this change take place.
I believe that participation in sports is important to young people for another, entirely different reason than the quality of their performance. I think most children would prefer to join in with their peers playing sports rather than feeling left out. I remember my own childhood and how sports came into play for me. I liked playing sports…or at least I wanted to. I was a skinny kid, with glasses but I could run fast and I was at least reasonably coordinated. However, I could not hit a baseball very well and I couldn’t catch one very well either. I was very inconsistent shooting a basketball as well. For football, I had just the right combination of fear and speed, which, if I got the ball in my hands, enabled me to be very elusive to tacklers. However, I remember constantly being frustrated by being picked close to last when teams were being made, either just playing for fun or picking teams in gym class. I thought I was better than that, but I really wasn’t. My athletic skills could not be counted on by the other kids, who after all wanted to win. I tried to get better as best I could but it never really happened.
I know now that the major obstacle to better athletic performance was my sub-standard visual abilities. I became nearsighted by the age of eight, but none of the doctors that examined me ever did anything besides examine the physical health of my eyes and paralyze my focusing muscles to avoid inconvenient responses while they attempted to prescribe lenses. (This is done routinely by using special eye drops that allegedly keep the focusing system in a steady state during the eye exam. These drops do not always work as assumed.) These doctors’ primary goal was to find what it would take to force me to read the bottom line on the chart.
What they all missed was the fact that my visual process was in turmoil. Based on what I later learned about my own visual process and what I have observed in thousands of people over the years, I can say with a high degree of certainty, that my eye teaming was substandard, my focusing unsteady and my eye movements of less than adequate quality to meet the demands of public education and generally being a child. I guarantee you that this is still happening every day in eye doctors’ offices everywhere. Standard eye exams continue to assess eye health and eyesight, which are very good things to evaluate, but they evaluate nothing else. The doctors who perform these exams continue to miss the bigger picture: eye movements, eye teaming, focusing, etc. These are the things that either serve our needs by enabling us to perform up to our potential, or they are obstacles limiting our comfort, our development and how well we swing a bat, a racquet, shoot a basket, catch a ball or navigate a balance beam.
Behavioral optometrists alone concern themselves with the development, in-depth assessment and enhancement of the visual process. Whether for enhanced academic performance, comfort and efficiency in the workplace and/or improved sports performance, vision therapy provided by behavioral optometrists is a scientifically sound, clinically-proven, time-tested approach to achieve these goals. If you play a sport and you want to give yourself a competitive edge most of your peers don’t even know exists, find yourself a behavioral optometrist who offers sports visual training aspects of vision therapy. But do it soon, before everyone else finds out about it.
Also, check out my colleague Dr. Genia Beasley – excellent behavioral optometrist and one-time basketball great at NC State:
Next time: Visual Development Shouldn’t Stop Until You Do