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Posted on 08-28-2013
Sports and the Visual Process
It’s probably not too difficult to imagine that the visual process is important in sports. Every sport or athletic activity I can think of (except pin the tail on the donkey and piñata) is played with the eyes open and looking at something. That’s the first clue. Many sports involve judging speed and distance, a major responsibility of the visual process. The importance of the visual process in sports becomes even clearer once you fully appreciate the idea that the primary purpose of the visual process is to direct action. It is also worth noting that the visual process is pervasive in human behavior. Though the average human spends more time reading than playing sports, the human visual process can easily be thought of as being designed more for things like sports than for things like reading.
The visual process is first and foremost a process that involves movement. It needs movement to develop properly, it needs movement to function properly and its primary purpose is creating purposeful, efficient movement. Sports performance requires accurate eye movements, good focusing ability and high-level eye teaming – three critical aspects of the visual process. A good athlete, particularly one involved in team sports, must also have excellent peripheral awareness as well fast reaction time and solid, consistently reliable eye/hand coordination.
It increasingly appears likely that the brain, rather than merely storing things – pictures and images – mainly stores movement patterns and movement sequences.
“Look at those eyes right there. They will look at the beam for as long as possible. She’s got to take them off right here. But they’re a big tool and if you don’t use them, you’re crazy.” Tim Daggett – 1984 Gold Medal gymnast – providing commentary on Gabby Douglas on the balance beam during her Gold Medal performance at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Much of what is called sports vision care is about providing clear eyesight and eye protection. I certainly agree that it is important to ensure that the eyes are properly protected from injury. That is a fairly simple matter these days as most sports, especially for younger people, require protective devices to shield the head and eyes from injury. And many such devices are readily available. For the most part these devices do an excellent job. Special impact resistant lens materials are used when glasses must be worn during sports activities. That is not the main focus of my practice. I am primarily concerned with the development of the visual process and the visual abilities mentioned above. This is achieved with vision therapy and more often than not, therapeutic lenses. These lenses are typically not needed or worn while the person in engaged in their chosen athletic activity, but as part of the vision therapy program.
Prescription sports goggles or contact lenses may be necessary to improve acuity. The prescription worn during the game might be different from that used for other activities. Many doctors insist that maximum distance acuity is the most important visual issue for optimal sports performance. I believe there are much more important visual abilities that affect performance in sports. Eye movements, eye teaming and focusing are all likely to improve with vision therapy. It seems that the quest for maximum distance acuity (almost always in the absence of vision therapy), via surgery, has caused considerable trouble for a few professional athletes who either had a major adjustment period or never recovered their old form after refractive surgery.
Sports such as hockey, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, volleyball, football, soccer and all racquet sports, demand good awareness of a large volume of space. Gymnastics, golf, bowling, even swimming and weightlifting can be positively affected by vision therapy. The more accurately aware a player is of the whole field of play the better his or her anticipation of things to come. The better the anticipation of things to come the faster and more successful will be the responses during athletic performance. Add to this increased speed of processing visual information and the ability to gather a greater amount of information at each moment as well as faster reaction time. All of these typically result from vision therapy. This typically provides a noticeable improvement in athletic performance.
Next time: Part 2 of Sports and the Visual Process: The Importance of Sports and the Importance of Vision Therapy in Sports Performance
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