In most sports, you’ll never achieve your true potential if your eyes aren’t up to it. Peak athletic performance is not only due to extensive physical training and conditioning. Current research has shown that there is also a strong correlation between peak performance and excellent visual skills, making an athlete’s eyesight one of the most important pieces of equipment they have.
What many people do not know is that vision is more than 6/6 – it includes visual skills that can be improved. However, what all athletes need to start with is a comprehensive eye examination. This will enable the optometrist to assess the eye health and determine whether the athlete requires a vision correction.
As stated previously, vision is more than 6/6 – a good vision level may not necessarily mean that the athlete has an efficient and accurate visual system as there are a number of important visual skills that can affect how well you compete in your chosen sport.
In order to assess the athlete’s visual system as a whole, the optometrist can then perform a number of tests which may include:
- Dynamic Visual Acuity– the ability to see objects clearly while either the test target or the observer is in motion.
- Focusing and tracking – These are two separate skills but are inseparable as they must work together to achieve good, clear vision. An example of this is “keeping your eye on the ball”. This requires both the ability to change focus instantaneously as objects move closer to or further away from you (accommodation), as well as the ability to keep both eyes working in unison as they track rapidly moving objects (convergence/divergence).
- Peripheral Awareness – the ability to see people and objects “out of the corner of your eye” while concentrating on a fixed point. You do not see things in the same way that you see something in front of you, but rather you simply become aware of someone or something on your left or right.
- Fusions and Flexibility Stamina – being able to keep both eyes working together, even under high speed and physically stressful conditions.
- Eye-hand and body coordination – the eyes lead the body, not the other way around. The visual system leads the motor system. Our hands or feet or body respond to the information the eyes have sent to the brain. If this information is incorrect, even to the slightest degree, there is a good chance that we will make a mistake in our physical response.
- Visual concentration – ability to maintain a high level of focus on a key target or objective for increased awareness and fewer distractions.
- Depth Perception – Both eyes working together gives us the ability to judge the distance, the speed and the revolution of objects in space. Poor eye teaming can cause your eyes to misjudge the precise distance of your target, which in turn will cause your brain to misjudge the correct distance.
- Visualization – the ability to picture events with your mind’s eye or imagination. Relates to remembering plays, court position, planning future action.
Many studies show that professional athletes have much better visual skills than non-athletes. Tests conducted on athletes reveal they often have greater depth perception or better eye-hand coordination. They often have a finely-tuned visual system which helps them learn to anticipate and respond more quickly to complex visual conditions.
Professional athletes and their coaches have found that vision can play such an important part in sports performance. It may be the one thing that keeps a good athlete from being an exceptional one. And, conversely, it can be the all-important factor that pushes a good athlete into a category of excellence.