By Dr. Elise Brisco
Can seeing better really improve your game? The answer is a resounding “yes”! Vision tells you where the ball is, when to react to it, and gives you feedback on the accuracy of your hand and body movements.
Symptoms of a vision problem that may appear in any sport include:
- Frequently missing easy plays
- Poor timing
- Poor eye hand coordination
- Inconsistent performance from game to game
- Difficulty playing under lights indoors or outdoors
There are also symptoms related to specific sports. Tennis players, for example, may have a vision problem if they consistently have difficulty hitting certain strokes inside the baseline, miss a lot of serves, hit the wood of the racquet excessively, or consistently swing too early or too late. In baseball or softball, poor vision can lead to frequently striking out, swinging too early or too late, or difficulty fielding the ball.
A special “thank you” to Dr. Brisco and the staff who helped me in transitioning through a medical challenge. Knowing you are there for me gave me extra strength to continue my fight. God bless!
– Patricia A.
How does vision interfere with sports performance? Let’s start with the basics. You cannot catch or hit what you cannot see. Crisp vision also helps you locate the ball, read your teammate’s or opponent’s eyes, and sight the hole in golf. Ron Wilson, former coach of the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, once told me that he scored 4 goals during the first game that he wore contact lenses because he saw so much more clearly and accurately! Previously, because of his uncorrected myopia, the goalie’s net looked larger to him, which threw off his shots. Because of his experience, Ron encouraged his players to consult with me for vision care when I was the Team Optometrist for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
Vision also affects your speed of reaction time, timing, and ability to judge direction and distance. Information received through the eyes tells you when to swing a bat or racquet, which direction to hit the golf ball, and how far to shoot a basketball. If your eyes don’t track well, you’ll lose sight of the ball or puck. If your eyes don’t coordinate well, depth perception and timing are adversely affected. If your eye-hand coordination is slightly off, you’ll have difficulty catching, throwing or hitting with precision.
Spectators or coaches who notice one or more of the above symptoms should suggest that the athlete have a thorough examination of eye health, visual acuity, and the various visual skills important to athletic performance.
Professional and Olympic athletes usually have better visual skills than the average person, but at a highly competitive level, superior visual skills make a difference. When I evaluated athletes at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, I was impressed that other countries also train their athletes to improve visual skills such as tracking, focusing and eye muscle coordination. Even sports such as diving and boxing use Vision Therapy to help their athletes’ sight targets more accurately, and to react more quickly to a visual stimulus.
I was proud that the Sports Vision Training equipment and techniques that we use in the United States are more advanced than most other countries. The Sports Vision Training that I used with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim hockey players is also used by the U.S. Olympic athletes who train in Colorado Springs, as well as by many professional franchises in the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB.
Optometrists who specialize in the field of Sports Vision continue to develop ways to improve athletes’ visual skills to support game performance. This is a field that is in its infancy, but will grow as more athletes benefit from enhanced visual skills.
Dr. Brisco sparring with a boxer from Ecuador at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA.
Every year, nearly 44,000 people suffer sports-related eye injuries. The sports that cause most of these injuries are basketball, baseball, and racquet sports. But any sport with a projectile is considered a potential eye hazard.
To prevent sports eye injuries, athletes should use protective athletic eyewear whether or not a prescription is needed. Shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses must be used because it is the only material that will sufficiently protect your eyes from being injured if your glasses are hit.
Subtitle for sunglasses on the right: We offer Asian Fit sports and sunglasses especially designed to comfortably fit the bridge of Asian noses
Whatever the Sport, Eye Protection is a Must
Sports eyewear options include:
- Sports frames with features such as padded bridges, deep-grooved eye wires, (so lenses won’t fall out if the frame is hit hard), a face-formed shape for a wider field of view, and headband attachments to keep them in place.
- For convenience, prescription lenses can be put in ski goggles, scuba diving masks, or swim goggles.
- Protective eyewear that fits over glasses or contact lenses
- To minimize fogging, use anti-fog compounds on lenses, wear a sweatband, or use a towel to wipe away prescription. Frames with adjustable nose pads can also help.
Of the 35,000 Americans who suffer sports-related eye injuries each year, more than 90 percent could have prevented by practicing proper eye safety and protecting their eyes, the Better Vision Institute (BVI) says.
Good vision is as important to sports performance as good physical conditioning and consistent mental concentration.
Dr. Brisco at training camp with Long Beach Ice Dogs coach
For racquet sports, eye safety guard or industrial quality safety glasses are helpful. Helmets with eye shields are recommended for football and other contact sports. For high speed or contact sports such as skiing or hockey, polycarbonate (shatter-resistant) lenses and special frames are sturdy enough to protect the eyes from collision.
Sunglasses and protective goggles can protect the eyes from glare, ultraviolet rays and exposure to weather elements.
We can help your game by evaluating your visual skills related to your specific sport. Sports Vision Training can improve critical skills such as tracking the ball, depth perception, speed of visual reaction time, and eye hand coordination. We can also advise you on safety and sports eyewear for your favorite sport.