“See the ball, hit the ball” is how Pete Rose described his amazing ability to hit the baseball with consistency. Ted Williams' vision was tested by tarring a bat – he hit 10 balls and 7 out of 10 times he could tell you where he hit on the ball, be it above the seam, below the seam etc. Wesley Walker of the New York Jets, an all-pro receiver is blind in his left eye, thus lacks true depth perception. Every sport taxes different visual skills of the athlete, whether amateur or professional. It would be incorrect to say that the athlete with the better vision will play better in every instance, as Mr. Walker has shown. So how might a better understanding of our eyes and vision needs lead to increased sports performance?
A few years ago a father brought his high school age son to our practice. Let’s call the son Mike. Mike’s batting average had been dwindling, and the coach astutely recommended that Mikes parents look into vision as a possible cause. Mike aced our eye examination – both eyes could see better than 20/20 independently and together, his depth perception was perfect, his visual skills and reaction time were stellar and he had no problems reading print on a page. His school work was going well. The health of both eyes inside and out was perfect. At this point the average eye examination would end and the dwindling batting average may be attributed to a problem with confidence, stamina or one of many other factors. In this case however, the next step was to observe Mike in his batting stance. Mike was a righty. I noted that Mike had a prominent nose bridge. With Mike in batting stance and head turned toward the pitcher, the bridge of his nose was prominent enough that it interrupted the vision in his right eye. Mike seemed to be keeping his chin close to his right shoulder. The closer he held his chin to his right shoulder, the more of the line of sight of his right eye was blocked by the bridge of his nose. I then tested his eye dominance. It turns out that like most right handed batters Mike was right eye dominant. The eye the brain favored was blocked during hitting, and he was counting on the non-dominant eye alone to judge pitches. He was viewing the pitcher and the pitch with only his left eye. In essence, either because of his growth in the past year (he had put on 3 inches) or because of a general stance change, he was viewing the pitch with one eye, causing his depth perception to be decreased. I recommended the coach train him to keep his chin farther away from his right shoulder and as Mike got more comfortable, his batting average improved dramatically.
But time to switch sports. Basketball and tennis players might have perfect “acuity”, or 20/20 vision or better, but be unable to deliver the ball where they need to. This might be because acuity is important for static objects, but something called Dynamic Acuity is important for traveling objects. Dynamic Visual Acuity is acuity when viewing a moving target, or when ones body is in motion against or past a stationary target. If an athlete has good acuity but is missing shots, they might need help achieving better dynamic acuity. Peripheral vision is also a major factor in basketball – knowing where the ball is and where your opponents are on the opposite side of your body is a skill that an athlete can build to increase their performance. Football players are in need of a great range of visual skills that vary by position – the wide receiver must have great dynamic acuity, depth perception and hand eye coordination; offensive and defensive linemen must have excellent peripheral vision and quarterbacks must have all of the above including a great visual memory.
Swimmers can benefit from a relatively new technology called Orthokeratology. Also known as OrthoK or vision braces, it is a method which is used for people who need glasses or contact lenses so they can see perfectly without them without need for surgery. The OrthoK device looks and feels like a contact lens. The person puts it in their eye before bed and in most cases can remove it in the morning and go glasses and contact lens free for the entire day into the evening. If an athlete finds contact lenses uncomfortable, OrthoK can be a lifesaver. Swimmers are forced to leave glasses and contacts out and, if they’re lucky, have prescription goggles.
Marksmen and sharpshooters can increase contrast to shoot better, soccer players can increase eye-foot coordination, and golfers can benefit from eye-hand coordination help, acuity and stance improvements to maximize their game. Visual skills of many types are used by athletes to improve performance so if you are a professional athlete or weekend athlete, be sure to ask your optometrist about your vision status as it relates to your sport at your next eye examination.
Courtesy of the Doctors at Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care; Optometrists, Ophthalmologists and Opticians working together to help you see better. Serving the Rockville, Potomac and Gaithersburg Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC for over 40 years. For more information visit youreyesite.com or call (301) 670-1212.
For more information about the connection between sports and contact lenses, visit www.mycontactsports.com.