What is Sport Vision Training?

The modern athlete subjects themselves to all manners of physical training and development. Today on the blog Alex Titkov takes a look at how the development of muscles above the neck are becoming an increasing focus of athletic performance.

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When thoughts of working-out come to mind, we can imagine someone using the bench press or jogging on the treadmill. Either way, it’s usually something related to strength training or endurance training focusing on the muscles below the neck.

But in the goal to create well-rounded athletes, optometrists and sport psychologists have created some new approaches utilized by some professional and non-professional athletes alike to improve the mind and body through vision training.

Visually speaking, athletes tend to be more skilled than non-athletes due to the dynamic and unique nature of each sport outside of everyday life and its demands on a player’s focus and concentration. This may very well be a contributing factor to the success of goalkeepers from the U.S.A. and their persistence in the English Premier League having stated in previous interviews the variety of sports they played growing up. Even British goalkeeper David James spent some time in his off-season in 2003 training with the Miami Dolphins of the NFL.

Focus and concentration are nevertheless rather broad terms when it comes to visual skill which optometrists have allowed us a closer glance upon. Visual skills include: dynamic visual acuity--seeing objects clearly in motion, tracking-- keeping the eye on the ball, adaptive eye focus--alternating focus between near and far, peripheral vision--vision outside the center of focus, fusion flexibility & stamina--maintaining mutual eye function under various conditions, and depth perception--object speed and distance judgment.

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If we take a simple anatomical look at the eye, attached to the sclera are six muscles that control each eye’s movements. Though these are less evident to us when we think of muscle training, optometrists say these muscles, like the rest of our muscles, are no strangers to training and enhancement. Such training can improve accuracy in passing and shooting as well as the ability to better stop and save shots from free-kicks and penalty-kicks.

Sport Vision Enhancement Options

There are tech assisted and non-tech techniques available to athletes and clubs. The tech assisted techniques come in the form of Sport Vision Training simulations run by optometrists, devices like the EyePort, and by non-tech techniques delivered by sport psychologists called ‘the Quiet Eye’.

Some sport vision clinics in North America have established specially tailored programs for athletes that improve skills like hand-eye coordination and reaction time. One such exercise, is demonstrated here.

It involves the athlete standing in front of a board with LED buttons that fire randomly and require the athlete to react as quickly as possible to them much like the “Whack-a-Mole” game at amusement parks. These programs have been used by MLB and NHL teams and professional golfers and volleyball players with noticeable improvements in performance.

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The EyePort is a device that improves aiming, tracking, and focusing through a series of programmed exercises involving lights, color, and sound which allows the user to experience an array of motions. It was developed by Dr. Jacob Liberman with a full explanation of his method available here.

One study using the EyePort, showed increased batting success of a Little League baseball team by 90%. The Eye Port has also assisted non-athletic populations like surgeons, pilots, police officers and helped individuals with attention deficit disorders like ADHD.

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The non-tech technique is called “the Quiet Eye” and is should be particularly interesting for those who may not have the budget for equipment like the EyePort or sessions at a vision clinic. The Quiet Eye method is very much “where you focus; the ball will go”. This is demonstrated here with eye tracking software.

The basic concept is that a footballer should focus momentarily on where they want to place the ball before they shoot; the best places being the top two corners of the goal. The BPS Research Digest Blog covers the study performed between two groups performing penalty kicks and resulting in greater success by the Quiet Eye group. Seems simple enough but as the BPS blog points out, many players focus on the goalkeeper instead or not at all if you take a look at Ashley Cole’s eye sight and Ashley Young's before they both missed for England this summer.

Sports clubs and athletes should definitely take to integrating this kind of training to improve athletic performance. Incorporating the latest research into professional sport is integral to success. Previous England coaches Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Capello should no longer consider penalty shootouts as a “lottery” or their practice as a “waste of time” but if practiced correctly, the odds may just finally lie on England’s side the next time around.

 

 

Follow Alex on Twitter: @alextitkov

And read more of his work at the EMSEP Sport and Exercise Psychology Blog