Pardon the pun, but all my work with this vision training specialist has really served to open my eyes!
The eye itself has a primary goal of shaping incoming stimulus into something that can be used by the brain. Simple visual patterns can be detected and converted to useable neural signals more quickly than complex visual patterns, the difference in processing time being between 80 milliseconds for simple images versus 260 milliseconds for complex images.
Quite obviously, the difference in processing time affects reaction time, which in turn can drastically affect sport performance.
An example of this would be the relatively simple visual nature of a fastball versus the more complex visual image of a curve ball.
Many baseball players, including major leaguers, can hit a fastball better than a curve ball – and this reality is directly proportionate to the visual complexity difference between those two pitches.
Within the context of sport, vision can be defined as reactive (the eyes will tell the athlete what they see), or inhibitory (the athlete tells the eyes what to look for). Vision is also thought of as learned.
The later point is a significant issue with regards to this article – while of course much of visual ability has a hereditary component, a great deal of research has shown that their exists a strong learning component to vision as well.
In fact, vision training is not unlike strength training in many ways. While playing football will certainly increase your strength, adjunct and specific strength training will increase your strength even more and contribute to you becoming a better football player.
Vision training can be looked at in the same way – specified visual skills can be improved through isolating and training them separately.
This is especially rewarding when an athlete has reached a limiting developmental threshold – the point at which playing the sport will no longer lead to specified visual improvements.
Visual sport skills:
Acuity – defined as the sharpness of a visual image. Static acuity refers to the ability to see while stationary (as in golf).
Dynamic acuity refers to the ability to see while the athlete, or the perceived object, is moving. Tracking ability (i.e. ‘locating’ a fly ball) and reaction time (i.e. committing to swinging at a pitch) are both aided by good acuity.
Accommodation – defined as the ability to change focus rapidly from one point to another. This is crucial in ‘quick’ sports such as basketball, in which the athlete must be able to focus on the ball, teammates, opponents and the basket at the same time.
Central Field Awareness – defined as the ability see what is directly in front. This can also be likened to ‘fixation’ – a tennis player, for example, will shift focus from near to far within the central field and concurrently be able to fixate on the ball and subsequently, where they hit the ball.
Eye Tracking – defined as the ability to follow the path of the moving object. While tracking particularly fast objects (such as tennis serves and baseball pitches) the eye goes through an involuntary, jerky movement known as a saccade.
Eye-Hand-Foot Coordination – defined as the ability of the visual system to guide the motor system efficiently.