What Do Young Athletes See?









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.



8 Responses

  1. Mitchell Lamm says:

    Wow, very interesting……would this apply to someone who plays a sport such as golf?

  2. Bobby says:

    Fantastic article! We use eye training in all of our athletic training programs here in Charlotte, NC. Eye training is applicable to all sports and the results are amazing!

  3. Don Ervin says:

    Wow, A great informative visualization, focus and re- focusing article, I was just communicating with a lady in St. Louis on this very subject which was about why hockey player shooters consistently hit the goalie instead of the open area around the goalie, Most, if not all sport movements fall into the categories you mention above, she writes very interesting articles in a hockey paper called “the HOCKEY STOP” which is distributed free of charge to ice rinks in Illinois and Missouri which also covers various other informative articles on hockey and fitness fitness etc. Basically a successful shooting score depends on whether the shooter is trained how to and can visualize his/her intended target which is an open net area around the goalie prior to actually shooting , #1.GET BLADE TO PUCK, CONTROL,” #2. LOOK AT, VISUALIZE” INTENDED TARGET,” “OPEN NET AROUND GOALIE,”#3. SHOOT” This whole shooting process is comprised with Focusing on puck control, re-focusing very quickly on intended target and shooting successfully to intended target, open area around. goalie. As you know what makes this shooting process so difficult is that on the initial refocusing from blade to puck control to immediately visualize one’s intended target and shut out all other objects, especially the goalie, one’s eyes will immediately focus on the goalie, one’s eyes immediately visualize the nearest largest object confronting one’s vision unless one is mind trained before hand to blot out the goalie etc. and immediately re-focus on one’s intended target, The very reason that makes visualizing and following a baseball coming out of a pitchers hand so difficult. To me the knowledge of and the mind training on how to focus and re-focus is most important in successful visualization. Any and all feed back is certainly welcome.
    Don Ervin

  4. Phil Hueston says:

    Once again, some great work on often overlooked topic, Brian!
    Interestingly enough, our own anecdotal evidence suggests that hand-eye and hand-foot-eye coordination improve faster when proper stimulus for their improvement is added to other stressor stimulus. For example, adding a HEC or HFEC aspect to an speed/agility drill or even a strength/power drill seems to shorten the development curve, provided you don’t overload the athlete.
    Simple example: we use a “biathlon” speed/agility drill. Carrying a small ball, lateral 2 step hurdles in one direction followed by a short sprint across to another set. Lateral 2 step hurdles in the other direction followed by a short, forward oriented speed ladder drill and a 3-5 yard sprint to a cone. The ball then is tossed at/through a standing tire. The drill is timed, and the kids get 1 second off their time for hitting the tire, 3 for getting the ball through. They also get assessed penalties for missed ladder squares, etc. Sooo…the speed/agility aspect is impacted by the HEC aspect, connecting the stressors. Just our 2 cents!
    Have fun and make it rock!
    Phil Hueston, IYCA YFS
    All-Star Sports Academy
    Toms River, NJ

  5. I am very familiar with visual training. I use a system called Eye Matrix its a chart of a series of many different balls with numbers and I have my athletes locate the balls as fast as they can at different distances each chart is different so they can’t memorize the charts. I also make a game out of it too a relay race to locate a number sequence detailed at the start. This has given my athletes a sharp eye on their game. Couldn’t help that one.

  6. Don Ervin says:

    Your visualization system sounds great, how can I acquire a copy of your chart and an explanation as to how your whole system basically works?
    Don Ervin

  7. Dr. Kwame M Brown says:

    The ultimate questions:

    1. Do we just incorporate this knowledge within the confines of our teaching?

    2. Do we start to institute specialized training techniques and technology?

    3. Does this carry enough of an effect size to be “worth it”? Even if there is a placebo effect, if the effect size is large enough, then it may be worth it. If not, whether it is proven or not, it isn’t worth it.

    4. What population of kids is this useful for?

    5. Are the results purely anecdotal (subject to the powers of suggestion and expectation), or are they accompanied by multiple peer-reviewed studies?

    I will be researching this as well and will give my thoughts soon based on the available research. Keep checking back.

  8. Dr. Kwame M. Brown says:

    You guys should read the following study, published in 1997

    An Assessment of the Efficacy of Sports Vision Training Programs
    Optometry and Vision Science 74 (8), 1997

    The authors of this article performed various analyses using visual training programs, with inexperienced athletes (in order to prevent the ceiling effect likely in experienced athletes who already have superior visual ability).

    What they found is: no increase in visual ability except that could be explained by test familiarity.

    In other words, not a significant improvement.

    I would say that this study points out a cautionary tale that I have spoken of often. Beware of “studies” reported by companies selling the product. I don’t think I need to say that’s a huge conflict of interest.

    Obviously, do what you want. But it is highly likely that any effect above and beyond athletic training and playing sports that you are seeing, in most kids, is due to development / power of suggestion (for you and for them).

    Again, I would say that just playing games with simple skills so that visual input could be more the focus (not a complex skill) would be in order here. You don’t need to buy some system, or contract with a visual trainer.

    That’s what this research shows anyway.

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