Sports Vision

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By Stephen Cohen, O.D. – 

“Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee. Your hands can’t hit what your eyes don’t see.”

Muhammad Ali’s words apply for all sports. Nothing happens until the eyes tell the brain to tell the muscles what to do. Most of us equate great vision with being able to see 20/20. Although this level of eyesight is the benchmark for visual performance, it is only one of several important factors and skills. Other significant skills include depth perception, visual reaction time, eye tracking and teaming and peripheral awareness. Each plays a vital role in not only seeing, but in judging position, movement, speed, action and response.

With athletic endeavors come injuries. It is estimated that about 100,000 sports-related eye injuries occur each year, with about one-third of these to children under the age of 16! In children’s hockey and baseball leagues that require protective eyewear, eye injuries drop by 90 percent! It is also imperative that, as parents, we make sure our children have UV protection while engaging in daytime outdoor sports. UV damage (e.g., cataracts) is cumulative, and may take decades to show up.

Vision correction options are numerous. Unlike glasses, contact lenses do not alter the perception of image size, can provide better peripheral vision and some contacts also have UV protection built in. There are new tinted contacts (often bright red or green) that enhance contrast and are being used by professional baseball players and golfers. For glasses wearers, there are lens materials that are 20 times stronger than regular lenses, and can withstand a ball traveling at 90 mph. Additionally, a polarized lens or a non-reflective coating can dramatically cut glare. Lastly, the glasses (e.g., bifocals) someone uses for normal activities may not be optimal for sports. Athletes spend a lot of time and money on specific equipment for sports, and then use a one size fits all approach to their eyewear. Sports glasses could make as significant difference in performance as other equipment.

Whether you’re a competitive athlete or a weekend warrior, thinking about your eyes and vision can help to take your game to the next level.

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