Vision is composed of many skills (mechanical and cognitive). As exercise and practice can increase your athletic skills, they can also improve your vision skills.

When you miss an easy football pass or short putt, it may be that you are distracted by things that are happening around you. Our peripheral vision normally reacts to any change in our side field of vision., e.g. spectators, the competition. Visual Concentration is the ability to ignore these distractions and focused on the target.

To improve your concentration, practice a sport while a friend is making distracting motions. This exercises will help you remain looking at the target despite other movement around you.

When you are playing any sport with a fast moving ball, puck, it is important that you follow the ball or your opponent with minimal head motion. Smooth accurate Eye tracking is important in most sports. One way to improve eye tracking by placing a book balanced on your head while following the flight of a ball or video game.

Put a book on your head place a tennis ball inside of a Frisbee. Have the ball move in circles while following the ball. You can make this harder by replacing the tennis ball with a golf ball.

Eye-Hand-Body Coordination is how your hands, respond to what it sees. It affects both timing and body control. To improve your eye-hand-body coordination, try jumping up and down on a bed while someone tosses a tennis ball to you from a variety of unpredictable angles. Catch it then toss it back.

You can also pace a card-board “record” with target drawn on an old stereo turntable. Try to accurately touch the targets with a felt tip pen at speeds of 33, 45 and 78 rpm. As you improve, move the targets further out on the record.

When you making a fast break up the basketball court, running a play in football, or pitching a golf ball over a sand trap, you need to recall the image in your head. This is called visual memory.

To improve your visual memory, look briefly at a page of a magazine which contains a complicated picture or illustration, then turning the page and reconstruct the images from memory. When this becomes easy, wait 5 seconds (then 10, etc.) before starting to reconstruct the image.

Picture yourself hitting a perfect drive…long and right down the middle of the fairway. Picturing yourself doing it can actually help you do it. Visualization or mental rehearsal is very important in sports such as golf, high jumping, or skating.

When a soccer player sees a teammate out of the corner of his eye, he is using his peripheral vision. Since much of what happens in sports does not happen directly in front of you, it’s important to increase your ability to see action to the side without having to turn your head. The ability to look straight while attending to peripheral motion is known as central peripheral awareness. This skill can be improved.

To increase your ability to see things while you are not looking directly at them, try watching TV with your head turned to one side and then the other. If you are watching a game live, you can turn your head to one side and see if you can still follow the action.

The pitcher releases the ball and you swing…a little late and you hit a weak foul down the line…or you are like me and you miss the ball completely. Maybe you just can’t return a tennis serve. You need to improve your visual reaction time. As matter of fact when a baseball player hits a fast ball the decision is made way before the ball arrives. Midway to the plate the baseball player predicts where the ball will be, decides if he/she will swing, and begins the motor movement of swinging the bat.

Stand with your back to a friend. Have that person carefully throw a baseball or football and yell “now.” When you hear the yell, turn around, find the ball and try to catch it. The split second that it takes you to change focus from an object far away to one near may cause a delay in your reaction time.

To improve focus flexibility, place the headlines of a newspaper on a wall at eye level about 15 feet away and hold another page about 15 inches from your face. Focus first on the headline on the wall and then try to quickly change to focus on the page that you are holding. Keep changing focus back and forth. This will improve your ability to change focus quickly. To make it harder, move the paper in your hand closer to your face.

In racket sports, depth perception is important. Depth perception must be dynamic so that the baseball player can judge not only where the ball is but where it will be.

You can work to improve depth perception by having a friend hold a straw about two feet in front of you, vertical to the ground. Practice inserting a pointer into the straw. Have some-one quickly move the straw to a new location and again try to put the pointer accurately into the straw.

Sports Injuries

Injury to the eye takes the form of scratched cornea, and/or contusion to the eye or the surrounding bone structure (orbit). Any sports player who suffers from an eye injury which reduces vision, causes double vision, has real continued pain, and/or evidence of blood inside the eye (behind the cornea) must stop playing immediately. No fluids should be given to the sports player in case of the need for anesthesia.

Obviously, the incidence of injury can be reduced significantly by wearing protective glasses. The lenses should be made of polycarbonate. Remember contact lenses do not provide any protection for the athlete.

Special Eye Care Considerations

Baseball Glasses should be polycarbonate. Tint in the top half of the glass to cut glare. UV coating

Basketball Wrap around glasses for protection against elbow, hands, finger-nails. Contact lenses provide a better field of view.

Football Contact lenses provide better vision and field of view.

Soccer Polycarbonate wrap around glasses to provide protection.

Skiing Varnuet provides the best UV protection and optics. However, the lenses are made of glass and more apt to shatter than plastic. Progressive lenses work well, another option is distance correction with a small reading add to read the maps. Heavy duty UV coating.

Golf Progressive lenses distort peripheral vision and make it hard to read the greens properly. Better way – distance vision glasses with small bifocal segment placed low and out of the way. UV coat.

Tennis Progressive lenses with bottom portion set for 24 inches so that the ball hits the racket clearly. Protection is a must. UV coating is a must.

Bicycle Riding Wrap around polycarbonate lenses like Oakley’s are good.

Part was Adapted from the Sports Vision section of the American Optometric Association.