September 25, 2012 | Dr. Larry Lampert
Most athletes think that if they don't have to wear eyeglasses, they have perfect vision. However, optimal vision is more complicated than that. I like to think of vision as having three components: clarity, speed and endurance.
Clarity includes three main elements: contrast sensitivity, ability to see through glare or haze, and acuity (i.e., whether you need eyeglasses). You can think of ideal clarity as what you experience when wearing polarized lenses.
Speed refers to visual temporal processing—or how quickly your eyes process what you're seeing. A good way to picture this is to imagine a ceiling fan. How fast can it go before you can no longer make out the individual blades? The better your visual temporal processing, the faster the fan can go before you lose sight of the individual blades.
Endurance, or comfort, refers to things like light sensitivity, eye fatigue and eye dryness. A number of recent studies reveal that our eyes experience fatigue after activities such as extended computer use. Many people who wear contact lenses, or who've had Lasik surgery, or who have allergies experience eye dryness.
Even athletes who have superior eyesight need to evaluate these different aspects of their vision. A sports vision training program can improve many of them (discover drills to improve your eye performance). Peak visual skills are critical to achieving the coordination, concentration, balance and accuracy athletes need to excel at their sports.
In my work with athletes in a broad range of sports, optimal vision is a key success factor, one that can elevate a good player to a great player. A batter facing a 95-mph pitch has only 100 milliseconds to make a decision whether to swing. A small (15%) improvement in neural processing speed can slow the baseball's perceived speed to about 80 mph. Although it's often overlooked, improving and maintaining visual performance—which boosts neural processing speed—should be an integral part of any athlete's training regimen.
Every day, I see first-hand how improved vision significantly improves the skills of athletes. For example, I worked with a pro golfer who was having difficulty looking at the hole, then the ball, then the hole again. It seemed to change position. Through exercises to address her putting alignment confusion, she improved her game considerably. (Find out how to improve your putting with vision training.) A famous tennis star described his fast racket head speed and quick visual reaction time as key elements to his success.
The professional athletes I see in my practice depend on being physically fit to earn a living. It's my belief that the health of their eyes requires as much attention as their pitching arm or their Achilles tendon. In addition to vision training exercises, it's imperative to take care of your eyes with proper nutrition, like you do for the rest of your body. (Learn how to improve your vision with a supplement.)