Peripheral vision is one of nine elements of athletic visual skill that athletes should be able to perform at a level demanded by their sport.
Peripheral vision awareness refers to the ability to detect and see things you're not looking at directly. A simple peripheral vision test can be helpful in determining where your abilities are, and whether you need more peripheral vision training.
Athletes with poor peripheral vision awareness react more slowly, or react in a way that is inappropriate for the situation. This may put them at higher risk of injury, particularly a concussion, while playing a contact sport.
Researchers from the University of Cincinnati found a correlation between improved peripheral vision awareness and reduced incidence of concussion in collegiate football players. In their paper, published in 2015, the researchers state:
"We believe that the vision training we performed is broadening the athlete's field of awareness or functional peripheral vision. It may be that with training, the eyes and brain are able to use information obtained within the field of functional peripheral vision to react faster to their changing environment and avoid injury-causing collisions."
Peripheral vision testing is generally not performed in a standard eye exam; however, you can use an "at-home" method as a basic screening test. As always, consult a medical professional or a sports vision training professional if you find deficits in your peripheral vision.
Peripheral Vision Awareness Test
Normal field of vision extends from the center of gaze (what you are looking at) to 90 degrees on each side of the body. Vertically, normal field of vision is 50 degrees above your center of gaze and 60 degrees below.
Although it is possible for some athletes to have or develop peripheral vision beyond the normal range, most will benefit from vision training by becoming more aware of what is in their peripheral vision field.
Follow these simple steps to check your peripheral vision awareness.
- Sit or stand a comfortable distance from an object.
- While focusing on the object, hold your arms out to your sides and wiggle your fingers.
- If you can't see your fingers moving, bring your arms forward until you do.
- While moving your fingers, take one hand back until you cannot see it in your peripheral vision any more. The point where you lose it is the limit of your peripheral vision range.
- Repeat on the other side.
Want more info? Check out this video from Dr. Eric Cobb of Z-Health Performance Solutions. If you'd like a more precise way to measure your peripheral vision, you can purchase a product called a Vision Disk that will allow you to take measurements.
Training Your Peripheral Vision Awareness
One of the ways you can improve your peripheral vision awareness is through vision training—specifically, performing eye exercises that work the muscles of your eyes, analogous to conventional fitness and performance training working the muscles of your body.
Here are two exercises you can perform to improve your peripheral vision awareness:
Spaghetti and Straw
You will need a straw and two spaghetti noodles for this exercise.
- Draw a black line around the circumference of the straw
- Stand within arm's reach of the straw, while a partner holds it horizontally.
- Focus on the black line and hold a noodle in each hand.
- Try to slide the noodles into the ends of the straw. Try to be aware of the ends of the straw while looking at the center.
To make it easier, shorten the straw. To make it more challenging, make it longer (or tape two straws together).
You can do this exercise yourself by placing the straw in a cup and using one noodle instead of two.
Another way to train peripheral vision awareness—and this does not require any equipment—is to stop what you're doing and focus on being aware of what is in your peripheral fields.
- Stop and "be present."
- Pick a target to look at anywhere from 3 to 10-plus feet away.
- Notice what you can see in your environment to your right and left.
- Do the same for up and down.
- Test yourself: Pick out specific details, then check by looking directly at the object.
You can make this task easier by doing it seated or even while lying down. As that becomes easy for you, progress to doing it standing, then while walking (in a safe environment)—and finally in your sport-specific positions.
Work on these skills for the next 30 days, leave us a comment and tell us what you experience!
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock