Ever noticed how elite athletes seem to know what’s about to happen before it actually does? Like Abby Wambach‘s last-minute goal in the 2011 World Cup, one of the hallmarks of successful sports performance is knowing what to do at precisely the right time. It’s not about having better vision, but knowing what to see and when, and most important, how to act based on what you see.
Cognitive psychologist Anders Ericsson believes that greatness can be achieved through intense practice aimed at learning and improving, or what he calls “deliberate practice.” To get “better vision,” you have to practice in a way that helps you learn what to see, what to do, how to do it and why to do it. Through this kind of intentional, intense practice, you gain a better understanding of situations and how to act when they occur, becoming more successful and developing expertise.
Two Tips for Sports Vision Training
Train your decision making
In sports, expertise is all about the decisions we make, when we make them, understanding why we make them, and thinking about how to make even better decisions next time. One way to train your decision making is to do what’s called after-action reviews. After practice or a game, analyze what you did, why you did it, and how you could improve your actions next time. Video review is extremely helpful. When you are watching game film, focus on analyzing the decisions you made.
Train your perception
Making effective decisions requires you to focus on the right things at the right times. This helps you understand what decisions you have to make and when you have to make them. More important, it helps you better anticipate these decisions so that you can act more quickly and effectively.
Think about what you need to see, when you need to see it and what you should do with what you see. Include perceptual training drills in your practices. For example, in tennis, if you need to focus on the ball, use different colored balls and call out the color of the ball when you are supposed to be looking at it. Or, in soccer, if you need to be looking at the rotation of an opponent’s hips, use different colored Velcro attached to the hips you need to be looking at to direct your focus to that spot.