Vision and Movement Neurology

The baseball hurtles toward the batter, and he must decide from its rotation whether it’s a fastball worth a swing or a slider about to drop out of the strike zone.

Running full speed, the wide receiver tracks both the football flying through the air and the defensive back on his heels. Golfers must rapidly shift visual focus in order to drive the ball at their feet toward a green in the distance.

The training we do at Neuro Athletics boosts the mental skills that are key in human performance. Science shows that superior cognitive abilities give elite athletes a competitive edge. We all want the edge but some of us don’t want to do the work to get there, some of us don’t realise the importance of training vision and the training we do at Neuro Athletics can directly improve awareness and decision-making abilities in competitive performance.

Dr. Charles Shidlofsky, a neuro-optometrist who has worked with many pro sports teams for decades, commented on this trend:

“I always knew we could enhance the visual system in a way that could help athletes become better performers. I started studying sports vision performance in baseball 28 years ago when this was a relatively new concept. One of the most interesting things we’re seeing in the last year or so is pro sports teams becoming much more interested in this type of technology to measure and see improvements over time.”

An increasing amount of media attention is covering the sports vision movement in elite sports, for example, there has been a lot of press on Stephen Curry’s recipe for success. This demand and awareness is, in turn, spawning the development of a greater range of new technologies and training solutions. 

Sports vision tests and training help athletes determine how well their eyes perform, beyond a basic ability to see letters and objects clearly on a standard. Many sports vision skills can be addressed to improve athletic performance, such as:

Peripheral Awareness – allows perception of what’s going on at either side of you without turning your head

Dynamic Visual Acuity – enables sustained and clear focus on objects when they are moving quickly

Depth Perception – provides spatial judgments, such as how far away an object or person is

Hand-Eye Coordination – involves the coordinated processing of visual input and motor-skills involved in hand movement

Colour Vision – the ability to detect different colours and hues to interpret subtle features in the environment

Contrast Sensitivity – the ability to distinguish between fine increments of light versus dark

“Vision training has been out there for a long time,” said Mark Blumenkranz, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University Medical School. “But it’s being made more respectable lately thanks to the attention it’s been getting from psychophysicists, vision scientists, neurologists and optometrists.”

Vision training actually has little to do with improving eyesight. The techniques, a form of perceptual learning, are intended to improve the ability to process what is seen. The idea is that if visual sensory neurons are repeatedly activated, they increase their ability to send electrical signals from one cell to another across connecting synapses.

If neurons are not used, over time these transmissions are weakened. “With sensory neurons, just like muscles, it’s use or lose it,” said Dr. Bernhard Sabel, a neuroscientist at Otto von Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany, who studies plasticity in the brain. “This applies both to athletes and the partially blind.”

Vision exercises for you to try at home

#1 - The Stretch

Like a good yoga workout for the body, your eyes need flexibility. You can easily improve this skill at home by switching focus from near and far objects. Practice looking up from your computer and focusing on something about 18 inches away and then something far away such as a view out a window. 

#2 - Concentration—The Memory Game

Visual memory is one aspect of how of we think and comprehend information. It’s about remembering where the players are on the field as your receive the pass or just how much topspin the opponent used on the ball. Any time you practice memory games – such as a kid’s matching game you are training a portion of your brain to recall correctly and quickly. Play memory games with a focus on improving your speed. 

#3 - The Sidelong Glance

Improve your peripheral vision, you know, the area where the opponent is charging you or where your teammate is set for the pass. Practice “watching” from the sides of your eyes, both left and right, when you are online, walking outside or shopping. See what details you can register either in your periphery, or turn your head to one side to “watch” the action with a sidelong glance. 

#4 - The Lazy Susan

Put words into motion and practice reading them at different font sizes and different speeds. Simple tricks include taping words to a spinning lazy Susan, a moving door, or a bouncing ball. Play with font, color, size and familiarity of words and see how many and how quickly you can read them. 

#5 - The Mike Wazowski

One of the most important visual tricks your binocular vision gives you is depth perception. This lets you know how far your feet are off the ground or how deep that pass was. Practice catching or kicking the ball with only one eye open, training each eye separately. Or play with small objects at arm’s length, like tapping two pencil tips, dropping a toothpick through a straw or threading a needle. 

#6 - Ping Pong    

That gameroom classic wasn’t just for fun after all. Table tennis, as it is more widely known, is an effective way to improve your hand eye coordination. It’s a fast moving game that teaches your brain to calculate a moving object and then react accordingly. 

If we can leave you with anything from this short introduction into vision and movement neurology it is this: Eyesight and Vision are Not the Same

“Eyesight is simply the ability to see something clearly, the so-called 20/20 eyesight (as measured in a standard eye examination with a Snellen chart). Vision goes beyond eyesight and can best be defined as the understanding of what is seen. Vision involves the ability to take incoming visual information, process that information and obtain meaning from it.”

- Dr. Donald Getz, OD