The following is an excerpt from 'The Eye Test: The Importance of Vision' by DAN GUTTENPLAN and ROBERT BUONFIGLIO.
Many people think of vision as something that naturally gets weaker with age. On the contrary, it is actually an attribute that can be strengthened and developed – much like any other weakness that can be honed through training.
DR. BARRY SEILLER is an ophthalmologist based out of Chicago who works with a wide variety of football players ranging from youth to professional. Vizual Edge eye training technology is used by dozens of professional athletes. When Seiller administers a vision test, he uses a standard eyesight test (i.e. 20/20) as the visual baseline.
“If you have reduced eyesight, the rest will be compromised,” Seiller said. “Once you’ve established that someone has good eyesight, the rest of the visual system becomes more important.”
Seiller is particularly interested in the effects concussions have on vision. He said that while many players maintain 20/20 vision after concussions, the other aspects of his visual system are likely compromised. Those aspects include the alignment of two eyes, depth perception, ocular flexibility and visual recognition.
If a football player’s eye alignment is damaged, his judgment of a ball in free space will be compromised. If his depth perception is damaged, he will struggle to see the spin on a pass as well as trajectory. If his ocular flexibility is damaged, he will struggle to identify objects that are moving toward or away from him – like another player or a ball. And if his visual recognition is off, he may struggle to recognize situations that have occurred before, such as a play call or receiving route.
“When people are evaluating receivers in football, it always comes down to whether they have good hands,” Seiller said. “When people have bad hands, they typically lack something in their visual system that would allow them to close their hands on the ball at the correct instant.”
The Vizual Edge Performance Trainer serves as a means for athletes to improve their vision after an initial diagnosis to determine which aspects of their visual system are weakest. It is an internet-based program that allows anyone to train and enhance deficiencies through tracking exercises and other drills.
“It’s like weight-training or a treadmill,” Seiller said. “You build up strength in certain areas through training over a six- to eight-week period.”
Robert A. Buonfiglio is an optometrist who started Eye on Performance Sports Vision Training in Saugus, Mass. He, too, uses a computer-based program for training purposes with his clients. He also oversees hand-eye coordination drills in his office. One includes athletes tracking balls hanging from the ceiling. Another has athletes tracking moving objects while standing on a balance board. A third has athletes standing over a table with flashing lights, and the client must touch the area as it lights.
“As a football moves closer, it begins to move faster than our eyes are capable of tracking,” Buonfiglio said. “It’s called saccadic movement, and receivers have to make a jump to estimate when it will pass through their hands. We have ways of measuring that and helping football players improve in that area.”