Sports talk is littered with phrases related to our eyes. We talk of great court vision, a good eye at the plate and seeing the ball well. But just how critical is vision to an athlete?Do professional athletes see better than we do? Can you play sports effectively if you have poorer than 20/20 vision? In this episode I dive into the topic of research in vision in sports.
• Visual perception is comprised of several different functions (e.g., acuity, motion perception, color vision and depth perception) that operate largely independently and in parallel. So it is possible for a person to have good depth perception but be color blind for example.
• First study on vision in sports in 1921 when Hugh Fullerton ran tests on Babe Ruth.
• Ruth’s reaction time was 12% faster than an average person and when words were flashed briefly he could read 6 letters correctly where the average performance is 4.5 letters
• In 2006, this study was replicated on Albert Pujhols, then one of the best hitters in baseball, by researchers at Washington University and found similar findings i.e., slightly above average performance
• The aspect of vision that has been measured most often in this area is static visual acuity. Do elite athletes have better than 20/20 vision. In some cases, yes. But not always…for example, 15% of NFL players,20% of NBA players & 13% of Olympic athletes were found to have worse visual acuity than the general population.
• A more promising visual characteristic that has been linked to sport is dynamic visual acuity..the ability to see final details for an object that is moving (i.e., the orientation of laces on a pitched ball).
• Studies which have shown that DVA is higher in experienced athletes in sports including table tennis, water polo, baseball and motorsports.
• Sanderson & Whiting (1978) showed that the effect of target speed on DVA was related to catching ability
• Research on peripheral vision has not shown consistent differences between athletes of different skill levels. For example, Berg and Killian (1995), softball players had a wider field of view than non baseball players but there was no relationship between batting average and size of FOV. A similar lack of relationship was found in a recent 2015 study in the Journal of Sports Sciences by Poltavski & Beiberdorf where there was no relationship between a peripheral vision test and goals scored in ice hockey.
• There has been no reliable relationship between eye dominance and sporting ability found in research
• Research blurring lenses has shown that you need to make people almost legally blind before you see any effect on sports performance. For example, in a study on cricket batting by David Mann and colleagues in 2007 it was found that visual acuity needed to be reduced to 20/200 before any affects on batting were found.
•So, by in large, research has not supported the idea that great athletes “see better”
- Popular Science Monthly tests Babe Ruth
- St. Louis Cardinals slugger Pujols gets Babe Ruth test
- The visual function of professional baseball players
- Dynamic visual acuity: a possible factor in catching performance
- The role of visual perception measures used in sports vision programmes
- Size of the Visual Field in Collegiate Fast-Pitch Softball Players and Nonathletes
- Motion perception and driving: predicting performance through testing and shortening braking reaction times through training
- Interaction of hand preference with eye dominance on accuracy in archery
- Is optimal vision required for the successful execution of an interceptive task?
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