Vision training for athletes Science

Keep your eyes on the ball

Vision training has been found to boost the performance of athletes of various sports.  

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.

Many athletes need excellent vision to perform well, and now many are adding something new to their practice regimens: vision training. The idea has been around for years, but only recently have studies hinted that it might really work and it might be possible to train yourself to see better without resorting to glasses or surgery.

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, who studies plasticity in the brain. “This applies both to athletes and the partially blind.”

Vision training may involve simple strategies for instance, focusing sequentially on beads knotted at intervals on a length of string with one end held at the tip of the nose. This is said to improve convergence (inward turning of the eye to maintain binocular vision) and the ability to focus near and far.

A study by a team of psychologists and published in February showed that baseball players at the University of California were able to improve by 30 per cent their reading of eye charts as well as their batting averages after completing more than two dozen 25-minute vision training sessions using a computer program. Players who didn’t receive the training did not show similar improvement.

In earlier studies, vision training has been found to boost the performance of table tennis players, golfers and field hockey players.

"Vision, like other sensory systems, can be improved with practice," Sabel said.

The improvements occur not in the optics of the eye, but in the central processing centres of the brain.

Vision experts suspect that to be successful, vision training must be tailored to the individual, like physical training.

“A little discomfort is expected, as when you exert yourself lifting weights,” said Al Wile, the director of sports vision at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and a longtime proponent of vision training. — New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 7:34:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/in-school/sh-science/keep-your-eyes-on-the-ball/article6085116.ece

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