Eye Health

Updated 14 March 2018

Why vision is so crucial in sports

The role played by vision and hand-eye coordination in sports is as important as fitness training, and can make or break a professional's game.

We spoke to Dr Sherylle Calder of the Sports Institute in Cape Town about the role of good vision and hand-eye coordination in sports and how this can make a difference in a person's performance.

Dr Calder says she’d worked with the South African senior rugby team, the Springboks from 2005- 2007 when they won that years’ world cup, lifting it for the second time since re-admission in 1990 to international sports participation.

“The role of vision is usually undermined and yet it plays a huge role,” says Dr Calder. She says although games are played during the day mostly and night games are played under bright lighted stadiums, vision has nothing to do with eyesight but rather what you see and how to process it and the way you respond.

The technique they use is called EyeGym, “all research shows EyeGym improves performance,” she says.

Hand-eye coordination, says Dr Calder, “is what you see and how accurately and rapidly you respond.” She says mastering this technique depends entirely on the individual. Hand-eye coordination skills involve the input of visual information to the brain and the interpretation of that information by the brain to coordinate movement.

It is evident that all sports involving a projectile, for example, require excellent hand-eye and/or hand-foot coordination in order to catch, hit or kick the object.

The EyeGym program runs for approximately 6 weeks. It entails the training of all visual skills. Visual skills can be loosely categorised into two groups; visual motor skills, which are generally the ability to move and adjust the eyes, and visual perceptual skills which refer more to the ability to process visual information.

These skills include:

Eye Exam, this is the first step in improving an athlete's visual skills is to ensure that their eyesight is good. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations every two years for athletes under 18 years of age.

Eye correction.  In the position where there is a problem with an athlete's eyesight, the next step is correction.  Usually, corrective measures for an athlete would include prescription eyewear, corrective contact lenses, or laser surgery.

Eye Exercises.  Training the visual system means working the muscles associated with eye movements and eye-body reflexes in order to enhance performance in sports that rely on visual input.

Coordination between the eye and the hand is something we all already have but can be improved within that (EyeGym) system and make it better.

Dr Calder says she has worked a number of famous players in the past, such as Boks winger, Bryan Habana and Chiliboy Ralepelle. Other leading world rugby personalities like Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallagio, Steve Thompson and Matt Dawson of England and South Africa's thrilling wing three quarter Bryan Habana, as well as John Smit, Francois Steyn and Jean de Villiers, have benefitted from her expertise.

Read more:

Mark Boucher talks about his career-ending eye injury



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Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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