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Sports Vision: A Skill to Train?

It is proven through research that all top athletes have elite dynamic vision - regardless of the sport. How clearly an athlete can see is one thing, but how accurately and effectively they can use their eyes is another. Dynamic vision refers to a person’s ability to accurately and quickly acquire information with their eyes. Skills assessed in dynamic vision include pursuits (smooth continuous eye movement), saccades (fast twitch targeted eye movement), and fixations (stability of the eyes to hold their gaze in a single spot).

In order for an athlete to make a decision, they must first see their target or assess the situation at hand. If they can’t see the field clearly or can’t accurately locate their team mates/opposing players/the ball, it will slow down their reaction time right from the get go. Hence the eyes play a huge part in how well an athlete performs. An athlete who can gather all the information they need to make a decision in one glance without turning their head or looking twice will be able to react and make a decision faster than one who is second guessing what they’re seeing.

If volleyball is your sport of choice, training your saccades and pursuits can be two areas in dynamic vision that could improve your game. Saccades as mentioned before are fast twitch targeted eye movements. Volleyball is a fast pace game. Hard driven serves, defending powerful attacks, gauging sets for a spike approach, are all situations where you require this skill. We use saccades to scan the court environment for targets to fixate on. A players ability to switch between targets quickly and accurately is essential to performing the appropriate movement for the given situation.

Pursuits on the other hand are a smooth continuous eye movement. It is where your eyes follow a target the same speed the target is moving. This skill is essential to keeping the target in focus as they move. In volleyball terms, your ability to see the ball and track the ball without overshooting or lagging behind the target is crucial to performing fundamental volleyball skills such as passing, setting, and spiking.

These eye movements are used in everyday life to gather information for our brains to interpret. For the most part, we can all perform these skills to a lesser or greater degree. The difference between pro-athletes and amateur players is how fast and how accurate these eye movements occur. If an athlete is serious about their dynamic vision and they want to get tested, you need to find an optometry or a sports training facility with eye-tracking equipment. Eye-tracking technology is able to objectively assess these eye movements to see how precise and fast or sloppy and slow an athlete’s eye movements are. In turn, you can utilize exercises to improve on these skills to ensure it isn’t the eyes that are hindering an athlete’s performance. Once a good baseline has been established, in-person training for individual sports can be done to further hone and synchronize the eyes to body movements.

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