Vision and the Athlete

Healthy eyes and vision are extremely important for optimum sports performance. Several important vision skills can affect how well you play your sport. If you want to play at your best, it is essential to make certain you are seeing your absolute best.

A complete eye exam by an optometrist will reveal any vision problems that could be hindering your performance. If a problem is discovered, your healthcare provider will be able to recommend options to help you see your best.

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Visual Skills for Sports

Several visual skills are important for improving your game in all sports. An eye exam can help to determine certain skills that you may need to improve upon. An optometrist specializing in sports vision can help you find ways to improve the following valuable skills.

  • Dynamic Visual Acuity: Visual acuity refers to the clarity of your vision. Dynamic visual acuity is how clearly you see objects that are moving quickly. If you play a sport with a fast-moving ball, such as tennis or soccer, you need to be able to clearly see the ball while you or the ball is moving fast. Athletes with good dynamic visual acuity have an advantage in sports like these.
  • Visual Concentration: While playing your sport, it's easy to be distracted by things that are going on around you. It is natural for your eyes to react to anything that happens in your field of vision, even if you're concentrating on your game. Visual concentration is the ability to screen out distractions and remain focused on the ball or the target.
  • Eye Tracking: Eye tracking is the process of measuring either the point of gaze (where one is looking) or the motion of an eye relative to the head. When you are playing a sport with a fast-moving ball, you need to be able to follow objects without moving your head much, as doing so throws your body off balance and slows you down. Eye tracking helps you maintain better balance and react more quickly.
  • Eye-Hand-Body Coordination: Eye-hand-body coordination describes the way in which your hands, feet, and body respond to the information transferred through your eyes. Most sports rely heavily on timing and body control.
  • Visual Memory: In many sports, an athlete needs to process and remember a fast-moving, complex picture of people and things. This is known as a visual memory. An athlete with good visual memory seems to always be in the right place at the right time.
  • Visualization: Visualization is a cognitive tool that involves using imagination to realize all aspects of an object, action or outcome. Picturing yourself swishing a three-pointer or hitting a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway can actually help you do it. Visualization is mentally seeing yourself performing well in your mind while your eyes are concentrating on something else, such as the ball.
  • Peripheral Vision:  Peripheral vision, or side vision, is the ability to see objects and movement outside the direct line of vision. When a basketball player sees his teammate out of the corner of his eye, he is using his peripheral vision. Increasing your ability to see action to the side without turning your head is important in every sport, as not all of the action takes place right in front of you.
  • Visual Reaction Time: Visual reaction time is the speed with which your brain interprets and reacts to an action. All sports require a quick visual reaction time. For example, if your arms don't swing at the ball as soon as it crosses the plate, you're probably going to get a strike.
  • Depth Perception: Depth perception is the ability to judge the distance of objects and the spatial relationship of objects at different distances. In sports, depth perception enables you to accurately judge the distance between yourself, the ball, your opponents, teammates, boundary lines and other objects.
  • Color Vision: Color vision is the process by which your eyes detect color. Your ability to detect different colors and shades is important in certain sports such as football.

Eyeglasses to Boost Performance

Sports eyewear, or eyeglasses that are made specifically for an athlete, can have a profound effect on an athlete's performance. Sports specific eyewear is becoming increasingly popular among athletes. Being able to see clearly on a sunny day can massively improve your performance in many outdoor sports.

Polarized lenses help to eliminate annoying glare from the sun. You’ll see everything you need with sharpened vision. Plus, you’ll be protected from all the harmful UV with a good pair of sunglasses. Also, specific tint colors will improve contrast in order to allow you to see certain colored balls quicker and easier.

Eye Protection for the Athlete

All athletes, and especially those in certain high-risk sports, need to consider eye protection when playing their game. Every year, thousands of children and adults suffer sports-related eye injuries. However, nearly all eye injuries can be prevented with proper protective eyewear.

An injury to the eye can be serious. The most common types of eye trauma that can result from sports injuries are blunt injuries, corneal abrasions, and penetrating injuries. As with any eye injury, it is important to seek care from a healthcare provider.

Many people believe that wearing regular eyeglasses during sports will protect their eyes. However, the lenses of regular eyeglasses can shatter upon impact by a ball, which could lead to a penetrating injury. All sports goggles and glasses should be made with polycarbonate lenses. Polycarbonate lenses are much stronger than regular lenses.

Each sport has a certain type of recommended protective eyewear, determined by ASTM International (a global standards developer). High-risk sports that require protective eyewear include basketball, baseball, hockey, football, lacrosse, fencing, paintball, water polo, racquetball, soccer, and downhill skiing.

A Word From Verywell

Achieving your personal best in your chosen sport depends on your motivation and devotion. But remember also that your eyesight plays a huge factor in your overall athletic performance. Sports eyewear is becoming more and more popular among an athlete's list of equipment. However, your clarity of vision and visual skills are the most important factors in enhancing your game.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Zimmerman AB, Lust KL, Bullimore MA. Visual acuity and contrast sensitivity testing for sports vision. Eye & Contact Lens: Science & Clinical Practice. 2011;37(3):153-159. doi. 10.1097/ICL.0b013e31820d12f4. Published May, 2011.

  3. Howell DR, Brilliant AN, Master CL, Meehan WP. Reliability of objective eye-tracking measures among healthy adolescent athletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. doi. 10.1097/JSM.0000000000000630. Published September, 2020.

  4. Klostermann A, Vater C, Kredel R, Hossner E-J. Perception and action in sports. On the functionality of foveal and peripheral visionFront Sports Act Living. 2020;1:66. doi. 10.3389/fspor.2019.00066. Published January, 2020.

Additional Reading
  • "Sports and Vision: Important Vision Skills for Sports." American Optometric Association (AOA)

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.