Eyesight and sports: when perfect vision is the key to success
The concept of advanced vision for elite sports performance became popular in 1886, when American retailers Sears, Roebuck and Co. started advertising their sport eyeglasses. These spectacles provided vast, uninterrupted fields of view, and came with plastic safety lenses instead of the standard glass lenses.
As sports continue to evolve and become more competitive, 20/10 vision is a real must-have: in combination with genuine talent, passion and drive, athletes also need advanced hand-eye coordination, depth perception and eye tracking ability.
From baseball to football, here are three sports that require better than average vision.
It is widely said that “football must always start in the head of the players before it is finished with their feet”. A good footballer must recognise the speed and path of the ball, along with scanning a 100-metre long pitch to find the best placed teammate, before the ball even touches their feet.
As in many other sports, accurate binocular depth perception is imperative. Depth perception controls the muscles of the eye, enabling them to move automatically to focus on a particular object; as the left and the right eye see the object from different angles, the brain has to work to combine these images into one complete picture.
Football players with good depth perception can see a ball coming from far away as much larger; this allows them to make a set of judgements about its speed and path, and coordinate their movements accordingly in just a fraction of a second.
A baseball player is probably the most qualified person to judge another’s eyesight, as many baseball stars enjoy crisp 20/10 vision. As the famous Dodgers manager Leo Durocher once said: “I have never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes”.
Breaking baseball down into numbers, we can fully appreciate the sheer speed and vision acuity the game demands. A 90-mile-per-hour fastball takes less than half a second to get to the batter. Therefore, a player must spot the ball, judge its flightpath, decide whether to swing, and actually swing, in just 0.434 seconds; the judgement and decision stages take place in as little as 100 milliseconds.
Red Sox ophthalmology consultant Daniel Laby found that the average major-league baseball player has vision that measures around 20/12, or has been corrected by 20/12.
In his experience, baseball players perform above average at a test similar to the fairground amusement “Whack-a-Mole”, in which participants must hit blinking green lights and avoid touching red lights. The pace of baseball games has sped up so much that, according to Laby’s estimates, up to 20 percent of players now wear corrective lenses.
Some may say it’s a coincidence that the “short form” of cricket, involving a maximum of only 20 overs, is called “Twenty20”. We would argue that it’s fate, as cricket is another sport that requires perfect vision.
Over the years, countless studies have analysed the correlation between elite cricketers and vision acuity: all provided conclusive evidence that your level of performance on the cricket pitch is directly related to the alertness of your eyes.
The fastest bowl known to man dates back to 1976, when Australian player Jeff Thompson reached a speed of 99.8 miles per hour; Shoab Aktar came close to equalling his record in 2001 – 02, bowling at 99.1 miles per hour. Further proof that keeping track of fast-moving balls is imperative for any cricketer who wants to tread the path of glory and trophies.
Whether you’re engaging with the national game of England or the great American pastime, being a successful athlete requires a lot more than just raw talent. So next time you’re playing 7-a-side in the park or having an impromptu game of cricket on the village green, make sure your eyes are healthy and alert first.