If your child is involved in sports, you are well aware of the importance of good hand-eye coordination. Without it, your child cannot cleanly catch a ball, aptly throw a pass, balance himself on skates, put the bat on the ball, or shoot 10 free throws in a row.
Hand-eye coordination is self-explanatory. The hands and eyes must coordinate together to accomplish a skill. How well that skill is achieved depends on the strength of the visual connection from your eyes to your brain to your hands. Practice and hard work can improve that connection for some athletes; vision therapy can improve it for all of them.
Professional athletes often achieve that status because they have exceptional hand-eye coordination. Larry Fitzgerald is a wide receiver in the NFL who played in Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzgerald credits his grandfather, a developmental optometrist who died recently, for his extraordinary hand-eye coordination. As a child, Fitzgerald had difficulty paying attention in school and struggled with his school work. His grandfather, Dr. Robert Johnson, diagnosed him with a vision problem that was affecting his near vision (reading) capabilities. Fitzgerald was put through a vision therapy program which included hand-eye coordination drills, among other activities and exercises. The results were improved grades in school and later, the ability to catch a football better than most people.
The general public is taught that 20/20 indicates “perfect vision”. This is, in fact, not the case, because 20/20 refers only to your distance vision. There are approximately 15 near vision skills you need to be able to read and participate well in sports. Those 15 skills are not tested for in a basic eye examination by most eye doctors. A developmental optometrist is trained to test for these skills with a developmental vision assessment.
There are many vision skills needed to be successful in sports. Focusing, eye teamwork, depth perception, eye tracking and peripheral vision are just a few which can affect your child’s athletic ability. Some actions which might indicate your child has a vision problem:
- Unable to make baskets consistently
- Often strikes out in baseball
- Drops passes in football or basketball
- Poor balance or stumbles running
- Seems “clutzy” or “accident-prone”
- Poor coordination
- A step slow, or reflexes not sharp
- Poor rhythm and timing
- Poor concentration
- Accuracy inconsistent or just slightly off
- Headaches, fatigue, frustration when playing sports
- Little improvement with practice
- Routinely makes errors
- Often sits on the bench
If any of these situations apply to your child, a developmental optometrist can test his or her vision to see if there are any vision deficiencies contributing to their lack of athletic abilities. Problems focusing, one eye overworking, misaligned eyes or eyes not working together are just some of the issues that could be discovered.
Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor can help your child with vision therapy (VT), which is similar to physical therapy if your child has a sports injury. VT is a method of enhancing your visual proficiency by training your eyes to work together properly. Even athletes who have good skills can benefit from vision therapy, because just as practice is always needed, your eyes can always be trained to work better.
Most athletes evaluate their sports adeptness on a regular basis and are always looking for ways to tweak it. Vision therapy can help improve skills in all sports, including baseball, football, hockey, wrestling, volleyball, track, swimming, tennis, basketball, soccer, cheerleading and golf. If your child enjoys athletics but struggles with some key abilities to excel, consider having him evaluated by a developmental optometrist. It may be that an undiagnosed vision problem is keeping him from being the best athlete he can be.