Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The A - Z of Sports Vision - Umpires

I was recently one of the tutors on a course for aspiring cricket umpires. There was a discussion about where the bowler’s end umpire should stand so that he can see the bowler’s feet land (making sure it’s not a No Ball) as well as the flight of the ball.
They were given the standard advice that they should keep their head still and flick their eyes down to see the landing of the feet, and then flick them up to watch the ball and where it pitches so they can adjudicate for LBW and other decisions. It was assumed that I, as an optometrist, would back this up. It was a little awkward when I had to say that conventional wisdom was actually wrong. It is true that batsmen, for instance, should keep their head still at the moment of contact. You’ll see many batsmen lift their head when they go for a big shot and either miss the ball or sky it into the air. I used to think that this was due to over-anticipation of where the ball was going to go, or just some kind of “red mist”. But I’ve now come round to the idea that it’s our old friend balance. If you’re moving forward and you’re not well balanced, you’re likely to fall flat on your face. In order to prevent this, your brain brings your head up so that your centre of gravity moves backwards. You don’t execute the task very well but at least you don’t fall over. If your rugby scrum half is firing the ball over the fly half’s head, it’s for the same reason. Anyway, I digress. None of this means that keeping your head still is the best way to track a moving object. Hold a finger in front of you and move it slowly from side to side. Follow your finger with your eyes only, keeping your head still. Gradually increase the speed of your finger. You’ll very soon find that you’re losing focus. Now try again, this time moving your head and eyes together. You’ll probably start to get dizzy before you lose focus on your finger. It’s one of those lovely examples when conventional wisdom – everything you thought was right – turns out to be wrong. David Donner