David Donner Bsc MBCO is a fully qualified and practising Optometrist with more than a passing interest in Sports Vision.
This blog looks at this captivating science and David relates his expertise in Sports Vision to the big sporting events happening around the world today!
I was recently listening to a cricket podcast. The expert panel was
asked about the benefits of vision training, especially for late developers.
The experts agreed that generalised vision training was of little use, except
possibly as a psychological boost. Vision training that was done in the context
of the sport, however, might be helpful. Needless to say, those views echo my
One coach said
that it could be useful to patch one eye when practising bowling, batting or
fielding. He has got his batsmen on occasion to wear a patch over what he
called the “motor eye”, which is the eye that leads when we are tracking a
moving object. The idea was that this would “strengthen” the other eye. I think
he was on stronger ground when he suggested that because this was putting his
batsmen in a challenging position, so it would help them deal with other
difficult situations that they might encounter in a match, which is why his
players found it both challenging and useful. I’m certainly all for making
practice highly demanding, so that you are mentally and physically prepared for
the challenged that will come your way on match day.
I was reminded
of an experiment on eye dominance and tennis that I’ve discussed before. It was
found that blurring the non-dominant eye of elite tennis players had a
deleterious effect on performance, whereas fogging the dominant eye did not. This
rather paradoxical finding was explained by suggesting that the non-dominant
eye was essential for depth perception. Whilst this may well be true, I’m no
longer sure that it explains the findings as the dominant eye must also be
essential for really accurate depth perception.
suspect that what happened in these tennis players was the same as happened to
the cricketers: when the dominant eye was blurred, it felt really strange, so
the players had to concentrate harder on the ball. In doing so, they were able
to perceive monocular cues such as image size, which meant that their depth
perception wasn’t actually too badly affected. When the non-dominant eye was
blurred, however, because the effect on vision was less noticeable, they made
little or no adjustment for it.
So, patching the
dominant eye can be a useful exercise, but it probably needs to be used sparingly.
It’s likely to result in adjustments to the body, such as a head tilt. If a
player doesn’t have really strong eye dominance, they could start switching
during competition, and if they don’t make the necessary compensatory
adjustments their timing and other judgements could be all wrong.
I’m not sure how
this relates to late developers, but I suspect it depends on why they are
developing late. It could help with getting them to concentrate on the ball as
it leaves the bowler’s hand, or help them get into line better. But if they are
late developers because they haven’t played much cricket, you would probably be
better leaving them to work this out for themselves. If the idea is to make the
practice more challenging, there are other ways of doing this, such as using
smaller balls and/or bats, or getting them to read markings on the ball as it
Patching can be
useful in a number of sports. In golf, for instance, it could be used to ensure
that the player maintains eye dominance when switching from the ball to the
target. In rugby, you might notice that some players are not paying enough
attention to the passer’s hands as he passes the ball. This means that they are
late in reacting to the ball as it appears in front of them and therefore drop
it. One solution would be to patch the left eye for passes coming from their
left, and the right eye for passes coming from their right. This would then
require them to turn their head towards the passer so they pick up the flight
of the ball at the earliest stage. I would probably still be inclined to
achieve a similar effect by using smaller balls, balls of a dull colour that
are harder to see, or balls with numbers or letters on that the players have to
read out before they catch them.
both eyes, otherwise known as blindfolding, certainly has a place for enhancing
kinaesthetic feedback. But that’s for another day. David Donner
I’ve talked a lot about the conscious and subconscious parts of the brain, but there’s another part known as the limbic system. I tend to think of this as an alarm system: all sensory information goes to this part of the brain first and is scanned for potential dangers.
This system was great when our ancestors were living in the jungle and could be eaten by a predator at any moment, but can cause problems in our modern lives. So an opening batsman preparing to face a fast bowler will have made a conscious decision to play cricket that day. The precise movements required to play a shot at the right time to hit the ball successfully depends on the subconscious brain. But as the batsman watches the fast bowler marking their run-up, the limbic system may well be sending out alarm messages, such as “He looks big; the ball’s likely to be coming at me very fast; I didn’t do very well when I played here last time”.
In his book “The Chimp Paradox”, Dr Steve Peters refers to this limbic system as “The Inner Chimp”. As Dr Peters acknowledges, it may not be anatomically or philosophically correct to describe the inner chimp as a separate entity from the “human” brain. But it seems to be an incredibly powerful and useful way of thinking about it. The book also has chapters on achieving success, confidence and happiness, so it really could change your life.
If you find that you have over-reacted to a situation with an emotional response that you later regret, you can blame it on your inner chimp. But it’s like having a pet dog: although you aren’t your dog, you are still responsible for how your dog behaves. So you have to be able to control your inner chimp as you’re responsible for it.
It probably won’t work if you just try and ignore your chimp. You can manage it, however, by setting up default behaviours such as pre-shot rituals in sports such as tennis or golf which enable you to carry out the task before the chimp starts acting up.
Recent examples of sportsmen whose chimps seem to be out of control include Andy Murray and Luis Suarez. Of course, since Dr Peters has worked with Suarez, he’s not exactly the best advert when he carries on biting players.
In the end, though, the player has to decide to help himself. Unfortunately, in the case of Suarez, he decided to help himself to a piece of Chiellini’s shoulder.