Falcons are notorious for exceptional sight, so it's no wonder Atlanta's namesake gridiron gang sports a quarterback who pays particular attention to his vision.
A shoo-in for Most Valuable Player of the 2016 NFL season, Matt Ryan takes mere moments to scan the play, eyeing one receiver after another, before picking a spot downfield and launching the football. But a lot can happen in that moment, often more than meets the eye.
Peripheral vision is important in football as a painful 2013-14 season illustrated with Ryan's 44 sacks and Atlanta's 4-12 record. It was Ryan's first losing season, and media reports suggested he wasn't content standing pat. Ryan sought a competitive edge in the form of hi-tech, visual-neurocognitive training.
"You are trying to improve your peripheral vision and just being able to pick things up," Ryan was quoted as saying. "Basically, it's training your vision. It's like weight lifting for your eyes. You are trying to improve your muscles, you are basically trying to train your eyes to work better and more efficiently."
Although Ryan reported his vision was perfectly "fine at 20/10," the supplemental vision training was designed to enhance his spatial and situational awareness, as well as response time to better anticipate the rush. To what degree vision training could be credited to his resurgence is debatable; however, just a few seasons later, what is known is that Ryan finished the 2016 campaign second overall in passing yardage, first in passer rating and will start in Sunday's championship game against the New England Patriots.
Tech advancing sports-vision training
Sports and performance-vision training have been around for decades, notably winning over professional athletes' eyes from baseball to hockey—and any sport in between. But the advent of new technology is changing the current paradigm into one of vision enhancement over simply visual evaluation.
Published in the December 2016 International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, a new study classified the variety of emerging sports-vision technology into two camps. The first, "component skill training," is designed to improve the sub-processes required for on-field success. In other words, those foundational tasks necessary to hit a ball. While the second category, "naturalistic sports training," augments the training experience of the actual or simulated sporting activity, such as virtual reality.
Graham Erickson, O.D., study author and professor at Pacific University College of Optometry, says the future of sports-vision training is more sports-specific, digitized training modules used to give athletes a way to train without the physical punishment of being on the field.
Consulting with a number of professional teams year-round and working full time with an NBA team, Dr. Erickson says he makes it a point to integrate visual enhancement regimens into teams' routine strength and conditioning training.
"Players go into the weight room, do a bench press and then stand around while they recover," he says. "Instead of standing around, we're encouraging them to do something visual. We give them the recipe for what visual things they should work on to get the most benefit. This combination is a great benefit to the athlete that doesn't take any additional time out of his or her schedule."
Read more about how sports and performance-vision training is changing the nature of competition on page 20 of the April edition of AOA Focus.
When doctors of optometry look at their patients as athletes—from everyday active individuals to Olympians—they can help them perform better in sports and in all aspects of life. AOA members can access a number of resources to reach out to their community about concussion care.