Sports & Performance Vision (SPV)
As primary eye care physicians, doctors of optometry can help patients protect their eyes and address vision impairments that affect their safety and performance while engaged in sports. As more patients and the public understand our role in their eye safety, health and performance, more athletes of all ages will seek out our services.
Many, if not most, sports-related eye injuries are preventable. Unfortunately, many patients and athletes are unaware of the risk associated with their physical activities and how to properly protect their eyes. Although athletes understand the need for sports equipment, sports shoes and sports clothing, many do not understand that sports-safe eyewear is no different. "Dress glasses" are not meant for sports and can be broken—or worse—provide no protection against trauma. Improper eye wear and use can lead to decreased performance and vision, as well as increased chances of accidents. Athletes who do not properly address vision impairments will not perform adequately, and in many cases, will not be able to safely participate in sports. As primary eye care physicians, doctors of optometry should help patients and athletes understand the need to protect their eyes and ensure optimal vision while participating in sports.
SPV evaluations and comprehensive eye exams
About 89-90 million Americans of all ages avidly participate in sports. Unfortunately, many of these patients, children and parents do not understand the importance of optometry to their overall health, safety and performance.
To reach these patients, communicating and adding value to your services is key. Sometimes, simply saying "I can help you hit/catch the ball better" or "I can make more competitive for scholarships" can be more relatable to athletes of all ages and levels than explaining the health benefits of comprehensive eye exams. Telling parents that you can help protect their children's eye from serious harm, detect signs of undiagnosed concussions or improve their performance to avoid injuries can clearly demonstrate the benefits of optometry over school screenings and disruptive technology.
Identifying your patients that participate in sports and tailoring your comprehensive eye examination can help:
- Identify patients who participate in physically demanding activities, including athletes, military and first responders.
- Diagnose/identify eye, vision and concussions common to sports injuries.
- Identify impairments and/or areas to improve vision performance.
- Identify and train patients in proper sports-safe eyewear.
- Provide some basic sports and performance vision services, education and training (e.g., ensure that their patients are trained to properly wear appropriate sports safe eyewear).
- Refer patients to appropriate specialists when needed (e.g., an SPV doctor of optometry, physical therapist or neurologist for traumatic brain injuries).
Most patients participate or engage in some performance activity. The activity can vary from a weekend warrior to a competitive athlete, but the approach taken throughout an SPV-tailored eye exam will help their vision health, performance and safety needs.
In addition, tailoring a comprehensive eye exam to meet the SPV needs of patients will help reach new patients in your community. Athletes often skip eye exams because they believe they have good visual acuity, but underlying issues may be found and resolved which help improve performance immediately. The more athletes understand that a comprehensive eye exam can help protect and enhance their vision, the more likely they will sit in your examination chair.
Visual performance assessment and training
The level at which an athlete performs in their sport is important to the athlete. It can determine their level of achievement (e.g., making the high school or college team), selection for scholarships and future career in sports. To improve their performance, many athletes already invest a significant amount of time and effort in training camps, personal trainers and equipment, while neglecting to invest in their vision. However, enhancing visual performance can help improve their overall performance in ways other training regiments cannot.
Even for athletes without any vision problems, improving visual performance—such as increasing dynamic visual acuity, decreasing reaction times and improving eye-hand coordination—is an integral component to improving overall performance.
As sports become more competitive, other professions are beginning to understand the importance of vision in performance and are assuming the role of improving vision training. Although many of these professions can help improve visual performance, it is important that all athletes regularly see an eye doctor to properly assess and manage their vision performance as well as their eye health.
Concussions and traumatic brain injuries
For unavoidable injuries, the early detection and treatment of eye and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), including concussions, can prevent further harm, injury and accidents. This page includes educational resources, information and news about optometry's role in treating TBI.
Brain injury affects 2.4 million Americans each year. With many doctors of optometry already involved in the diagnoses and rehabilitation of TBIs, the AOA has developed a members-only resource, the Brain Injury Electronic Resource Manual (BIERM). The BIERM serves as a comprehensive resource to aid doctors of optometry in evaluating patients with brain injury.
The first section of the BIERM focuses on evaluation and assessment of common visual conditions associated with TBI, including binocular vision, accommodative and eye movement disorders. To make it easier to use, helpful elements such as a glossary, lists of commonly used equipment and an overview of the numerous tests involved in evaluation are included. The work does not stop with the first volume. A second volume focuses on treatment and management of brain-injured patients over time.
Concussions and TBI resources
Join the Sports & Performance Vision Advocacy Network
Are you interested in helping the AOA advocate for better sports and performance vison (SPV) policies, regulations and laws? Would you like to be listed in AOA's Doctor Locator as a doctor of optometry with a special emphasis in SPV? The SPV Committee provides strong leadership and expertise for the AOA's advocacy initiatives, but the real change and services come from the coordinated efforts of our members.
Joining AOA's Sports & Performance Advocacy Network (SPVAN) will not only keep you updated on the AOA's SPV advocacy efforts and resources but also help the AOA identify opportunities for you to get involved in promoting SPV on local, state and federal levels.
To join SPVAN, please follow these instructions and complete the survey below.
Over three dozen Opportunities in Optometry grants have been awarded since 2021, helping traditionally underrepresented minority groups within the profession apply for optometry school.