In recent years, MLB teams, teams in the NHL, university level sports programs, and notable athletes such as Steph Curry of the NBA have been “quietly” adopting sports vision training into their programs.
SPORTS VISION TRAINING FILLS A PERFORMANCE GAP
Sports vision training has emerged over the last 30-plus years as a method of improving the visual system performance of top-level competitive athletes. There have been numerous advancements in physical training and nutrition within the same timeframe, resulting in athletes who are bigger, stronger, faster and more powerful. However, many athletes have not received specific training to improve their visual performance resulting in a gap between physical ability and neurocognitive ability. Sports vision training often results in improvements in multiple aspects such as visual processing speed, reaction time, peripheral awareness (ability to see what is around you without looking at it), switching focus between near and far objects, target tracking and acquisition speed, etc.
Similar to athletes, many combat athletes do not receive sports vision training as part of their military training. However, U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF), Canadian SOF JTF 2, as well as the U.S. Air Force are diving into sports vision with both research and implementation for combat athletes.
U.S. AIR FORCE STUDY GIVES SPORTSVISION THE GREEN LIGHT
The Air Force Academy pioneered a sports vision program for their athletes back in 1994, as part of their Human Performance Lab. It is considered the first program of its kind. Wildly successful, it led the Academy to assist other universities with establishing their sports vision programs, and may have contributed to the U.S. Air Force conducting a study in 2013 to evaluate the effectiveness of sports vision training for Airmen.
In the Air Force research program, Airmen performed both vision and reaction tests at the beginning and end of the study. The results were staggering: of the Airmen, who completed a total of 18 sports vision training sessions, they raised their scores by an average of 65%, whereas the scores of their non-trained counterparts dropped by 69% over the same period.
According to Major Janelle Robertson, a doctor and statistician in the 96th Medical Group who compiled and analyzed the data, “There is such a large difference in the performance of these groups that they could not have arisen statistically by chance.”
USN SEAL “APPROVED”
Al Wile, the Air Force Academy’s Director of Sports Vision, who has trained Olympic level athletes, as well as pilots, and airmen remarked in an interview with a Toronto Star reporter, “The Navy Seals have been in here — they’re crazy about it.” “When you’re in situations where it’s fire or don’t fire — you walk into a room, and it’s shoot or don’t shoot — the key is the interaction of the eyes and the brain,” Wile said.
SHOOT / NO SHOOT SCENARIO TRAINING WITH SPORTS VISION TECHNOLOGY
What Wile is referring to is the ability of the combat athlete’s brain to take in visual information very quickly, interpret that information (threat or no threat) and quickly provide an output (shoot or don’t shoot).
Speeding up visual processing and improving interpretation are both possible outcomes of sports vision training. Improvement of shoot/don’t shoot, is possible as well. However, it is also highly context-dependent. Using an online program to train sports vision may help lay the foundation for good visual performance, however, it’s important to bridge between sports vision training and reality of combat operations. Using more context specific drills such as shoot/no shoot simulated live-fire training can help to achieve this. Realistic training scenarios are highly valuable, even more so when integrated with sports vision training.
In a U.S. Air Force Rapid Active Shooter Response training video on YouTube, Airmen are shown clearing rooms in a structure. The rooms and hallways have small disc lights placed in various locations. The lights are part of a sports vision training system called FitLight Trainer, often used in sports vision for reaction and peripheral vision training. They light up at random or preprogrammed intervals and hitting the light with your hand turns the light off and the system records the reaction time and fires the next light.
In tactical applications, the lights can be programmed to light up when a shooter enters a room, and color may be used to indicate desired action – shoot or no shoot, etc. In the video, the Airmen used Simunition rounds to shoot the lights as they lit up and register the hits and reaction times.
SOF & SPORTS VISION TRAINING
Beyond mainstream armed forces, Special Operations Forces are becoming increasingly aware of the value of sports vision training. The Journal of Special Operations Medicine stated in a 2015 paper, “…with a wealth of literature supporting visual skills training for athlete populations, to include competitive shooters, the implementation of visual skills training will likely be a useful adjunct to performance training of SOF personnel.”
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR SHOOTING SKILLS
Combat athletes have few options for sports vision training. The learning curve required for providing sports vision training is steep, so there are not providers in every town. Few licensed optometrists offer sports vision therapy. However, this option is often cost prohibitive for most, except for maybe Tier 1 units which are given access to a sports vision doc as part of their performance training team.
I’ve written a book called “Neurological Training for Shooting Performance” to help guide combat athletes thru the process of improving their visual system performance.
My program helps you feel more confident and relaxed as a shooter. With improved visual accuracy, you will “see” quicker, feel like things have slowed down and you have more time to react. You may start to notice you squint less when you shoot (less startle reflex), and it may become easier to shoot with both eyes open (good for tactical awareness).
If your shooting performance has plateaued, you’ll begin to shoot more accurately, and with tighter groupings. If you’re already an excellent shot, your accuracy will stay the same but it may feel easier and more efficient.
HOT OFF THE PRESS
The book is broken down into sections designed to teach sports vision topics and then guide you thru the process of assessing foundational visual skills and cognitive functions. Next, it walks you thru specific exercises to do to improve your performance. Finally, you’ll learn how to progress your training to make it more “sport-specific” by bridging your sports vision training into your shooting practice.
(featured image courtesy: thestar.com)
Feschuk, Dave. “Sports-vision Training Helps Athletes Keep Eyes on Prize: Feschuk | Toronto Star.” Thestar.com. December 1, 2012. Accessed July 07, 2016. https://www.thestar.com/sports/2012/12/01/ sportsvision_training_helps_athletes_keep_eyes_on_prize_feschuk.html.
Suttles, ST. “Potential of Visual Sensory Screening, Diagnostic Evaluation, and Training for Treatment of Postconcussive Symptoms and Performance Enhancement for Special Forces Qualified Personnel.” J Spec Oper Med 15, no. 2, 54-63. Accessed July 7, 2016. https://www.jsomonline.org/JournalArticles/20152.html#2015254.
Http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOQxhjWX3P_gTq8O2ioK6hw. “USAF 28 SFS Ellsworth AFB, SD, RAPID ACTIVE SHOOTER RESPONSE TRAINING W/ FITLIGHT.” YouTube. YouTube, 2014. Web. 07 July 2016.