Vision in Motion Sports Performance –– Dr. Fitzgerald & Associates

Vision in Motion Sports Performance

Linn County LIVING WELL Magazine

Program can help to improve your athletic performance while reducing chances of suffering a sports-related injury.

If two similarly trained athletes meet in competition and one has a better trained visual system, the athlete with the enhanced visual system will perform better.” Human Performance Laboratory, Department of Athletics, US Air Force Academy, May 2006. 

There is no doubt that a concussion is a fairly common injury, one that has remained under the radar but is slowly gaining recognition. Lately, much-needed attention has been given to the subject and has caused some controversy in regards to “return to play” and the management of concussions.

When we think of preventing concussions, we often think of better helmets, stricter penalties for aggressive play, and other protective measures. But what if we could help to prevent concussions by training our athletes to play faster, better, and smarter? We can train them to reduce their risk of concussions by becoming better athletes. Dr. Fitzgerald & Associates and Cedar Rapids Vision in Motion are taking the initiative to create awareness in the community by bringing a program that will provide the athlete training for better performance by combining sports training and vision enhancement activities.

In the United States, the CDC reports there are over four million sports and recreation-related concussions annually, and most go undiagnosed. In football and hockey alone, the number of actual concussions is six to seven times higher than the number diagnosed. Concussions can cause debilitating and long-lasting symptoms including headache, nausea, dizziness, double vision, and sensitivity to light and/or noise, feeling sluggish or foggy, concentration and memory problems. Some concussion symptoms resolve on their own with rest, but others require treatment to fully improve. These symptoms can interfere not only with athletic performance, but also daily life and schoolwork.

The new law in Iowa requires:

• The IHSAA to distribute the CDC education guidelines for concussion management to parents, coaches and student-athletes.

• All athletes participating in sports grades seventh through 12th to have the concussion and brain injury information sheet turned in to the school prior to participation, and signed by both the student-athlete and a parent.

• Any athlete exhibiting signs, symptoms or behaviours consistent with a concussion injury will be immediately removed from participation.

• The athlete removed from participation is then to be evaluated by a licensed health care provider trained in the evaluation and management of concussions (brain injury); the athlete cannot return to participation until they receive written clearance from said health care provider. (The list of health care providers covered under this law includes: athletic trainers, physical therapists, physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, optometrists and chiropractors, licensed by a board designated by the state of Iowa.)

For an injury that is largely invisible, it is no small irony that detecting concussion involves the eyes.

Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald comments, “By looking at vision, we can potentially catch a lot of what’s going on, looking at the visual processing part of the brain can show how impaired an athlete can be following a concussion.”

Seventy percent of the brain’s sensory pathways are dedicated to vision. Prevention of concussion is key.

This is where the Vision in Motion Sports Performance program can help to improve your performance on the field or court while reducing chances of suffering a sports-related injury. It isn’t hard to believe that 80% of perceptual input in sports is from the visual system. But 20/20 vision isn’t the only thing that matters. It means that an athlete can see an object clearly, but it does not mean they can tell where the object is in space, how fast it is traveling or whether it is changing direction. In sports, an athlete relies on his or her vision to make split-second decisions about depth perception, peripheral motion, and eye-hand coordination. We often get asked what effect vision skills training has on sports performance, and we can answer the question with an analogy. What effect does doing squats or lunges have on sports performance? While it isn’t throwing a football or running plays, it obviously has a positive effect on performance, and the same can be said for vision training.

The idea of the Sports Vision Performance program is to stress or load the visual-perceptual and visual-motor systems. This improves the ability of our body to make changes to our movements that are “on the fly” during sport-specific training and better prepares the athlete for competition.  The visual system is comparable to any other motor system in the body and can be trained and improved by sport vision exercises. Just as you might lift weights or run drills to improve strength and sport-specific skills, you can train the eyes to provide better input to the brain, and teach the brain to interpret this input faster and more accurately. In turn, the athlete can react faster, stronger and smarter to foreseen plays causing collisions, which lead to concussions. We are training the brain to more quickly process the information that the eyes give it. The athlete can perform at a higher level with greater efficiency. Athletes respond with feeling like they are “in the zone.” A well-conditioned visual system more efficiently leads a well-tuned motor system to perform at its peak––time, and time again.

Sports Vision Performance training improves reaction time and increases the speed and span of recognition in the field, thus the likelihood of suffering a concussion or other injury is reduced. However, when head traumas and concussions do happen, we are prepared to properly evaluate and treat these athletes. The athlete will run through assessments that measure their memory, reaction time, peripheral awareness, visual acuity, depth perception, visual tracking and cognitive and motor skills. By taking these evaluations, we can aid in making that “return to play” decision.

Today’s athletes are better than ever and are constantly looking for that competitive edge. They strive to become faster, stronger and smarter. “If two similarly trained athletes meet in competition and one has a better trained visual system, the athlete with the enhanced visual system will perform better.” Human Performance Laboratory, Dept of Athletics, US Air Force Academy, May 2006. This competitive edge can be the difference between winning and losing, but most importantly, it can help to keep our athletes safer.