I always knew we could enhance the visual system in a way that could help athletes become better performers. I started studying sports vision performance in baseball 28 years ago when this was a relatively new concept. Now, in my practice at Neuro-Vision Associates of North Texas, we run advanced performance programs for a slew of professional teams including Texas Legends of the NBA developmental league, FC Dallas of major league soccer, Allen Americans of the ECHL and Toronto Blue Jays (MLB). Every athlete can benefit from enhanced visual processing and attention. In our traditional practice we’re taking people with below-normal neuro-visual skills to normal level, but with athletes we’re actually taking those with normal skills to elite level vision skills, and then on to next-level performance for superior awareness and reaction times.
With our athletes we always run an initial battery of assessments which includes NeuroTracker, Senaptec Sensory Station and Right Eye. From that we configure specific performance programs. NeuroTracker is used in all our athletic training programs, which is setup in a dedicated room so we can integrate dual-task activities depending on each athlete’s protocols. For example, when I bring a baseball player in, they perform NeuroTracking in a batting and fielding position to get them into the right state for operating their visual skills on a higher level. Manipulating the challenge of the cognitive load as they progress is an important way to optimize their learning.
From a more vision-specific perspective, NeuroTracker is an ideal spatial training tool. I know that a key issue for many athletes is that when they become stressed during competition pressure, their visual attention collapses inwards. For example, this has been shown in sports science research in the NHL, showing that when players are about to pass the puck, they become suddenly vulnerable to being blindsided due to loss of peripheral awareness - a major concussion risk. This is one reason I use NeuroTracker for my own ice hockey training. The great thing about NeuroTracking is that it forces athletes to be open in space, and that’s a critical skill to keep driving and improve.
As part of this conditioning we include a technique we use called ‘look hard, look soft,’ that means focusing on one ball intently, then switching attention to open up to the whole visual space to track across a wide field of view. So it’s not just the movement but also perception of large 3D space which is important. Then of course we need to really train athletes to modulate between hard and soft focus rapidly and at very high levels.
When I work with the pro teams I also provide training data analysis for them to leverage in their athlete profiling. A lot of the new tools like NeuroTracker are at the cutting-edge of sports science. One of the most interesting things we’re seeing in the last year or so, is pro sports teams becoming much more interested in this type of technology to measure and see improvements over time. There’s now a lot to offer for enhancing the core abilities of athletes, even at the highest levels of sports.
Charles Shidlofsky, O.D., P.A., FCOVD, heads Neuro-Vision Associates of North Texas. His practice specializes in vision rehabilitation and therapy, and caters to both adults and children with add/adhd, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, genetic defects, developmental delays, low vision, lazy eye (amblyopia), strabismus, traumatic and acquired brain injury, stroke (CVA), cancer and vestibular issues. He has over 25 years of experience helping patients with visual processing problems. In addition, he is an Adjunct Professor of Optometry at the Southern College of Optometry, University of Houston College of Optometry, University of Incarnate Word-Rosenberg College of Optometry and Western University College of Optometry.
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