Booming Market for Sports Vision Training

- December 12th, 2017

It is estimated that one in four people in the United States suffer from oculomotor sensory system issues that go beyond the ability to see clearly.

Countless studies prove that visual function is directly related to athletic performance. In fact, vision is the primary sense used by athletes in many sports and may account for 85 percent to 90 percent of the sensory input during sports activity. Beyond 20/20  eyesight, many sports—including soccer, hockey, baseball, football and basketball—require a breadth of healthy visual functions.

“For instance, the ability to catch a ball requires continuous convergence of the eyes, assessing the speed of the ball and predicting its path,” explained Dr. Safal Khanal, in his report entitled Impact of Visual Skills Training on Sports Performance: Current and Future Perspectives . “To actually catch a ball, one must combine the eye’s inputs with activation of the body’s motor system to get the hands in the correct place. This complex process requires a set of visual-motor skills in the form of depth perception, saccades and pursuits, eye hand coordination, vergence, peripheral awareness and visual reaction time.”

What is Sports Vision Training?

In the same way that an athlete improves sport performance by training the body for strength and endurance, visual skills can be improved and enhanced through a subtype of optometric vision therapy known as sports vision training.

“Vision resides in the brain,” said Dr. Khanal, a clinical researcher and a member of both the AmericanAcademy of Optometry and the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. “In totality, vision is a learned complex and developed set of functions that involve a multitude of skills and, therefore, can be taught through specific training of the visual skills through an individual specific program administered by qualified eye care professionals.” We can think of it “as physical therapy for the eye and brain,” he added.
Sports vision training can lead to improvement across a wide range of skills in any sport. “It may surprise you to learn that batting percentage, free throw percentage, goals against average and many other measures of athletic performance can all be improved by drawing one’s attention to the basic visual skills that are utilized in the performance of a given sport,” said Dr. Paul Rollet , a Kelowna, BC based developmental optometrist who specializes in vision therapy and neuro-visual rehabilitation.

Benefits of Sports Vision Treatment

In fact, such training can give athletes a critical advantage over their peers. “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,” according to a May 2006 study conducted by the Human Performance Laboratory of the US Air Force Academy’s Department of Athletics.

A 2013 study conducted by the Department of Psychology at the University of California Riverside (UCR) showed that the batting averages of University baseball players who underwent vision training increased significantly year-over-year compared to the other players in the league. The players’ therapy included completing more than two dozen 25-minute vision training sessions using a computer program. The UCR baseball team members who did not receive the training did not show the same improvement as their peers.

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“While it is difficult to make a conclusive causal inference that the improvements in vision are solely responsible for the improved offensive performance shown by the trained players, the observed improvements are substantial and significantly greater than that experienced by players in the rest of the league in the same year,” concluded the study’s authors. “For example, looking at other standard measures of offensive performance (batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage, walks, and [strike-outs]), in each and every case UCR’s year-over-year improvements are substantially greater (at least 3X) than the rest of the league .”

A similar study completed in 2011 at the University of Cincinnati found that the team’s batting average improved by 34 points over the previous season (and surpassing that of the other teams in the league) following six weeks of vision training.

Vision training tools and techniques

Sports vision trainers use a variety of tools and techniques to test for specific weaknesses and improve performance. These tools and techniques may be as  basic as improving convergence (the ability of the eyes to move and work as a team) by focusing on a string of beads held at the tip of your nose. On the more techy-side, computer simulations can be used to help batters accurately predict when to swing at a curve ball.

High-tech eye tracking devices can assess and improve an athlete’s pursuit and saccadic eye movements, increasing their ability to track and react to a moving object, such as a football or a hockey puck. “Often a complex combination of pursuit and saccadic eye movements are required to track an approaching ball,” said Dr. Khanal. “It has previously been reported that the qualities of saccades and pursuits eye movements are superior in athletes compared to non-athletes. These training activities help to make the eye movement performance automatic, minimizing the attention required for skilled performance.”

Wayne Engineering’s Saccadic Fixator is the globally-recognized industry standard for testing, evaluating, and developing accurate and rapid eye-hand coordination, spatial integration, and reaction times. The tool is used by more than 4,000 vision care practitioners in 22 countries for sensory motor training of children with learning issues, rehabilitative therapy for individuals with concussions and for the enhancement of professional athletes’ vision performance. Wayne Engineering was acquired in 2015 by Eyecarrot Innovations (TSXV:EYC), a technology company focused on disrupting the status quo by revolutionizing the treatment and enhancement of Oculomotor Sensory (OMS) system performance.

Eyecarrot launched the a  commercial release of its Binovi TM universal platform in May 2017, incorporating the Saccadic Fixator which is set to be released in 2018. The platform, designed for both vision care profession and patients, includes an extensive library of more than 100 vision performance activities aimed at complimenting and enhancing in-office and Doctor led at-home vision therapy.

Vision training in professional sports

Numerous professional athletes and even entire sports teams—such as the Indiana  Pacers and the Pittsburgh Steelers—are embracing the power of sports vision training to step up their game on the field. And their success is encouraging others to follow suit.
Ten-time Pro-Bowler and Arizona Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald credits his success in the NFL—which includes being in the top 3 in all-time receptions—with the vision training he received as a child from his grandfather, optometrist Dr. Robert Johnson. Although his therapy centered on improving his academics at the time, he believes it has had an enormous impact on his career as well.

“The public doesn’t realize that you need 17 visual skills to succeed in reading, learning, sports, and in life. Seeing ‘20/20’ is just one of those visual skills,” said Fitzgerald. “There is definitely a connection between the vision therapy that I did as a child and my performance on the field. A number of the drills in football camp reminded me of things I did in in vision therapy that helped develop reaction time, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills.”

Connor McDavid, named the best player in the NHL going into the 2017-2018 season by Hockey News, is the captain for the Edmonton Oilers —a team that has long recognized the importance of sports visio training. In fact, the Oilers first employed an optometrist for vision training during the 1984-1985 season, and the team went on to win four Stanley Cups over the next six years.

“Connor sees things happening in front of him and behind him and only needs a glimpse to know what is going to happen two seconds later,” said McDavid’s agent Jeff Jackson. “Offensively, he sees things developing before anybody else. It is like he has a freaking GPS. He senses what is going on around him.”

While not a new field, the science behind vision therapy is quickly becoming an important part of athletic training. Dr.  Khanal advises “it is high time that all the sport authorities realized the importance of vision training which is as important as physical training for better sports performance, if not more. It is recommended that qualified eye care professionals (optometrist or ophthalmologist) with expertise in sports/performance vision be involved as a part of sport-specific performance enhancement team at all levels.”

Market opportunity extends beyond professional sports

While the professional sports arena offers a significant market space for technology and service providers, the general public also stands to benefit immensely from sports vision training. In the United States, the top five team sports (baseball, soccer, football, basketball and hockey) are played by roughly 75 million people. On top of that, it’s estimated that one in four people in the United States suffer from oculomotor sensory system issues that go beyond the ability to see clearly .

“Training can be customized and sport-specific – a goaltender may need to improve reaction time, whereas a golfer may need to work on their depth perception for example. We often think of these skills as being inherent, intangible and not adept to change,” said Dr. Rollet. “Many aspects of visual function however are very much learned skills and building on your functionality in these areas can have an immensely positive impact on your performance on the field, the court, the ice or the links.”

Potential vision therapy patients can be found in both adult recreational and children’s competitive sports leagues, or among those with sports-related hobbies like skiing and mountain biking. Vision training is also effective for professions that require a higher level of reaction time and hand-eye coordination such as law enforcement, firefighters and the military. Essentially, anyone who wants to improve his or her eye-hand coordination, peripheral awareness, reaction time or spatial integration, to name a few, will benefit from vision performance training.

This article was written according to INN editorial standards to educate investors.

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