By Andrew Karp
The term “performance enhancing” has come under a cloud lately due to its negative association with drug abusing athletes. On the positive side, though, there are new technologies that can enhance an athlete’s performance without chemically altering their physiology.
That’s the approach that sports shoe giant Nike took when it created Nike SPARQ Sensory Performance, a system of technologies, products and programs designed to assess, analyze and improve an athlete’s visual and sensory performance. (SPARQ is an acronym for Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness). Using special eyewear, athletes view an array of lights that flicker between clear and blocked vision to train the athlete’s brain to anticipate what’s coming when their eyes are blocked.
“Sensory training is at the cornerstone of how we can build better athletes,” said Paul Winsper, SPARQ performance director. “With SSP we’re able to integrate both sensory and physical training together. This performance philosophy has resonated with some of the top athletes, teams and clubs throughout the world.”
Dr. Andrew Bock, a sports vision optometrist from Riverside, California who specializes in
training golfers, told Eye2 that he likes the Nike SPARQ Strobe for training putting pace. “The strobe overload requires the golfer to use better balance and pace in the putting stroke,” said Dr. Bock. “Since the golf ball is seen intermittently the golfer must visualize the missing images and use better balance and pace to complete a solid putt. After training with the SPARQ Strobe the putting stroke is more free and effective. Also the Strobe glasses allow a great way to place the dominant eye directly over the back of the ball. This is made possible by occluding the non-dominant eye with the strobe glasses and having the golfer turn their dominant eye directly over the back of the ball while the strobe is flashing. My experience with amateurs has been immediate and dramatic.”
Nike SPARQ Sensory Stations
As the first step in improving an athlete’s performance, the SSP “assess” phase uses the Nike SPARQ Sensory Station, an interactive touch screen device, to evaluate athletes on 10 sport-relevant visual and sensory performance skills. The personalized station then translates that raw data into next steps for the athlete, which can guide a training program. The resulting SPARQ Sensory Performance profile compares an athlete's results to others at their sport, position and skill level to provide a roadmap for improvement.
Once the assessment and analysis are complete, Nike SSP provides two key tools designed to help an athlete improve: the Nike SPARQ Sensory Training Station and Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe Eyewear. Athletes at any skill level can integrate both into their training programs to hone their sensory skills.
Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe Eyewear
Following visual testing to evaluate different aspects of the athlete’s visual skills, a crucial tool to improve key areas is The Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe Eyewear. By blocking or disrupting vision using a strobe or flicker effect that can be varied in speed, an athlete can develop quicker reaction times and motor skills. The strobe effect improves reaction time by switching between clear and blocked vision, which trains the brain to anticipate what‘s coming when the eyes are blocked. Features include an adjustable head strap for a secure fit and liquid-crystal lens technology with variable speeds for different levels of training.
The Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobes cost $300 and are available at
NikeStore.com. Both the Nike SPARQ Sensory Station and Nike SPARQ Sensory Training Station are available through the Nike SPARQ Sensory Training Help Desk (855) 870-6778 or
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