Although ECPs have been practicing sports vision or performance vision for more than 30 years, perhaps longer, this specialty has really moved to the forefront in recent years due to a number of factors, including the overall trend in eyecare to establish a specialty care niche as a way of practice differentiation.

At its core, sports vision is really working to improve an athlete’s visual and cognitive performance and overall athletic performance, via testing and training. The idea is that by helping someone see things faster, it also leads to faster cognitive decisions and quicker motor decisions. This is done, in part, by finding ways to improve attention, eye/hand coordination, reaction, anticipation and focus, and decision-making.

Some of these abilities include eye-hand coordination, dynamic visual acuity, tracking, focusing, visual reaction time, and peripheral vision. All activities are sport-specific with a custom tailored program for each sport and athlete, according to the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA).

In this way, a program for a tennis player will emphasize eye-hand coordination and dynamic visual acuity whereas a program for a golfer will concentrate on visual alignment and depth perception to see the breaks in the greens, ISVA said.

Many athletes are amazed at how ECPs can predict their performance based on their findings from a visual screening. If you are having trouble getting to the next level in your particular sport even after stepping up your practice, you might have a visual problem limiting your success.

ISVA is an interdisciplinary group of professionals dedicated to advancing the field of vision training for athletes of all ages and levels to help them achieve peak athletic performance. Vision, just like speed and strength, is a critical component in how well one plays any sport. A growing body of evidence confirms that visual abilities can be strengthened and enhanced by means of appropriate visual training.

Charles Shidlofsky, OD, FCOVD, who is the clinical director of Neuro-Vision Associates of North Texas, is one of the ODs most deeply involved with spreading the word about sports vision, and pediatric vision care, as a specialty area. The Neuro-Vision practice serves children and adults with neurological vision issues.

Shidlofsky also is president of ISVA, and a member of the medical staff at Baylor Scott and White Institute for Rehabilitation-Frisco, Dallas and Fort Worth. He serves as a consultant for several Texas-based rehabilitation centers, and is the team vision consultant for the Dallas Stars (NHL), Allen Americans (ECHL) and FC Dallas (MSL).

“As with most eyecare practices, we want you to be able to see 20/20,” Shidlofsky told Vision Monday in a recent interview. “However, we take it well beyond 20/20 by evaluating how you process information, your visual perception ability and how your vision integrates with your other senses. We utilize state-of-the art equipment so that your eyes receive the best possible care.”

Shidlofsky said he became interested in sports vision while still in optometry school. “I actually did my fourth-year project working with the college baseball team in Memphis,” he said, noting this involved working with hitters and looking at ways to improve batting averages. “That was my study, and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to do more sports vision. But back in the late 80s and early 90s, it was pretty much a ghost town.”

His initial efforts in sports vision came with working with lower-level teams, including Little Leaguers, and then demonstrating the success of his efforts. The kids’ baseball skills definitely improved, and it coincided with parents reporting that their schoolwork was improving, too. “And it was like, ‘Oh, well, there’s a bigger market there’ [and] I ended up jumping into the pediatric side of things.”

He also noted that while sports vision has been around for decades, it’s in “a big growth phase now.” Among the factors driving this growth, he said, are technology and social media. “The first thing that’s led [sports vision] into this growth phase is the technology,” he said, noting that it’s now possible to provide patients or players “tools” that they can use to work on their vision at home or before a game.

The second major impetus, he said, has been the rise and preponderance of social media. This “really has changed the game,” especially as it relates to getting the word out and just promoting the idea of sports vision. Social media has provided ODs with “a forum to talk about sports vision for free,” he said. “It has really helped us get the word out about what we can do with athletes and sports vision. When we go to the FC Dallas [practice] this weekend, we’ll take some pictures and pop them up on social media” where they will get significant notice.

Finally, ODs noted that there really is a variety of ways to offer sports vision in an eyecare practice, from the span of a separate, dedicated sports vision facility to the simple act of offering a selection of sports protective eyewear and unique optical solutions.