How do we use our vision in sports?

Vision and sports performance is about understanding how vision helps with better decision making and how to train it. To understand how we use our vision in sports first we need to understand how we receive visual information. There are two ways in which we receive visual information and they are via our fovea and peripheral vision. The fovea is responsible for providing details, and only makes up a tiny area of the total vision field. Peripheral vision shows less details or focus but is responsible for a larger portion of the field of vision. In order to construct a seemingly focused and overall picture for our brain our eyes need to move rapidly across a scene. Therefore it is necessary to continually scan our environment to pic up and detect cues and objects.

Without really knowing we are continually using visual search strategies so we can quickly locate the objects that are most relevant for our decision making in the moment. For athletes these objects are the ball/puck and body parts of opponents. Research has shown that there is a difference between elite and novice athletes when it comes to visual search strategies during a game or competition. The elite athlete scans between fewer points, and fixates longer on points scanned. This results in more selective attention, which works to there advantage due to the strategy being more efficient and there for less taxing on the athletes attentional capacity. Novices on the other hand tend to scan more points, making them less efficient and less accurate. This is because when we scan more often we decrease our peripheral awareness, as we lose some awareness during the brief moments when our eyes are moving.

The good news for novice athletes or even elite athletes who need help, is that there is a way to train and impure an athlete peripheral awareness. This is done through a strategy called visual pivot. Visual pivot is when there is a single point and additional information surrounding that pint. An athlete will be trained to focus on the one point (the pivot) and still collect and use the information around it. This improves the quality of information an athlete gets from their peripheral vision and allows the athlete to focus their attention on awareness rather then scanning.

One of the ways I work with athletes to do this is through a program called NeuroTracker. It trains many cognitive areas, including peripheral vision using a visual pivot. Watch the video below to see NeuroTracker in action.