For winter sports athletes with Olympic-sized dreams, it’s easy to see why competitive athletes choose vision correction procedures to boost their competitive edge.
However, athletes – especially those training in sports such as hockey, skiing, snowboarding, ice skating and more – need more than talent to perform: they have to move fast, efficiently, and with confidence and they rely on their quick reflexes, excellent vision and strong hand-eye coordination to succeed.
Here are two aspects of excellent vision that can affect the accuracy of movement: depth perception and peripheral vision.
Depth perception (technically known as stereopsis) helps us see the world in three dimensions, with the ability to judge distances and spatial relationships. Since we have two eyes that sit roughly an inch apart from each other, each eye sees something slightly different. Our brains reconcile those images to give us the ability to see in stereo vision, helping us move around in our 3D world without running into things. Consequently, depth perception is something athletes pay attention to: they need excellent vision to support their coordination skills.
In particular, winter sport athletes like skiers and snowboarders require excellent vision because they are moving downhill at speeds up to 80 miles per hour – putting their depth perception to the test. The most frequent visual challenge for skiers and snowboarders involves the intense sunlight reflecting off bright white snow, making it hard to see moguls and dips. When shooting down the run at high speed, excellent vision and depth perception makes it possible to navigate the obstacles and terrain for an exhilarating ride. When you can’t see well, you are putting yourself and others on the mountain in danger. In order to deal with challenging lighting conditions, skiers and snowboarders rely on googles. However, googles are designed primarily to block out the harmful sun’s rays to protect the eyes, the compromise being they can also reduce color and contrast perception—which can impact depth perception.
Our ability to perceive depth can be altered for a variety of reasons:
- If our two eyes aren’t working together
- If one eye stops working altogether
- If the brain starts ignoring the signals from one eye
In some cases, the eyes don’t point in the same direction (think crossed eyes). When the brain gets mixed signals, it might choose to ignore the signal from one eye, leading to what is commonly known as lazy eye.
Sometimes one eye is more nearsighted or farsighted than the other, known as anisometropia, which would lead to those scenarios: eyes that aren’t working together, possibly causing the brain to choose to ignore one over the other. In those cases, a laser vision correction procedure may be able to improve and equalize the vision prescription and support better depth perception.
Let’s first consider a sport like hockey with its fast pace and constant movement. Game play takes place within a player’s entire field of vision. Players have to be adept at handling the puck in front of them while skating, moving the puck back and forth from the inside edge of the stick to the outside edge and back again, all while keeping head up and eyes focused on the net for a shot, on teammates for someone to pass to, and on opponents to avoid them. That requires what is known as our peripheral vision to see the stick and puck action below your central line of vision.
Peripheral vision is the ability to see things when not looking directly at them—it could be something to either side, or above or below your center line of sight. When you notice a car pull up next to you, even though you’re actually looking straight into the intersection, you’re using peripheral vision.
Peripheral vision differs from our central vision in several ways, and each serves its own purpose. Our eyes have two types of light-sensitive cells: cones and rods. Central vision uses mostly cones, which are good at details like color and help us see with high-resolution detail. Peripheral vision uses mostly rods, which respond faster, but with less detail. Peripheral vision is designed to be more sensitive to movement, respond quicker to changes in brightness, than central vision. So, if an object suddenly moves into the field of view, our peripheral vision will alert us; but if we want to know details about that object, we need to turn and look directly at it with our central vision capabilities.
There’s hardly a sport that doesn’t rely on the ability to discern objects or movement across the entire field of vision, and then respond quickly. Those who wear glasses already know from experience that peripheral vision is not helped, because the corrected vision ends at the edge of the lenses and frames often interfere. Laser vision correction corrects the surface of the cornea, so there are no compromises on where and when you see well.
Competitive athlete or not, we all rely on excellent vision to move around and perform with confidence. If your vision is impacting your ability to see well and enjoy sports and other physical activities, talk to your eye doctor to discuss what vision correction options might be a better fit for your lifestyle and vision.