Being able to hit, throw, jump and maneuver our body is crucial to playing any sport, but sometimes, how fast we run to get or hit a ball has more to do with our eyes than it does with our legs. Coaches and players are intensely familiar with the physical attributes needed to play well, but many don’t take into account the complexities and functrions of the human eye. Since being diagnosed with dyslexia, I was always aware of my inability to follow fast objects, but I didn’t know exactly why until I researched “eye tracking.”
Hand/eye coordination is complex. For instance, I can play ping pong like an ace. Moving the paddle easily from one hand to another, I rarely miss and win whenever I play. Put me on a handball court, however, and I can’t hit a single serve. When you look at this from a physical perspective, you really can’t assume it is hand/eye coordination or even lack of speed. Instead it is my eye’s inability (and neurological impairment due to dyslexia) to track the handball, because for one, it is moving too fast; two, it is moving at a longer distance in a larger area; and three, the ball, relative to the size of the court, is much smaller.
In the world of eye science, our ability to fixate or see in 3D (which is called Fusion) has a direct correlation to how we play a sport. When the eyes send information to the brain, it is integrated and interpreted as a three-dimensional phenomenon. When we track a fast moving ball for instance, the brain estimates where the ball is going to make contact, and in response, the body moves to meet it. If there is a “disconnect” anywhere along the line of vision to the brain and then to the feet or hands, a person can’t accurately discern where or how they should respond. So, essentially, an athlete can have incredible form, balance, speed and agility, but if they can’t “see” appropriately, they can’t play optimally.
Fortunately, there are techniques and exercises available to train the eye and the body to compensate. In years past, I avoided certain sports because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t play them. Now I look forward to the challenge and the idea that I might actually be able to retrain my brain to see a bigger picture. I am using tennis to practice the physical exercises, but I also added another aspect. Remembering that we are more than just physical beings, I have been telling myself to “feel” the ball, as I try to compensate for the meanderings of my neural misconnections. “Let the force be with me” is my mantra! Sounds silly, but believe it or not, it is working. I have a better response time by not relying on my eye as much and putting more emphasis on gut reaction and anticipation.
For more information on the complexities of the human eye and how to retrain for sports, start with
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