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Sports and LASIK: Which Athletes Benefit Most?

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” was the battle cry of the Dillon Panthers  football team on the TV show, “Friday Night Lights.” Coach Taylor was speaking  metaphorically, but clear eyes certainly do make a difference to athletes. For  example, Olympic skier Bode Miller considered getting LASIK before the 2014  Winter Games, and after finishing a disappointing eighth in the downhill skiing  competition, he said that he regretted not having done it.

The Importance of Eye Functionality in Sports

While not every team can win the championship, and not every athlete can be an Olympian, everyone wants to maximize his potential and have as much fun playing as possible. Making your eyesight the best it can be is an important element of that, in part because there are a variety of complex functions that make up the vision needed for sporting success:

  • Focus. When you hold your arm out and point your thumb up, its width is the size of your visual focus — only about three degrees. That doesn’t leave much room for error.
  • Peripheral vision enables you to see an object’s motion outside of the direct line of vision, and thus react to the events of a game. It doesn’t matter how well you can catch, throw or hit if you can’t tell what’s going on around you.
  • Eye Movements
    • Vestibulo-ocular movements help balance by coordinating field of vision with head movement.
    • Saccadic eye movements scan field of vision.
    • Vergence enables eyes to focus at different distances.
    • Smooth pursuit movements allow eyes to follow slow movement.

While prescription eyewear improves the clarity of your straight-ahead vision, it encumbers other aspects of how you see, which affects your sports performance. For example, glasses don’t correct peripheral vision, thus impairing your ability to see things outside your direct line of sight. Contacts can dry out, causing discomfort and blurriness. LASIK reduces your dependence on glasses and contacts, allowing your eyes to function more naturally. This helps you concentrate on the game and not your eyewear.

Sports That Depend on Good Vision

  1. Soccer: The ball and the other 13-21 players are in constant motion. While the size of the large field of play can vary, you have to keep an eye on everything within it.
  2. Hockey: Fast-moving skaters and faster-moving pucks — without the best vision, you could wind up in the penalty box.
  3. Golf: Little ball, big frustration. Golf is known to be challenging. Clear vision can help your handicap immensely.
  4. Tennis: Whether at Wimbledon or around the corner, the ball’s brightly colored for a reason. Andy Roddick holds the serve record of 155 mph — so clearly it’s not always easy to see the ball whizzing across the court.
  5. Basketball: Dribbling, passing, shooting and blocking — there are a lot of simultaneous movements to see on that 94-by-50-foot court.
  6. Bowling: If you thought geometry and physics would never be useful, you’ve never been bowling. Your brain uses everything within view to calculate the angles and speed needed for a strike.
  7. Running: Runners often get up early or stay up late to run. Having to worry about bouncing glasses or wearing contacts in tired eyes can take away some of the fun and motivation.
  8. Swimming: The benefits of good vision in a sport measured in fractions of a second are obvious — and the difficulty in wearing glasses or contacts underwater is clear.
  9. Baseball and Softball: Speaking of timing, the collision between the bat and the ball takes approximately 1-2 milliseconds. A batter’s accuracy depends upon seeing the ball as soon as it’s pitched and reacting quickly.
  10. Martial Arts: Everything from boxing and fencing to karate, taekwondo, judo and jiujitsu fall into this fast-growing category, and watching an opponent’s every move is key in all of these sports.

The Benefits Extend Beyond Sports

Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, your leisure time probably includes having fun moving and sweating — whether from camping and fishing in the woods, woodworking in the garage or playing with the kids. Trying to see through foggy, slippery or dirty glasses doesn’t add to the enjoyment. Anyone can appreciate the improvement in safety, performance and enjoyment that better vision can make to her active life.

Discuss recreation and sports with your eye care provider to make sure you’re taking the proper safety and protection precautions. You may also find that LASIK could help take your game to the next level!