As I mentioned on Monday, I was recently invited by Carolina Hurricanes long-time Strength and Conditioning Coach Pete Friesen to attend the Friesen Physio-Fitness Summit. While I thought all the presentations were informative, one that really stuck out to me was from Dr. Michael Peters, OD. Dr. Peters spoke about the importance of vision in elite level athletics. Intuitively, it makes sense that vision is important to high level performance. After all, if you can’t see, it’s going to be nearly impossible for you to react to the play around you (this is what makes blind individuals playing sports so remarkable!).
Chicks dig blind athletes.
With that said, vision plays a more profound role in our performance and more people suffer from vision impairments than we may realize. For starters, Dr. Peters pointed out that “ideal” vision is not 20/20 like most people believe, but 20/8. For people with uncorrected vision less than 20/20 (more on this in a second), this discrepancy becomes increasingly relevant. This is especially true in light of the fact that roughly 25% of your vision feeds into other systems, such as the vestibular system. In other words, the clarity at which we view the world drives performance through other mechanisms that affect our perception of balance, internal and external movement, and overall awareness of our surroundings.
Somewhat astoundingly, Dr. Peters noted that over 60% of the US population ages 18-25 needs correction. The take home message here was that, as a population, we need to start taking a more proactive role in protecting our vision. This starts with getting it checked regularly, starting at a young age.
See. Glasses aren’t so bad.
Vision Training for Hockey
From a training standpoint, Dr. Peters alluded to a couple different ways of improving vision for sports. The first was “to point your eyes where you’re aiming.” At Endeavor, we started encouraging our athletes to do this with our medicine ball throws. We cue them to pick a spot on the wall and throw the ball as hard as you can at that spot (using specific techniques that we teach). This reinforces great habits that will positively impact passing and shooting accuracy.
For all athletes, we also cue “eyes first” on all transitional speed work. This helps get the athlete in the habit of looking at where they want to go before they start in that direction. This is a simple, but extremely important habit. Unexpected obstacles in sports are a common factor in injuries. As an example, think of a player cutting back with the puck (without looking) directly into an oncoming opponent’s shoulder (concussion!).
Dr. Peters also discussed the importance of visualization in athletics. For those of you that are unfamiliar, visualization refers to mentally playing a movie of yourself performing a certain skill, set of skills, or living through a competition. The idea is to visualize yourself being successful, which will help reinforce your ability to be successful in real life. Many high level athletes have been doing this for decades, but Dr. Peters pointed out a pretty unique idea. He mentioned that it may be more effective to visualize yourself being successful from both a 1st and 3rd person vantage point. In other words, picture yourself being successful through your eyes and through the eyes of someone watching from the stands/sidelines.
Take Home Message
In the pursuit of on-ice excellence, every helpful piece of information counts. To this extent, vision training is drastically overlooked by most athletes. Getting your vision checked on a regular basis, and following the training techniques discussed above will undoubtedly help improve your performance.
To your success,
Kevin has rapidly established himself as a leader in the field of physical preparation and sports science for ice hockey. He is currently the Head Performance Coach for the Boston Bruins, where he oversees all aspects of designing and implementing the team’s performance training program, as well as monitoring the players’ performance, workload and recovery. Prior to Boston, Kevin spent 2 years as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach for the San Jose Sharks after serving as the Director of Performance at Endeavor Sports Performance in Pitman, NJ. He also spent 5 years as a Strength and Conditioning Coach with USA Hockey’s Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, and has been an invited speaker at conferences hosted by the NHL, NSCA, and USA Hockey.