Dr. Arnold Sherman is a Fellow of COVD and a Diplomate of the American Academy of Optometry. He has served as a consultant to the NY Jets, the NY Rangers, and the US Olympic Committee. He has worked with athletes of all ages, from little leaguers through the professionals. He maintains a private practice in Merrick NY and is a member of the clinical faculty at SUNY Optometry.
Part 1 — Baseball
Dr. M: Thanks for sitting down with me to answer my questions about vision and sports. Sitting here in Bryant Park, I can feel spring! That means baseball, lacrosse, and tennis! And of course your favorite, hockey playoffs are starting. Let’s talk about elite athletes first. How would you describe the visual requirements to succeed in these sports?
Dr. S: All these sports are different and they all require different visual skills. But let’s look at what they have in common first. Baseball, hockey, lacrosse, and tennis all require the athlete to respond to a moving target. Vision is the signal that directs the muscles of the body; the eyes LEAD the body. Vision utilizes the eyes for input, the brain for integrating information from the other senses, and the action system of the body for output.
Dr. M: Can we get specific? How does that apply to these sports?
Dr. S: Let’s start with baseball. Vision provides the batter with information as to “WHERE” and “WHEN.” Where is the ball going to be and when do I swing? A fastball traveling at 90 mph reaches the bat in 400 milliseconds—less than a half second! It takes 150 milliseconds to initiate the swing and make contact with the ball. Therefore, the hitter has at most 250 milliseconds to decide whether or not to swing. Vision has to be razor sharp. Superior size, strength bat speed and agility cannot make up for inefficient processing of “where” and “when” to respond.
Dr. M: Even the most successful major league hitters are only successful about 35% of the time. Can improvements in vision have big impact?
Dr. S: In baseball and other sports, most performances that fail are not due to the wrong physical movement but the movement being performed at the incorrect time or in the incorrect place. In baseball, fine tuning the visual time machine can result in raising a batting average to the next level. Joe Mauer (catcher for the Minnesota Twins) is a perfect example. He never swings at the first pitch. He’s not afraid to stand at the plate with 2 strikes because he has gathered visual information from seeing several pitches and that helps him get to the right place at the right time when the right pitch is delivered.
Dr. M: What is the most important visual skill for baseball players?
Dr. S: One of the most important skills is binocularity. You need both eyes following the ball in order to make accurate judgements about “when” and “where.” You need to turn your head toward the pitcher enough to get both eyes working together. Once you have your head posture figured out, you may need to make adjustments to the rest of your body, because, remember, the EYES LEAD THE BODY.