As an eye doctor who helps athletes reach their genetic potential, my favorite part of the Duke-UNC game last night occurred when ESPN's announcer Dick Vitale crooned that Duke forward Jabari Parkers’ nearsightedness wasn’t affecting him as he sank a three pointer. Dick’s broadcasting partner chimed in “that’s because Parker’s wearing his contact lenses!”
When I polled the NBA teams, the stats of players who needed to wear contact lenses, eye glasses or had LASIK to see better(regardless if they chose to play with them) was:
· 18.9% in 2012-1013
· 16% in 2009 - 2010
That’s a far cry from the 54% of 18-29 year olds in the United states who need corrective eye wear (this is the same age group as the NBA players ....click here for stats).
Comparing those statistics, 30% of those blurry high school basketball players (3 out of 10) got weeded out of getting into college or beyond because of their vision.
Change the age range to include 18-35 year olds, and it turns out 61% of us in the US need something to help us see our best. This suggests that nearly 2 out 5 basketball athletes get weeded out of making it to the professional level due to their vision.
They're pretty smart there at Duke. Coach K jumped in and insisted that Jabari start wearing contacts when he arrived at school. Dr. Terry Kim got him wearing contacts that didn’t feel funny so he wouldn’t have to blink as much.
Athletes need every edge to be the best. Ignoring the small problems in high school can blow into bigger problems when the completion level gets better. Big fish in a small pond are just average fish when they jump to a pond full of big fish. A split second here; a missed judge distance there and you’ve missed the shot.
Also, elite athletes have bigger areas of this clear vision. As you just read in my last blog, elite athletes standing at the arc of the three point line only have to move their eyes in two gaze positions to see from the left side line to right side line where the average athlete has to move their eyes almost 5 gaze positions to see everything. Again, another season elite perform at a higher level. Elite see more quicker allowing them to react faster.
In a recent WSJ article (click here), it was suggested that less than perfect vision may be acceptable in some sports (especially basketball) but I think the stats I state here suggest otherwise. Sure, there are some of the 18.9% in last year’s NBA teams who chose not to wear correction while playing, but there is still 30%-40% of potential athletes who never made it there because of their eyes.
Another stat showing players like to see to play was last years’ Miami Heat. There were 4 players on there team who had LASIK…..Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosch and Mario Chalmers representing a whopping 27% of the team.
Jabari hit the eye wall. He’s busted through it with contacts! (I bet will be reading about his LASIK at Duke in about 4 or 5 years! Keep the lasers warmed up Dr. Kim!)
March madness showcases how much some athletes have to move and shift their eyes while coming down the court and others don't.
This is called gaze control and elite athletes have better gaze control. They don't shift their eyes as much.
One reason average athletes move their eyes more is because their area of vision is smaller than that of the elite.
Our central vision gives us our best vision and we can measure this on athletes. In my book, See To Play, we describe this area as the detailed vision zone and how to measure for it. Average athletes see detail in less than 30 degrees of one gaze while the best athletes see over 50 degrees. (I met with professional basketball trainer, Joe Sharpe, this summer and this fact really impressed him...so much so that he thanked me by sending a Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and OKC Thunder signed ball.)
Let’s compare two basketball point guards standing at the top of the three point line. The average athlete will have to shift their eyes 5 times to see from one side of the court to the other. The better athletes can see that same area with just 2 shifts of eye gaze. The better athlete moves his eyes half as much, takes in the same information and performs that task in a shorter amount of time.
Eye gaze has been studied on athletes by measuring how much athletes move their eyes. These studies found that better athletes move their eyes less and their eyes don’t jump as much before decision making. This is often referred to as a quiet eye. Brain activity was also measured to be less before decision making with these athletes.
This raises the question: does this occur because athletes are more mentally prepared or are there other factors?
I believe that the biggest factor is how much an athlete sees (i.e., athletes who exhibit large detailed vision zone take in more information in one gaze, can get the whole picture of the playing field in a shorter amount of time allowing for less processing and quicker decision making.) I hope this will be studied more by the quiet eye folks.
So, which came first? The chicken or the egg…………….or in this instance….is gazed controlled by the size of the detailed vision zone or the amount of thinking?
I’ll take the athlete with the larger detailed vision zone!
Enjoy watching the March Madness Eye Movements!
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