Z-Health S-Phase: Athletic Vision Skills


Last weekend I finished the third of four basic courses (R, I, S, T) that make up Z-HealthS-Phase (Sport, Skill, Strategy Phase) deals with two things: vision training and sport specific mobility.  There was a lot of learning but there was also a lot of real fun.  We spent a good bit of time out on a grass ball field working on all sorts of sport movements from sprints to catching to changing direction and accelerating.  This is a breakdown of the athletic visual skill portion of S-Phase.

The Power of Vision

I think it’s probably obvious to you that vision is important.  Very important. As humans it’s our most valuable sense.  (If we were dogs, we’d be talking about our noses.  If we were bats, it would be our hearing that’s the big topic.)  The loss of any of our other senses (hearing, taste, touch, smell) would make life quite difficult but loss of vision would likely make life nearly impossible for most of us.  (This is taking nothing away from blind people who are able to live a full, rich life.  My point is to say that we rely on vision more than the other senses.)

Thus, our visual skills impact every part of us.  We know if we have a bad prescription for lenses then we can experience pain often in the form of headaches.  Similarly, visual impairment may throw off our balance or make us nauseous.  We may be scared or extremely cautious of driving or walking stairs if our eyes don’t function correctly.  In the other direction, we can enhance our balance, mobility, speed and strength if we enhance our visual skills.

Visual Skills

When I speak of vision skills, I’m not really talking about eyesight.  Eyesight is what your optometrist measures in his or her office.  That’s simple stuff.  You’re seated.  They eye chart isn’t moving at all and neither your balance nor any type of coordination is tested along with your vision.  In other words, there’s very little real-world stress or stimulation that’s used in an eyesight test.  When we discuss vision skills, we’re talking about a skill set made up of the abilities:

  1. Dynamic visual acuity: This skill allows you to see objects clearly while either they or you are in motion.  In very nearly every sport (and in non-sport activities such as driving) we must have exceptionally good vision anywhere from a few inches out to 300 feet.
  2. Eye tracking: This refers to your ability to move your eyes and track an object in motion.  It pertains to “keeping your eye on the ball.”
  3. Focusing/Accomodation: This is the ability to change focus quickly and accurately from near to far and back again.
  4. Peripheral vision: This skill is well described by the phrase, “how well you can see what you’re not looking at.”  These are the things you should be able to see “out of the corner of your eye.”
  5. Vergence flexiblity and stamina: This is the skill to keep both eyes working together in unison under high speed, physically stresfful situations and differing environments.
  6. Depth perception: This skill allows you to quickly and accurately judge the distance and speed of objects moving towards and away from you.
  7. Imagery: This is the ability to picture events with your “mind’s eye.”
  8. Sequencing: This refers to the skill to correctly see and put together a series of movements in order.  It’s sort of a Simon-says type of thing.  We see this particularly when learning sports movements: “First do this, then do that, then do this….”
  9. Eye-hand & Food-hand coordination: These interactions are the ultimate basis of athletic skill.  Here we use our ability to take in visual information and translate it into the necessary body movements.  (It’s also how we live a big part of our non-athletic lives.)

If any of these skills are deficient, then we won’t perform as well as we should be able, whether it’s on the playing field or in every day life.  Conversely, if we spend a little time training these skills, then we can expect progress in any number of areas from sport skill to pain reduction.  Most recently I’ve been using some visual drills to help a client overcome hip pain.  It’s quite interesting stuff.

The S-Phase course taught us tests and exercises to evaluate these visual skills.  The video below is an example of one of the drills we learned.  It’s called the Pencil Pushup.

For further information on what’s behind visual skills, how to assess them and how to improve your visual skills, the Z-Health site offers an article titled, The Eyes Have It.  Another article, Reflexive Lifting, discusses ways to modify your eye position and posture in order to increase your performance in the deadlift and the kettlebell swing.

Finally, this video illustrates (among other things) the role of the eyes in the chin-up.  Watch the whole video to learn more about Z-Health in general.  At about the eight minute mark Dr. Cobb demonstrates what happens when we change eye position during a chin-up.  Try it out on your own and see what you discover.

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