Sporting heroes may not have elite vision

Elite sports players can often appear to have superhuman powers that let them compete at the highest level, but when it comes to their eyesight, they may be no different from everyone else.

A new study by researchers at the University of Bradford has found that vision problems, like short and long sightedness, are common among top cricketers and rugby league players.

More unexpected was that many of the athletes did not attend regular eye examinations and consequently were perhaps not seeing as well as they could while on the playing field.

The findings suggest that clear, pin-sharp eyesight might not be as important for playing cricket or rugby league at the highest levels, as many might believe.

The research was led by professor of visual development, Brendan Barrett, and RCUK Research Fellow, Dr John Buckley, at the University of Bradford. Professor Barrett said:  “You might expect sports people at the top level to take measures to make sure their vision is perfect, particularly given that in cricket, for example, the ball is small and often travelling very fast.

“But we found a surprising proportion of people who are playing high-level sport without being optimally corrected or indeed corrected at all. It opens up some interesting questions - would they play even better if their eyesight was fully corrected, or is it the case that acute vision is not actually necessary to play high-level sport?”

Professor Barrett and colleagues at the University of York, John Moores University, Liverpool, and the University of St Andrews, conducted a series of eye and vision tests on players from the England women’s cricket team, university cricket teams and the Huddersfield Giants rugby league team.

The study, which is published in the journal Sports Medicine (Open), found that while two thirds of those who took part had undergone an eye examination within the past two years, around one-in-five had not been tested in the past past five years or had never had an eye exam.

A similar proportion of players had a visual anomaly, which mostly consisted of uncorrected or under-corrected problems that are usually easily treatable with a new or updated optical prescription.

Amongst the participants who wore glasses or contact lenses in everyday life, a number chose not to wear anything to correct their vision while on the playing field.

The study forms part of a wider research project funded by the BBSRC, one of the UK Government’s Research Councils, and is examining the contribution that vision makes to the potential for reaching elite-levels in sport.

Professor Barrett said further research was needed to examine whether players might perform better if they took steps to correct their vision problems when on the field.

He added: “There is a lot that we still don’t understand about how vision contributes to the interceptive actions that are a feature of so many sports.

“For example, if you speak to those who are very good slip fielders in cricket, they have particular strategies about where they should be looking and when they should be looking there. This tells us that there is more to vision than just seeing things clearly. It’s also about how vision is used to deliver the best performance.”

To find out more about the project please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gj--73CpIo