EYES ON THE BALL

Sport is an important aspect of the South African way of life. Whether just enjoying playing with a ball in the garden, participating in team sports, or taking sport more seriously, vision plays a fundamental role, and there are a number of factors to take into account. These range from the necessary visual skills for sport to the importance of eye protection and the enhancement of sporting performance with different types of eyewear.

VISUAL SKILLS FOR SPORT

Dynamic Visual Acuity - This is the ability to see clearly objects that are moving fast at the same time as the player is moving.

Visual Concentration - Our eyes normally react to what is happening around us and in our field of vision. Visual concentration is the ability to shut out distractions and remain focused on the activity.

Eye Tracking - Eye tracking helps us to maintain balance while following a ball or opponent with our eyes, without movement of the head.

Eye-Hand-Body Coordination - This is an essential element in most sports, affecting timing and body control. Eye-hand-body coordination is the ability of the hands, feet and body to respond to the information gathered through the eyes.

Visual Memory - Using the skill of processing and remembering a fast-moving complex picture, the athlete with good visual memory always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

Visualisation - Picturing yourself doing it can actually help you do it! Through visualisation, you see yourself performing well in your "mind's eye" while your eyes are concentrating on the activity.

Peripheral Vision - Much of what happens in sports does not happen directly in front of us in our line of vision. The ability to see action to the side without having to turn the head is important.

Visual Reaction Time - This is the speed with which the brain interprets and reacts to an opponent's action.

Depth Perception - Depth perception enables you to quickly and accurately judge the distance between yourself, the ball, your opponents, teammates, boundary lines and other objects.

If visual skills are not adequate, this can lead to poor performance, which in turn can affect enjoyment of the sport. Correction of vision problems with glasses or contact lenses, or a programme of eye exercises can help enhance vision skills, improve sports vision performance and build confidence. Discuss the best management option with your optometrist.

SPORTS INJURIES

Sports injuries, including eye injuries, are reported to make up a considerable percentage of doctors' visits and hospital admissions. Eye injuries include corneal abrasions (damage to the transparent front surface of the eye), blunt trauma (injury to the eye through sudden impact), swelling and bruising of the eyelids and surrounding tissue, bleeding behind the conjunctiva (the membrane in front of the eye), and penetrating injuries.

Flying objects are not the only hazard; in contact sports, eye injuries can occur from jabs in the eyes from fingers and elbows. Sometimes a black eye can mask a more severe injury, so it is advisable to have the eye examined by an optometrist or doctor. The absorption of ultra violet (UV) radiation from the sun is cumulative, and can damage the cornea and retina in the long term, causing future problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

CHOOSING PROTECTIVE EYEWEAR

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. With the guidance of your optometrist, the careful selection and fitting of protective eyewear for sport can help eliminate or minimise the dangerous effects of sporting injuries. While children may be resistant to the idea, eye protection is becoming more common, much as helmets have become accepted wear for cycling. A great deal of research is being conducted into the design of safe eyewear.

Ordinary glasses are not a substitute for protective eyewear, and can be more dangerous in situations where they could shatter.

Most sports frames are constructed of highly impact-resistant plastic or polycarbonate. Choose a lightweight frame for comfort, one that fits well, and cannot fall or be knocked off easily. Ensure that the frame covers the entire eye socket to protect the eyes against impact as well as UV radiation.

While side protection is important, peripheral vision should not be compromised. The frame should have padding at the temples and over the nose bridge to cushion impact. Some frames have a system that directs air through vents, preventing condensation on the lens during sport. For sports requiring helmets, frames are available to fit into helmets safely and comfortably.

Polycarbonate lenses are strong, lightweight and thin, and will not shatter on impact. Ensure that the lenses offer 100% UV protection. If it is necessary to wear glasses during sport, prescription lenses can either be fitted directly into the frame or inserted as a clip-in lens.

Discuss the best option with your optometrist.

Lens tints are an important component of sports eye wear, both for eye protection and enhancement of performance, by reducing glare, improving contrast and increasing depth perception. Green lenses transmit all colours evenly, dimming glare while brightening shadows. They are suitable for all outdoor activities in all weather conditions. A brown or amber tint contains a red element to enhance depth perception. It improves contrast in partly cloudy conditions, helping the player to distinguish the ball better against the sky or the surrounding grass. While a yellow tint may cause some colour distortion, it provides greater clarity in fog, haze and low-light conditions, such as dusk. Grey lenses are dark enough to provide overall protection and to reduce glare, particularly over water. They have anti-fatigue benefits, and offer true colour perception. For enhanced visual depth, reduced eye strain, good contrast, and comfort to the eyes, pink or red would be a suitable choice.

WHAT TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY

Even if an injury seems minor at first, the eye should be examined by a doctor or optometrist as soon as possible, as a serious injury is not always obvious immediately. Do not rub or apply pressure to the eye, or try to remove an object stuck in the eye. Gently cover a cut over the eye without applying pressure.

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