Youth: Why Keeping Your Vision Sharp is the Key to Elite Performance & Safety
Mar 26, 2020
***This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and youth players new to soccer***
There are hundreds of drills that soccer players can practice to keep their skills sharp. If you’re an elite player, you’ve probably done these thousands of times in practice. However, can you ever think of a time that you’ve run through a drill that was specifically designed to train your vision?
Many coaches skip vision training. This is unfortunate because vision training really takes a player’s performance to the elite level. More importantly, studies have shown that improving an athlete’s vision measurably reduces their risk of sustaining a concussion.
With more than 3.8 million sports-related concussions happening annually, any steps that can reduce that number are valuable and should be incorporated into a team’s training routine as much as possible.
Key Visual Skills Needed for Soccer
When you think of the key skills that soccer players need to cultivate, the first ones that come to mind are usually technique, speed, and game intelligence. However, all of these would be impossible without good vision and the following visual skills.
To be able to dribble and pass, you need to have great depth perception, which tells you how far away you are from the ball, as well as how close you are to your teammates and whether you need to get closer before you pass.
Visual acuity is the ability to see an object clearly. In soccer, dynamic visual acuity is particularly important- it’s the skill that you need to be able to spot a fast-moving ball, or an opponent headed right towards you.
Another relevant visual skill is eye tracking- the ability to assess a situation visually while moving the head as little as possible. For soccer players, and goalkeepers in particular, this is an incredibly valuable skill.
There are many more visual skills needed for soccer that we could talk about, including hand-eye coordination, peripheral vision, and visual processing speed. All of these skills are necessary for tracking the ball, putting yourself in the right place at the right time, and analyzing the movement of the game.
How to Train to Reduce Accidents Like Concussions in Soccer
There are lots of different exercises that doctors and scientists have developed to help improve sports-related vision skills.
A light board is a common clinical tool made of a black surface embedded with illuminated buttons that’s used to train and assess visual skills. Some exercises that use a light board involve the subject turning off as many lit buttons as possible in one minute, or identifying a particular button to click based on a previous pattern.
This simple training drill can be done anywhere, at almost any time. It simply involves a player being stopped and asked to pick a target in their line of vision ahead. As they focus on that target, they’re asked to describe what they can see in their periphery to the left and right. The more they do this, the better they’ll be at picking up details.
There are a variety of other training exercises that can be administered by a doctor to evaluate the player’s current visual abilities, and help them improve over time.
Why Vision Training is So Important
Specifically training your visual skills is incredibly important for soccer players. Not only can it improve your physical performance, technique, and game intelligence, it’s also been shown to help reduce the likelihood of painful and damaging concussions by increasing neck muscle strength, and sharpening reaction times. These minor improvements may make the difference between a painful head-on collision and a near miss.
Decreasing the frequency of concussions in soccer is extremely important. These traumatic brain injuries have both short and long-term effects, including increasing your risk for future concussions.
The more concussions you sustain, the more likely it is that a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome (PCS) will follow. Many players who develop PCS find themselves permanently sidelined from soccer, with painful and debilitating symptoms that affect them for the rest of their lives.
In addition to reducing the likelihood of future concussions, vision training is also a key component of concussion baseline testing (LINK TO Feb 2020 Article #1), which helps doctors assess and monitor players who have a suspected head injury.
Improving Concussion Protection in Soccer
When it comes to protecting soccer players, improving visual skills is just one way to fight against the growing epidemic of concussions. From overhauling the way that concussions are diagnosed and treated to improving the equipment that players wear on the field, there are always more steps that can be taken.
At Storelli, we’re passionate about keeping players safe- which is why we were so proud when the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab- the leading institutions in the rating and evaluation of protective headgear across sports- rated our ExoShield Head Guard as the top ASTM-approved soccer head guard, with an estimated 84% reduction in the risk of head injuries.
While this is far from being a perfect solution and more studies are needed to confirm our understanding of the value of headgear in soccer, recent positive clinical results such as the ones mentioned above suggest that soccer headgear may be a useful tool for parents and players that want to be proactive about reducing risks.
Protecting soccer players from concussions takes a whole team, and we’re more than happy to be playing our part.