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Baseball The Magazine — #3, 2013
 
IMG Academy's Vision Training Program Enhances Baseball Performance
Cindy Yu

IMG Academy's Vision Training Program Enhances Baseball Performance
Imagine that you are a major league hitter. The pitcher rears back and fires a 95-mph fastball. You now have 300 milliseconds to make a decision. At 30 feet— nearly halfway between the mound and home plate—the ball now appears invisible, forcing the brain and eyes to communicate in (literally) a split second. That ability to see, process and act is what can separate a minor leaguer from a big leaguer, a journeyman to an all-star.

Just like improving strength, power and speed, baseball players from youth to the pros can improve their functional hand-eye coordination and visual processing. At IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, vision training has become a critical component to overall athletic development.

"The vision training is something that I really wanted to do," said Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman, during his 2013 winter training at IMG Academy. "That's what Andrew (McCutchen) told us about last season. That's the biggest thing for me. Not many places offer that type of training."

As only one of approximately 10 places in the country with a vision lab, David da Silva, head of vision training, refers to the program as the new frontier of development. Although athletes in several sports utilize the training, da Silva has seen improvement evolve more quickly in baseball than in other sports. As the ball's spins become clearer and depth perception strengthens, confidence builds.

HOW IT WORKS
Vision training targets the brain and six muscles outside of the eyes that form the visual system. It is broken down into seeing, thinking and doing. Regarded as weight lifting for the eyes, it strengthens the ability to think quickly and helps eye muscles move efficiently. Visual skills are interrelated and essential for prediction, anticipation and reaction.

IMG Academy's vision training program is based on a program developed by Dr. Ryan Parker from his Air Force Academy externship in the mid-1990s. Following World War II, the U.S. Air Force helped pilots process all types of information faster by adding vision training to its agenda.

Now used by everyone from NFL players to NASCAR drivers, the vision program at IMG Academy consists of educational instruction, evaluation and training sessions ranging from 45 minutes to an hour.

Chief among applicable baseball skills include hand-eye coordination, reaction time and peripheral awareness. The Dynavision D2 board, a3' x3' device with more than 60 lights blinking in a randomly generated sequence, tests these skills by forcing the player to utilize his peripheral vision to the fullest. He stands 12 inches from the board, and slaps the flashing lights as quickly as possible. An attached computer analyzes accuracy, speed and location of targets.

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder and three-time MLB all-star Andrew Mc- Cutchen recorded one of the program's best reaction times of 0.42 seconds per light.

"After doing the Dynaboard exercise several times, I can see the seams of the ball better when it is coming into play," said 15-year-old Douglas Horn, an IMG Academy Wood Bat League participant from Kansas City, Missouri. "I think vision training is an underrated part of the game. You learn where you are and where you need to be."

Visual memory is a key performance factor in baseball and can be tested with a Tash is to scope, which projects onto a screen flashing numbers between 0.13 and 0.49 of a second with different backgrounds.

"You don't really know what's going on or why your eyes feel tired, but then it dawns on you that it was the vision training," said Pedro Alvarez, an IMG Academy trainee and 2013 all-star selection for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

IMG Academy is one of the few places at the youth level to have the high-tech Neuro Tracker, a device frequently used by professional teams such as Manchester United and the New England Patriots. The equipment trains spatial awareness, peripheral cognitive awareness and concentration as athletes track four of eight balls bouncing at various speeds in ail directions in a cube on a 3-D screen.

"I've never seen technology like this before," said 16-year-old Jason Ward from Placer ville, California, and a participant in the U-18 IMG Academy Wood Bat League.

Like mental conditioning, it is difficult to quantify results to track improvement. Beginning in the fall, IMG Academy will enhance its program with eye tracking, technology rarely seen outside of professional establishments. Glasses with cameras pointing towards a player's field of vision and at his iris will measure the fine points an athlete focuses on. Elite athletes systematically see fewer cues when playing. For example, MLB players look at the wrist and sometimes the elbow on a fast pitch whereas others look more towards a larger portion of the body.

David da Silva hopes to work more closely with coaches in the future to expand the integration of visual training and baseball.

VISION EXERCISES BASEBALL PLAYERS CAN DO AT HOME

NEAR-FAR EYE JUMPS:
The purpose is to change focus quickly and accurately from a near point to a far point. Two targets are needed for this exercise. Be sure to use sport-specific targets, such as baseballs or tennis bails.

1. Begin by placing one target at most four inches away from you. Place the second target two to ten feet away.
2. Look at the near target, then the far target and back to the near target. Be sure both eyes come into focus on the near target as well as on the far target.
3. Do between thirty and forty near-far jumps each day or repeat this exercise for three to five minutes each day. This exercise will improve your ability to change from near to far quickly and accurately, as well as produce smoother eye movements.

SLOW PURSUITS:
The purpose is to train the eye to accurately and smoothly follow an object. A target such as a baseball is needed for this exercise.

1. Begin by holding the target directly in front of you, at a normal and comfortable reading distance. Keeping your head still, slowly move the target to the left until you can no longer hold fixation on the target or it breaks into two. Once you have reached your limit, bring the target back to the center and repeat by moving the target to your right, up, down, up and left, up and right, down and left, down and right.
2. The next step is to move your head in the directions mentioned instead of moving the target. Hold the target as still as possible and move your head to the left, right, up, down, etc. Work to move your head in a wide, smooth rotation without losing fixation or the target breaking in two.
3. Finally, try moving your head and the target at the same time and in opposite directions. For example, if you move the target to the right you must move your head to the left at the same speed you are moving the target. Continue in ail of the directions. This is an excellent warm-up activity for not only eye movements, but also head and cervical range of motion. This exercise will increase your range of movement without losing fixation or having the target break into two. Additionally, it will also help you improve your ability to perform movements of increasing difficulty with ease.

 
Come to Southern Focus Vision Center and see our program.  You can have the technology the professional and professional track youth athletes are using at sports camps like IMG

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