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Vision Training, Part I - History and Pioneers

  • by Coach Ross
  • 4 min read

When I was growing up, the concept of vision training in athletics didn’t exist. In fact, the only ties I can remember between vision and athletics in those days were when Kareem Abdul Jabbar was trying to get cleared for a medical marijuana prescription because of his glaucoma or when Kirby Puckett was forced to retire because of the loss of vision in one eye from a central retinal vein occlusion. Other than that, it was all about, “see the ball, hit the ball,” and if for some reason you couldn’t see, get some Rec Specs. And those were cool. Just ask Kurt Rambis, or the second baseman on my travel ball team growing up, Brent Schoradt, a.k.a - “Specs.”

I didn’t truly appreciate the value of vision training in athletics until I was much older. The epiphany occurred for me about 10 years ago. I remember watching a special on the University of Oregon football team, back when Chip Kelly was running the ship for the Ducks. It was “Outside the Lines” or one of those shows that goes into great depth about a subject and they were focusing on the innovative ways the Oregon coaching staff was training their players and preparing for games.

It was an interesting piece, but one segment in particular really stood out to me. Oregon’s coaching staff was preparing it’s skill players (quarterbacks, receivers, running backs) with vision training! In a dark room the athlete would sit in place, with their head still and follow a laser light - up, down and all around. The idea was that by over stimulating their vision in this exercise, the athletes eyes would remain calm and be able to process the chaos on the football field more effectively.

I was fascinated by this concept. In all my life as a player, coach and sports enthusiast - I had never considered the importance of vision training to an athlete. This was next level stuff, and it was working, as those Ducks’ football teams consistently ran circles around their opponents. It was at that moment that I realized that there was so much more to athletic training than being prepared physically.

In the decade since Chip Kelly implemented vision training in Eugene, the sports training landscape has shifted dramatically. Athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before, but they’re also smarter. Today’s best athletes aren’t solely focused on outworking their counterpart physically (although that remains as important as ever), they are looking for an edge they can find through mental and visual preparation.

Consider two of the most accomplished baseball players of All-Time - Ted Williams and Barry Bonds - sure, these two left-handed hitters could slug the ball out of the ballpark, but both players were also known for having an exceptional “eye” at the plate. Bonds ranks first in MLB history with 2,558 walks, while Williams is fourth All-Time with 2,021. Want to talk on-base percentage? Williams is the All-Time leader with an incredible .482 career on-base percentage. Bonds is sixth with a measly .444 OBP. Forget about their hitting statistics for a moment, think how many of those walks turned into runs for their respective teams!

I know what some of you are thinking, why am I talking about Bonds? By all accounts he cheated to attain those gaudy numbers. Well, here’s the reason why I bring up Barry Lamar Bonds. In the 2007 book, “Game of Shadows,” by Award-Winning San Francisco Investigative Reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the book describes Bonds taking a “steroid cocktail” of several different performance enhancers. One of those steroids included Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which Fainaru-Wada and Williams suggest may have improved Bonds’ eyesight.

“There was an added benefit to the new drug regimen: Bonds stopped complaining about his eyes. Although medical experts say there’s no scientific basis to the claim, some growth hormone users have reported improved vision.” (Game of Shadows, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, pg. 75)

It’s been 12 years since “Game of Shadows” was published, and there continues to be speculation that HGH improves vision - and brain function. My point being, the performance enhancers that Bonds allegedly took weren’t simply to make him an Adonis. There’s reason to believe that Bonds and his team at BALCO took things to another level and the end result was an athletic machine - with superior physical, mental and visual capabilities.

Now, I don’t condone steroids or performance enhancing drugs in any way; however, I do find it interesting that improved mental and vision capabilities may have factored into Bonds being the most dominant athlete I have ever seen. Which leads me to the big question. How can modern day players improve their mental preparation and vision - the right way?

In the past decade, the sports landscape as a whole has made it a point to crack down on performance enhancing drugs to maintain an “even” and drug free playing field. Thankfully, athletes are back to training for their respective sports the right way and their doing it in transcendent fashion. With all the technological advancements today, athletes have the opportunity to access more information, use better equipment and practice with better training devices than ever before. Across the globe athletes are using creative new ways to train their minds, bodies and eyes in ways we never imagined - a trend that is here to stay.

Check out tomorrow's blog, as we continue to look at the importance of vision training and how modern technology can aid an athlete's development. We will also discuss the value of Slow the Game Down Vision Training Tools, which has been using methods practiced for the past 40 years. Dr. Bill Harrison has been preaching vision training to athletes dating all the way back to George Brett in 1971, and was a pioneer in vision training.