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Can 20/20 Vision Make You a Better Basketball Player?

Monday, March 6 2017 10:47 AM

March means one thing: March Madness, especially here in Kansas where we have our pick of three great teams to root for. Whether you’ve got an intricate strategy for your bracket or you’re rooting for your underdog team, it’s a month filled with great games played by incredible athletes.

While these athletes invest countless hours running drills in practice and studying game tapes, one of the most important keys to their success (and least talked about) is their vision. We hear, all the time, how the best players “see the court” differently, especially at a pro level. Steph Curry, the best player in the NBA right now, extensively trains his vision as much as his body.  

Good vision is critical for high performance on the court. But what does that actually mean?

20/20 Defined

If you’ve been to an eye doctor before, you’re familiar with the big black and white chart of letters that gets progressively smaller. This standard vision test is assessing your visual acuity. In other words, the sharpness of your vision.

The top number in the fraction always stays the same. It’s the distance you stand from the chart (20 feet). The bottom number corresponds to the line of letters you can accurately read.

To have 20/20 vision means you can read the letters all the way down to the fourth from the bottom line on a typical eye chart. It’s what ophthalmologists consider to be standard for visual acuity.

If you’re unable to see to that 20/20 line, the bottom fraction is larger, meaning you have poor eyesight and might need to have prescription glasses, contacts or consider eye surgery.

If you can accurately read the lines below the fourth line from the bottom, you have a smaller number on the bottom fraction and better than average vision. Elite athletes are more likely to have better than 20/20 vision (while only about one percent of the population has 20/10 vision). One study showed that the average visual acuity of baseball players was 20/12.5, almost twice as good as standard eyesight.

Beyond 20/20 vision

People typically associate the phrase “20/20 vision” with perfect eyesight. This measurement is the standard, not the ideal. Also, the eye chart test only measures your ability to view stationery and high-contrast objects, whereas athletes need their eyes to do much more than just see still objects clearly.

For the athletes participating in March Madness, there’s a variety of skills they’ll need their eyes to do. As an article in the American Optometric Association points out, “vision is a critical skill for sport performance, and like most systems in the body, visual skills are multifaceted.”

Other visual capabilities basketball players (and other athletes) need include:

  • Peripheral vision: Defensive moves require a heightened awareness of what’s happening around you. It helps to be able to accurately perceive what’s happening out the corner of your eye.

  • Eye tracking ability: Players need to be able to see the ball accurately as it travels around the court. The muscles in their eye must make rapid adjustments to track the action and anticipate their opponent’s next move.  

  • Depth perception: Accurately interpreting the distance of their teammate enables players to pass the ball efficiently. Sinking a three-pointer requires athletes to judge how much force to throw the ball with, depending on their location. This depth perception is calculated by judgements of size and color contrast in the visual field.

How LASIK can help

LASIK eye surgery improves visual acuity. Most patients have 20/20 vision or better post surgery. Besides crisp vision, LASIK eye surgery can also improve other components of high-quality vision, including improved depth perception and ability to see a subtle contrast.

Many of our patients play sports on some level. Whether it’s basketball or tennis, LASIK surgery enables them to play their personal best, without the annoyance of glasses or contacts.

Whether you’re an athlete looking for a competitive advantage or just someone who wants to see the world clearer, LASIK eye surgery might be the best option for you. Even if you aren’t a college athlete headed to the Final Four, improved vision is a major win.





Shalee Lehning
"Playing sports is hard enough without worrying about your contacts. The inconvenience of losing contacts during practice and competition was frustrating for me. The decision to have the surgery was the best decision I have made!"
Shalee Lehning, K-State Women's Assistant Coach / Former WNBA and K-State Player - Manhattan, KS

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