Boosting elite athletes’ vision, at 100% Optical

100% Optical talk highlights research on how professional athletes’ vision may edge out normal people’s

25 Feb 2016 by Olivia Wannan

Could we some day prime sports stars’ sight to boost their potential or is their vision already what gives them the elite edge? Researcher Professor Brendan Barrett hopes to answer this soon, he told attendees at 100% Optical (6–8 February, ExCeL London).

Professor Barrett, a visual development professor at the University of Bradford, is now testing the abilities of the English women’s cricket team, to gauge how their sight compares to those with normal vision.

He told 100% Optical event-goers that different sports had a multitude of different visual requirements, explaining: “You’ve got to start somewhere, picking one element of one sport. Catching in cricket is our test case.”

Slip fielders in particular face a difficult visual challenge: getting their hands to the speeding cricket ball in less than half a second, he said.

Dr Barrett emphasised that what allowed a professional cricketer to make a one-handed catch that an ordinary person might miss could be due to better eyesight or an ability to ‘read’ the field better.

“We’re not interested in better anticipation … We’re removing anticipation by using a bowling machine,” he said.

Using special sight-restricting goggles and body sensors, Professor Barrett planned to measure the cricketers’ catching ability in response to changes in the visual information they get.

A range of visual tests will also be conducted. He highlighted that already professional athletes have demonstrated they have an edge in a sight test where they must count the number of random dots flashing on a screen for 150 microseconds.

His findings could one day help identify future sports talent or train athletes to improve their performance, he concluded.

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