Vision and Visual History in Elite/Near-Elite-Level Cricketers and Rugby-League Players
Barrett et al. Sports Medicine - Open
Vision and Visual History in Elite/Near-Elite- Level Cricketers and Rugby-League Players
Brendan T. Barrett 0 1
Jonathan C. Flavell 0 3
Simon J. Bennett 2
Alice G. Cruickshank 0
Alex Mankowska 0
Julie M. Harris 4
John G. Buckley 1
0 School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Bradford , Bradford , UK
1 School of Engineering, University of Bradford , Bradford , UK
2 School of Sport and Exercise Science, Liverpool John Moores University , Liverpool , UK
3 Department of Psychology, University of York , York , UK
4 School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of St Andrews , St Andrews , UK
Background: The importance of optimal and/or superior vision for participation in high-level sports remains the subject of considerable clinical research interest. Here, we examine the vision and visual history of elite/near-elite cricketers and rugby-league players. Methods: Stereoacuity (TNO), colour vision, and distance (with/without pinhole) and near visual acuity (VA) were measured in two cricket squads (elite/international-level, female, n = 16; near-elite, male, n = 23) and one professional rugby-league squad (male, n = 20). Refractive error was determined, and details of any correction worn and visual history were recorded. Results: Overall, 63% had their last eye examination within 2 years. However, some had not had an eye examination for 5 years or had never had one (near-elite cricketers 30%; rugby-league players 15%; elite cricketers 6%). Comparing our results for all participants to published data for young, optimally corrected, non-sporting adults, distance VA was ~ 1 line of letters worse than expected. Adopting α = 0.01, the deficit in distance VA was significant, but only for elite cricketers (p < 0.001) (near-elite cricketers, p = 0. 02; rugby-league players, p = 0.03). Near VA did not differ between subgroups or relative to published norms for young adults (p > 0.02 for all comparisons). On average, near stereoacuity was better than in young adults, but only in elite cricketers (p < 0.001; p = 0.03, near-elite cricketers; p = 0.47, rugby-league players). On-field visual issues were present in 27% of participants and mostly (in 75% of cases) comprised uncorrected ametropia. Some cricketers (near-elite 17.4%; elite 38%) wore refractive correction during play, but no rugby-league player did. Some individuals with prescribed correction choose not to wear it when playing. Conclusions: Aside from near stereoacuity in elite cricketers, the basic visual abilities we measured were not better than equivalent, published data for optimally corrected adults; 20-25% exhibited sub-optimal vision, suggesting that the clearest possible vision might not be critical for participation at the highest levels in the sports of cricket or rugby league. Although vision could be improved in a sizeable proportion of our sample, the impact of correcting these, mostly subtle, refractive anomalies on playing performance is unknown.
Vision; Eye; Eyesight; Elite sports; Ametropia; Refractive error; Cricket; Rugby league
Around two thirds of elite- and near-elite-level
rugby-league players and cricketers had their eyes
examined in the past 2 years, but 20–25% had either
never had an eye examination or had had their last
examination ≥ 5 years ago.
Twenty to twenty-five per cent had an anomaly of
vision in their habitual playing state, which, in ~ 75%
of cases, was due to uncorrected refractive error;
such errors are easily treatable using contact lenses.
Findings suggest that the basic, clinically measured
vision of high-level cricket and rugby-league players
is frequently sub-optimal. However, the extent to
which correction of these, mostly subtle, anomalies
of refraction would lead to improved, on-field
performance is not known.
Vision plays a key role in interceptive tasks that are
ubiquitous features of human action and interaction in
our world, for example when shaking hands or crossing
the street. Interceptive tasks are also a key component of
many sports, such as when catching and/or striking a ball.
While some minimum level of vision is obviously
important for participation in most sports, the
requirement to optimise retinal image clarity in order to
maximise sporting performance is contested. There are claims
that vision is superior in elite athletes compared to the
general population [
] or in elites compared to sub-elite
athletes or novices [
]. Most of these claims have been
made for sports which feature a small, fast moving target
such as in baseball . Also, vision measures and
oculomotor behaviour (e.g. where and/or when the eyes are
looking) may differ between elite individuals from
different sports [
] or between players in different
positions in the same sports (e.g. fielders and pitchers in
baseball , hitters and pitchers in baseball [
]; but see
]). One interpretation of these findings is that excellent
vision has contributed to the potential for ‘eliteness’. This
is supported by studies suggesting (i) that vision can be
trained (e.g. in terms of where and/or when to look) or
possibly even improved (i.e. made more acute) [
(ii) that better vision is associated with better on-field
], and (iii) that vision training can
enhance performance in the field [
However, counter evidence suggests that optimal and/
or superior vision is not required to fulfil the potential
for eliteness. Firstly, there are examples of elite-sporting
individuals whose vision was sub-optimal. Mansoor Ali
Khan (1941–2011) became the captain of the Indian
cricket team at the age of 21 having lost sight in one eye
when aged 16 [
], and there are also questions about
the vision of the legendary Babe Ruth [
low to moderate levels of retinal-image blur, simulating
uncorrected myopia, may not necessarily impact
negatively on performance in sporting tasks [
], even in
tasks where the visual demands are high [
the uptake of eye care amongst elite-level athletes may
be low; hence, suboptimal vision (e.g. due to uncorrected
refractive error) may well exist amongst some elite
]. Finally, a number of studies have
concluded that claims that vision can be trained or
improved remain unproven [
As outlined above, the evidence that high-level sports
players need to have superior vision is equivocal. The
importance of ‘vision’ depends not not only on the sport,
and in some cases, on the position played in that sport
(e.g. bowling or batting or fielding in cricket), but also on
precisely which aspect of vision is being considered (e.g.
which of the many different tests of vision are used to
evaluate vision). While visual acuity (the ability to resolve
static, black letters of decreasing size on a white
background) is the most well-known measure of acuteness of
vision, there are many measures that reflect different visual
abilities; these include stereoacuity, visual acuity for
dynamic targets (‘dynamic VA’) [
4, 12, 36
], contrast sensitivity
], and positional acuity [
], to name but a few. Different
measures of vision may reflect, to a greater or lesser extent,
the demands associated with particular tasks on the field of
play. Further, if they exist at all, differences in vision
between elites and sub-elites or novices may not emerge as
differences in raw visual performance measures, but they
might instead arise from differences in how vision is used.
That is, elites, either through experience or through
training, may adopt a better strategy than sub-elites for knowing
where and when to look in order to access the most useful
information at the most appropriate time [
]. For example,
in a study of anticipation and visual search behaviour by
Savelsbergh et al. [
] in which expert soccer goalkeepers
were classified as successful or unsuccessful based on
performance on a film-based test of anticipation, the
‘successful’ experts appeared to spend longer periods of time
fixating on the non-kicking leg compared with
nonsuccessful experts. In putting, Vickers [
] found that better
golfers exhibited longer fixation durations on the ball and
target and fewer fixations on the club and surface. In
cricket, Land and McLeod’s study [
] led them to
conclude that a cricket player’s eye movement strategy
contributes to skill in the game (see also [
between visual ability measures and the use of different
visual strategies has been compared to the hardware versus
software (respectively) distinction in computing [
Adopting this analogy, many believe that while changes to
the hardware (improvements in visual ability, e.g. visual
acuity and stereoacuity) are not achievable (but see [
changes to the software (e.g. improvements in visual
strategies) may be both possible and effective [
]. It is
possible that either ‘hardware’ or ‘software’ differences in
vision contribute to the potential for sporting eliteness or
that neither do. It is also possible that the two might
interact so that for example, reduced vision (e.g. due to
significant uncorrected refractive error) may limit a player’s
ability to employ a particular visual strategy.
Based upon the computing analogy outlined above,
investigations into whether differences exist in vision
between elites and sub-elite or novices, it is possible to
divide such studies into comparisons between players
and non-players in terms of vision abilities or of visual
strategy. The current study is concerned with the
former. Surprisingly, there have been no studies of eye
care and basic (i.e. standard) visual abilities amongst
UK-based high-level sportspeople. Here, we examine
vision and visual history in UK-based elite/sub-elite
players from two sports with very different visual
demands, cricket and rugby league. The impact of
suboptimal vision may be greater in cricketers due to the
demands of the game which features a small, often very
fast moving object (the cricket ball). We gathered
information about the visual history of our sports players to
examine basic visual abilities in high-level cricketers and
rugby-league players and to compare these visual
measures with published normative values from young
adults. Our aim was to understand the importance of
optimally corrected vision for high-level participation in
these sports and to look for evidence for
better-thannormal vision. To our knowledge, this is the first study
to measure the basic vision abilities and visual history of
athletes who play the popular UK sports of cricket and
Between September 2014 and October 2015, we
conducted clinical visual assessments in 59 high-level
sports players. Our rugby-league player sample consisted
of 20 males from a ‘Super-League’ (professional) team.
There were two cricketing samples. The first consisted
of 23 male, near-elite-level players who represent the
best players from universities in the north of England
and who formed the Leeds/Bradford Marylebone Cricket
Club. Several of these cricketers had played for periods
with English county teams and together this group had
played as a team against first-class, English county
cricket teams. The second sample of cricketers was
female and consisted of 16 members of England’s
international women’s cricket team. Age details are provided
in Table 1.
Protocols and Clinical Data Gathered
We gathered data from the participant groups described
above. The results from our participants were compared
with published data from young non-sporting individuals
(see the ‘Statistical Analysis’ section below).
We measured the monocular (each eye) and binocular
visual acuities (VA) at distance (6 m) and near (40 cm).
Vision was measured in the habitual ‘sports
participation’ state, i.e. with optical correction if worn when
playing sports. Distance vison measures were taken
using a logMAR chart [
], and near vision was
measured using an MNRead chart , which has a
similar scoring system to logMAR distance VA
measurement. We also determined whether distance VA in each
P values in italics met the criterion for statistical significance (p < 0.01)
aHabitual means with both eyes open, wearing any correction, that is normally worn when playing or without correction if not
bResults of statistical comparison using t tests of distance and near (VA) visual acuity for our three samples to the average value (− 0.16 logMAR) expected in
young adults with normal or correct-to-normal vision [
cResults of statistical comparison using z testing of TNO stereoacuity for our three samples against an average value for stereoacuity measured in young adults
with the TNO test (50″)[
eye improved when participants viewed through a
pinhole (1 mm) because any improvement would
suggest that the existing habitual refractive status was
non-optimal . We assessed stereoacuity using the
TNO stereotest (version no. 14, 2014 TNO Stereotest.
Boca Raton, FL: Richmond Products). When only one of
the two plates at the next level was correctly identified,
stereoacuity (in seconds of arc, ″) was taken as the
average of the two levels. Colour vision was assessed using
the Ishihara test (24-plate edition, Kanehara & Co. Ltd.,
Tokyo, Japan), and we determined the type and extent of
any refractive error using an auto-refractor (Shin-Nippon,
NVision-K 5001, Shin-Nippon Corporation, Japan).
We recorded the frequency of eye examinations, whether
glasses or contact lenses are worn while playing, and
whether there was any history of eye injury or eye disease.
Using a questionnaire, participants were asked about the
use of an eye patch as a child and any previous
participation in eye/vision-training programmes. The complete list
of questions is given in Table 2. Our aim was to gather
detailed information about the clinically measured visual
function, the perceived level of vision, and the visual history
of each participant. All but two questionnaires (both from
the rugby-league sample) were completed, though not all
questions were answered by every participant (Table 2).
For each sub-group, we used z tests to compare near and
distance VA, and stereoacuity against published values from
young adults. We also compared performance on each of
these tests between the participant sub-groups using t tests.
For both z and t tests, we adopted an α-criterion of 0.01.
Ethics, Consent, and Permissions
The study was approved by the ethics committee at the
University of Bradford, and the tenets of the Declaration
of Helsinki were followed. Written, informed consent was
obtained from all participants included in the study.
Clinically Measured Level of Visual Function
Stereoacuity and VA data are presented in Table 1 and
Fig. 1. There were no statistically significant differences
in VA (distance or near) between the three subgroups
(p > 0.01 for all comparisons). In all sub-groups, the
average distance VA was ~ 1 line of letters worse than
the level which the published literature indicates can be
expected in young, optimally corrected, non-sporting
], i.e. those who have undergone an eye
examination and are wearing the optical prescription that
maximises their visual acuity. However, the deficit we
identified in distance VA was only statistically significant
for the elite cricketers (Table 1). The modest levels of
distance VA mainly reflect the fact that a number of
individuals had under- or uncorrected refractive error
(see below). This is consistent with the finding that
pinhole viewing improved VA by ≥ 1 line in 8.5% of
participants (Table 1). Levels of near VA were consistent with
those expected in young adults [
] (Table 1, Fig. 1).
Overall, the median near stereoacuity was 30″.
Stereoacuity did not differ significantly between the three
subgroups (Table 1, Fig. 1). Stereoacuity in elite cricketers was
significantly better (p < 0.001) than 50″, which is a
consistently reported average value for TNO stereoacuity in
young adults [
]. However, stereoacuity in the
nearelite cricketers (p = 0.03) and rugby-league players
(p = 0.47) was not better than the 50″ criterion. While
median stereoacuity was good in all sub-groups (Table 1),
three rugby-league players (15%) and two near-elite
cricketers (~ 9%) had stereoacuity worse than 60″. These two
cricketers were ‘lower-order’ batters, meaning that they
are less-able at batting than some of their teammates and
that their primary contribution to the team is in the form
of bowling and fielding. None of the elite cricketers had
stereoacuity worse than 60″.
Colour vision testing suggested normal performance in
all participants except two near-elite cricketers. Overall,
4.7% of our males had red/green colour deficiency
compared to an expected 8% in European Caucasian
], who comprised the overwhelming majority of
our males. This discrepancy may be due to our modest
sample size, but it is consistent with findings that colour
vision deficits are under-represented in high-level
cricketers in England [
] and with another study [
which fewer first-grade cricketers than expected were
found to be colour-vision deficient. None of the female
cricketers were found to be colour deficient, and this is
consistent with the much lower prevalence of red/green
deficiency expected in females compared to males [
Residual Visual Issues
Residual visual issues (i.e. uncorrected, possibly unknown,
anomalies of vision/visual system that could impact upon
play) were found in 27.1% (16/59) of participants.
Amongst the sub-groups, this varied from 18.8 to 35%
(Table 2). Of the 16 individuals, most (n = 12, 75%) had
uncorrected (92%) or under-corrected (8%) refractive
error, and the pinhole test revealed improved VA in 5 of
these 12 cases. In 6 of the 12 cases, the last eye
examination had taken place > 5 years previously or no
examination had ever taken place. In 4 of the 12 cases,
correction for mild refractive error (up to 1 dioptre of
myopia or astigmatism) was worn but not during play.
No cases of undetected ocular pathology existed, but
one player (near-elite bowler) had significant, known
ocular pathology that impacted on vision during play
(Table 3). Three cases of binocular vision anomalies
existed (Table 3).
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Uptake of Eye Care
Sixty-three per cent of all participants had their last eye
examination within the past 2 years. However, there were
substantial differences between the groups (Table 2); ~ 30%
of near-elite cricketers had their last eye examination >
5 years before or had never had one, compared to 15% of
rugby-league players and 6% of elite cricketers. Across the
full sample, the figure was 18.6% (Table 2). In the
questionnaire, only ~ 50% of the cricketers (elite and near-elite) and
~ 40% of the rugby-league players indicated that they
regularly undergo eye examinations at least every 2 years
(Table 3). Overall, 24.6% (Table 3) said they have eye
examinations at ≥ 5 yearly intervals.
Refractive Correction Worn During Play
17.4% of near-elite cricketers and 38% of elite cricketers
reported using refractive correction during play, but none
of the rugby-league players did (Table 3). In all except one
case, this consisted of contact lenses. 62.2% of cricketers
wore (non-corrective) sunglasses in bright playing
conditions (Table 3). No participant had refractive surgery.
Perceived Level of Visual Function
Overall, 84.2% of players rated their vison as ‘good’ or
‘excellent’ (Table 3). Around 20% of the near-elite cricketers
rated their vision as only ‘moderate’ or ‘poor’, compared to
11 and 6% of the rugby-league players and elite cricketers,
respectively (Table 3). The majority of players (5/8, 62.5%)
who rated their vision as ‘moderate’ or ‘poor’ had
uncorrected/under-corrected refractive error.
Although over 90% of elite cricketers rated their vision
as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, ~ 30% reported visual difficulties
during play, compared with only 16.7% of rugby-league
players and 8.7% of near-elite cricketers (Table 3). The
discrepancy between the proportion of players with
residual visual issues (see above) and the proportion
who report visual problems during play for the elite
cricketers (18.8 versus 30%, respectively), near-elite-level
cricketers (35 versus 8.7%), and rugby-league players
(25 versus 16.7%) suggests that perceived level of
vision may not be a reliable guide to clinically
measured vision and vice-versa (Tables 2 and 3).
History of Eye Disease, Eye Accidents, and Vision Training
Table 3 contains details of sports-related eye injuries
(one rugby-league player), ocular disease (one near-elite
cricketer), and vision training (two near-elite cricketers)
to improve sports performance.
To our knowledge, there have been no previous studies
of eye care and basic (i.e. standard) visual abilities
Rugby-league players (n = 18) Excellent: 38.9% Good: [50.0%
Every year: 27.8%
1–2 years: 11.1%
2–5 years: 5.6%
5+ years/never: 22.2%
No response: 33.3%
(1 case; for detached retina)
(1 case: for detached retina)
No response: 16.7%
Y: 0/18 [0%]
amongst UK-based high-level sports players in the
games of cricket or rugby league. This work represents
a preliminary attempt to understand whether having
optimal and/or superior vision is important for
elitelevel participation in these sports. Our sample size is
modest which reduces the power of our statistical
analyses. Having said this, groups of elites are by their
very nature small because they represent the best of
their sports, e.g. our cricketing elites were, at the time,
more or less the entire England’s ladies cricket squad.
We did not gather equivalent data in a control group of
non-sporting, age-matched individuals. Instead, we
compared the results in our sports players with
published results from young, optimally corrected,
nonsporting adults. Thus, while these comparisons are
between samples of broadly similar age, they are not
specifically age-matched nor of the same sample size.
We believe this was a better approach because
published data on young adults are generally of studies
involving larger sample sizes, which we believed there
was no need to try to replicate.
Is ‘Excellent’ Vision a Prerequisite for Participation in Elite
Our results show that our samples of elite and near-elite
sports players do not have basic visual characteristics
which could be considered excellent/superior. Aside
from the possible exception of near stereoacuity, we did
not find superior visual function relative to published
values for young, optimally corrected adults [
The latter finding is at odds with studies of sports people
in which the average level of vision (e.g. distance VA)
was found to be excellent [
5, 59, 60
], but it is supported
by studies which, like the present study, found that the
average level of vision was no better than would be
expected compared to the levels found in young adults
]). On a similar note, we are not the first to
find a significant proportion of high-performance
athletes with either sub-optimal VA or other visual
]. For example, one study  reported that
28% of their sample of elite sportspersons had distance
VA poorer than + 0.10logMAR using the refractive
correction habitually worn for sports.
Since uncorrected/under-corrected refractive error in
young adults is more likely to impact on distance vision
than on near vision [
], it follows that there might not
be an adverse effect on stereoacuity taken at near
(40 cm). Indeed, this is what we found, with very good
median near stereoacuity in all sub-groups. Previous
studies have found better-than-average stereoacuity in
elite ball-sports athletes (i.e. baseball) [
5, 8, 59
whether this applies to both distance and near
stereoacuity remains unclear [
]. The possible importance
of stereoacuity for sports is strengthened by the fact that
individuals with naturally occurring, poor stereopsis
exhibit poorer catching ability  and much reduced
learning on a catching task by comparison with those
with good stereopsis [
]. Interestingly, with some
notable exceptions [
], there are few reports of
individuals with poor stereopsis reaching elite levels in
sports, though of course this could be the result of
children with a binocular disorder not being encouraged
to participate in sports. If good or excellent stereoacuity
is associated with elite-level sports, it is not clear what
the nature of this association is, since disparity
processing is temporally slow compared with that of luminance
. It is also not clear whether the better stereopsis
that we and others [
5, 8, 59
] have reported in elite
sportspeople leads to faster motion-in-depth perception.
There appear to be two mechanisms for
motion-indepth perception, one based on sensitivity to retinal
disparity and the other based on a comparison of motion
signals in the two eyes. The relative importance of these
two mechanisms for judging motion-in-depth is still
], but the mechanism comparing motion
signals is thought to be independent of the one that uses
binocular disparity. Thus, good motion in depth
perception is not necessarily dependent on good stereopsis.
Uptake of Eye Examinations and Prevalence of Visual
Twenty to twenty-five per cent of our participants
reported either never having an eye examination or that
their examination interval was ≥ 5 years. This is
consistent with a study [
] conducted in the USA between
1992 and 1995 on junior Olympic competitors and in
other elites in which 25% had never had an eye
examination. Given that we also found that 20–25% of the
players had a vision/visual system anomaly in the
habitual sports visual status, it is tempting to conclude
that simply uncovering and addressing these anomalies
through more frequent eye examinations would have a
significant impact on the on-field vision of a sizeable
proportion of players. This is partly supported by our
finding that most residual visual anomalies consisted of
uncorrected refractive error in individuals who had not
had an eye examination within the past 5 years.
However, while some players only became aware of the
fact that their vision could be improved as a result of the
examination we conducted, this was not the case for all of
the players. Notably, four players (25% of those with
residual visual anomalies) were aware they required
refractive correction, but they chose not to wear it while
playing. Also, another four players had anomalies that
were non-refractive and which may not be treatable or
their impact on vision during play was uncertain. Thus,
while greater uptake of eye examinations will improve
onfield VA in a selection of players, the proportion likely to
benefit is probably considerably smaller than the overall
20–25% in whom we, and others [
], found anomalies.
Beckermann and Hitzeman [
] found that 29% of
their sample had visual symptoms. We found that
overall 17.5% reported vision difficulties when playing, with
the highest proportion of these coming from the elite
cricketers. Curiously, this group had the lowest
proportion of residual visual anomalies found during clinical
examination (Table 2). Discrepancies between perceived
and clinically measured deficits in vision may arise
because clinical measures do not reflect the visual
demands on-the-field or because some reduction in
clinically measured visual function can exist without
impacting on perceived vision on the field (or both).
Other ways to Study the Nature of the Relationship between Vision and Elite Sports
The current study has been concerned with
understanding whether superior vision is important for elite sports
participation, and as such, we examined the basic visual
attributes and the visual history of elite/near-elite
cricketers and rugby-league players. Other ways to examine
the relationship between vision and high-level sports
participation/performance include artificially generating
a visual problem in visual normal. Mann and colleagues
] found that low-to-moderate levels of simulated
myopia did not affect cricket batting and there are other
examples of resistance to defocus in other interceptive
tasks  and in other sporting tasks (e.g. basketball
], golf [
]). One interpretation of such findings, and
of ours, is that while good or excellent vision may be
desirable for elite sports, it may not be essential.
Another possibility is that a deficit in basic visual
abilities might be overcome by adopting different visual
strategies or by gathering the critical information from
different cues. An example of the latter is that depth
information is recoverable from retinal disparity but may
also be available via different means if the disparity
signal is reduced (see the ‘Is ‘Excellent’ Vision a
Prerequisite for Participation in Elite Cricket/Rugby
League?’ section). Investigating whether different visual
strategies (e.g. where the eyes are looking, stability of
fixation) protect against visual loss due to, for example,
uncorrected myopia can be carried out by artificially
degrading the retinal image quality in visual normal (e.g.
]). However, given that it may take time for the
visual system to adapt to the deficit it is experiencing, it
is likely to prove more informative to conduct such
studies in elite-sporting individuals who have been
unable to adapt following an acute reduction in vision
(e.g. following an accident, ) or conversely in those
who have reached elite levels in their sports despite
habitual, sub-optimal vision. Only a small number of
such studies have previously been conducted [
To fully understand the nature of the relationship
between vision and elite sports, it is important to
determine the visual demands during play. Given the dynamic
environment of many sports, clinical visual measures
gathered in static testing conditions do not reflect the
visual demands experienced during play. Hence,
researchers have measured performance on non-standard
vision tasks (e.g. dynamic VA [
4, 12, 36, 73
]) and other
visual-mediated, cognitive tasks (e.g. ). However,
different sports can have very different visual demands (e.g.
golf versus squash), and even within the same sports,
the demands can differ markedly (e.g. bowling versus
batting). Identifying the visual demands of different
sporting tasks presents a challenge in understanding
how vision could limit or enhance the potential for
sporting ‘eliteness’. While there have been attempts to
study this topic [
15, 59, 75, 76
], it deserves considerably
more research attention. Indeed, it is notable that while
there is a growing number of online, web-based training
programmes claiming to improve on-field performance
(e.g. ‘EyeGym’, ‘Nike Sparq’, ‘Neurotracker’), for the most
part, the literature to support their use is scarce .
A different, though not incompatible view of the
contribution of good vision to eliteness is that visual abilities
as measured during standard, clinical testing play a
lesser role and that the contribution of vision is to
facilitate perceptual-cognitive expertise that emerges via
information pickup from anticipatory cues [
]. This is
apparent from differences in where and when elite
players and elite-sports officials look during play (e.g.
39–43, 78, 79
]), in the ability to recall patterns of play
]), and to perform successfully with limited
information (e.g. [
]). There is a large volume of
literature to support the contribution of perceptual-cognitive
expertise to elite sports; specifically, there may not be
better vision in elites, just better use of vision (reviewed
]). This is compatible with our findings and those
of others (e.g. [
]) who have concluded that, for the
most part, vision as measured in clinical settings is not
superior in elite-level sports individuals. However, the
importance of optimising vision in elite sportspeople is
far from settled because there have been positive
outcomes from recent vision training studies, as well as
claims that the benefits transfer to better performance
on the field [
]. One area of study that is notably
missing from the literature concerns intra-individual
improvements in performance following the correction of
visual anomalies. Such studies need to be carefully
designed because of the risk of contamination from
placebo effects, but they may provide a more direct
answer to the question concerning the importance of
optimum vision for elite sporting performance. Other
studies that may also prove useful, and which are
similarly absent from the literature, would involve comparing
visual strategies in those with different habitual levels of
basic visual abilities (e.g. due to uncorrected refractive
error). Studies of this nature may reveal the extent to
which visual deficits might be fully or partially
compensated for through the use of different visual strategies.
With the exception of near stereoacuity (which was
superior in our elite cricketers), vision was not superior
in our modestly sized sample of high-level, sports
players when compared to published values for young
adults, and for some measures, it was slightly worse.
Moreover, since 20–25% of our sample had non-optimal
vision, our findings suggest it is not critical to have the
clearest possible vision for high-level sports. In
crosssectional studies like this, it is not possible to say that
on-field performance would not be better if vision was
improved. Studies of change in performance following
the optimization of vision in those with correctable
visual anomalies would be useful and would help to
better characterise the nature of the relationship
between vision and elite sports performance.
Additional file 1: Raw Data for Uploading to Sports Med Open Sept
2017 (XLSX 64 kb)
We are grateful to the players and officials associated with the Huddersfield
Giants, Leeds/Bradford MCC Universities, and the England national women’s
cricket team. The assistance of Nathan Beebe is also gratefully acknowledged.
This study was funded by grants BB/J018163/1, BB/J016365/1, and BB/
J018872/1 from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research
Availability of Data and Materials
The database supporting the conclusions of this article is included with
Additional file 1.
BTB designed the study, gathered some of the data, analysed the data,
wrote the first draft of the manuscript, and modified it in light of comments
received from the other authors. JMH, JCF, AGC, SJB and JGB helped to
design the study, contributed to the analysis of the data, and commented
on the drafts of the manuscript. AM gathered some of the clinical data and
commented on earlier drafts of the manuscript. All authors read and
approved the final manuscript.
Ethics Approval and Consent to Participate
The study was approved by the ethics committee at the University of Bradford
and the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki were followed. Written, informed
consent was obtained from all participants included in the study.
Consent for Publication
Consent to publish has been obtained from participants.
Brendan T. Barrett: none, Jonathan C. Flavell: none, Simon J. Bennett: none,
Alice G. Cruickshank: none, Alex Mankowska: none, Julie M. Harris: none, and
John G. Buckley: none.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in
published maps and institutional affiliations.
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