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Vision in sports and the future of sports vision

Sports have been useful way for people to increase their mastery of nature and the environment. The history of sports can teach us a great deal about social changes and about the nature of sports itself. Sports seem to involve basic human skills being developed and exercised for their own sake, in parallel with being exercised for their usefulness . The changes in the sports and its rules also show how society has changed its beliefs with the time. With the industrial revolution and movement of population from the countryside to the cities, the rural games moved to the new urban centres and came under the influence of the middle and upper class. The rising influence of the upper class also produced an emphasis on the spirit of the “fair play”, with governing bodies being set up for number of sports in England by the 19th century. During the late 19th and early 20th century, the sports and their British codified rules began to spread across the world. With the advent of mass media and global communication, professionalism became prevalent in the sports. This further added to the popularity of the sports. The 20th century saw major advances in the participation of women in sports. Pressure from sports funding bodies further improved gender equality in sports. Today in our health conscious society, sports participation is seen as popular and effective means of enhanced fitness. In the UK alone, some 60 million people participate in sports and leisure. Indeed, sport is now established as one of the largest industries worldwide and many sports minded people spend considerable amounts of money on advertisement, sponsorship, prizes and athletes’ professional fees. Today athletes at elite level enjoy star personality. The next decade will witness the most significant changes in the way we look at the sports. The proliferation and fragmentation of media channels, the internet and the involvement of extremely penetrating technology into the analysis and assessment of an athlete’s ability to play will revolutionize the sports. Well managed and planned sports and well trained and well fit athletes will remain. Forward thinking governing bodies will grasp the opportunity. Others will vanish. Even the smallest contributing factor to the athlete’s ability to perform will be trained. The future is definitely heading for many new faces in the list of great players. The athletes are becoming aware of enormous amount of competition involved in sports and also of the fact that any compromise in their overall physical fitness will ruin their career in sports. Physical exercise and muscle toning have already proved their merit in improving their sporting ability. They have also realized that the importance of optimum eye protection and high level visual skills to perform at the peak level and to enhance their sporting life. Good vision receives, transmits and processes the information at a high speed and allows the athlete an extra time to react faster. This suggests that sporting performance may be greatly enhanced by the application of sportsvision in vision care practice. People will be more comfortable and see more when glare is eliminated, will be better shielded from eye injuries with suitable standard protective eyewear and will perform better when their visual acuity is optimized. These essential services can only be obtained by sportvision specialist optometrist who specializes and is expert in prescribing and dispensing eye wears suitable to their respective sports and who can also work with them to improve upon various aspects of their visual system.

Our quest for vision has a long history . Our ancestors used to use glasses as magnifying glasses to see the object of interest. Gradually the research in the field of vision developed the methods to correct the optics of human eye. Methods to correct the optics of human eye has the history of at least 700 years. Spherical lenses have been used to correct defocus as early as 13th century and astigmatism since 19th century. From spectacles to contact lenses to cataract removal to laser surgery , there is a long history of tinkering with vision. Contemporary optometry began around the turn of the 19th and 20th century in United State of America where some states erected legal regulations for those opticians who were performing refractions . Soon optometry was recognized as a separate discipline in the field of eye care . Complexity of vision and visual system and ever increasing demands of visual needs in various occupations and different professions led the foundation for the development of behavioural optometry where specific visual needs specific to the occupation was evaluated and an effort was made to establish a relation between poor performance and non – optimal visual skills. Thus eyes were looked at simply as another structure which function within the body- healthy or otherwise and is the leader of all other structures. The holistic approach towards the vision has replaced the old style of practice. The introduction of Sportvision in the field of optometry is justified in view of ever increasing competition in sports and narrowing of differences between the sporting ability of good and great athletes. Research conducted by Sport Vision Ltd , UK over the last ten years suggest that there is now an urgent need for optometrical services in the field of sports to win Olympic medals in London in 2012. The development of various Sports Vision Associations, International Academy of Sports Vision and stardardization and certifications of training modules in the field of Sports Vision – all these are major steps towards the development of Sportvision as a separate discipline in the field of optometry.
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The growth of sports as well as the number of individuals participating in organized athletic competition and recreational sports has been phenomenal over the last decade. The growth of Sportvision and development of the specialty of sportvision practice in the field of optometry has not yet mirrored the growth in sports. Many optometrists and ophthalmologists still do not understand the sportvision needs of their patients and the opportunities for practice growth that sportvision can provide. In UK market for sport vision is potentially served by approximately 12500 optical practitioners, of whom 60% are optometrists and 40 % are dispensing opticians. In a country where 40 % people participate in sporting and recreational activity , then it seems to have a great potential for sports vision optometrists. USA has been leader in understanding the importance of vision and vision training to improve the sporting performance of their athletes.

Practitioners have been practicing sportvision as long as eye care has been provided. Formation of sportvision discipline in North America began with the establishment of Sports Vision Section within the 30000 members of American Optometric Association in 1978. The same year the section began a vision care service for athletes of United States Olympic Committee. It is anticipated that these sports vision associations will play a key role in the development of sportvision. In India , barring some work done on individual level, not much work has been done upto 2005. In the year 2006 Sportvision practice was started in Kolkata, India by Mr Ajay Kr Bhootra and Dr Sumitra under the leadership of Mr Geriant Griffiths. In a country like India where millions of dollars are spent on various aspects of sports, there seems to be huge potential to explore the potential of vision training to improve the sporting performance of our athletes. The market looks like wide open and at a nascent stage. Those who will take a proactive approach towards the development of this new science will take the charge in the future. There are three ways to deal with new developments- by resisting, following or leading. A resister always try to criticize the new developments and tries to put the halt, which is impossible in today’s changing situation. The majority of people who starts by resisting eventually find they have to follow, trying to catch up and if they fail, they face competitive disadvantage. Seeking to anticipate and lead to accept the development is thus, paradoxically , safer as well as more adventurous. Positive aspects of the development may not be obvious at first, but using it as a stimulus to encourage new ideas and harness enthusiasm for further improvement may bring positive results and provide a competitive edge.

The future may bring in the concept of both individual and teams appointing their own sportvision consultants in a similar manner to trainers, coaches, psychologists and physicians . And the involvement of eye care professionals in concert with sports authorities could constitute an accepted multi-disciplinary approach to sportvision. The future may see increased cooperation between manufacturer , sports vision associations, research and sport persons. The best way to improve the sporting skill is to rule out all the probable causes that may cause stress in any form and result in poor performance. With the development of sportvision in the field of optometry, it is possible to set aside probable problems that may arise due to undetected visual disturbances.