Those of you who have read my book See To Play have learned, athletes with even the slightest visual problems are overwhelmingly "weeded out" from becoming elite athletes. Vision effects how they play and the statistics suggest almost 4 out of 10 athletes lose to better sighted athletes when making it to the top.
I am the team eye doctor for the USA National Baseball team, the team that once played in the Olympics, and I noted in a past blog that this year's team fell in line with past teams in that a little over 20% of them needed vision correction in order to see to play..... and make the team. This is consistent with my experience with athletes in professional sports as well. The percentage is considerably below the percentage of people in the normal population who need vision correction.
I decided to contact the trainer of the 2012 USA Basketball team, Joe Sharpe, to find out the status of their vision.
"How many of the 16 athletes play with contacts/glasses/refractive surgery?"
The answer I received was basically the three mentioned at the beginning of this post.
A recent study on nearsightedness in the US states that over 40% of men in the age group of these basketball players are nearsighted. This would suggest that 7 guys on the team should be nearsighted (ok, it's really 6.7, but it's my blog and I'm rounding up for dramatic flare). Continuing with this logic, 4 players who dreamed of making this year's "Dream Team" were weeded out along the way because their nearsightedness hurt their play.
3 "blurry" players were lucky along the way in fulfilling their dream of becoming an Olympic basketball player.....and 4 guys got the boot!
(By the way, I'm only talking about nearsightedness. It's estimated 1 in 4 of us are farsighted and should be corrected with lenses...which would suggest we're missing even more bespectacled athletes on this team as well)
Ok, what if your child dreamed of being on the "Dream Team" and then at the 7th grade level became nearsighted? Would you go ahead and tell him to drop out even though this is the same grade that the NCAA could talk to him about scholarship?
That may sound a little absurd, but vision is overlooked. I've spent a career trying to get the word out. I've written a book to get the word out.
I've also helped a ton of athletes along the way too!
Just this week, I examined a 13 year old female basketball player. She's doing great in her sport in AAU. She passes the team's physical because she can squint out 20/20...but in my office during her first ever eye exam, she's slightly nearsighted (20/25) in the right eye and considerably worse in the left (20/40). When I questioned her specifically on her aiming (because I know how her vision affects her game), she admitted that she has learned out of necessity to aim behind the rim and a little to the left in order to sink her shot.
She was getting ready to be weeded out for a possible scholarship and didn't even know it. I corrected her vision with contacts and now she can aim for the center front of the rim.
Get athletes to the eye doctor's office at a very young age and followup every year. Also, those serious about being the best should read See To Play: The Eyes of Elite Athletes