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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fitzgerald can catch with eyes wide shut

This is the title of a recent ESPN article about Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals 2008 NFC West Champions' wide-receiver. Fitzgerald has freely shared that the vision therapy that he received as a child helped him tremendously not only with school but in his football career. Even more information is available in a January Wall Street Journal article:

"Joan Vickers, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Calgary, studies the eye movements of elite hockey goaltenders, baseball hitters, and tennis and volleyball players by having them play while wearing special goggles equipped with cameras that film their eyes.

While running downfield at a full sprint, no receiver has an easy time focusing intently on the football. To track its flight pattern, Dr. Vickers says, receivers like Mr. Fitzgerald have to glean whatever information they can about its speed, direction and rotation long before the ball gets close enough to catch. In some cases, she says, a receiver's only chance to predict where the football will end up may come at the moment the quarterback lets go of the ball. To make a correct call, the receiver has to operate his eyes like a camera: opening the shutter, holding the lens steady and taking a snapshot with the longest possible exposure.

The ability to maintain a level and strong gaze on a distant object for an unusually long period of time, even while moving, is something Dr. Vickers calls "the quiet eye." Her research suggests the difference between great athletes and good ones -- at least when it comes to sports that involve flying balls or pucks -- is the ability to lock down on these objects longer.


Mr. Fitzgerald may have a clear advantage in this area. When he was young, his grandfather, Robert Johnson, the founder of an optometry clinic in Chicago, set out to make sure his grandson had "visual dominance" -- at first because he was having trouble in school. From the time Mr. Fitzgerald was in first grade, during summer visits, Mr. Johnson would take him to the clinic and have him stand on balance beams and wobbly boards while doing complicated hand-eye drills. By the time his grandson was 12 and emerging as an athlete, Dr. Johnson tailored many of these exercises to athletics. To improve the boy's precision, control, spatial judgment and rhythm, for instance, Dr. Johnson would hang a painted ball from the ceiling and have him try to hit the colored dots on the ball with the matching colored stripes on a rolling pin.


Mr. Fitzgerald says he believes the training helped him on the football field. "When you're at that age, anything that helps strengthen your eyes and eye-hand coordination is going to definitely help with catching the ball," he says."


You can read the entire article here: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123207803343289089.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

This is yet another example of how highly functional vision opens up opportunities!
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