HOW TO CREATE AND ADVANCE A SPORTS VISION PRACTICE

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Start small and simple with tints and safety glasses, then gradually add testing using existing equipment, and eventually you’ll be treating athletes at all skill levels.

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Optometry is a unique profession in that it can offer the optometrist many opportunities to practice a large variety of specialties. It is very common to hear that a practice specializes in dry eye or specialty contact lenses. Sports vision is a unique area that can be offered as a valuable service in your office.

A common misconception is that doctors who offer sports vision services only work with professional/semi-professional teams. While it is true that many of us do work with high level athletes and professional teams, the field of sports vision encompasses any athlete at any level from baseball players on a youth travel team to “weekend warrior” golfers. According to the Physical Activity Council’s 2017 Participation Report, 72% of the U.S. population ages six and older were active. This means that there is a large opportunity to offer this type of service in your practice.

Cleveland Gladiators player conducts hand-eye coordination training on the Senaptec Sensory Station.

The concept that “vision” can be improved is a relatively unknown and often misunderstood concept. If we look at vision as just a measure of static visual acuity, we will significantly limit ourselves in our ability to help an athlete. “Vision” is a global process that includes many visual skills such as acuity, contrast sensitivity, stereopsis, visualization, etc. When we talk about vision, we must also understand that vision is a key component in a complex network of sensory skills. Vision must integrate with our other sensory systems such as vestibular and proprioceptive when competing. On the field or court, our visual system tells our hands and feet what to do. Enhancing visual skills such as eye-hand coordination and peripheral awareness can make a significant difference in performance for the athlete who is looking for that extra edge.

GETTING STARTED
One of the biggest hurdles in any new venture is getting started. Adding sports vision to your practice can seem like a daunting task at first, but with careful planning and execution it will be very rewarding. Just like any other specialty, becoming well versed in the concepts of sports vision will take some time. The very successful glaucoma practice did not have all their equipment and knowledge on day one. The same is true for sports vision. 

You can very easily start by making a few additions to your current process. Including a question about sports participation in your history questionnaire is a great start. It will allow the dialogue to begin during your case history. Discussing specific lens and tint options at the conclusion of the vision examination that relate to their sport is another great way to continue the discussion. Depending on the sport, a special tint may make a significant difference in performance. It is also very important to discuss eye safety and offer a great selection of sports frames in your optical dispensary.

5 Sports Vision Practice Tips
1. Include a question about sports participation in your history questionnaire.
2. Discuss lens and tint options at the conclusion of the vision examination that relate to their sports participation.
3. Offer a great selection of sports eyewear.
4. Reach out to local athletic trainers to make them aware of your services.
5. Participate in continuing education courses.

THE NEXT LEVEL
Adding sport specific vision skill testing will take your sports vision practice to the next level.  This type of testing can begin with just the equipment already in the exam lane. For example, if a competitive archery athlete comes to your office, you can test their accommodative skills to see how efficiently they can shift their focus from near to far and far to near. There are a growing number of companies in the market that offer functional vision skill testing. These skills include: visual acuity (static and dynamic), contrast sensitivity, depth perception, multiple object tracking, eye-hand coordination and eye tracking to name just a few. A typical system will test 10 to 12 vision skills and include a report with normative data showing how your athlete compares to other athletes in same age group and/or sport. Included in these systems are training modules with drills to improve the vision skills that show deficits.

Costa’s sweat management system has evolved in 2019 with the addition of new ventilation ducting airflow through the endpiece.

To continue growing your sports vision practice, reach out to members in your community who are involved in sports, such as athletic trainers for local high school or semi-pro teams. Most of these professionals have heard of or seen some type of sports vision training but often do not know of anyone in their area that offers this service. Providing an in-service for them to demonstrate some of the testing and training drills is a great way to educate them on the benefits of sports vision training. Athletic trainers would also be very eager to hear about vision and concussions. Most concussions will have some associated visual symptoms. Many of us who specialize in sports vision also offer visual rehabilitation after concussions. Optometrists, working collaboratively with other professionals, have many tools at their disposal to help in the diagnosis and treatment of concussion.

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RESOURCES
As your sports vision practice grows, you will want to continue furthering your knowledge base.  There are many opportunities to attend seminars both regionally and nationally. Some good resources for functional vision are The College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD.org) and The Optometric Extension Program Foundation (OEPF.org). They will provide an excellent starting point in the testing and training of functional visions skills. Concussions and sport have received a significant amount of attention in recent years. The Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORAVisionRehab.org) is an organization focused on educating optometrists working with patients who have suffered a head injury. The International Sports Vision Association (ISVA, SportsVision.pro) is an organization dedicated to improving athletic performance through visual skill enhancement. Attendance at an ISVA event is an opportunity to interact with colleagues practicing sports vision and an opportunity to see the latest in vision training technology.

Sports, just by their nature, are competitive. Giving an athlete that extra edge can help them reach the podium or beat their best friend on the golf course. Adding sports vision to your practice will differentiate your practice from others and is a very rewarding way to help your athletes.

Alex Andrich, OD, FCOVD,  is a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Optometry and is in private practice in North Royalton, OH. In addition to serving as the president of the International Sports Vision Association, he is a vision coach for the Cleveland Indians baseball team, Cleveland Monsters hockey team and Cleveland Gladiators arena football team. The International Sports Vision Association is an interdisciplinary group of professionals dedicated to advancing the field of vision training for athletes of all ages and levels to help them achieve peak athletic performance. Visit SportsVision.pro, email Info@SportsVision.pro, or follow ISVA on Facebook and Twitter (@SportsVisionDrs).

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