Strobe training: A new visual tool to accelerate athletic performance
For decades, across all activities involving an athlete reacting to a ball, the upper hand has been thought to go to the one with the fastest reaction time. Baseball players are expected to hit a ball blazing at 95 mph from about 60 feet away. A tennis player can return a serve coming at speeds sometimes exceeding 140 mph, and it’s not uncommon for a 70 mph spike to rocket over the volleyball net.
However, when tested for simple reaction time, whether the athlete is a courtesy clerk at the supermarket, a lawyer, or pro athlete, he or she all react at roughly the same speed—about 200 milliseconds, or one-fifth of a second.
That is about the minimum time it takes for the retina at the back of the human eye to receive information, for that information to be conveyed across synapses to the primary visual cortex in the back of the brain, and for the brain to send a message to the spinal cord that puts the muscles in motion.
With reaction time generally being equal in humans, what separates a well-trained athlete from a novice is their anticipatory skills. The more repetition an athlete gets practicing a particular skill, the more vast their cognitive database from which they can extract information grows, and the better they become at anticipating what will happen next. For example, the more a volleyball player observes the opposing team return the ball, the more expert they become at predicting where exactly the ball will land when it returns to their side of the net.
While our visual system is literally too slow to “keep our eye on the ball,” our brain, eyes, and nervous system harmoniously work together to coordinate precise movements based on what flashes of fast-paced information it is able to gather. The more practice an athlete gets at capturing information it sees, the more expert the athlete becomes at perfecting anticipatory skills. As experience mounts, athletes need less time and less visual information to accurately predict what will happen next, and develop the skill to zero in on only critical visual information. This phenomenon is known as “chunking.” The best athletes chunk information about bodies, player positions, and ball-spin much like a chess grandmaster chunks arrangements of rooks and bishops.
Part of the challenge, especially with developing athletes, is they are still not sure what visual information is critical and what should be essentially ignored. For this reason, Intermountain St. George Acceleration has recently incorporated specialized eyewear from Nike and Senaptec into our training menu.
These revolutionary glasses have crystal LCD electronic lenses that “strobe” or rapidly alternate between clear and opaque, literally blocking off visual information that is normally available. Training with this unique eyewear forces the athlete to “chunk” what information they can see to better predict what will happen next with opponents or the ball. This greatly accelerates their visual development, enhances visual acuity, and fosters neurological and visual adaptations that otherwise could take hours of practice to develop. This training may be done on the field of play or indoors.
Whether the sport is pickleball, football, basketball, soccer, or any other, Acceleration’s new sports reaction training program is opening eyes to a whole new level of sports performance training.
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