Soccer requires a keen eye to follow the ball as it travels up and down the field, but can it actually hone that eyesight as well?
According to a new study published in the Science and Medicine in Football journal, soccer players may actually have better eyesight than those who did not play sports.
The study is the first of its kind, examining the visual acuity of soccer players in the English Premiere League. These competitive athletes were measured against non-athletes, and results were taken between intermediate and elite athletes as well. There was no difference in visual acuity between the different levels of athletes, but a very significant difference between soccer players and non-athletes.
Performed by the researchers from Liverpool John Moores University, this study collected results from 49 elite male players and 31 intermediate players, compared against the results of a nationwide study done of 230 non-athletic men and women. The same apparatus was used in both studies to collect the same data on all accounts. This apparatus was the Nike SPARQ Sensory Station which was developed to assess, analyze and improve sports performance.
The skills tested were those considered crucial to the sport, particularly static and dynamic visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, accommodative vergence facility, target capture and perception span. Of these visual skills, there was no difference between the skill levels of the athletes. However, there were slight differences between players of different positions. The defensive players outscored the offensive players in near-far perception, most likely due to the fact that these players are responsible for keeping eyes down the field, while also maintaining awareness of their opponents in close proximity.
When compared with the results from the study of 230 non-athletes, the soccer players across the board ranked higher in their visual scores. This confirms the fact that sports require a certain amount of visual awareness and can hone these skills as players progress in their sport.
The author, Professor Simon J. Bennet, looks forward to delving deeper into the role of visual acuity on the field. He stated, “while these findings add to the growing evidence that a good level of vision could be important in dynamic invasion sports, future studies need to determine the precise nature of the relationship with on-field performance.”
Other questions arise from this study, such as soccer players compared with other athletes. It would be of interest to see if certain sports promote better visual performance than others, and if non-athlete adults who do not play sports can improve their visual acuity by taking up a sport. However, this study is the first of its nature, and it opens the door for more research to be done.