Vision Screening for Developing Athletes

Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014

The USSA's medical department routinely performs pre-participation examinations and periodic health evaluations on its elite team athletes, providing a screening for injuries or medical conditions that may place an athlete at risk against safe participation in the athletic programs, ensuring that existing health problems are managed appropriately, and identifying conditions that may impede athletic performance.

A standard part of the periodic health evaluation is a basic eye screening, using a "Snellen" eye chart, which provides a simple screening for visual acuity.

Excellent visual acuity is obviously a necessity in many high-level sports.  Performing at a world-class level in skiing and snowboarding with visual deficiencies is certainly challenging, if not impossible.  And therefore it's no surprise that, through our team's vision screening, we observe that the vast majority of our elite team athletes have excellent to superior vision.  The small handful that have deficiencies are referred for correction in an effort to reduce any potential barrier to performance.

And so, based on the fact that nearly all of our elite team athletes possess excellent visual acuity, eye examination results have generally not been notable.

Recently, however, we've placed a greater emphasis on higher and more sophisticated levels of visual performance amongst our elite athletes.  This has led us to deepen our consultation with experts in the field of sports vision.

When we shared our vision screening data with these experts, the analysis was clear – of course our elite athletes all possess excellent vision, because without excellent vision you don't make it to this level of performance.  There is also discussion that participation in high level sports can improve vision through perceptual learning.

This suggests that perhaps there is a reason to place greater emphasis on vision screening of athletes at the club development level, so that young athletes with uncorrected visual deficiencies are not selected out of the pipeline due to insufficient visual acuity which could be corrected if detected.

Our medical department has made recommendations for clubs regarding pre-participation examinations and periodic health evaluations at the club level, and clubs are encouraged to incorporate these recommendations into their programs.

-Luke Bodensteiner, EVP Athletics

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