Milan, Italy
Saturday 21st June 2014

When I am in Princeton, I tend to read the New York Times.  Not through any political persuasion or affiliation to a specific columnist, rather than that’s what my uncle, Fred, has on the breakfast table every morning.

I’ve noticed that over recent months, the Times has started to take a keen interest in aspects of sports science & medicine that have been filtering through to the higher profile teams.  Yoga, meditation, functional training & nutrition have all been afforded column inches, often citing a particular trainer who has started to adopt the discipline into his regime.

Fred loves to discuss these articles & gauge my subsequent opinions, so much so, that when I am traveling around the world it’s not unusual for him to cut out pages & post them to wherever I am.

One such article, from a midweek edition towards the end of May, was actually buried in the “Well” section as opposed to the “Sports” supplement.  Written by Kate Murphy & entitled “Eye Practice for the Big Game”, the commentary discussed the recent rise in awareness of vision training in the sporting world.

Murphy, K. (2014).  Eye Practice for the Big Game.  New York Times; 27.05.14: ppD4

Back in 2003, I was first made aware of vision training, following Sir Clive Woodward’s employment of Dr. Sherylle Calder as a part of the support team for the 2003 England Rugby World Cup winning project.  Sir Clive spoke at my MSc Exercise Physiology graduation from Loughborough in 2005 & made such an impression that I started to do my own research around the methods used.

Many of the techniques employed, focus around improving the brain’s ability to process the information received by the eyes, in addition to working the muscles that control the shape of the lens.  The techniques vary from computer-based exercises to those using rather simple but effective tools that can be incorporated into training sessions or specially designed games.

When I was appointed Head of Medical Services & Exercise Science at Heart of Midlothian FC, an Edinburgh-based football (soccer) team, competing in the Scottish Premier League (for those not familiar with Scottish football), this was an area I was keen to revisit.

Despite my first manager not being particularly open to new ideas, my second manager, Graham Rix, was keen to explore any concepts that I thought might contribute an extra couple of percent here or there.  I started to ask around & soon invited local sports vision consultant, Rob Maguire, to the Club to offer his opinions on where he might be able to help.

Very quickly, Rob vindicated my decision & was becoming a valuable member of the department, starting off by working with the Heart’s goalkeeping coach, Jim Stewart.

I am still in touch with Rob & seeing as the topic is pertinent enough for the New York Times to discuss, I figured it might be an area that would be of interest to those reading this blog. 

OF: Please introduce yourself in ten words or less.

RM: My name is Robert Maguire & I am the founder of Dynamic Vision Coaching.

OF: We first worked together back in 2005 when you joined the performance science team I was assembling at Hearts FC.  At that time you had recently completed your research in relation to your degree in sports vision.  

Please can you explain the basis of the research & the results you found

RM: My research was primarily looking at the effects of physical fatigue on the affectivity of the visual performance in athletes, & to what extent training the visual system can negate the effects & improve on field performance.

The results were categoric in that training the visual system improves the athletes visual stamina. 

In the simplest setting, this consequently showed a higher level of concentration & less tendency for mistakes in the latter stages of a game. A potential vital cutting edge.

OF: You are currently preparing to do your PhD.  What area of sports vision are you wanting to investigate & what are the kinds of studies you are looking to conduct to answer your questions?

RM: I am specialising the research on dynamic visual acuity & dynamic visual fatigue. This is central to every aspect of elite sporting performance. 

As part of the research I will be creating a more accurate test to monitor these levels. I will be conducting visual tests under extreme fatigue conditions to find the extreme limits of what elite athletes are capable of.

OF: Sports vision is a relatively unknown & in my opinion, very under utilised profession in performance sport.  

Which sports have you found were the most keen to embrace the skill set that you can provide?

RM: I agree it still has the image of being a "fad". 

Predictably I fear, rugby has been the most open in their approach to my work & have certainly given the most free reign to include the training.

OF: Which sports do you believe should be more open to including a sports vision professional, such as yourself, on their consultancy staff?

RM: All sports will benefit from sports vision training, but any fast paced sport will see a more instant benefit. 

Sports like motor sport, basketball & football.  Also hitting sports such as baseball & cricket. 

Hand eye co ordination is entirely reliant on excellent visual processing.

OF: I first became aware of the role sports vision can play in performance sport after speaking to Sir Clive Woodward, who employed Sherylle Calder on his staff with the England Rugby team.  

However, I preferred your approach as it involved less computer-based training & more practical training that could be incorporated into coaching sessions.  

How do you go about working with coaches to introduce vision training into their repertoire?

RM: It is vital to gain the trust of coaching staff & let them know that you are not going to take up all of their time with the players. 

I like to spend the initial time observing training methods, to design & tailor ways to enhance rather than add new routines. This will have the greatest positive impact.

OF: Which coaches have you had the privilege of working with, who really understood & embraced the work you do?  What benefits did they report noticing in their players?

RM: I have been very fortunate to work with some excellent and receptive coaches and medical staff. 

However for me personally, the two that stick in my mind the most are Graham Rix & Jim Stewart at Hearts FC.  The reason for this is they broke the mould for football coaches. 

Traditionally football is a very closed minded sport (in the UK anyway),  yet these 2 gentlemen really embraced it & saw the results first hand.

OF: Please can you describe a couple of successful cases that you have worked on, the problems the players were having before you got involved, your assessment findings, your interventions & the outcomes?

RM: I worked very closely with the goalkeepers and Jim (at Heart of Midlothian FC) & barring injuries, it is obvious for us to see how successful both Craig (Gordon) & Jamie (MacDonald) went on to be. 

Craig even did a Friday press conference in a pair of the Nike contact lenses I had supplied him with. 

However, the one that got away from them was Rais M'Bohli.  He was not offered a new contract by the club but he continued to work with me & we corrected a minor visual defect, that was causing him to make minor silly mistakes.  He is now currently playing for CSKA Sofia & in his second World Cup (for Algeria).

OF: What challenges do you see (excuse the pun) sports vision professionals encountering in breaking into performance sport?

RM: The main challenge will be attitudes within clubs & organisations.  Although both myself & Sherylle have had some very high profile success, there is still a lot of scepticism over the validity of the work. 

The results are there for all to see & the testimonies of the players that have used the training are further proof of the vital role it plays in top level elite sport.

OF: For those amateur athletes that don’t have the good fortune to play for a team that has a sports vision consultant on staff, could you explain a couple of exercises they could try at home to help improve their visual capabilities?

RM: Here is a great, simple & highly effective exercise, which I use a great deal:

  1. Buy an odd bouncer ball.  
  2. Draw a large dot on a piece of paper & stick it to a wall.  
  3. Stand 2 metres from the dot & play a simple game of reaction catch with the odd bouncer. However, you must keep your fixation on the dot at all times. 

This works your reaction speed under visual stress, peripheral vision & visual stamina. 

If you want to take it one stage further, do it with a colleague.

OF: What three key pieces of advice would you offer to those interested in training to be a sports vision professional or to those having recently completed their studies & now looking to find work in the field?

RM: My three key pieces of advice would be:

  1. Understand the training elements of the sports you are trying to work with, 
  2. Find new ways all the time to quantify the results & the effects on sporting performance
  3. Keep going. 

You will get a lot of resistance, I still do & I have had real success with my work.

OF: Who was your professional mentor & who has inspired you to further your aspirations in working in the profession?

RM: I am afraid this is partly an obvious answer but there are two for me.

The first is Dr. Cherylle Calder.  Her work with England happened around the same time as my research started & she was fantastically helpful to me with sharing results & information. 

The second was my course leader Liam Kite.  He was an age grade England Rugby player & suggested that I would have the right type of thinking to explore a subject that he believed had untapped potential.

OF: Where do you see sports vision research & practice developing most over the next 5 years?

RM: This is a difficult question.  I would like to see my research develop into a standardised sports vision screening test that will become as uniform as the standard eye test has become in everyday life. 

I would certainly love to see more countries embracing the work, as of yet we have barely scratched the surface.

OF: Describe your dream job.

RM: As cheesy as it sounds, I am doing it.  

I have been fortunate enough to pioneer a new area of performance training in the UK & I am keen to see it grow & develop. However, I would love the opportunity to take a more "full time" approach at a club, as I believe there is still far more we can achieve with the continuation of the training. 

I am always open to offer!!!

OF: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Rob.  That is a really great “insight” (please, excuse the pun once more!) into how the work you do can contribute to the training of athletes in many sports.  

I think it’s fantastic to hear that you are looking to develop the work you have done already into fatigue, as I think this could provide some fascinating information that players & coaches can tap into. 

Keep up the great work & I look forward to catching up in the near future.

If you have any questions for Rob, please use the box below to post them & I will forward them on to him.  

In the meantime, go out, buy your irregular bounce balls & start trying out Rob’s exercise & where necessary, adapting the principles to fit into either in your coaching sessions if that's your role.  If you are a sports physiotherapist try introducing them into your rehab sessions or see how you can incorporate them into your conditioning games if you are a fitness coach.

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