With Calder’s digital system, she fixed a flaw in the rider’s brain that caused him to fall during races.
Dr Calder is an eye doctor who has found a new way to improve her patients’ lives by manipulating their eyes – all with digital patterns on screens. As the first sports scientist to be awarded a doctorate in visual-motor performance, she works with professional athletes and, now, everyday people.
This is thanks to the company she started: EyeGym.com. The aim of her product is to improve her patients’ eyes and the part of the human brain that deals with visual input from them. She does her work with patients completely on digital screens and has had remarkable results. Her first visual training programme was a standard visual-skills programme, in which the athletes performed eye exercises designed to improve visual accommodation, acuity, convergence, depth perception, peripheral vision, span of recognition, and speed of recognition.
The visual skills sessions lasted about 10 minutes, five days a week. The second was a sport-specific visual-awareness programme focusing on the biomechanics of sports skills, body position, correct use of the eyes and visual system, and ball-placement skills. It consisted of guided activities with the hockey stick and ball that were designed to maximise the players’ use of their visual system. For example, players were taught how to use their dominant eye to improve their skill performance.
In some instances, body positions were altered and in other instances, new performance techniques were developed. Hitting technique was improved by altering the position of the head in relation to the dominant eye and the ball. The visual awareness sessions took one hour, three times a week. Twenty-nine elite female field hockey players from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa took part in the study during part of the outdoor season. She randomised them to three groups. The first group trained normally, the second did the visual-skills training as well, while the third group received the visual-awareness programme on top of the visual skills and normal training.
She tested the athletes on their performance of 22 field-hockey skills before and after the four-week training period. The tests were designed to simulate the ball-receiving and ball-passing angles and movement directions in competitive field hockey. They included ball and stick skills like penalty corner shots and receiving a ball from behind while on the run and immediately delivering a shot on goal to a specific target area. Each player completed five trials of each skill. Scoring was based on a combination of both ball placement accuracy and speed of movement. Here’s what happened after four weeks of training: the control group improved in only three of the 22 tests, despite considerable motivation to beat their teammates! The group doing visual skills alone improved on 9 of the tests, but the group doing visual skills and visual awareness improved on 16 of the 22 skills tests. The system by Dr Calder has yielded positive results for many athletes across sporting codes. These results appear to be clear-cut and exciting. At the elite level, improvements in performance with any type of training are few and far between. It looks like combining a general eye-function programme with coaching sport-specific visual awareness is a winning combination. The owner of the South African cycling team indicated that she took its worst rider, in terms of falls per race, and after spending a few minutes a day with Calder’s system the rider went from the worst to best within a few months. Her digital system fixed a flaw in his brain that caused him to fall during races.
Working with the 2003 England Rugby World Cup team, her system brought huge changes. They ended up winning that year in the final against Australia. She also worked with Ernie Els during a low period of his golf career, and her work helped him to win a major within six months.
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