By Dr. Kellye Knueppel

This post is sponsored by The Vision Therapy Center, which has offices in Brookfield, Fond du Lac, and Madison, WI. 

If your child struggles with certain types of athletic skills, you should be aware that he or she could actually be exhibiting signs of a functional vision problem. 

Below, I’ll explain what functional vision is and how it plays such an important role in athletic performance. Then, using baseball to help, I’ll describe five signs to look for that could indicate a functional vision problem.

Why 20/20 Vision Isn’t the Whole Story

Let’s say you’ve taken your child to an optometrist and are told he or she has 20/20 vision. This is actually a specific measurement of eyesight, or visual acuity, and is indicated by how clearly a person can see detail at a given distance. The Snellen eye chart (pictured below) is typically used to measure eyesight.  

But does 20/20 vision mean that all potential vision problems have been ruled out? Definitely not. Similarly, even if your child has prescription eyewear to correct their eyesight, there may still be undetected vision problems. 

So why is that? The reality is that there are specific visual skills that go untested in a standard optometric exam — skills that can be crucial for a variety of sports (as well as various types of schoolwork). 

Let’s take a closer look at what I mean. 

Functional Vision Fundamentals 

Functional vision skills encompass how the entire visual system — the eyes, the brain, the visual pathways — works together to help a person interact with the environment. Consider these examples:

Eye teaming. In normal vision, this occurs when both eyes align to focus on the same point in space and work together in a precise and coordinated way. 

Eye focusing. This involves the ability to see an object clearly and to shift focus between objects at different distances. 

Eye movement. This includes the eyes’ ability to maintain fixation on a moving object through space, to move fixation from one object to another, and to sustain fixation on a stationary object.

Keeping these skills in mind, let’s now turn to a specific sport.

On the Ball Field: 5 Signs of a Functional Vision Problem

Whether or not your child plays baseball, this information will give you an idea of what it can look like when a child struggles with a functional vision problem. The following are five potential signs of a functional vision problem seen through the lens of little league. 

1. Strikes out all the time 

Granted, not everyone is going to hit like a major league lead-off batter. But, if a child strikes out constantly, they may be seeing two baseballs, or having some other vision-related issue.

2. Frequently hits pop-ups

Does your child make contact but rarely hit the ball in the sweet spot? If that’s often the case, it may be an inability to see the ball in space correctly.    

3. Does fine with Coach Pitch but struggles to hit at the next level

A functional vision problem can be masked by a child who has learned to compensate and work around the issue. For Coach Pitch, a young batter generally knows consistently where the ball will be, and can adjust their swing accordingly.

But when that batter gets to the next level, the pitching comes from an actual opponent and becomes much less predictable. That means more accurate vision is needed to see and hit the ball well. 

4. Has trouble catching balls in the outfield 

If your child has ongoing problems with fly balls, ask them what happens when they see the ball in the air.  People with eye teaming problems may notice that the ball looks like it splits into two.

In fact, we’ve had several patients say they see the ball split in two once its trajectory moves out of the infield. This is a strong indication of an eye teaming problem.

5. Can’t go to the right or the left

To a certain degree, any person will show greater dexterity going in one direction versus the other.  But a vision problem can severely affect someone’s ability to go in one direction or see the ball accurately in different locations in space.  

If you notice, for example, that your child really struggles fielding a ball that’s hit to a particular side, it may be a vision problem.

Your Next Step: Take our Free Vision Quiz 

Few vision problems fade with time. Does your child exhibit any of the symptoms described above or show potentially similar problems in a sport other than baseball? 

If so, it’s by no means a definitive indication of a functional vision problem. But it should prompt you to at least take the free online Vision Quiz that The Vision Therapy Center offers. 

The Vision Quiz score will give you an indication of whether further testing in the form of a  Functional Vision Exam may be in order.

Please keep in mind that if your child does have a functional vision problem, there’s good news: Optometric vision therapy has proven to be highly effective at solving a wide range of functional vision problems.

Click here to take the Vision Quiz.

About the author: Dr. Kellye Knueppel is an award-winning developmental optometrist specializing in vision-related learning problems, sports vision, and rehabilitative optometry. She is board-certified in vision development as a Fellow of the College of Optometrists in Vision Development. Since opening The Vision Therapy Center in 1995, she has dedicated herself to helping people overcome their visual problems.

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