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Coping with a sports mad son who has vision issues

When your child has vision issues it can be scary to let them just be a regular kid and play whatever sport they want to. There is often the fear of them hurting themselves because they can't see properly, or having an accident that damages their eyes or vision. Here's how we cope with our sports mad son who has vision issues.


I’ve probably mentioned this before but Dane is sports mad. Like completely, totally and utterly obsessed with it. He cannot see a ball without having to kick it, or see a bat and need to pick it up and practice swinging. No matter the game, he’ll be in it. His absolute passion though is soccer. He lives and breathes it – and even has his sights set on a career in the game (not the best choice considering we live in Australia where soccer players are not paid very handsomely). Ask him any stat from the last World Cup and he’ll know it. Want to know about Messi’s life story? He can give you a year by year break down (I probably can too since I’ve heard it so many times!). He trains four days a week and then plays on the weekends. He plays at lunchtime at school and has an ‘indoor’ ball that he’s allowed to kick around the house. He’s even known to have scrunched up a piece of paper into a ball to play ‘keepie uppies’. All this is fantastic but it has led us to consider how his eye and his vision might affect his current and future playing opportunities.

First up, let's talk about safety

First up, let’s talk about safety. If you’re not across Dane’s story, he wears a hard contact lens in one eye. Balls, elbows, boots and hard pieces of plastic in an eye don’t really mix well so Dane wears safety glasses when he plays. After a lot of trial and error we found some Bolle safety glasses online but you can also get them from workwear stores. Dane has his Bolles in sunglasses version and clear version for night training. They’re adult glasses just in the small size, so they’re probably not going to fit kids under 7 or so. But hopefully the sport they’re playing isn’t too rough at that stage. If it is, there are a selection of full-on sports goggles that might be better. You can get these online or from your optometrist but you can find some great options here.

A minor thing at the moment is that Dane can’t head the ball during soccer because if he misplaces it slightly it will push the glasses into his head too hard. This is becoming more of a limitation as he progresses through the age groups so we’re hanging out for soft contact lenses in his prescription. They exist in monthly contacts but until Dane can manage his own contact lens we’re sticking with the RGP lens. 

When it comes to actual vision issues, the American Optometric Association says that the following are important vision skills for sport:

  • Dynamic visual acuity – being able to see clearly while objects are moving
  • Visual concentration – being able to stay focused on an object or target
  • Eye Tracking – being able to follow objects with limited head movement
  • Eye-Hand-Body Coordination – how your hands, feet, body and muscles work together
  • Visual Memory – being able to process and remember a fast-moving, complex picture of people and things
  • Visualisation – picturing yourself doing something can actually help you do it!
  • Peripheral Vision – being able to see action to the side of you without turning your head
  • Visual Reaction Time – the speed at which your brain interprets and reacts to an action
  • Depth Perception – being able to judge distance between objects

Depth perception

For the time being I feel like peripheral vision and depth perception are our main concerns. These play on my mind a fair bit and I think will be something we need to investigate more in the future. I know there are optometrists that specialise in vision for sport so I’d say we’ll be heading there in the not too distant future.

I read a book at a behavioural optometry conference once that explained that the brain can adapt for depth perception by working out that an object smaller should therefore be at a greater distance. I have noticed that Dane doesn’t seem to have too much trouble with depth perception so I’m hopeful his brain has somehow adapted. It would be interesting to find out but I’m not sure how they would test that!

Peripheral vision

Then there’s peripheral vision – pretty darned important for soccer, as well has plenty of other sports. Dane’s ophthalmologist told him that he has an advantage with peripheral vision because his eyes can work separately from each other – but I suspect this was just to make him feel better. We’ve obviously had to be very mindful of affecting his peripheral vision even more with the addition of safety glasses. A lot of the glasses we tried failed because they blocked his peripheral vision too much.

Some accommodations might need to be made

Both depth perception and peripheral vision have been a bit of an issue for Dane’s swimming but this is because he doesn’t have his contact lens in – so he’s operating with just one eye. He would constantly hit the lanerope in backstroke because he couldn’t see on one side, and occasionally he’ll misjudge his turn or completion of a lap because he lacks depth perception.

Likewise, nippers (junior lifesaving) has been a bit of a challenge because he trains and competes without his contact lens in. As competition became more serious this year, and he’s now on fibreglass boards, we were granted special permission for him to always start board races from the far right hand side of the line. This was just to reduce the possibility of him being hit in the head by someone else’s board on his ‘blind side’. It required a fair bit of paperwork but most sports are accommodating of children’s needs like this, once you explain the situation and the risks involved. 

The guilt and worry creep in from time to time

For now, we’re happy he’s chosen soccer because of the bigger ball which will hopefully do less damage than say a hockey ball – my daughter’s choice of sport. Like all mums I’m sure, the guilt and worry creep in from time to time. Would he be even more talented if he didn’t have his vision problems? Is there more that we can do to help him be the best he can be? I’m sure there probably is always more but with all the training and playing it’s hard to find the time to even think about who to see to investigate options, let alone fit in appointments and possibly vision therapy! 

It's all about fun!

For the time being, we’ll just deal with the here and now and if problems pop up we’ll deal with them. He’s having fun so that’s the most important thing.