Going for Gold : Vision problems & kids' sports

Going for Gold : Vision problems & kids' sports

31st Mar 2023

When you find out your child has vision problems, you quickly scan their entire life and think of all the ways this will affect them and their future opportunities. We want the best for our kids, in fact, we want the world for our kids. If they want to be an astronaut, we will fill their shelves with books on space and their ceiling with glow in the dark stars and planets. If they want to be a doctor, we sew white doctor’s coats and pretend to be a patient 6000 times. If they want to be an athlete, we are out there kicking the footy or driving to early morning swimming lessons all year long.

When you find out your child needs glasses, or has other vision problems, you might think, Oh no, that’s it for sports, but if the Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games can show us anything, it is definitely that adversity does not mean sitting on the sidelines. The games have been such an inspiration to any person out there but especially to our kids who may be blind, partly blind or have other eye sight issues. Vision issues do not have to stop our kids from playing the sports they love, but we may have to go at it a bit different. As Dane gets older and more competitive with his sport, we’re thinking about what we can do to not only protect his eyes but give him the best opportunity to succeed. We've also learnt along the way that sometimes we have to do some problem solving to make sure he can still participate in the things he wants to. Here are a few points that hopefully might help other parents when it comes to kids with vision issues playing sport.

Stay positive and don’t give up.

When athletes are interviewed and questioned about how they overcame their difficulties in life, there is one point that stands out against them all: their attitude. It is all about that positive attitude and that clear, big picture perspective. Help your child to see their vision problems not as an obstacle but as a hurdle, one they can jump right over. Don’t use it as a crutch, instead prepare yourself, prepare your child, and face life head on with the intention that all is possible. We’ve had a few instances where we’ve had to jump hurdles (luckily only little ones) to get around Dane’s vision issues.

On your marks! Dane loves swimming but occasionally has a few little issues caused by his vision. We've always managed to come up with a solution so far though. 

A good example is with swimming. Dane is a super keen swimmer and is showing a bit of promise with it but we had a small issue with backstroke. Plenty of kids hit the lane ropes when they’re doing backstroke but Dane was doing it A LOT! Every time he hit it, he would slow down and we could tell he was being super cautious. This affected his times, which led to a drop in his confidence. We finally worked out that because he doesn’t wear his contact lens when swimming, he was legally blind on one side and it was affecting his peripheral vision – and so he couldn’t see the lane rope. So instead of trying to see the lane rope in his peripheral vision like most kids would, we got him to lift his head every 10 metres or so, to look back at the end of the pool. He would try to line himself up into the centre of the lane from that. This simple adjustment meant that he could work around the problem and his times got faster and faster – and he was much happier.

Look for the answers you need.

Sometimes the answers we need are not the answers that are readily given to us. If your child needs to wear glasses full time, and yet he or she wants to play running ball sports, you might be looking for eye glasses that can accommodate both. Perhaps your local optometrist doesn’t display this sort of product. Maybe you’ve never even heard of it, but you can imagine it must exist out there. Keep going. Look for what you want. Do the research, get more than one opinion, look at all your options. The world is changing so fast and technology is leading the way but until then, us parents just need to keep hunting for what we need to help our kids.

This is just the collection of glasses that Dane actually wears for his sports. We have a pile of 'failed' attempts as well. 

We have a pretty substantial collection of glasses of all types in our house as we hunt for solutions to help Dane. He has his regular daily sunglasses (Gaard Eyewear sunglasses), his nipper sunglasses (tinted Bolle safety glasses), his daytime soccer and cricket glasses (tinted Bolle safety glasses), night time soccer glasses (clear Bolle safety glasses) – oh and even disco glasses too! These are the success stories but there are a pile of failures too that just didn’t fit the bill or as he's grow bigger there are more options. For instance, he used to wear BBB cycling glasses but they're now a little small so we switched to the Bolle safety glasses. We’re also trying to find great solutions that we can offer to other kids – we’ll let you know once we come up with the right product. 

Do what it takes even if that’s a bit different.

This is when you need to persevere. Your child may need to approach things a bit differently than other kids, and some days that is going to be a pain in the rear. Be it switching glasses, using special drops, having a routine that may be a bit different from their friends, persevere through these times and make them regular and normal, just like anything else. Be prepared again, for other’s questions and comments, have your answers ready and teach your kid too so they can explain why they may be doing things a bit differently.

The most sun safe nipper on the beach (along with his sister). In addition to the glasses, he also wears a hat and long sleeve rashie. 

Dane has been questioned a few times at nipper carnivals because he wears safety glasses when doing his races. Whilst they seem okay about kids wearing prescription glasses, one carnival official started questioning him as to why he was wearing sunglasses and telling him he had to take them off. It’s taken a while but we’ve taught Dane to be strong and confident and explain to people why he has to wear them. Watching from the sidelines because parents aren’t allowed in the competition arena, we were so incredibly proud to witness him patiently explain his need for them and the official let him continue to compete with the glasses on. I’ve found that whenever these sorts of issues arise, it’s just because people aren’t aware and don’t understand. Be confident with the choices you make for your child and don’t be afraid to advocate for them.

Now that Dane is older and competing properly in lifesaving, we have been able to get permission for him to always start at the far right in a board race line up. Why? Because he races without his contact lens, he again has no peripheral vision to his right. With 20 kids in a race with fibreglass boards flying around the place, it was too dangerous for him to be in the midst of this. So he starts on the right so he can see boards coming at him from the left. This required getting official permission from the state body but it was absolutely necessary for safety as far as we were concerned. 

Keep your cool and communicate

So that leads into the next big thing we’ve learnt over the years and that’s communication and patience is key. A good example here is with Dane and his soccer. When he was at an age where the kids rotate being goalie, we wouldn't allow him to play goalie. This didn’t go down too well with some of the other parents at the start because it was perceived as not being fair – and I totally get that. But we just took the time to explain why it was dangerous for Dane to be put in a position where kids would be kicking balls potentially straight at his face and the possibility of his hard contact lens cutting his eye. Once they knew the reasons behind the decision, they were very supportive. We just negotiated that he would have extra time off the field as a sub to make up for not being goalie and that kept everyone happy (except Dane, he’d rather play the entire game!). We just had to be strong in advocating for him that it was a safety issue and not because he didn’t want to play goalie and was being given special treatment. So keeping our cool and communicating with people is really important. Thankfully he's now at an age where there is a full time goalie so this is no longer a problem!

As much as Dane would love to have a go at goalie, we've decided the risk is too great. Explaining this to other parents in the team has helped alleviate any problems. 

The Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games have always been fantastic for my sports mad son and it’s always awesome to see athletes wearing glasses, sports glasses and the total inclusion of the para athletes into the games as well. If these events don't inspire all kids – not just those with vision issues – to get out and play sport, I don’t know what would!

Dane’s favourite swimmer is Mack Horton, who is well known for having a commentator look after his glasses for him and hand them over at the end of his races. Apparently he can see very little without them. Dane also loves watching the para swimming, amazed at the times the athletes could achieve even while having some serious physical challenges.

Not just legends but heroes and inspiration for our kiddos!