The Doctor Transforming Elite Athletes with Her All-seeing Eye

CNN/ Newswire | 11/8/2017, 8:17 a.m.
Look left, look right. Look up, look down. Whatever you may observe, whatever you may come across, you won't spot ...
Dr. Sherylle Calder

By Aimee Lewis, CNN

(CNN) -- Look left, look right. Look up, look down.

Whatever you may observe, whatever you may come across, you won't spot the things that Dr. Sherylle Calder can see.

The South African has been described as the most successful person in sport. She is often called a visionary, a pioneer.

She is the go-to coach for many of the world's elite athletes, standing alone in her field, an expert in an area that is often overlooked; improving what is regularly abused, even by those at the peak of their sporting powers.

Speed, strength, mental fortitude -- the key components to sporting greatness. But it is incremental improvements, often called marginal gains, which can separate the great from the good, be the difference between winning and losing.

For Calder, the eyes are the missing piece of the sporting jigsaw, a weakness that can become a strength.

Specializing in eye-hand, foot and body co-ordination, she is the woman charged with helping athletes see better, anticipate quicker.

It is not about having impeccable eyesight, she says. Her work is not sight-related, but is based on improving the visual motor system and decision making.

"The eyes have to move effectively, just like the body," Calder, the first sports scientist to be awarded a doctorate in visual performance, tells CNN Sport.

"Most people believe we are born with the system we have, but you can train the eyes, the brain and the body to perform better.

"We warm up the rest of the body, but about 80 to 90% of the information that you base a decision on comes from the eyes and it's the only system we put by the wayside."

The creme de la creme of world sport

Calder currently works with England's rugby union team, Formula One driver Valtteri Bottas and Kenny Stills, the Miami Dolphins wide receiver who has thanked her for adding "the edge" to his game.

The sports scientist was labeled as the "secret" to Ernie Els' victory at the British Open in 2012 after the South African golfer had sought her help in the months leading up to his victory in England.

The list of Calder's past clients is exhaustive. It is the crème de la crème of the sporting world: the All Blacks, Australia's cricket team, English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur, the Prada Yachting team and French Ligue One side AS Monaco.

She can also lay claim to having won back-to-back Rugby World Cups with different nations, first with England in 2003 and South Africa four years later. Former Springboks winger Bryan Habana thanked her for making his eyes as quick as his feet.

Calder says that the winger's intercepted try against Argentina in the semifinals of the 2007 Rugby World Cup won the Springboks the tournament and was proof that, in subtle ways, visual training impacted the performance.

"Elite athletes think they're good at everything. They think they're perfect, especially when it comes to visual motor skill level," Calder says, smiling.