The Doctor Transforming Elite Athletes with Her All-seeing Eye

CNN/Stylemagazine.com 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

"We show them they have strengths and weaknesses and it's really exciting for us to make every player a little bit better."

The digital decline

The professional athlete of today lives in a different era to the stars who were idolized in years gone by. The digital age, the habitual use of social media, the soaking up of information from a small screen, has created new problems.

Calder says she has scientific evidence which suggests that skills and visual awareness, such as the processing of information, concentration, co-ordination, to name a few, are in decline.

Those in the "better-in-my-day" camp, bemoaning that today's ball players haven't the flair or the skill of their predecessors, may have been on to something after all.

Sport's best of the best, as are the rest of us, are suffering from digital deterioration courtesy of our irresistible digital devices.

"We've found in the last five to six years there's been an overall decline in the visual motor skill level of elite players," she says.

"The eyes were never designed to work on small devices and, because of that, we're really abusing how we should be using our eyes.

"When you look at your phone there is limited eye movements happening and everything is pretty static.

"When we're on digital devices we really have limited attention span so our ability to concentrate and pay attention to a specific task is deteriorating.

"Any system you don't use effectively or abuse deteriorates so we think that every person in the world should be doing some form of eye/brain training to prevent the decline of the system.

"Looking up to the furthest point you can focus on helps, and therefore looking up now and again would be a start. However you need to specifically train that system."

'We're trying to change behavior'

Calder admits that she sees elite athletes on their smartphones or iPads "all the time."

Over the next three years with England's rugby union squad, as the country builds to the 2019 Rugby World Cup, she will attempt to alter habits.

"We're trying to change behavior and any behavior-change takes time," she says. "By the time we get to the World Cup we'll be ready to perform."

Players have been told not to use their devices on match day, while they have been asked to reduce their digital consumption during training weeks.

What will the long-term impact of this digital decline have on sporting performance? Particular sports won't suffer more than others because, says Calder, the decline is across the board.

"People don't notice because everyone's doing the same," she says.

"In 10 years' time the situation might be better, I'm sure it's going to evolve. The awareness of the problem is starting to surface.

"You have to find a way of training the visual motor system -- that's really the only thing you can do."

Training the eyes at the gym

It is winter in England and Calder is overseeing her first training sessions as England's visual awareness coach, an appointment made by head coach Eddie Jones this January. The Six Nations, which England will go on to win undefeated, is just weeks away.