The Visual Skills that shape every rugby players performance: Part 1

This article is by Grant van Velden (@gvanvelden) who is a Sports Vision and Decision Making Specialist working out of the Centre for Human Performance Sciences at Stellenbosch University.  He has worked with Australian rugby stars James O’Connor and Quade Cooper, Springbok’s Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon, Elton Jantjies, Morne Steyn & Pat Lambie,, the Springbok Sevens team,  the Maties Referees Academy, Varsity Cup and Young Guns teams, Alan Zondagh’s Rugby Performance Centre (RPC), as well as South African kicking guru’s Braam van Straaten, Louis Koen and Vlok Cilliers. He is also the technical spokesperson for Nike Vision South Africa. 

With the Super 15 heading into a crucial part of the season, I thought that it was fitting to highlight some of the visual skills that the players in the top teams of the tournament would possess.  This will be the beginning of a number of articles that highlight these visual skills.

Today’s article will look at the visual skills of Dynamic Visual Acuity (DVA) and Visual Alignment, two visual skills that any rugby player needs to master in order to perform successfully at the elite level.

ImageDynamic Visual Acuity, also known as kinetic visual acuity, refers to the athlete’s clarity of vision while the athlete is in movement or while the athlete is tracking a moving object – in rugby this would relate to how clearly and precisely the player can send visual information to the brain for interpretation so that the correct motor response can be initiated.  The more clear and precise the visual information, the more accurate is the information that is sent to the brain and the faster the brain is able to process that information.  So a lock forward with good DVA will be able to give clear and precise visual information to his brain regarding the flight of the ball from a kick off, so that his brain can interpret the information an initiate the correct timing of the jump in order to secure the ball for his team successfully.  Eben Etzebeth, one of the top lock forwards in the world, would more than likely excel at DVA task.  This visual skill would also be particularly beneficial for a fullback, such as Willie le Roux, who is tasked with successfully catching aerial bombs while under immense pressure from the opposition.

Visual Alignment is the ability to accurately aim the two eyes at a target, whether stationary or moving.  Most people’s eyes are slightly misaligned, which is normal.  Some athletes with an eye condition (such as lazy eye, turned eye, or crossed eyes) will have a more serious eye alignment problem requiring a doctor’s intervention.  Eye alignment affects the athlete’s perception of the position of the target, as well as the speed and the distance of the target.  As a result, any misalignment can be responsible for errors in aiming, timing, as well as eye-hand or eye-foot coordination.  In addition, misalignment of the eyes can cause the athlete to adopt a poor posture and technique in order to compensate for the visual problem.  Morne Steyn is a prolific goal kicker and is currently one of the leading point scoreres in this years Super 15 – it would not surprise me to find that Morne has a very good visual alignment.  Misalignment could be a huge hindrance if you are a flyhalf wanting to better your goal kicking performance for example, but you just cannot seem to improve beyond a certain point.  If your eyes are misaligned, it could be affecting your kicking technique so much so that you are not consistently striking the ball correctly.

Remember, keep your body fit and your eyes fitter!!

The next article in this series will discuss how to train these visual skills….

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