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You Can't Hit What You Can't See: An Interview With Eye Specialist Dr. Lynn F. Hellerstein

Just looking at Dr. Hellerstein’s credentials would assure you that you’re in good hands with eye care. She has been working with children and adults who have difficulties in learning or vision perception for over 40 years. Her knowledge on the field of the brain and eye function is so extensive that she is invited by 5 colleges to be an adjunct professor. She has done great things for people to improve their visual skills. For example, Reynold Kalstrom (picture below on the left) gives a big thanks to her help as he improved his vision to be a top iron man athlete competing well into his 80s. Also, Dr. Hellerstein is a location for supporting the youth of Denver though a nonprofit, Von’s Vision (picture below on the right) that is founded by Bronco star defensive end Von Miller.

She also has published books on these subjects. As a teacher, I found that her book called See it. Say it. Do it! The Parents’ and Teacher’s Guide to Creating Successful Students and Confident Kids can be a great tool for helping kids develop their visualization skills. Her other book, See it. Say it. Do it! 50 Tips to Improve Your Sports Performance, is the main reason for my visit to Dr. Hellerstein’s office the past week. I wanted to learn about how important the eyes are for the sport of tennis.

It is important to understand the importance of your eyes in a sport such as tennis. According to ESPN, tennis ranks as the 3rd highest sport in hand eye coordination, making it one of the most difficult sports to use your eyes for. It may sound like tracking the ball is a rather simplistic task but it is far from it. According to Dr. Hellerstein, here are all the visual skills needed to be able to hit a tennis ball consistently:

  • Dynamic Visual Acuity: the ability to see object clearly while in motion.

  • Eye Tracking: closely related to dynamic visual acuity, this is the ability to keep your eone on the ball or follow the moving ball. It may also be referred to as visual pursuit.

  • Eye Focusing: the ability to maintain clear vision as your eyes change focus quickly and accurately while looking from one distance to another.

  • Peripheral Vision: the ability to see people and objects ‘out of the corner of your eye’ while concentrating on a fixed point. You do not see things in the same way that you see something in front of you, but rather you simply become aware of someone or something on your left or right.

  • Depth Perception: being able to quickly and accurately judge the distance between yourself, the ball, your opponents, teammates, boundary lines and other objects.

  • Fusion and Flexibility Stamina: being able to keep both eyes working together, even under high speed and physically stressful conditions.

  • Visualization: the ability to picture events with your mind’s eye or imagination. This skill relates to remembering plays, court position and planning future action.

  • Eye-hand and Body Coordination: appropriate use of your hands, feet and body when responding to visual information such as getting yourself to the ball.

  • Visual Concentration: being able to stay on task for increased awareness and fewer distractions.

All of these skills start with the eyes, which receive light that has interacted with an object so that the brain can interpret the appropriate action. This is why Dr. Hellerstein likes to call it “eye hand coordination.” And rightfully so. Hitting a tennis ball doesn’t start with the swing but rather the visual skills that give you the right course of action.

Looking at the long list of the necessary visualization skills to be successful at sports such as tennis may give the reader a deeper appreciation for those athletes. Surprisingly, Dr. Hellerstein has found more athletes that struggle at these visual skills when tested in her office. “One of the top high school baseball hitters in Colorado had double vision,” she recalls, shaking her head in disbelief. She continued to explain that he was able to do so well by reading the pitchers. Similar to how a good tennis player can read their opponent on where they are hitting, so can hitters; to a certain extent. For example, a top player on the return doesn’t track the ball on the toss but rather watches the body language while focusing on the point of contact that will happen momentarily.

Even though the baseball player was able to get by rather well at the high school level, the player corrected his double vision with Dr. Hellerstein, knowing that when he would go up against tougher competition in the future that he wouldn’t stand a chance.

So this leads us to the fact that eye hand coordination can improve. Similar to how the brain can adapt and change overtime, so can our ability to see objects. In fact, Dr. Hellerstein has specialists whose sole job is to evaluate eye hand coordination and give appropriate training to improve the weaknesses found. I found this out when I was able to try out a few of the tests they do with their patients. Technology has gone a long ways since Dr. Hellerstein first started helping people’s visualization skills. Rather than a homemade device that she would use in the start of her career, she now has artificial intelligence to monitor eye movement and focus. The precision of the instruments gives a clear indication of what is going on with any lapses in the patiences visionary skills. Once a weakness is identified, exercises can be done to help the patient improve upon those skills. The end product? A more capable tennis player!

Although a trained expert would be best to work with when trying to improve your eye hand coordination, Dr. Hellerstein gives some tips on doing some exercises on your own that may help with your vision skills. Here are a few she recommends:

  • Focus your eyes on an object and try to recognize other objects in your periphery.

  • Try having two objects of different distances to focus on for a minute while finding as much detail in them as you go back and forth from each object.

  • Follow a moving target with your eyes from one side to the other. Try to go as far to you can from one corner of your eye to another.

If you feel like you’re struggling picking up your opponents ball, maybe it’s time to assess your eye hand coordination. Find a specialist near you. Hopefully you are lucky enough to have someone like Dr. Hellerstein!

Dr. Hellerstein suggests that you visit and search for an optometrist who hopefully has obtained the certification: "FCOVD"- which means he or she is a certified fellow in vision development. These are the doctors/optometrists, like Dr. Hellerstein, who are very interested in vision therapy and usually sports vision.

Best of Luck!

Here’s the first video on improving your serve, starting with how to manipulate the ball with your wrists.

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