Monitoring and intercepting a fast approaching object is a critical skill for many sports. Athletes might be distinguished from nonathletes based on their ability to access various visual abilities to accomplish interceptive actions. Here, we examined whether interceptive visuomotor skills of athletes and nonathletes are differently correlated to a hierarchy of visuo-oculomotor abilities related to the perception of motion in depth.
Eighty-six athletes in interceptive sports, as well as 60 nonathletes, were recruited based on their sport performance and prior experiences. Their basic visual abilities (dominant eye acuity, contrast sensitivity, visual span, and visual memory) and complex visuo-oculomotor abilities (dynamic acuity, accommodative facility, near point of convergence, and near/far phoria) were analyzed in relation to critical visuomotor skills (manual interception, visually guided locomotion, and depth judgment).
Discriminant analysis revealed that athletes and nonathletes can be accurately differentiated based on measured visuomotor skills (91.3% accuracy, p < 0.0001). Near point of convergence, accommodative facility, and dynamic acuity were moderately effective in identifying athletes (71.3%, p = 0.002) and in predicting the three visuomotor skills (all r2 ≥ 0.096, all p ≤ 0.022). Dominant eye acuity and contrast sensitivity also identified athletes (61.4%, p = 0.021) and contributed to complex visuo-oculomotor abilities (all r2 ≥ 0.046, all p ≤ 0.039). The correlations among measured abilities were more significant for athletes than nonathletes.
Athletes in interceptive sports are superior to nonathletes in their visuomotor skills. They also have broader access to various visual and complex visuo-oculomotor abilities than nonathletes. This likely allows athletes to more effectively coordinate visual and oculomotor abilities under demanding conditions when some visual cues are degraded. The present findings are consistent with a pyramid of sports vision and suggest a top-down process for athlete screening and training.