Strobe glasses blind athletes to improve performance

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

stroboscope training
Goalie Justin Peters trains with a tennis ball while wearing special glasses that impair his vision.

When it comes to spectator sports such as hockey and soccer, it’s important to have a brightly lit arena. Not only does it allow adoring fans to follow the game, the illuminated playing field lets players keep their eye on the ball or puck. Well, that may be true for an actual game, but for practice, new research suggests players might be better off training in semi-blindness.

In a study conducted by Duke University, researchers wanted to test the effects of stroboscopes – a new type of eyewear that quickly alternates between clear and opaque (unclear) vision. Older research suggested that these glasses can improve vision, attention, and time response, so would the same be true of athletic ability? In order to find out, the Duke researchers teamed up with the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team.

Half of the professional volunteers trained normally, while the others practiced with the special stroboscopes. Some of the drills included off-ice skating, shooting the puck at the goal, skating in a circle before completing a long pass, or catching a tennis ball. Sometimes, the stroboscopes would block vision in one eye to impair vision, or block both completely. As goalie Justin Peters describes, “It was kind of goofy to be honest with you.”

Even though it was goofy, the players using the special eyewear improved their athletic performance by as much as 18% after training. Peters said that for him, the ball really came into focus. “It slows it down,” he said. “When you play a simple game like catch, it can be hard to remember to focus on the ball, to keep your eye on the ball. But the glasses forced you to do that.” The effect is similar to running with weights on your legs; after the extra pounds are taken off, you feel lighter on your feet.

Lead researcher Stephen Mitroff says these results are promising, and stroboscope training could make its way to a variety of settings like the military, medicine, and therapy.

Featured image courtesy of Duke University. Image of Justin Peters courtesy of Peter Friesen on Twitter.