There are certain realities to being married to an athlete, and in my case, to a squash professional: listening to shot execution details, the muscular consequences of a changed workout, or how strategies change according to opponent. Also, I hear a lot about and witness the importance of mental toughness. Anyone who watched the Rio (or any) Olympics knows that no one succeeds there who hasn’t mastered this aspect of athleticism.
Given this, I wasn’t surprised when my husband immediately sought the chance to try out Heads Up Mind Gym, a brand new sports vision training centre in Downsview Park, Toronto. Sports vision training is a unique method that enhances a person’s visual, cognitive and motor skills to heighten their sports performance.
As a non-sports aficionado, I had no idea what to expect when I arrived with my family (of course! the mini-athletes had to come too). Certainly I could believe that cutting edge technology could improve sports performance (or any activity that relies on physical performance), but I really had no idea how. And so the discovery began.
It turns out that sports vision training and related technology aims at a heap of untapped potential through developing the relationship between the eyes, the brain, and the body. The eyes send information to the brain which, as the command centre, tells the body what to do. Company Founder and President Brenley Shapiro explains that training the body without focus on the eyes is like building a roof without a foundation. As the gateway to the brain, everything starts with the eyes.
Enter Dynavision. Because both visual focus and movement are muscular and can be trained, this hands-on training technology helps us to see more and to react more quickly to what we’re seeing, thus allowing for faster, more accurate decisions. To train on Dynavision, you stare at a square in the centre of a black board, while trying to tap with your hands red lights that flash on various points of the periphery.
In the photo above, my son has taken his focus off the central square to directly look at a flashing red light, which will slow down his time. With practice, he would do better. With practice, it is possible to see more lights more quickly, and better gauge where they are on the screen without looking directly at them. The trainee increases their peripheral awareness, and learns to trust it.
It’s not difficult to imagine how this sensitization to peripheral visual stimulus would translate into increased effectiveness on a playing field or court. Shapiro also explained that the far-reaching potential impact of tools like Dynavision is just beginning to be understood, citing anecdotal evidence of a young child’s vision improving so as to eliminate the need for surgery, and the heightened memory of a 78 year old participant.
We were hooked, and so is Shapiro. It’s clear that for this Sport Psychology and Performance Consultant, founding Heads Up Mind Gym is an extension of her mission to help all athletes to achieve their personal best. Shapiro’s passion and expertise were palpable as she gave us tours and trials of all the hands-on tools, each of which focuses on some aspect of sports vision training.
There was the Neurotracker, which trains our ability to track multiple moving objects at the same time, increasing spatial awareness and enhancing visual processing speed and eye tracking ability. Don’t they look like Spy Kids, or Kids in Black, or something?)
Or Fitlights, a customizable dynamic drill that improves decision-making under pressure. (My daughter’s a blur because she’s moving as fast as possible, and this training area is intentionally kept under low light.)
We also tried working on visual training boards, rotary wheels, and a matrix, all of which make our eyes stronger and faster. And with better visual input, the brain and body are enabled to reach their full potential.
Also, it’s fun! My husband was predictably riveted, but so were the kids and I. Heads Up Mind Gym is so hands-on that the training tools feel like games. I’m pretty sure my kids thought they were playing very large and unusual video games. The nice part of this is that young athletes look forward to training here. Their output is measured, so they can continually work on improving their scores, which translates into gains on their respective playing fields.
Sports vision training is relatively new, but Shapiro explains that it is now used by the NFL and the NLB, with the NHL getting on board too. And now with Heads Up Mind Gym, it’s offered to athletes, young and old, in Toronto.
Many thanks to Brenley Shapiro and Heads Up Mind Gym for our amazing tour! All opinions are my own.