BBR002 – The Billiards Biohacker Report: Hack Your Vision, Transform Your Pool Game

20/20 vision is a prerequisite for playing good pool.

When I talk about “hacking you vision”, however, I’m not talking about creating vision that is 20/20 or better.  I’ve already assumed that you have corrected that aspect of your vision through corrective lenses or laser surgery.

I want to make you aware of other ways that you can hack your vision that can have profoundly positive effects on your pool game and other aspects of your life.

The mind has amazing capabilities to compensate for physical deficiencies.   This holds true, too, when adapting to visual problems.  You may have problems with your vision that are not even obvious, because you are only seeing it (pun intended) from your own perspective.  You may have issues with your vision and not even realize it.  I’m not trying to be alarmist, when I say this, but you may want to have your vision checked out by a vision therapist if you have some of the following symptoms…

  • low reading comprehension
  • you find it difficult to get yourself to read or can’t read for very long without getting distracted
  • if you have nausea when reading or doing computer work
  • if you have trouble following words on a page or find yourself losing your place when your eyes move to the next line of print
  • if you have been diagnosed with ADHD, either as a child or an adult (or show similar symptoms)
  • if you get fatigued or sleepy while reading or doing computer work
  • if you have problems with eye-teaming or a lazy eye
  • poor hand-eye coordination

These are common symptoms of vision related problems.  Of course, they could be related to other issues, so make sure you are talking to a health professional to understand what really is going on.  This is useful information to have, so you can pose appropriate questions to your doctors, because some vision problems often go undiagnosed.  Sometimes vision therapy can fix problems at the root cause, instead of going through years of pain or using medication to treat the symptoms.

With the modern lifestyle comes a lot of TV watching, lack of sleep, computer use and, generally, a lot of stresses.  This can cause some of the problems above or, at least, add to them.  Therefore, it is important to consider those symptoms and how they affect your vision.  That being said, I want to focus on what I think is a more fascinating and overlooked opportunity for improving vision for pool players.

Sports Vision Therapy:  Unlock Your Brain’s Potential For Spatial Intelligence

There are many documented cases of professional athletes in the NFL, Major League Baseball, professional golf, etc, that have greatly benefited from sports vision therapy.  There are critical aspects to vision that can greatly enhance athletic performance, such as:

  1. Dynamic visual acuity – Your ability to see objects clearly while you and/or the ball are moving.  The ability to be able to shift where you are looking from near to far.
  2. Visual concentration – The ability to block out distractions and focus on the ball or the target.
  3. Eye tracking – The ability to follow a moving object efficiently, maintain balance and react quickly.
  4. Hand-eye-body coordination –  The ability for the mind to control gross and fine motor skills to coordinate those motor movements with what the eyes are seeing.
  5. Visual memory – Your ability to remember a fast-moving, complex picture of people and/or things.  The ability to learn from these experiences and apply them to getting better.
  6. Visualization – Being able to see a mental movie of yourself performing well while your eyes are seeing and concentrating on something else, such as the ball.
  7. Peripheral vision – Seeing things out of the side each eye without moving your head.
  8. Visual reaction time – The speed at which your brain interprets and reacts to the layout of the table and/or your opponent’s action.
  9. Depth perception – The ability to accurately and quickly judge distance between yourself, balls, rails or any other object.

Having these skills finely-tuned, is a key physical quality that separates the average athlete from the all-stars.  Sometimes, this is a natural trait and other times it is from specific eye training drills.  I want to take this list and relate them to pool in ways that might not be obvious.  Also, I’ll try to identify ways to train to improve in these areas.

1.  Dynamic Visual Acuity

This is a good one to focus on for increased performance on the pool table.   I realize that the visual demands are significantly different than, let’s say, a professional wide receiver.  Let’s take a look at how developing this visual skill has helped a world-class athlete like Larry Fitzgerald.

Case Study: Larry Fitzgerald  (Great Athlete + Vision Therapy = Dominant Player)

Larry Fitzgerald is widely recognized as one of top, if not the best, receiver in the NFL.  He got to that level with some unconventional training methods.  One of which was lots of vision therapy, as a youngster.  His Father had him do eye training exercises at a very young age.  Larry claims that this had a huge impact on his ability to catch the football.  He says that the ball appears to be moving in slow motion as it moves towards his hands.   He can see the rotation of the ball.  Part of his eye training, involved a particular exercise, the Marsden Ball exercise, that developed his eye sight and his hand-eye coordination.   He had a tennis ball on a string hanging from the ceiling.  The ball had multiple colored dots on it.  He would let the ball swing on the string in a circular motion.  He had a rolling pin with colored stripes on it.  The exercise would require him to track the moving ball and locate colored dots, then he would have to touch the colored dots with the matching colored stripe on the dowel rod.  This type of exercise trains the brain to be able to focus the eyes on moving objects in 3D space.  It also helps to train the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination to be able to make contact with the correct spot in space.   This is a tremendously demanding task.  This is just one example of eye training that Larry did.  He says that he did all types of eye training every summer, when he was younger.  Training drills like this give Larry the ability to track a football as it is moving towards him and for him to be able to see “details” of the football as it is traveling through space.  This is why Larry’s mind perceives that everything is moving in slow motion.  His mind has been trained to quickly interpret the incoming data from his eyes.  He is pulling-in information and making calculations at a much higher rate than most athletes are able to do.  I don’t believe that this is natural ability.  This is a result of specific training. Essentially, it is developing and expanding one’s spatial intelligence.

So, what does this have to do with pool players?  We aren’t catching balls.  When we shoot at balls, they are sitting still.  Does this really have the added benefits that are so enhancing in other sports?  I think it does.

First, pool requires the ability to focus back-and-forth, between the object ball and the cue ball.  There is visual acuity required for this part of the shot routine.  I think there is a more subtle use for this vision quality. It is used after your stroke is initiated and the cue ball strikes the cue ball.  At this point, the cue ball is on it’s predetermined path.  You have no control over it, once it loses contact with the cue tip.  What happens next is critical to your pool game’s development.  You must see what happens.  Most players, including myself, only partially see what happens.  We see what the end result is.  Our brain takes that data and stores it.  It compares it to what it thinks should have happened, then hopefully it is using that data to adjust and improve if the outcome was less than desired.

I believe that some pool players see their shots in much more detail, allowing the brain to take in much more data (this ties into #5 “visual memory”).  Imagine if your brain and eyes were trained, like Larry Fitzgerald’s.  Your shots would appear to be in slow motion.  You could see the initial contact with the tip.  You would see the detailed interaction as the cue ball collides with the object ball. You’d see if there was a small amount of contact-induced-throw.  You could see the spin that was created as the cue ball left the object ball.  I think that some players see shots in this type of detail.  I know that I have experienced certain times when I was really in a zone and focusing, that I could see shots in more detail like this, but it was a fleeting experience.

You can do vision therapy, like the Marsden Ball exercise and develop this vision trait.  Also, I believe that it will translate to an improvement in your pool game.   Through that training, the brain is going to develop new visual pathways and be able to receive and process more information.

2.  Visual Concentration

This one is pretty a straight-forward and obvious skill that would benefit pool playing.  The ability to focus on a shot or a point-of-aim is a critical skill in pool.  You need to be able to block out distractions and focus.  Pool players are always looking for ways to improve their focus and ways to eliminate distractions.  I am also on this quest for better visual focus and blocking distractions.  That is part of the reason  that I’m launching a huge self-experiment, where I will be performing hammer drills, like the on in the video below.

I will be following the principles in Michael Lavery’s book “Whole Brain Power”.  I think it will dramatically improve my focus, hand-eye-body coordination, visual acuity, visual reaction time and depth perception.  It has done this for athletes in other sports like tennis, golf and baseball, so I’m going to test it out.

3. Eye Tracking

This one may not have as big of an impact on the sport of billiards.  Though, I think it does tie into the points that were made for #1, above.  Better eye tracking might help the mind to collect better information.  It might come in handy when trying to analyze the reaction of balls off the break or when watching the reaction of balls coming out of a cluster.

There is an exercise that baseball players use.  They load up a tennis ball launcher with tennis balls.  Each tennis ball is marked with a number 1 thru 9.  They stand back about 60 ft., in their batting stance.  They launch balls past them and try to read the number on the ball as it passes.  They start the machine at about 90 mph!  As they get better, they ramp it up to 150 mph!  They claim that once they train their eyes to be able to see those numbers at those speeds, the 80 or 90 mph fast-ball seems to be much slower.  Also, they claim the ball looks larger.  As pool players, wouldn’t we benefit by being able to see things as moving more slowly and/or the balls seeming to be bigger?

4.  Hand-Eye-Body Coordination

Again, this one is pretty obvious that it is important to pool players.  However, there are some very unorthodox ways to speed up the rate at which we can improve these skills.  They don’t necessarily need to be learned by shooting a million balls over many years.   Don’t think of it in that way.  Think of it in terms of training your brain to learn and process information quicker.  Think of it in terms of training your brain and building new pathways for information flow.  I will be attempting to improve my skills in this department with a specific regimen of opposite-handed drills, along with the aforementioned hammer drills. More on that in the near future.

5.  Visual Memory

This one is critical in learning the game of pool.  On every shot, your brain is taking in information and using it to learn and make adjustments.  I often hear interviews of pro pool players after a match and they are able to recall details of specific shots in great detail.  I don’t seem to be able to do that.  Is this trait of visual memory a trait with strong players?  It could be, because it would give them a huge developmental advantage.  Can this trait be learned?  Absolutely.  That is one of the things that I will be measuring in my upcoming brain training project, too.  I will be using memorization skills and other cognitive training to try to enhance my visual memory.  I will be measuring my improvement with a software tool called dual-n-back training.

6.  Visualization

This is another one that many pool players and trainers preach to improve your pool game.  The trick is to find an effective way to develop this skill.  I think one could benefit in this area by using meditation or some other technique to calm your mind.  Visualization can only come when you get your active mind and self-talk out of the way.  Heartmath training with a device like the Emwave 2, could be good for improving in this area.  Don’t underestimate the power of this technique.  Here is a real-life story to illustrate the power of visualization…

Major James Nesbeth spent seven years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. During those seven years, he was imprisoned in a cage that was approximately four and one-half feet high and five long. During almost the entire time he was imprisoned he saw no one, talked to no one and experienced no physical activity. In order to keep his sanity and his mind active, he used the art of visualization.

Every day in his mind, he would play a game of golf. A full 18-hole game at his favorite green. In his mind, he would create the trees, the smell of the freshly trimmed grass, the wind, the songs of the birds. He created different weather conditions – windy spring days, overcast winter days and sunny summer mornings. He felt the grip of the club in his hands as he played his shots in his mind. The set-up, the down-swing and the follow-through on each shot. Watched the ball arc down the fairway and land at the exact spot he had selected. All in his mind.

He did this seven days a week. Four hours a day. Eighteen holes. Seven years. When Major Nesbeth was finally released, he found that he had cut 20 strokes off his golfing average without having touched a golf club in seven years.

Courtesy of MentalGameCoaching.com

7.  Peripheral Vision

In pool, I’m not sure if developing your peripheral vision would be helpful.  In some ways, it might be detrimental.  There are vision therapies that can be used to improve in this area. If anyone wants to try them, I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether it had any effect on your game.  For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to leave this one alone for now.

8.  Visual Reaction Time

This one is a little tricky.  One could argue that this one is not really that critical to pool players.  Though, I would disagree.  In pool, unless you are playing with a shot-clock, you are not under time constraints.  However, I would contend that if your brain can interpret data and react quickly and accurately, it gives you an advantage.  It also means that your mind will be able to make more calculations in the same amount of time compared to someone of lesser skills in this department.  Wouldn’t this give you an advantage?  It is like having a computer with a faster processor.

Obviously, this skill is going to pay larger dividends in a sport like tennis, where your mind sees something happen and has to react quickly.   This is not an area that I would focus a lot of time on to improve your pool game.  I think there would be some carry-over improvements in this area from some of the training methodologies that I already mentioned.

9.  Depth Perception

This is closely related to the concept of “spatial intelligence” that I learned from Michael Lavery.  It is the brains ability to judge objects in 3 dimensional space.  The most obvious benefit of this type of “spatial intelligence” would be the brain’s ability to make calculations related to compounding factors in many shots.  That would be things like swerve, spin, squirt, spin-induced-throw, rail speed, cloth speed, etc.  There are many factors that the mind must consider (i.e. inputs).  It uses all of these inputs as part of it’s calculation as part of the pre-shot routine and then, ultimately, in the execution of the stroke.  Certain types of eye training could really help the brain to be able to more accurately make these calculations.  It is a different way of developing this mental skill, compared to shooting thousands of balls and using that type of trial-and-error approach.

One of the ways that I will be experimenting with is using ambidextrous training to promote the use of both hemispheres of the brain.  This relates closely to some of the other 8 areas of visual traits, mentioned previously, especially hand-eye-body coordination.  In a nutshell, researchers have shown that training with your non-dominant hand can cause increased ability in your dominant hand.   Robert Hicks did some studies showing that non-dominant hand training caused more improvement in the dominant hand skills compared to the same amount of training, exclusively, in the dominant hand.  There are other studies with similar results.  That is why I have chosen to do whole brain training to see if I can improve in this area.


I want to get a pair of NIKE SPARQ Vapor Strobeglasses. These are the glasses that I mentioned that are used by professional athletes to improve their vision, hand-eye-body coordination and train their brains to process data faster.
Books Mentioned
Whole Brain Power: The Fountain of Youth for the Mind and Body – Check out this book to learn some cutting-edge ways to improve your game.
Eye Power: An Updated Report on Vision Therapy – Much more information about vision therapy.

 

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2 Comments

  • August 30, 2012

    JJ Everett

    “You must see what happens. Most players, including myself, only partially see what happens.”

    What your saying above couldn’t be more true. I have a lot of trouble seeing if I miss to the right or left of the pocket. I can shoot any shot but when I am missing I’m not able to catch exectly what happened. I’ve been concidering a video rig that would play back that last 60 seconds of the game. Something objective. You are right, some people are better at seeing what happens after contact to the object ball.

    Interesting stuff your working on. I’m going to keep watching. Let me know if you need any feedback.

    JJ Everett

    • August 30, 2012

      Skippy

      Thanks so much JJ. I’m glad it resonated with you. I think it is something that is overlooked in all sports, but really hasn’t been explored in pool. If it has, I haven’t heard of it. I’d love to hear some more people’s thoughts on it. Keep listening. I’m going to dig into this stuff more and more.

      At my last pool league match, I really tried to force myself to watch the shot. It was giving me some real good feedback about my misses. Now I just need to work on getting used to the deflection on my new low deflection shaft. That is the biggest problem with my game right now. Anyhow, watch for episode 4, because I’m going to layout my brain hacking project. It has some drills that I think will really help me “see the ball” better. These drills really challenge your mind and hand-eye-body coordination and spatial intelligence. The new episode should be published by Saturday, if all goes well…hopefully sooner.
      Cheers,
      Skippy