With everything else that’s going on, soccer coaches tend to take for granted that their players can properly see. Proper eyesight is absolutely critical for players in any sport and soccer is no exception. Soccer coaches should neither consciously nor subconsciously assume that their players have the correct eyesight necessary to perform all of the aspects of the sport. Players’ eyes need to be organically sound, with vision defined by sharpness and clarity, the equivalent of “20/20”-acuity (or better) on the traditional Snellen (or similar) test, and proper depth perception. Players need to have their vision checked professionally at least once a year, especially to determine if there is a need for corrective lenses. The concepts of proper eyesight need to be addressed by coaches with the parents of young players each season prior to approximately age 12 years and with the players themselves thereafter.
There are a number of indicators of issues with eyesight that youth coaches may notice. These include a child consistently running a few steps away from the ball; missing the ball when trying to kick; tentativeness; complaints of blurriness, headache, or eyes hurting; loss of concentration; closing one eye or squinting excessively in bright sunlight; excessive blinking; and constantly rubbing the eyes. In addition, coaches may look for “lazy eye” (strabismus) where eye-muscle weakness causes one of the eyes to turn toward the nose (“cross eye”) or toward the temple (“wall eye”) or up or down. Strabismus is a very serious condition that potentially can lead to amblyopia, where nerve cells permanently “turn off” distorted vision in the eye in order to provide the brain with a single image, instead of properly forming true binocular vision. If a youth coach suspects a vision problem, it should be discussed with the parent or guardian as soon as possible.
Coaching American Soccer strongly recommends that serious soccer players utilize the services of an experienced ophthalmologist (certified and licensed medical doctor specializing in eyesight) for both annual exams and any vision problems. There are also ophthalmologists who further specialize in sports vision. If there is a problem with eyesight that requires corrective lenses, coaches need to check league rules regarding the use of sports glasses or sports goggles in order to properly inform the player of their options.* Coaches, players and parents further need to educate themselves on the options available to improve eyesight. These include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following:
Regular glasses are not to be used for soccer. They are fragile and are prone to breakage. They are likely to cause damage to the face, skin, and eyes upon impact.
Sports glasses may be used if they are allowed by league rules.* They have flexible frames and polycarbonate lenses which make them impact resistant. They need to be used with a strap to keep them in place. They may cause possible damage to the skin upon impact. The lenses tend to change image size and do not address peripheral vision. Sports glasses are also subject to fogging or getting splattered.
Sports goggles may be used if they are allowed by league rules.* These usually come in a “wrap-around style.” They have polycarbonate lenses and semi-rigid rubberized frames which should not break. They need to be used with a strap to keep them in place. They tend to improve peripheral vision slightly. They protect the eyes. They may cause damage to the skin upon impact. The lenses tend to change image size. Sports glasses are also subject to fogging or getting splattered.
Contact lenses offer a number of advantages for sports. Compared to sports glasses and sports goggles, they provide for better peripheral vision, an unobstructed field of view, less chance of injury, more stable vision and no slippage. In addition, they are less likely to fog or get splattered. They can become dislodged in the eye or come out of the eye completely.
Contact lenses may be worn safely at any age, depending on the maturity level of the child and the involvement of the parents, but probably not before age 9. Regardless of age, meticulous hygiene is critical to prevent infection when using contact lenses. Thorough hand washing, proper cleaning and storage, and attention to detail are essential. Removing lenses at bedtime will also decrease the risk of infection and may be mandatory, depending on the type of lens. (Extended wear contacts which can be worn for seven- to thirty-days, depending on the type of lens, may be considered. These also allow for overnight wear during sleep.) All lenses should be discussed with, and prescribed by, an ophthalmologist. If contact lenses are used, parents of youth must not assume that they are being handled safely until well into the teenage years and only then with a proper demonstration of understanding, maturity, and effective care.
Rigid gas permeable contact lenses allow more oxygen to enter, don’t permit debris to accumulate as easily, and don’t absorb tears. However, they may take longer to get used to, especially for part-time wear. They are generally smaller than soft contact lenses and can become dislodged, either to the white part of the eye or to the ground. They also can magnify bright sunlight.
Soft contact lenses provide greater visual comfort and can have a tighter “stick” to the eye. They can also be custom-tinted for ultra-violet-light protection. They tend to absorb tears, potentially leading to dry eye. Disposable contact lenses may be considered.
LASIK (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis) surgery permanently changes the shape of the cornea. Any surgery carries with it an inherent risk of complications or infection. It is common consensus among the medical community that LASIK should not be performed before the age of 21, because the eyes are still changing up to that point. Doctors tend to prefer that patients even be in their mid-20s or later for this procedure.
*IMPORTANT NOTE: Law 4 of the soccer Laws of the Game, “The Players’ Equipment,” prohibits the wearing of anything that is dangerous to the wearer or other players. The determination of what qualifies as “dangerous” is often left to the referee before the start of a game. Whereas the Law specifically allows the use of sports glasses (“sports spectacles”), parents of young players who need glasses are strongly encouraged to check with their league organization to obtain a definitive statement regarding the use – or non-use – of particular frames and lenses. If the use of certain frames and lenses is allowed, it should be explicitly stated in the “local rules” of the competition. Although coaches are expected to provide a copy of local rules to the referees before each game, parents should not assume that this is being done and should have their own copies at the ready to be made available at the time of player equipment inspection prior to a match. If the local rules do not contain such a statement, parents should obtain a signed statement from the organization pertaining to their child and the specific equipment involved. If this is not done, parents run the risk that their child may not be permitted to participate without taking the equipment off. Without a “local rule” or a specific statement, it s perfectly within the rights, duties, and responsibilities of the referee to deny participation if the equipment is determined to be dangerous and it continues to be worn. See: CoachingAmericanSoccer.com “Soccer ‘Local Rules’” and CoachingAmericanSoccer.com “The Players’ Equipment – Law 4.”
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