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Athletes use high-tech goggles to improve performance

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MURRAY — Dustin Bybee, who directs the soccer program at the Orthopedic Specialty Hospital — TOSH — juggles a soccer ball with his feet while wearing some unique, if not bizarre, goggles. He's been using these specialty glasses with selected local and regional soccer players for about the past three years.

Though they look like conventional sunglasses, there's more going on inside the lenses of the device than meets the eye. These Vapor Strobes, developed by NIKE, blink on and off in sync, disrupting visual signals transmitted from the eyes to the brain. Worn only during training, the flashing forces the brain to work harder so when the goggles are removed the brain picks up much more information, including an enhanced perception of the athlete's peripheral vision.

With the glasses off, Bybee describes what he sees: "There's no inhibition. I can see what's going on at all times. My touch is much better. My balance is much better."

The brain simply perceives the ball in motion with a whole new perspective.

"With the glasses on, you've taken away pieces of the trajectory," said Dr. James Walker, with TOSH's sports performance training program. "But when when you remove the goggles, the ball actually appears to move in slow motion. When it comes off the foot in soccer you can react much better because you're anticipating where the ball is going and how to intercept it."

On a soccer field just north of TOSH, The Utah Glory soccer team tries out the Vapor Strobes. As Chandler Grundman describes, "It's definitely different. In fact, it's shocking at first because you don't know what to expect." But with the glasses off, players see the motion of the ball in a whole new way. The game perceptually slowed down while unfolding in real time.

"It was suddenly easier without (them) because you could see and more anticipate the direction of the ball as it comes to you," said player Erin McMullin.

And player Caitlin Gomez felt she had better focus.

"You can just tell when the ball is coming and you're ready for it."

And it's not just soccer. In baseball, the strobes force players to anticipate more acutely. You can even close off one eye, strengthening the non-dominate eye.

"If the right eye only is strobing and I'm a baseball hitter and the pitcher is on my left, it's going to force me to turn my head all the way around," Walker said. "That puts my body in a position to use both eyes to focus on the ball."

For Brighton High School hitter Cage Matuszak, the ball appears larger.

"It keeps your shoulders in, your head down, and makes you focus on the ball with this right eye instead of having to come out with your shoulders," he said. "It keeps you more in sync from going the opposite way."

Players sometimes even see the rotating seams on the ball.

"After I took off the glasses that first time, the ball not only looked bigger but I could actually see the seams rotating as it approached me," said TOSH performance trainer Michael Everett.

The strobes also work in football and even golf. And in basketball, the retrained brain focuses on the point of the rim that's considered that particular athlete's best dunking spot.

With better eye-hand-foot and body coordination, athletes in all kinds of sports simply see things they've never sensed before.

The glasses have multiple settings, allowing athletes to progress and challenge the brain at different levels. TOSH is one of only three selected pilot centers in the United States currently testing the strobes.


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Ed Yeates


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