Portrait Prof. Wolfgang Sickenberger

Prof. Wolfgang Sickenberger

MS Optom. (USA), Dipl. Ing. AO

Wolfgang Sickenberger is Professor of Physiological Optics and Optometry at the Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences in Jena. There he heads the Optometry and Vision Science degree program and the JenVis Research Institute. His research focuses on optometry, optical treatment of visual impairments and research into dry eyes. He is also a specialist in good vision in professional sports and provides treatment for athletes from various national and Bundesliga teams. Prof. Sickenberger is a sought-after speaker at national and international conferences and the author of over 200 scientific articles and specialist books.

Screening of visual functions in high-performance athletes

Is 100% visual acuity sufficient for sports? Which vision tests and visual functions are relevant when playing sports and how are they measured, improved or corrected?

Vision is undoubtedly the most important sensory organ for practicing most sports. Depending on the sport, athletes have to complete different tasks in which very good visual skills bring advantages when practicing the sport. For example, when it comes to orientation and perception in space, balance, controlling one's own movement or observing and assessing the opponent's behavior, visual perception is crucial in how quickly and accurately the opponent's behavior is recognized and processed.

A coach or referee also has to perform demanding visual tasks when observing and assessing movements and game processes. Athletes and coaches are often not aware that good vision is a prerequisite for sporting performance. Evaluations of the visual performance of professional athletes show that around a third of professional athletes do not have optimal vision, sometimes without even knowing it! Sports optometry can fill a gap in the care of athletes here - e.g. through special sports vision screenings.

Visual performance diagnostics in athletes aim to determine the current visual state of the visual system and, if necessary, to find the optimal correction or to optimize an existing one. Identified deficits are not only compensated for by different glasses, contact lenses or surgical corrective measures, but also improved by sports vision training. According to various studies (e.g. Knudson & Kluka, 1997; Maman, 2011; Haindl & Sickenberger, 2024), such training can have a positive effect on motor and perception-related visual performance and thus contribute to improving athletic performance.

When screening the visual system, it is particularly important to simulate the environmental conditions as accurately as possible or to carry out the tests directly at the sports venue. Sports optics are individual, as the requirements differ depending on the sport. The visual tasks in fast sports such as handball differ from the static visual performance in sport shooting. Sports optics tests should include various sport-specific, relevant examination parameters to assess the visual condition, such as:

  • static visual acuity at different distances
  • dynamic visual acuity
  • Binocular status
  • Eye - hand coordination
  • Depth of field and spatial vision
  • Contrast sensitivity
  • Color vision
  • Eye dominance
  • peripheral vision and motion perception
  • visual endurance and resilience, e.g. accommodation and accommodation flexibility
  • Eye motor skills (eye tracking movements, saccades, fixation

The lecture provides an overview of the methods of visual performance assessment in the context of optometric sports vision screenings. Furthermore, the results of previous analyses in various sports are presented and an outlook on the possibilities for correcting and optimizing vision in professional sports is given.