Athletes focus on CD-ROM to give them an advantage

August 20, 2002

BY HOWARD WOLINSKY, BUSINESS REPORTER

Coaches always have advised players: Keep your eye on the ball.

Now a Vernon Hills company, which has worked with elite athletes for more than a decade, is offering tools on a CD-ROM aimed at helping athletes do just that.

"We teach 'weightlifting' for the eyes," said Dr. Barry L. Seiller, an ophthalmologist and director of the Visual Fitness Institute.

Seiller and partner Kathy Puchalski, a visual performance specialist and registered nurse, developed techniques used by professional and amateur athletes, such as Olympian Jim Shea, the gold medal winner in the skeleton event at the Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City this year.

Now they are trying to spread their techniques to a larger market with Vizual Edge Performance Trainer, software for personal computers that enables athletes to use the institute's techniques at home or at a training facility. They sell the software for $300 at www.vizualedge.com.

Seiller, an adviser to the U.S. Olympic Committee, said there's far more to seeing than having 20/20 vision. He said Vizual Edge helps improve such factors as depth perception, coordination between the eyes, reaction time, ability to track objects, eye-hand coordination, speed of focusing and visual concentration.

He said the software can help athletes in virtually any sport, including archery, auto racing, billiards, bowling, boxing, racquetball, soccer and swimming.

Puchalski said the computerized equipment used in the clinic is expensive and not widely available. Athletes spend $350 for an evaluation plus $75 to $100 for half-hour private sessions.

The Vizual Edge software tests the skill levels of athletes aged 10 to 22, the age group considered responsive and motivated for visual fitness training. Then, they undergo game-like exercises for 15 to 20 minutes twice a week over an eight- to 12-week period. After completing the program, Seiller said athletes might occasionally want to brush up on their skills, say before a big tennis match.

Seiller said he does not make guarantees or claims for his training methods, noting that it is extremely difficult to conduct a double-blind study. But he said the feedback is encouraging: "We do hear from athletes who say their batting average has improved or from their parents or coaches who say performance has improved."

A dozen American medalists at Salt Lake City in bobsled, luge and skeleton had trained in the techniques, but not with the new computer program.

Milwaukee Brewers scouts use a version of Vizual Edge on their laptops to evaluate draft prospects. The team also has started to use the software to test and train its minor league players. The Cleveland Indians also have used the system, said Seiller, who is exploring "industrial" uses for his software, such as by graphic designers, law enforcement, the military, air traffic controllers and baggage scanners.

Jack Zduriencik, the Brewers' scouting director, said he thinks Vizual Edge can help ballplayers: "The most difficult task is to take a round bat and try to hit a round ball square at 90 miles per hour. The margin of error is so great. A 100th of an inch edge can make a huge difference."





Copyright 2002, Digital Chicago Inc.