Ocular Agita: The Cause Or Effect In Performance Drops


Image credit: (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

I remember with fondness the chats with the Founder of Sports Psychology, the late Ken Ravizza as we sat in New York and in Long Beach, Calif. and would friendly debate over what initially caused performance drops; a change in one’s visual processing or a change in one’s thought selection, or as Ken called it “Stinkin Thinkin.”

Coaching legends like Auggie Garrido, Dave Snow, and Joe Madden would join in on the debate at times, as we shared insight on why hitters and pitchers would miss their targets.

Did performance anxiety and emotional stress cause hitters and pitchers to miss or was there a deviation from the player’s visual habits that caused the emotional downturn?

The group agreed on one thing in the “what comes first/chicken or the egg” exchange. The mental and visual components of performance are one and the same, and the best players and coaches made both equally important.

Hence, the term Ocular Agita was born.

Ocular Agita

Agita: A feeling of agitation, stress, and anxiety. A word that came from Italian-American and Yiddish-speaking New Yorkers.

Ocular: of or connected with the eyes or vision.

To better understand this integration of the seeing and thinking mind, consider the following:

  • What, why and how we pay attention to the external environment affects our mindset and target-processing skills.
  • Because the eyes connect directly to the brain, the visual and mental are inseparable
  • We see, then think, then perform—in that order. If we fix the visual piece first, the other “stuff” follows.
  • To be present, one must allow the thinking mind to give way to the seeing mind.

Improving time-to-collision skills with hitters and understanding why pitchers’ control issues fluctuate is a hot topic these days.

Here’s a visual fun fact that you can use the next time you or your players are stuck with a thought by mistakenly time-traveling into the past or future:

When the mind is asked to imagine or attend to space, there is nothing—NO Thing—to grip on to, objectify and make sense of, no memories or past events or anticipation of future scenarios.

Remember, real space is invisible to the eyes but the brain interprets and uses real space and its neuronal properties to recall past events and improve visual processing. Put another way, elite athletes are much more aware of the space surrounding the target they are looking to strike or hit.

Don’t underestimate the importance of a real-world landscape to understand vision or as James Gibson, the Godfather of visual perception believed:

Ecological optics: the relationship of the environment and light on vision. Context matters!

Light enters the eye from all different directions and varies in intensity. It is arranged by the environment.

Remember the GPS rule in visual perception: The Ground Provides the Secret to improved visual processing!

In simple terms, improving vision and doing vision training requires a replication of a similar environment to that in which the players play in. Stay in the real playing world without constraints or equipment and watch your vision improve. The brain is very clever in knowing what’s real and what’s not. As neuroscientists warn, “Don’t mess with the neurons!”

Know your audience. In the sports performance world, being perceived as the smartest guy in the room sometimes trumps real results with players. Players and coaches want results and cues they can use in real games and with as little thought and mechanical adjustments as possible. Make hitters aware of the difference between seeing and looking, and give them directional freedom on how they track pitched balls or pick up the catcher’s target as a pitcher.

The next time you talk to your players, remind them if they fix their eyes, they may fix their swing and delivery much quicker.

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