Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be taken as medical advice. You should consult with your optometrist to make sure vision exercises won't impact your eyes.
Archery is a sport of aiming, so you think it is something that you have to have good eyesight to compete in the sport. I have astigmatism that causes me to occasionally wear glasses, typically later in the day when my eyes get tired. I’ve been assigned exercises to increase the strength of my eyes, which is supposed to allow me to wear my glasses less often. Looking at how your eyes are involved in the aspect of archery, will the sport be something that can help improve my eyesight?
Although there hasn’t been official research into the impact archery has on your eyes, the mere act of shooting contains several of the exercises that are generally prescribed to help improve vision. The way that you use your eyes in archery mimics some of the exercises that doctors assign as eye-strengthening exercises. There are some things that you can do at the range that can help your eyes when you aren’t shooting. The key is to get your eyes moving and focus on different types of eye movements and focusing at different distances. That being said, is good eyesight critical to archery?
Importance of the Eye in Archery
Some people advocate that archery is primarily a visual sport that relies on how well you see to be effective. Im Dong-Hyun demonstrates that this isn’t necessarily true. Hyun is a South Korean archer who is legally blind but holds the men’s world record for a 70m target. When he shoots, he’s aiming at a blurry target, focusing on the center to land his shots consistently. The key here is that he’s trained his archery form so that he can shoot invariably based on how the target looks to him. He’s consistent in his, and he’s trained himself in a way to eliminate the problems his eyesight causes. If Hyun can shoot as good as he does with poor vision, you can’t say that good vision is essential to archery.
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ve probably heard me mention that consistency is critical. Repetition of your archery form will help you shoot well, regardless of how well you can see. In the para Olympics, there is an archery category specifically for visually impaired archers. In this competition, archers use a tactile sight, which is a stand that gives them context and helps point them in the right direction. These archers shoot well because they practice their form and use the tactile sight as a replacement for their eyesight. This should demonstrate that you don’t need perfect vision to be able to practice or compete in archery. If you do have poor eyesight, there are some things that you can do to help yourself succeed in the sport.
Shooting with Poor Eyesight
Whether you can’t see the target at all or it's just blurry at different distances, there are some things you can do to help yourself do well with archery. First and foremost, you need to be consistent with your practice. The International Archery Federation (FITA) rulebook allows archers to wear prescription glasses, as long as they use the same lenses usually worn by the archer. Hyun does not wear glasses when he shoots, yet he has been able to make it to the top of the sport. He states the reasons for his success is consistency and concentration while he’s shooting. If you wear glasses when you practice, you should wear them when you compete. To the best of your ability, make sure everything you can control is performed the same way each time. It’s not something that will come easy, and you’ll need to be consistent in your practice to be able to achieve good results.
When I shoot, I don’t wear my glasses. With my astigmatism, I don’t have a problem with my vision until I’m tired, which is generally happens as it gets towards the evening. There are times when I’m at the range, and I can feel myself having to strain my eyes to concentrate on where I’m aiming at the target. I try to pay attention to this feeling so I can stop and rest my eyes if they become too weary. Taking a short break - usually 10-15 minutes - is often enough time for my eyes to relax and allow me to return to the range and continue shooting. While I’m at the range, I try to perform some versions of exercises that are typically prescribed to help improve vision.
Exercises to Improve Eyesight
It is unclear how these exercises affect your vision in the long term, though there is one study I found National Institute for Health catalog that shows that saccadic eye exercises can improve response time and accuracy (saccadic eye movements are quick, jumpy movements of the eye in one direction). In general, eye exercises are thought to not only affect the eyes but the areas of the brain responsible for your vision. While at the archery range, here are some things that you can do to exercise your eyes.
You can practice focusing at different differences. This one is straightforward to do when you’re performing your archery cycle, changing your focus between your sight and the target. The key is to focus on a small, specific area, then change where your eyes are focusing and repeat the process.
You can also practice following an arrow without moving your head. This one has to be done when you aren’t shooting as you need to track the horizontal movement of the arrow with your eyes. Stand as close to the side as you can and look toward the middle of the range. Use your eyes to at the archer, wait for them to fire, then track the arrow as it flies towards the target.
One that is supposed to be especially useful for those with astigmatism is to increase your area of focus. The concept is to look at an object, bring it into focus, then try to bring as much of the surrounding area into focus without allowing the subject to go out of focus. This should be practiced with objects close and far away to get the best results.
Lastly, you can stretch your eyes by looking as far as you can towards your perimeter. Keep your head still and look up using only your eyes. Start moving your eyes clockwise keeping your eyes focusing as far to the edge as possible. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by what you see so that you move your eyes from your eye's limits. After you do several circles, repeat the process this time going counter-clockwise.
Some of these exercises can be done away from the archery range, but they are also something that you can do while you practice. Be careful that you don’t affect your archery cycle by focusing on the exercise too much. I’ve found that practicing these exercises have helped lessen my need to wear glasses not nearly as much as I used to. I usually only have to wear them in the evenings when the light is dim, and I’m doing an object that requires sharp focus, such as reading. Hopefully, you find these exercises useful.
Archery is a visual sport that can help to improve your eyesight, though good vision isn’t essential to be successful in archery. In fact, the formerly number 1 ranked men's archer is legally blind (he’s listed 3rd in the world at the time of this writing). There are some exercises that you can perform to help with your eyesight while you’re at the range, but be careful not to allow them to affect your archery form.
Hopefully, you find this article useful. If you agree with my position, disagree with my opinion, or want to be involved in the conversation, please comment below. Also, if you want to know when I release new articles, please sign up for my email list.