Automatic Vision: The Unconscious Secret To Sports Success

Pro athletes see and react faster than is humanly possible — their secret is revealed here

Dr. Daniel Laby
4 min readFeb 6


A spinning tennis ball
Image by from Pixabay

In order to better understand conscious vs unconscious vision, let’s look at a pair of actual sports examples …

These plays have in common one skill — responses that are only possible following an unconscious decision — simply reaction and success! — We’ll point out ways how this can up your game!

Rapid decision & action in baseball

The first example comes from baseball. Here, imagine baseballs being batted toward the middle infielders and each one makes a diving catch to make the out. Keeping in mind that the average exit velocity of a batted ball is about 89–90 mph, there is no time for the fielder to consciously consider what he is seeing and think about what to do, he must react immediately and begin a movement to intercept the target if he is to make the out and help his team win.

Rapid decision & action in Tennis

The second example is from professional tennis. In this example, Imagine Andy Murray receiving a serve and after several volleys back and forth returns a well hit ball, for a point. Considering that the average groundstroke speed is up to 83 mph, and the distance between these two players is about 50 feet, Murray basically has no time to consciously consider the shot before reacting and returning it for the point — he has to rely on a visual system primed to receive information, make a decision and initiate a visually guided motor action, all in an instant!

How are these, and many other, athletes able to perform these amazing plays?

Don’t we all have the same eye anatomy?

Well, a great deal of research has been done in this area and there is a pretty good understanding of how vision works in general and how these athletes are able to use their eyes so efficiently to create wins.




Dr. Daniel Laby

Eye Doc for Pro Athletes | 30+ years of experience | Want to improve your performance? Go here 👉