Article Date: 3/1/2004

lessons learned
Keeping An Eye on the Ball
Remembering a sports vision pioneer.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

The scene: a cocktail party. One of the slightly inebriated guests was boasting to a new acquaintance about how good he was at his profession. Noting that the man didn't seem too impressed, he turned to another guest who was a patient of his and said, "Tell this gentleman about what a great dentist I am."

"Let me put it this way," responded the patient. "You fitted this bridge for me about six months ago. Last week I was sitting in the outfield stands at a baseball game. Sammy Sosa hit a line drive home run that was coming right toward me. I tried to catch it, but evidently took my eye off the ball. It went through my hands and hit me right below the belt. That was the first time in six months these damn teeth haven't hurt!"

Getting the word out

"Keep your eye on the ball" is a well-known maxim of sports vision. As an expert in vision science, you of course understand that the process isn't all that simple. Thus, we should be doing more counseling on what's involved in the use of the eyes and vision in sports activities.

As the American Optometric Association Sports Vision section approaches its 25th anniversary, I'm reminded of the late coach Blanton Collier, who was instrumental in my realization back in that era that optometry should work with sports authorities on the use of the eyes and vision in sports activities.

About 10 years ago, I gave a lecture on sports vision at the Southwest Congress. I mentioned Collier's contributions to understanding the role of the eyes in sports. Following the meeting, a young O.D. asked, "Who is Blanton Collier?" This reminded me that because his fame occurred mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, most optometrists are probably unaware of him and his contributions to understanding the best use of the eyes in sports.

The author, his wife Mary and Blanton Collier (right)

He made his mark

Collier was head coach at the University of Kentucky for many years. Six of the assistant coaches he trained went on to become head coaches in the National Football League. Then, for many years Collier was the coach of the Cleveland Browns pro football team. He coached them to the World Championship in 1964.

"Blanton Collier is the greatest technician football has ever known," then head coach of the New Orleans Saints John North once said. "He could speak to his coaches and players for an hour on the subject of proper use of the eyes alone."

I spent a lot of time in personal conversation and mail communication with Collier, and was amazed at his perceptive and practical ideas. He coined the phrase, "The eyes lead the body" and told of how using this idea had improved players' abilities.

I learned much from Collier, and in turn, I think I was able to help him better understand the visual process.

Want to know more?

Space doesn't permit discussion of all of his perceptive ideas. However, if you'll send me a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope at One Pine Valley Road, Rome, GA 30165-4337, I'd be happy to send you a copy of an article he and I wrote for Optometric Management 25 years ago that describes his concepts.

The lesson I learned from Blanton Collier was the good that could come from combining optometry's technical knowledge of vision with the practical knowledge of sports authorities.

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM. Contact him at



Optometric Management, Issue: March 2004