Oliver Baumann has positioned himself belly-down on a large stability ball, legs stretched out behind him, arms reaching forward. In front of Baumann, his goalkeeper teammates at Bundesliga team TSG Hoffenheim, Alexander Stolz and Gregor Kobel, take turns tossing football towards 27-year-old Baumann, who is keeping his balance as he catches every ball securely before throwing it back. What is commonly considered a routine exercise for goalkeepers is anything but routine in this case. Baumann is carrying out this portion of today’s practice with deliberately impaired vision, caused by a special piece of lenses he is wearing.
Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) technology is commonly used in small computer displays, such as tablets or smartphone screens, but recently, LCD-based devices have made their way into goalkeeper training as a means to improve sports vision. Always open to intriguing innovations that might create a valuable benefit for his players, Michael Rechner, goalkeeper coach for TSG Hoffenheim and in charge of Baumann’s training regimen, has been employing so-called stroboscopic eyewear in training, and with notable success.
Weighing in at only 30 grams, the Visionup Strobe Glasses seem to be just as light and unassuming as sunglasses, yet their effect on the goalkeeper’s performance is impressive. While Hoffenheim ended the 2015-16 season with 54 goals conceded, just a year later – and after Rechner had implemented training sessions involving stroboscopic glasses a couple of times per week – the team allowed their opponents to score only 37 times by the end of the 2016-17 season, a drop of 31 percent. Granted, Hoffenheim’s overall defensive play had improved significantly, but there is no doubt that Baumann’s productivity had risen notably. According to a March 2017 report in weekly sports magazine SportBild, Baumann made only one substantial mistake during the entire 2016-17 run; a massive drop from six such mishaps the year before. And in only two seasons, Baumann’s percentage of saves rose from 65% in 2014-15 to the second-best of all Bundesliga goalies by the end of the 2016-17 season, trailing only national team goaltender, Manuel Neuer. It’s impossible to ignore the obvious correlation between Baumann’s performance-boost and his comprehensive new training regimen, in which the fancy-looking piece of high-tech gear plays a pivotal role.
Scientific research confirms that the LCD technology can positively impact athletic results. A Utah State University study on the effect of stroboscopic vision training concluded that as little as a single training session with strobe vision glasses improved visual acuity as well as ball-catching performance. Another study with a professional hockey team, conducted by the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, found that the players who trained with strobe glasses saw their on-ice performance improved by 18 percent.
“I believe that the strobe glasses prompt intense brain activity, which elevates focus and concentration,” says Baumann. “As soon as I take them off, it seems much easier to catch balls, and my awareness feels heightened.” Because of those positive effects, Baumann wears the strobe lenses before matches as well, albeit briefly. Just a minute during warm-ups in the locker room is sufficient to increase his sports vision on the field.
So how do these glasses work? The LCD lenses limit the players’ vision by switching back and forth between transparency and opaqueness. As a result, the wearers experience a flickering time-lapse-like effect, being presented with frame-by-frame vision rather than continuous, fluid movements in their surroundings. As the athletes’ visual systems adjust to the limited, intermittent sight, attention rates increase, and reflexes are boosted, as the ability to correctly anticipate movement – such as the projected course of a ball – improves. Visual acuity, recognition speed, depth perception, and eye-hand-foot coordination can all be enhanced by strobe training, effectively leading to improved overall performance.
This kind of gear plays well into the array of coach Rechner, a renowned visionary in his field, who has developed a software program to optimize goalkeeper training, and who combines his analytical skill with creative approaches. “It’s incredibly important for a goalkeeper to have the ability to analyse the opponent, read the game, and anticipate the next move,” says 37-year-old Rechner. “Oli excels in this area.” And if technological innovation – like the strobe glasses – can help improve his skills even further, Rechner and his goalie are game.