The antidote to digital fatigue

Dr Sherylle Calder is a sports scientist, performance coach and developer of the EyeGym.
Dr Sherylle Calder is a sports scientist, performance coach and developer of the EyeGym.

The digital evolution in combination with the rise in social media platforms has resulted in many people wandering aimlessly from one social media platform to another.

These meaningless searches result in a loss of productive hours and fragmentation of verbal communication skills. It is also having a negative impact on visual performance skills, according to Dr Sherylle Calder, mastermind behind the visual intelligence training platform,

“We are living in the age of distraction, where continuous exposure to the internet on smartphones is negatively affecting people’s visual motor skills. Our work over the past five to six years has found it to result in a drastic decline in athletic ability as well as children’s reading and concentration skills. It also affects business, but that is more difficult to measure,” Calder explains.

Digital fatigue, she says, has the same impact as when people retired and stopped being involved in everyday activities, like driving or shopping: “Visual fitness deteriorates over time [and] this can cause all kinds of problems, such as poor memory and slower responding times, amongst others.”

Calder defines visual intelligence as the speed with which you see, interpret, decide and act. “The enhancement of visual intelligence results in faster and smarter decision-making, an improvement in concentration, attention to detail, comprehension and memory; and also in response times, coordination, peripheral and spatial awareness.”

The solution

To address the deterioration in visual intelligence, Calder developed a training programme, called EyeGym. It flowed out of years of observations that started when she was a child. “As a child I continuously tested my spatial awareness and skills, in other words, the position of things relative to one another and myself. I would, for example, try to take something without looking at it,” she says.

These skills came in quite handy when she became a Springbok hockey player. Opposition coaches and players were always amazed at her ability to read the game. “I applied my observations to the game without really thinking it was special, but people kept asking how I always managed to be where the game was without running all over the place. They insisted I had to teach them these skills.” 

To give scientific credence to her observations, she did a doctorate at Cape Town University on how visual intelligence could improve performance in sport. In 2000, she became the first sports scientist globally to be awarded a doctorate in visual performance and initiated the EyeGym training programme. 

Since then, her path has crossed with those of many elite sportspeople and teams, resulting in, amongst others, England and the Springboks winning Rugby World Cups in 2003 and 2007 respectively, the Dutch women’s hockey team winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012 and Ernie Els winning the British Open.

She is currently re-contracted to coach the England rugby team and received a lot of publicity for telling the team to restrict their smartphone usage. “Looking in onto a small little screen really isn’t conducive if you have to make quick decisions based on what you see on a big rugby field. It causes players to lose awareness and has a negative impact on concentration,” she says.

The evolution 

In 2000, Calder gave visual awareness coaching to the All Blacks and left them with a training CD with exercises they had to do. Since then the programme has been significantly enhanced with the latest technology. Today people can do the exercises online from any tablet, laptop or PC with real-time scoring and gamification.

“The technology allows us and the users to track their performance and see exactly how much they are improving after each drill they tackle. They are also able to compare themselves with elite sportspeople’s scores, which gives an additional sense of progression,” she says.  

Where her training was initially only available to elite sportspeople, Calder has since adapted her findings with this group to develop programmes tailored to the needs of ordinary people, including children and business leaders. “It is like in the motorcar industry, where Formula 1 racing technology over time trickles down to become general technology used in cars,” she explains.

Their findings with golfers were especially relevant to the corporate world, as golfers are subjected to a lot of stress over many hours during which they have to concentrate and work hard to make sound judgements.

She has been approached to provide consulting to large corporates, including Nedbank and Discovery, who now provide the EyeGym platform as a benefit to their members and their children.

With Discovery Insure, she has developed a visual intelligence programme based on work with the Formula 1 driver Valterri Bottas to improve motorists’ driving skills. “Discovery measures progress of participants and has found a significant improvement in driver performance when comparing EyeGym users with drivers not training on EyeGym,” she says. 

Whereas training is tailored to the specific needs of individual sport players in contracted teams, there are also set programmes in which the general population can partake based on their needs, consisting of various drills and levels.

This article originally appeared in the 15 June edition of finweekBuy and download the magazine here.

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