If You Can't See, You Can't Shoot

By Katie Thompson


Target acquisition and identification is a huge part of high-performance shooting. Obviously.  If you can’t see, you can’t shoot.  There’s more to it than simply “seeing” your target though.  The eyes are just the first link in a complex chain of information processing that occurs in the brain which allows you to quickly and accurately assess, decide, and act upon targets.  More on the complex information processing stuff in a later write-up; for now, let’s just focus on the eyes (no pun intended).


If the muscles surrounding the eyes are weak and easily fatigable, they are less efficient and therefore the time required to get visual information to the brain so it can make vital performance decisions can become dangerously slow, particularly during times of mental and physical duress.  When operating in dynamic environments, it is imperative that the eyes are able to keep up with the rapidly changing visual information that needs to be attended to in the environment.   Just like any other muscle of the body, you have to condition and strengthen your eye muscles so that they are able to pick up information quickly and more precisely. Optimal strength and coordination of the eyes leads to the ability to be more efficient and more accurate in the collection of information from the environment, less error in performance decisions, and quicker mental and physical responses.


Think of vision training as strength and conditioning for your eyes.  Athletes have been utilizing sports vision training regimes for years to build superior visual skills that give them leverage over their opponents. Some vision training programs utilize flashy light boards and fancy computer software; those tools are fun, but not necessary.  Simple, at-home drills with minimal equipment can be just as effective.  The core purpose of vision training is to make eyes more efficient at gathering information and passing it along to the brain so better, faster, more accurate decisions can be made.  The benefits of this type of training include enhanced speed and accuracy of eye movements, better ability to keep both eyes working together with a common goal, improved hand-eye coordination, better eye tracking and focusing.


If you’re not currently engaging in a performance vision training program, you should be.  It can help to decrease the fatigability of the eyes, increase the speed of transition from target to front-sight post, rapidly and systematically assess and move between targets, widen the peripheral field to more accurately see teammates and/or hidden threats, increase the coordination speed of physical movements, and decrease the likelihood of mental error due to gathering incomplete information from the environment.


Step 1. Go see an eye doctor. An eye doctor can do a full assessment of your overall vision health.  They can provide you with an exam that checks your visual acuity,  and determine if there are any underlying health conditions that might be hindering your ability to perform optimally on the range. You want to walk away with a “good to go” from the doc before engaging in any additional vision training.

Step 2. Start by training eye muscle strength and movement. The first two weeks of your performance vision training program should be made up of simple exercises that focus on improving eye muscle strength, endurance, movement, and flexibility. This will improve their ability to rapidly and continuously gather information over long periods of time without becoming fatigued.  It will also improve the ability for your eyes to work together more efficiently so they can move, align, and focus as a team.

Step 3. Build it into your existing training plan. Whatever your training plan currently looks like, I guarantee you can build in some vision training.  No fancy equipment necessary.  Here are a couple drills to get you started:

  1. Pattern Trace--Look at a wall approximately 10 feet away.  Move your eyes to trace the following patterns (5-10 repetitions each), starting at the black dot:

2. Pen Push-Ups--Hold a pen at arm’s length with the tip towards the ceiling.  Focus your eyes on the tip of the pen.  Slowly bring the pen toward your nose until the tip appears to break into two.  If the image breaks, move the pen back to the last spot where you say it as one image.  While still focusing on the tip, move the pen back to arm’s length.  The goal is to bring the pen to touch your nose without the image breaking into two.  Continue moving the pen towards you and away from you. Complete the following variations (1 minute each):

Article By Katie Thompson
Human Performance Optimization
Katie is a Human Performance Expert with Precision Edge Performance (PEP), which facilitates elite performance by providing superior, cutting-edge human performance optimization training that is systematic, progressive, adaptive and customized to fit the performance needs of the individual or organization.


awesome !!! thank you
This is amazing. I will be implementing this sort of training immediately. Thank you!
Great article! Learning a ton from this website.