A Sports Vision Specialty Practice
Member Spotlight: Laura Kompkoff, OD and Sherry Lentfer, OD
Dr. Laura Kompkoff of Katmai Eye and Vision Center in Anchorage, Alaska, helps patients become better athletes through sports vision training, which works on improving eye-hand coordination, dynamic visual acuity, tracking, focusing, visual reaction time, and peripheral vision.
This specialty started out for personal reasons: she and her business partner, Dr. Sherry Lentfer, were both athletes growing up.
“We both had a love of sports and we both feel that vision is a big, big missing piece in athletic performance,” Dr. Kompkoff says.
“If a person is not a natural athlete, why is that?” she says.
“Sometimes it’s visual-motor coordination. So, if they get good at that, that increases their confidence, and they can become a good athlete.”
Bringing All Senses Into Play
“Often times when people think of vision, they just think of seeing 20/20, but really vision encompasses so much more,” Dr. Kompkoff explains. “It’s really about processing what is happening in front of us and making a motor output decision based upon that.”
She explains that when athletes are looking at something, their skills depends on how quickly their brain can process what they’re seeing and turn it into action—very quickly.
“For a soccer or a hockey player, what we work on a lot is – if they’re looking at a center target, let’s say the goalie, can they also be aware of players coming from either side of them? And then in a split second, be able to decide if they need to pass the ball off or make the shot?”
Dr. Kompkoff says one of her frequent referrals is a baseball coach who played in the minor leagues and underwent vision therapy to improve his game. He’s been the biggest proponent of sports vision training for his players ever since.
“He feels like he can only do so much to help them with how they’re holding or swinging a bat,” she says. “He knows that if the vision piece isn’t there, they’re not going to be able to hit as well.”
Baseball players need to know if they’re hitting a curve ball or fast ball, which requires that they see the ball’s stitching and rotation, Dr. Kompkoff explains.
“We work with athletes on trying to visually attend to that as well as where the other players are, and also get into a visual state where these actions are automatic and not stressful. There are lots of different vision therapy activities to help with these skills.”
When an athlete’s response time goes up, their accuracy increases, and so does their confidence, she says.
Treatment That Goes Beyond Vision
Sports vision training accounts for 10% of her patients, Dr. Kompkoff says. Each patient has a customized program, depending on the sport and skill requirement, with weekly or more frequent sessions that are slightly shorter than a typical eye appointment.
Helping athletes has led to another specialty at Katmai Eye and Vision Center: visual recovery after a traumatic brain injury.
“Honestly, when we opened, we thought we’d see more kids with learning issues, and we ended up seeing a lot more adults with vision issues due to brain injury,” Dr. Kompkoff says. “A lot of them that came to us for sport vision training ended up having other issues.”
“I would say if you enjoy sports, it is really fun to work with these patients,” she explains.
“One of my hockey players said that it’s as if the puck slowed down after the visual training.”
“On the phone, you can hear that big smile that patients have on their face because they’re hitting that ball every time,” she says.
Helping patients, either with their athletic abilities or injuries, is extremely gratifying, Dr. Kompkoff says.