Ryan Harrison is a certified Sports Performance Vision Trainer with SlowTheGameDown. He has a degree in Exercise Physiology from University of California at Davis, where he was a kicker for the football team. Since 1998 Ryan has been working with international softball, collegiate and amateur softball teams. Ryan also has been a key consultant to numerous international, professional and collegiate football, baseball & softball teams including USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand women’s national softball teams. He has also worked with various MLB teams including, but not limited to, Philadelphia Phillies, Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Washington Nationals.
He has personally trained over 100 Major League roster players on the visual side of the game. Among the Major League players he has trained are Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Mike Sweeney, Jayson Werth, Delmon Young, Laynce Nix, John Baker, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Chris Dickerson, Josh Willingham and Jonny Gomes.
Following his work with top professional and amateur athletes, he conceived the idea of training necessary performance skills with digital technology. The SportsEyesite™ Software is a result of his goal to develop training products so that everyone could benefit from this training at a fraction of the cost without the need to go to a specialty clinic.
You can connect with Ryan on Twitter @SlowTheGameDown or by e-mail ryan@SlowTheGameDown.com.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? This is Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach with the Brian Cain Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is Ryan Harrison. He is one of the top vision performance coaches in the world. He works with many Major League Baseball organizations, top college baseball and softball programs, a list of hockey players and hockey programs, football, MMA, tennis. You name it – he has worked with them on vision performance training. One of, if not the best, and most highly regarded vision trainers in the world.
Ryan Harrison, www.SlowTheGameDown.com, I appreciate you joining us today, man. If you would, would you please give our listeners your background into how you got started in vision performance training?
Harrison: Thanks, Brian. That is a good question. I have been doing this for about 16 years now and the company has been doing it for about 40-some odd years. My degree is in exercise physiology.
My father, Dr. Bill Harrison, has been doing this since 1971 with the Kansas City Royals and the Royals Baseball Academy. I’d say about 16 years ago he asked me to go help him work with some teams. At the time we were working with the Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals, Atlanta Braves. I went out there and, like any son, you never listen to your dad. You have all this great advice and at the same time you never listen to him. Now being older, I went out with him, watched how the players received this information, watched how he went about things, and realized, “Hey, Dad, you have something that is going on here. These players are responding to the way you teach them, the way you talk to them, the way you show them how to use their eyes.”
So, taking my background in exercise physiology, we kind of developed a better, broader plan where we can get out to the masses a lot more. Trying to help players understand how to see the ball, what they see, what they don’t see. Having training products where they can develop visual skills so that their visual skills are at a high level in things that we test in the big leagues. These players are all able to get to that level.
So, again, I have been doing it for 16 years. This last season we worked with the Toronto Blue Jays and the San Francisco Giants. I worked for many different organizations in different capacities and worked with a lot of different college programs and a lot of individual athletes that come out to us (whether they are hockey players, whether they are football players, whether they are baseball players, golfers) and looking at the game a little differently than what most people do. We look at it from a visual perspective. How can we enhance their visual perspective of the game?
You know, Brian, when athletes are at their best, they see things, things slow down, they don’t think about a lot. When they struggle, they think about a lot. The ball looks fast. The ball looks like a little missile. What we want to do is learn how to control that and teach them a method of how they can slow the ball down or slow the action down and be in the right visual focus.
Cain: I have worked with some of the same programs that you have here at Florida State with their softball program, at LSU, and one of the things that I hear their coaches say (and I’ve heard you say here now working this camp with you for the last 4-5 years) is, “You can’t see and think at the same time.” Is that right?
Harrison: Yeah. When you think, you can’t see.
Cain: Explain that a little bit more. I think it’s marvelous.
Harrison: Well, I’ll give you a great example. We all had this back in school. You’re reading a book or reading the newspaper and flipping a few pages; you get there and you go, “What the heck did I just read?”
Cain: It happened today.
Harrison: Now if we took some video analysis and analyzed how your eyes functioned and moved, they moved beautifully but you were lost in thought about something else and you weren’t taking in that visual information. That happens to us driving. It happens to us playing sports. It happens to us in life. It’s learning how to control that and being able to (what I call) inhale the visual information at the right time.
Hitters sometimes are thinking so much about the umpire. They are thinking about what their coach thinks. They are thinking about who is in the stands. They are thinking about what their parents are doing. They get away from the task at hand, which is learning to see the ball and slow the ball down and focus on the targets.
Cain: A couple of the things I’ve seen you guys do here at the camp is you’ll have the vision rings (a white ring with different colored balls on it), and they’ve got toss and catch, and you’ve also got the ping-pong ball shooter where they’ve got to catch and call different balls. What are some drills that when you go in to work with the team – and for the coaches that are listening to this podcast, if you have never invested in vision training, what I love about www.SlowTheGameDown.com, or what Ryan does is he comes in and leaves you with a program that you can do year round. What are some of those techniques or training strategies that you use with teams?
Harrison: That is a good question, Brian. Here is the deal: Everyone always wants to know what is the one quick fix. There really is not one quick fix. Especially when it comes to vision, there is a variety of players; they’ve all perceived visual information differently. Coaches want them to understand what they’re seeing. Most of them don’t see the way we think they see.
I was trying to break it down as two things. There is hardware and there is software. What vision hardware is is more of the visual clarity; it’s more about depth perception; it’s more about visual recognition, visual processing skills, more of the hardware of the eyes and the brain and how they work together. On the other side of it is the software, which is more about how to use your eyes, how to look in the right spot, how to control your focus, how to make the ball look bigger from your eyes. Some of the training that we do (there are a variety of different tools) have to do with enhancing the hardware, so we have to enhance the software.
You brought up the rings. The rings have to do a lot about controlling your focus and learning how to control your eyes to look at the right thing. One thing that people don’t understand is the brain is very powerful to what we see. We actually really only have clear central focus on about a five-degree cone and all the other is more of our peripheral vision. We see in our peripheral vision but it’s not as crisp, it’s not as clear, it’s not as accurate. Our brain wants to put that information together. When they are using their ring, they want to learn how to slow it down, they want to learn how to fine-tune their focus on the right stuff.
It’s the same thing with the ping-pong ball machine. Vision is not just about seeing. It’s about how they process the information and how they react to it. One of the things that I see a lot in a lot of drills that are done is they see, then they think, they talk, and then they try to put a reaction to it. Sport is more about see and react and putting those programs together. So with the ping-pong ball machine they are seeing and they are making a reaction based off what they see.
We do that with a couple others. Our VPX trainer poster is a great program with on-scene react where we add a lot of fatigue and a lot of movement and getting the control of the eyes as well.
Cain: I know you guys just came out with a book and I know it’s out there on the table. I was flipping through it earlier. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Tell me about the book and what are some of the advantages or things that coaches or athletes would learn that are listening to this? Why would they want to get the book and where can they get the book?
Harrison: Well, it’s funny. Sixteen years ago when I started working with my dad, I said, “Hey, you’ve got to get a book out,” and sixteen years later he finally got his first book. We finally made it to publish. Even though we have the first one out, we have two more that are about to roll out as well.
The first one has to do with how to perform like the pros. It’s very interesting. It’s a little bit different than most books in the fact of it’s not an instructional manual. It’s not a tell-all book. It’s a story of his career back from the 70s and how he presented ideas to the guys back in those days. George Brett. Things that went to Charley Lau. A lot of people know about Charley Lau as a hitting coach. Things they presented to the San Francisco Giants. Just over time periods telling stories of how players take that information and how they’ve learned how to get visual and focus on there.
The two other books that will be coming out will be one more specific to hitting and the other one will be more specific to pitching, on how to focus and how to perform from a visual perspective on doing that. So they can get that book at our website at www.SlowTheGameDown.com. It is on Amazon as well. Being the first book, we just rolled it out and launched it.
Cain: Love it.
Harrison: Some good stories.
Cain: Yeah, I can only imagine, man. Just knowing the little bit about your father that I do, he is one of the pioneers of the mental game really. If you look at the mental game or vision training and that side of performance, he is probably the first guy who really got into professional sports. Very similar to Ken Ravizza. That is where I first heard of your father, when I started with Ken Ravizza at Cal State Fullerton. I know you’ve met Ken and known Ken for many years.
If we can kind of transition maybe a little bit into what is the mental game? I think sometimes there are people that try to combine the two. I see them as both necessary but separate trainings. What is your take on the mental game?
Harrison: Well, that is a good thing. Ken actually sat in on some presentations back in the early 70s with Cal State Fullerton. We are very separate on what Ken does, what you do, what we do, and they all kind of work together.
The question I tend to ask a lot of players (and you ask the same question – we ask a little differently) is what percentage of the game is physical? You’ll have some players who have heard 10%, 20%. Your number is all over the place. What percent of the game is mental? Oh, 90%. The third question I ask is what percentage of the game is visual? They all get stunned. My bias is it’s 100%, 100%, and 100%. They are all important parts to this game and they all work together, they all cross over, but you need all three to be that excellent athlete. That is what these top players have; they have a great visual plan, they have a great mental plan, and they have a great physical plan. If they can combine the two [three] – from my perspective, the eyes lead the body.
You could have a great swing. You could have the prettiest swing in the world, but if you don’t see it accurately, it doesn’t matter. You could have the great mindset that you can run through a wall, but you still have to have some physical skills to be able to hit the ball or catch the ball or throw the ball. You also have to be able to see it at the same time. You could have the greatest eyes in the world, but if you’re thinking too much and not allowing your eyes to work and you’re not confident and you don’t have the physical skills, it doesn’t matter how good your eyes are. You could have great eyes and nothing else.
So it’s a combination of all three working together. I think to me, if they can get the visual first, it helps the mental side and it helps the physical side quite a bit.
Cain: I had a chance here last year (I think it was at Florida State Camp) to see you work with some of the athletes. One of the drills you did was you would have them stand like they were a shortstop and you’d roll them a ball and say, “I want you to look at the ball.” You’d roll one to them and say, “I want you to look at the bottom of the ball.” I was over there and I jumped in and had an athlete roll the ball to me. I looked at the top, looked at the bottom of the ball, and it was amazing how much lower I was able to stay on the ball when I was looking at the bottom of it.
As a high school baseball player and infielder, I remember I could never stay down on a ball. They’d always say, “Oh you’re scared of the ball.” It’s like, well, no. I didn’t care if I got hit by the ball. It was just for some reason I couldn’t come down. Maybe it had something to do with where I was looking on the ball. I think for the coaches listening to this, have someone do that to you. Have your kid or your wife or someone roll you a ball and look at the top and look at the bottom. I think that experience alone, if that doesn’t convince you that there is a visual element of baseball or softball performance that you’ve got to get into, then god help you.
Harrison: Well, like I said, the eyes lead the body. If you think about it, your eyes are distracted by motion. They are distracted by light. Your eyes always want to go on to the next thing. They always want to perceive the next thing. Most errors are preceded by visual breakdown. What we believe in is everything begins and ends with what you see and how you see and how you process that information. So even when you grab your door handle, you grab your orange juice, you grab your coffee in the morning, you look at it and then you tend to look away (usually before you ever touch it). 90% of the time you can probably still grab it but there is that 10% chance you miss it and then you go, “How did I miss that?”
Again, when we look at the World Series, a lot of breakdowns were visual breakdowns. It wasn’t that the person couldn’t field a ground ball. It wasn’t that the person couldn’t throw from first to home. They visually did not lock in on their target and know what they were doing. They were all over the place.
One of the things in hitting that always makes me laugh is all the parents will be yelling, “Watch the ball.” The coach at third base, “Watch the ball.” Well, no. Duh. How many of you players have gotten to the box and said, “Whatever I’m going to do, I’m not going to watch the ball”? You are always trying to do it. But it’s really about how you do it. So to my point, people say, “It’s not that simple as see-ball-hit-ball.” It’s not see-ball-hit-ball. It’s learning how to understand how to see the ball and how to hit the ball and how to have a plan of attack.
Again, everything is a visual game. You can’t play with a blindfold on. You can’t drive with your head to the side. You can’t drive with a blindfold. It’s hard to do with a patch as well at a high level. If we can find a way – and that is where [we have the] different tools that we use to train those visual skills. And then from the hardware standpoint, whether it’s a clarity issue, whether it’s a depth perception issue – but then also on the other side is have software to understand how do I get in that visual? How do I slow things down? How do I make that ball look like the moon more consistently? Part of it is controlling where our eyes look.
A simple exercise, Brian, is you can do this. As you look at me right now, I want you to spell “California” backwards. What happened to your eyes just now?
Cain: Before I even started to spell it I looked to the left.
Harrison: You looked to the left and then you looked up and you lost eye control. Your intentions were to keep looking at me but because you got lost in thought, you started to lose control of where your eyes went. So what happens on the field with the infielder? They think, “Don’t make an error, don’t do this,” and their eyes come up and they lose focus of what they were looking at.
Cain: Because they’re thinking instead of seeing.
Cain: So the quiet mind leads to better thinking, which leads to better physical performance.
Cain: How do you get that? What is a way to train athletes to not be able to think so that they can see better? Is there anything that you give as a routine?
Harrison: Yeah, I think routines are very good. I think they depend on each player. I think everyone is a little different on the way they perceive information. We definitely train a visual plan of attack to whatever that sport is.
If I have a new sport, whether it’s a football player or tennis player – I had a professional skimboarder, which some of you guys probably don’t know what a skimboarder is.
Cain: Yeah, for sure.
Harrison: I had a professional skimboarder. He was at the top of his game. He was number two in the world. He wanted to learn, “What can I do to enhance myself to another level? What can I understand visually to do that?” For me, I look at that and say, “What are the visual demands of that athlete and how can we affect that?” Sometimes it’s just making them easily aware of what they’re focusing on. Are they focused on their hands? Are they focused on their vision? Are they focused on the ball? Are they focused on getting hit? And learning how to control that.
It’s not easy. I’m not going to say it’s simple, but the more consistent that we can do that, the more we have a plan. When the game gets tough, we know what we need to look for.
Cain: That’s awesome. Awesome stuff. For people who want more information, go to www.SlowTheGameDown.com.
We are going to change the interview around here and shift away from vision training more into you, Ryan, so people can get to better understand you and your path and your success. Obviously, it’s not every day on the podcast that we get to have someone who is viewed as one of the best in the world at what he does. We have had Olympic athletes, we’ve had Major League Baseball players on here, UFC world champions. For yourself in the field of vision performance training as someone who is at the best in the top of your game, what are the things that you do as a part of your daily routine that keep you consistent and keep you as good as you can be?
Harrison: Hmm… good question. I think I’m never satisfied. I think part of my routine is always trying to figure out a better way, always trying to figure out how we can help. I’m not satisfied with being told “no.” I want to find out how we can push the limits. Working with these athletes as well as myself, I want to find out what can we do instead of just accepting what is there.
Cain: The question we’ve been asking lately on our podcast here is the best purchase for under $100 that you’ve ever made? The purchase that you made for under $100 that has had the biggest impact on your life?
Harrison: The best purchase under $100. That is a tough question, Brian. I’ve got a wife and kids and nothing costs under $100 anymore. Probably the best purchase under $100 … I have no idea. You put me on the spot there.
Cain: I thought you were going to say a pair of sunglasses or something but those are probably not under $100.
Harrison: Yeah, sunglasses aren’t but those are definitely important too. I mean from the health side of that eye. God, best purchase. That is a challenging question. You didn’t prep me on that one.
Cain: It’s on the spot. Best book you’ve ever read or the book that has had the most impact on your life?
Harrison: The best book I ever read.
Cain: Or the book that’s had the most impact on your life.
Harrison: Well, I have to say my dad’s book. The truth is the only reason I say that is over these 16 years I’ve read so much stuff from him that may not be the finished book that’s on there, but it always challenges me to think differently and it pushed me to another level for what we do and not only just accept but (like I said earlier) to challenge.
I think it’s kind of funny. You asked a little bit about me. My passion really is a lot of computer stuff. I love being on the computer. I love technology. I love all these other things. But it affects me in a different way. But understanding and watching how my dad works (we’re talking about the book here but at the same time I’ll kind of go off a little bit here), it’s pretty amazing to be able to spend that much time with your father and work with him and see the different successes and be able to prove to him and show him the things that you can take his knowledge to another level. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging at the same time, but to me just some of the readings probably has the most impact obviously on what I do and how I go about things.
Cain: As a guy who has worked with your father, is married, kids, on the road a ton doing the consulting and vision performance training, what are some of the keys that you have when you travel as much as you do to stay connected? This is kind of a selfish question that I am asking, probably for my benefit, but I know a lot of the people on the podcast travel a lot too. What are some of the things that you do to stay connected and really grow your family life?
Harrison: I think technology has gone beyond our imagination from when I was a kid to now. From my 10-year-old being on e-mail to being able to text with my 13-year -old to being able to be on video chat, I think most of us have been amazed that we can be anywhere and video chat and see things. It is a challenge being on the road and you miss some events. The nice side of that is when I am home, I can spend time and I can help that out.
I think it’s not a purchase of under $100 like you asked for but I think the best invention is being able to video chat so easily with family. You can snap pictures and see things. You may not be able to be there but you’re almost there, whereas in the prior years you never had that opportunity.
Cain: Yeah. When your dad was traveling (like you are) he’d have to go to a pay phone somewhere.
Harrison: Definitely. He still talks about that how he felt bad not being around at certain times. To be honest, I had never felt that way (that he wasn’t around) but now the connection is so much easier. There are times where it’s tough coming home. That is the hard thing, is coming home and reintegrating yourself back into family life.
My advice to you is to just let things happen and then ask to be helpful. “Can I help you take the kids to school? Can I help you with this?” I know it’s tough on my wife at times to be able to run the kids around and take care of everything. That is a challenge. But it’s part of the life. And it could be a lot worse.
Cain: It can always be worse.
Harrison: It can always be worse.
Cain: Always be worse. Exactly.
Harrison: And on that, I think all the military people who are gone for months, to me that is a very challenging family life to be able to be gone that long. Luckily for me, I don’t think I’ve gone more than two weeks from my family so I am very lucky in that format as well.
Cain: Yeah. God bless our military that are gone for six months at a time or more and still able to come home to their families, and how they do that is impressive.
Well, Ryan, I appreciate you taking time here, man. The last question for you (which we always ask) is what do you know now you wish you knew then? What do you know now that you wish you knew maybe when you were 20, 25, back in the day?
Harrison: I know a lot more now than I did then. I mean there are a lot of things, Brian, as you know. All us 20-year-olds think we know everything.
Cain: Oh yeah.
Harrison: At my age now there are definitely a lot of things I’d like to take back. I wouldn’t necessarily be a professional baseball player or professional athlete, but I would know how to approach a lot of things differently. I feel that I probably wasted a lot of my time as a youth in my 20s and I wish I could take that time back and be a little bit more productive.
Cain: Awesome. Ryan Harrison, www.SlowTheGameDown.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SlowTheGameDown. An e-mail address (if you are sending Ryan an inquiry about having him come and work with your team or speak at your clinic) is Ryan@SlowTheGameDown.com.
Cain: Awesome. Thanks again, man. I appreciate you coming on. You were awesome. Thank you, brother.