By Linda Conlin, ABOC, NCLEC

There never has been a better time to expand your practice into the sports performance eyewear market. Many weekend warriors have discovered the health and happiness benefits of running, biking, skating, hiking, skiing, rowing, golfing and more. Cultivate the sports enthusiast by becoming an expert in performance-enhancing eyewear to gain a customer for life, and as the word spreads, build a loyal following. You will see the sport eyewear category grow exponentially.

It starts with a conversation. By actively expressing concern and interest in the visual welfare and performance eyewear needs of every patient, the practice distinguishes itself. This level of care demonstrates your commitment to your patient, and they will reward you with their loyalty.

Tip: Begin the conversation at scheduling; the receptionist advises the patient to bring ALL eyewear (prescription and nonprescription) to the appointment. At check-in, patient history and a lifestyle questionnaire should include all activities and sports.

Prevent Blindness reports that there are over 35,000 sports-related eye injuries annually and rising in the U.S. Estimates are that over 90 percent of such injuries are preventable. Children bear the heaviest burden from sports-related eye injuries. Over 50 percent of children participate in sports, and they suffer the majority of related eye injuries, the number one cause of blindness in children in the U.S., according to the National Eye Institute. Sports and play are too tough for everyday eyeglasses. Eyecare practitioners have a duty and responsibility to identify patients at risk of eye injury and educate them on the dangers and prevention.

Tip: Based on the lifestyle questionnaire, the ECP should make sport protective eyewear part of an “equipment safety check list” and the second pair requirement for children. Remember that contact lens wearers need eye protection, too.

In the dispensary, the optician assesses vision solutions based on exam results, doctor recommendations and current eyewear issues. Opportunities related to eye protection are identified.

All existing eyewear is examined to assure safety compliance. Is the eyewear certified as use indicates? ASTM, the international standards organization, has different approval standards for various sports, and that marking is on the eyewear.

Tip: Many patients believe that because their dress eyewear has impact-resistant lenses, they are safe for sports. Educate patients on the need for greater impact protection with frames for sports, as well as lenses, and be sure they fit comfortably under helmets and head gear.

The majority of outdoor sport eyewear are sunglasses (UV protection required), and consideration should be given to various lens colors and treatments, such as flash or mirror coatings, depending on the sport. Fishing and other water sports benefit from polarized lenses, however, there are instances where the athlete needs to be able to see the undulations in the turf and terrain, and may prefer a non-polarized lens. Examples are extreme snow skiing (where polarized lenses might reduce ice visibility) and golf. But not all sports happen during the daytime, and those athletes need the protection and prescription of sport-specific eyewear in clear lenses or with tints that enhance ball color. Think baseball or softball games played under stadium lights. For activities in outdoor changing light conditions, such as cycling, photochromic lenses are a winner. They respond seamlessly and are available in a variety of colors to be sport specific, as well as extra dark and polarized.

Tip: Tint color samples and polarized demonstration tools are highly effective in helping the patient “see” the benefits. Guide their decision by advising them on the colors and lens treatments that are best for their particular activity.

Sport and performance eyewear have transformed athletes into stylish pop icons. The new-age athlete can proudly wear fashionable frames with lens enhancement technology to increase visual performance in any sport. Eyewear should be lightweight, durable and flexible. Frames should be able to hold any patient’s prescription, and wrap style frames are a great recommendation to add extra protection for an athlete’s face.

Tip: Consumers identify with athletes, so let sports stars help you dispense sport eyewear. Display images and posters of famous athletes wearing the sport glasses you stock. Connect with sales reps at shows and via dispensary visits to gain access to all valued and available marketing and merchandising materials.

Whatever the sport, optimal vision and protection for the athlete’s eyes are paramount. And like other gear, the athlete looks for performance-enhancing high-tech features that will elevate their performance. A win for the patient is a win for the practice! The sports protective eyewear conversation is fundamental to quality patient care, but it’s also a practice builder that increases patient loyalty and provides a new revenue stream.