Taking Outdoor Sport Eyewear to the Next Level, Part 2

By Rollie Stenson

Release Date: December 15, 2016

Expiration Date: January 15, 2018

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Prepare to jump into the sport eyewear arena.
  2. Target several sports and source suppliers.
  3. Control the sale with knowledge.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Rollie Stenson Rollie Stenson, grew up in the optical business. His approach to optics: have fun. He is currently cycling in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with extraordinary vision through beautiful highly wrapped lenses.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). General Knowledge. Course SWJH562


Superior vision plus eye/body coordination are the keys to improving an athlete’s skill level. What can eyecare professionals offer to “up the game”? One professional service and two products you might consider can provide a leg up for your sports-minded customers:

  1. Vision training,
  2. Ocular nutritional supplements, and
  3. Sport-specific eyewear.

Professional vision training would benefit nearly any serious athlete. Qualified optometrists can provide vision training geared specifically toward improving vision performance for the sport the patient is pursuing. Optometrists who are members of the Sport Vision Section of the American Optometric Association can be found on the AOA website (www.aoa.org) under the “Advanced Doctor Locator Search.” You should know who these doctors are and create a relationship with them, even if you consider them a competitor. Competition makes us all better, right? Remember, we’re talking about sport eyewear, not government programs.

Eat your carrots! How many times were we told that as kids? Research at the University of Georgia Vision Sciences Laboratory determined visual processing speed and reaction time can be improved by increasing the density of the macular pigment of the retina. This can be accom-plished with dietary supplements rich in the carotenoids Zeaxanthin and Lutein (study published April 2015 in the “Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics”).

Dr. Billy Hammond, the study author and lead researcher at UGA Vision Sciences Laboratory, sees implications beyond just sports. “Processing speed is central to many aspects of life—from reading to reaction time when driving, to successful sports performance. The ability to actually change brain function in relatively young healthy adults based on nutritional intake has wide implications for our ability to optimize human performance.” Contrast sensitivity, the ability to differentiate the color and brightness of objects, may be enhanced in a similar fashion. Faster reaction time and improved contrast sensitivity are good things whether your patient is an athlete or not. Ocular nutritional supplements can be purchased at most grocery and drugstores. Selling eye vitamins to your customers is an easy way of creating a new income stream and improving patients’ eye health.

And then there are glasses. Eyewear is the most obvious opportunity an eyecare professional has to help his patient/customer get more enjoyment out of their sport. A great pair of sport-specific glasses (not just sunglasses) should provide the best vision possible, be comfortable in the context of the sport, provide convenience in terms of use, and protect the wearer from possible eye injuries, not to mention they should look super cool.


Although an attractive sunglass display might create some interest, a display of sunglasses does not make you an expert in sport eyewear. Sports enthusiasts can smell a “poser,” someone who acts as if they are knowledgeable about sports but are only interested in selling an expensive pair of sunglasses. According to Rob Tavakoli of SportRx in San Diego, “You have to be authentic.” Unless you are already deep into a sport, providing effective eyewear for the athlete will require study and fore-thought. Tavakoli suggests the first step to entering this niche is making a list of sports that require eyewear. Here’s a start: bicycling, motorcycling, fishing, racquetball, hunting, fishing. You get the idea? Now you can probably think of several others, but keep it simple. Stick to two or three sports to begin with. So which sports would you choose to focus on?

What athletic activities are you or your doctors or staff involved in? Consider addressing their passions as a trial step, warming up, if you will. How do you get good at anything? Practice, practice, practice! Next, consider your market’s demographics. What sports are BIG in your town or region? Are you surrounded by fishing or boating lakes? How many golf courses are there within 50 miles? Does it seem like there are running or cycling events every weekend? Of course, you should ask your patients what they do for recreation. If this question isn’t on a patient questionnaire, ask them about the sports or activities they are passionate about. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. Once you uncover their passion, you will discover what visual challenges they encounter in their sport.

Success breeds success. Don’t take unnecessary or foolish fashion risks at the expense of optics. You’ll lose the customer and damage your self-confidence. Do take calculated risks to become good and to create a reputation in your market. Just like with fashion eyewear, you want to be on the leading edge and be the talk of the town, but in a good way. Before you spend a large amount of money on inventory, take some time to determine what products will best serve the two or three sports you want to initially focus on.


Interview several vendors of sport eyewear to learn about their sport-specific eyewear, their Rx programs, and the training and support they provide. There are numerous examples in our industry. Many are tied to brands that are iconic within particular sports. Pick up the magazines dedicated to that sport, and you will see logos everywhere in action shots as well as advertisements. Vendors are generally very particular about the image of their brand, so you are usually safe mentioning an athlete in relation to a brand. There are times when an association turns sour, but fortunately, we live in a time when there is no shortage of options. Brands and celebrities come and go. Be flexible. Take a deep cleansing breath if your favorite celebrity falls into disfavor with the press: You can always find a new one.

Initially, it makes sense to utilize the vendor’s Rx program. They have generally done significant research to determine the best lens designs, tints and treatments for select sports. It makes sense to involve your optical labs in the conversation too. Some are better than others at sport eyewear, so don’t be fooled. Labs can be “posers” too, so if they don’t know what a compensated Rx is, move on. In other words, if they do not adjust the patient’s prescription based on the vertex distance, the angle of the wrap and the pantoscopic tilt, they may not give your patients the vision they are paying for. Even plano lenses in a wrapped frame require the application of prism to eliminate discomfort and keep objects from appearing to shift from their true position. You can show the principle of image displacement to your customers on the Oakley website.

To help with your search for sport eyewear vendors, Table 1 shows some promi-nent product lines and targeted activities. Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list—there are other vendors with great offerings.


Nearly anything is possible, but not everything is practical. Once you have determined which companies to partner with, dig in deep with their reps and literature. Learn their language and what sets their products apart in the sports you are focused on. Read all their literature and discover what celebrity athletes support their products. If your customer is a real sports nut, dropping a celebrity name often works wonders. Your customer might recognize the athlete, which can help move the conversation closer to a sale. Work from the patient’s expectations/goals to achieve the best possible outcome. If “the look” is more important to them than the function, you will need to be gently firm. This is not an unusual situation with sport eyewear and requires you, the eyecare professional, to be in control of the sale.

Understand optical principles that affect function and determine cosmetics such as the patient’s Rx and PD versus frame dimensions and frame PD. The same principles apply with sport eyewear as with fashion eyewear: the higher the prescription, the thicker and heavier the lenses will be on the edge for minus powers and in the center for plus powers. Again, listen, consider, propose and reach an agreement. There will always be some compromises on both sides, but you can only guarantee satisfaction if you’re confident about your recommendations. You may have to move a patient from a full wrap to a frame with less wrap and thick temples to reduce light and wind leakage based on their prescription or facial features. Fully describe and show an example of what the finished product will look like and make certain your customer is in agreement.


Do kids play sports? Do they need to protect their eyes? Will they perform better if they see well? The answer to all these questions is a resounding YES! The biggest reason many children go to bat or play soccer without sport eyewear is they don’t want to look different. Find some cool images of kids playing their sport with appropriate eyewear. Even better is a grown-up celeb athlete wearing protective, vision-enhancing eyewear. Make sure the parents understand the importance of both protection and great vision, and you will have their support. If they have a vision insurance plan, make sure you apply a generous discount to this valuable second pair.


Companies who have grown up in the sports arena have put a lot of time, money and research into frame and lens design and function. How different tints affect the wearer’s view of the playing field, the putting green, the moguls on the black diamond runs, or the fish lying in the rocks is another topic you want to be well versed in. Most opticians are familiar with the difference in the performance of gray lenses and brown lenses. That’s a good start. Gray doesn’t change the colors of objects we are looking at. It eliminates the same amount of light across the entire spectrum. It is not spectrum specific. Brown, on the other hand, eliminates more of the blue end of the light spectrum and seems to brighten up objects even though it reduces the overall light transmission. This enhances the red and yellow end of the spectrum improving contrast sensitivity. Green tints control light transmission, subtly enhancing undulations in the terrain. A rose tint has the effect of brightening our vision on slightly overcast days. A yellow tint will be helpful if the weather is dark and at the beginning or end of the day. Clear lenses are best for night vision: Any tint used in the dark reduces the amount of light received by the retina, so yellow is not recommended for nighttime.

The most common tint formularies are based on the activity, but weather conditions constantly vary. An endurance cyclist often leaves the start pre-dawn and doesn’t complete the course until after sundown. Make certain this athlete has either multiple, interchangeable lenses or a variable tint such as Transitions or NXT Varia from Zeiss to cover the range of conditions. Again, listen to your customer to find out what the conditions generally are when they perform their sport. Also, although the sport may be a fair weather affair, afternoon showers may change the landscape from bright to dark rapidly. Help your customer prepare for those contingencies.

While polarization is usually a good choice for sunglasses, it may not be appropriate for some sports such as downhill skiing, snowboarding or golfing, where undulations in the terrain are subtle visual hints requiring quick recognition for optimal performance. If you are promoting polarization to a sportsman, make certain they are aware of the limitations of this technology, such as cross-hatching when looking through windscreens or difficulty reading digital screens like gas pumps, GPS devices or cell phones.

Polycarbonate is the most common lens material due to its high impact resistance. Trivex and Zeiss NXT provide crisp vision, tintability, high impact resistance, with slightly less weight and a higher Abbe number than poly. According to tradition-alists, the best clarity is through glass lenses, but the weight and lower impact resistance have all but killed glass lens usage in the USA. Costa del Mar and Maui Jim still make glass lenses available in plano and a limited Rx range. Also, back surface AR coating is highly recommended for any sport eyewear to reduce the incidence of blinding reflections when the sun is behind the wearer. That’s because a dark lens makes reflections appear brighter and more annoying.

Flash mirror coatings are not only hip but improve the performance of the lenses by further reducing the light transmission and improving the scratch resistance of the front surface. Cheap sunglasses use cheap flash mirror coatings that scratch and peel off easily, and your customer may have had a bad experience with mirrors in the past. Whether you use the vendor’s Rx service or use your own optical lab, the coatings should be durable, scratch resistant and backed with a warranty. Common sense would make most people think about rinsing the grit off spectacle lenses before wiping them with a cloth, but it would be a good idea to educate your customer about the care and feeding of these sophisticated vision instruments. Rinse them with clean water before you wipe them.


In the end, the proof of your expertise is in putting the finished product on the customer’s face. Unlike most other products that you can try before you buy, glasses are each individually designed and made for one person only. Deliver this unique, custom product with excitement rather than trepidation. Crossing your fingers and saying, “I hope this works!” will not instill confidence. Present the sport eyewear along with an appropriate protective case, cleaning cloth, anti-fog cleaner, vendor registration, warranty and a short but concise discussion of the proper care for their new sport accessory. Give their new eyewear the value it deserves: It is an investment in safety and the enjoyment of their sport.

They should look spectacular and see precisely. Don’t be afraid to charge a premium price for this incredible product and service. Your customer should be very aware of the special knowledge and skill necessary for this project. Whether ama-teur or professional, athletes are willing to pay for all the equipment that improves their performance and enjoyment. Follow up by asking for a review of their next outing.

A glowing testimonial is the best advertising you can get, plus it makes all your hard work worthwhile. Ask your athletes for a picture of them in action and make a wall of fame. Stroke their egos a bit; we all need someone to cheer us on.

As you gain experience, confidence and customer feedback, you will want to explore additional sports, frame lines and lens options. Step out and take a shot. Not every experience will be successful, but as you work with your customers’ expectations, you will learn what works and what doesn’t. And if you make a pair of sport eyewear that doesn’t look good, admit it, reload and try a different approach. Or if your customer isn’t satisfied with their vision through their new sport-specific glasses, troubleshoot the situation as you would with any other pair of eyewear. Work with your laboratory to help overcome optical challenges. Your customers should be able to go from their all-purpose, everyday set to their snazzy, fast, wrapped sport glasses without any visual discomfort or compromise.


As your awareness grows of the many opportunities to improve your serve as an eyecare pro with sport-specific eyewear, you should see your business and your income grow. Plus, you may find yourself a new sport for your own pleasure. Live it up! Up your game! Be in the game to win!