Hockey: Observation, vision, perception and recognition


The Speed of the game  

  • During a game, pucks can reach speeds of 100 miles per hour 
  • NHL players can reach speeds in excess of 20 miles (32 km) per hour on the ice.  

How a hockey player slows this down is as much about their eyes than their strength or speed.  A hockey player must anticipate and be prepared to react to a certain action of the puck, the goalie, his teammates and the opposition in a fraction of a second.

This task can be distracted by many outside influences such as fatigue, injury, stress, pressure, and noises.  This makes the use of observing accurate visual cues important to allow the athlete to or making an accurate decision that leads to the proper action under any condition. 

Questions we tend to ask a Hockey player include: 

  • Does the Hockey player have any visual clarity issues that limit his ability to see accurately? 
  • Any lingering post Concussion visual issues? 

Analyzing all the possible influences of an incoming puck, seeing the details, the slight just noticeable differences, differentiates the various types of puck movement and will determine the appropriate reaction.   

To be consistently successful a hockey player must have early recognition of what exactly is being hit toward them so that an appropriate decision can be made. Defensive play requires recognizing the action of a hit puck as soon as possible, as well as all available options for the opponent. 

SPATIAL PERCEPTION: Binocular Vision (Stereo acuity) allows for accurate reading of a puck’s velocity and changing velocity allowing for proper timing to hit it effectively.

If a hockey player has unsteady spatial perception then his distance to the target seems to be a variable, sometimes the target appears to be at a greater distance than normal. Steady consistent spatial perception results in the distance appearing as a constant. 

HIGH-SPEED DECISION MAKING: Defensive position players rarely have time to think deliberately. They have to react and make precise, high-speed decisions based on pattern recognition and a keen instinct honed by practice. Defensive players must make decisions on every game situation and more specifically on every puck hit to them.

Defenders have to make a decision and commit that decision prior to the puck leaving the opponent’s hands. A Hockey player must make several snap, in-the-moment decisions in the approximate 400 msec of the total time that puck leaves the opponent’s hand and approach the contact area. 

The first decision is the direction the puck is going? Another decision is where is the puck going to end up as it enters the player’s contact area? What is the trajectory of the puck? Will the spin direction and spin speed affect the trajectory of the puck? A decision on the puck’s initial velocity and its changing velocity is vital in order to time the return.  

VISUAL SCANNING AND TRACKING: A hockey player uses visual scan to expand his or her useful field of vision and identify what is occurring at key action points in his or her field of vision. In broken plays, a defensive player must continue to scan to determine who has the puck and where the play is headed. Players must track pucks. The ability to scan and track comes from a combination of ocular movements—saccades, pursuits, fixations, fixation release, and must handle the complexity of being off balance. The eye muscles provide this capability to the proper focus determines if the eye muscle capability is used properly. 

PROCESSING SPEED: In a game of high speed, the faster a visual cue (a puck, an opponent or an evolving situation) is observed and processed through the brain the sooner a hockey player’s response time can allow him to perform his or her desired action. Researchers have proven that physical response speed cannot be improved, but visual and brain processing speed can be improved.

VISUOMOTOR AND EYE TO BODY COORDINATION: Superior eye-foot, eye-body and eye-hand coordination is the capability that allows strength, power, and speed to execute action in a superior manner. As an example, catching a puck requires a precise coupling between the trajectory we see the puck taking and the movement that we make with our body. If our visual input and movements are not well-coordinated, we are likely to miss-hit the puck. 

SENSORY, PRIMARY BRAIN FUNCTIONS AND BODY INTEGRATION:  Integration of a hockey player’s sensory systems (primarily his or her eyes), his or her primary brain functions and his or her body allows for him to “move and see,” “move and think,” and at times “see, move and think.” Integration is observably important in defensive play. Players have an integration requirement to “see and move.”  The need for speed, accuracy and control within player’s actions challenges integration skills to the highest level. 

INHIBITION AND IMPULSE CONTROL: Many game determining occurrences challenge the ability to “Inhibit an impulse” which can include the deliberate prevention of an act, behavior or response, when it is not desirable. Distractions can be constant in all aspects of the game, ranging from external distractions by fans, to internal distractions such as brain-chatter. Even pain can be considered a distraction, and the severity of the pain is a factor in one’s capability to inhibit the pain. A hockey player must inhibit his or her aggressive desire to swing when he sees the puck is not going to be near an area he is capable of hitting effectively. A hockey player must inhibit his or her aggressive desire to strike  a puck, when the best shot for the moment could be a pass. 

PLANNING, PREPARATION AND ANTICIPATION: Pre-game and pre-play planning takes the form of visual thoughts. The use of visual thinking for anticipating is a differentiating capability between average and great players. Experience invariably impacts anticipation, sometimes in a negative manner. Anticipation allows for faster recognition and therefore faster responses. A hockey player needs to learn to anticipate and then to visually perceive what really is occurring. What is observed may be different than what has been anticipated and top performance requires the ability to inhibit a planned action and make an immediate adjustment to what is the actual situation.

ORIENTATION AND REASONING: Orientation involves a state of thought based upon a combination of beliefs and experience. Proper orientation incorporates the current game conditions, and current strengths and weaknesses of the player herself or himself and that of his or her opponents. Re-orientation should occur immediately after an observation that reveals a change of conditions from what the original orientation was made upon. Orientation as a result of prior observations often results in a decision and determination of action. In this manner, orientation precedes the action itself.  

FOCUS REGULATION: Every action in Hockey is 100% dependent upon one being focus exclusively on the player’s task at hand. Most tasks at hand are visual, therefore one needs to have a visual focus. However, when working on mechanics the player has an internal, feel-based focus. Loss of focus regulation can be as simple as receiving a puck, shifting attention to an opponent in the periphery, and in the meantime lose complete control of the puck, resulting in an error. Most mistakes including mental and physical errors are preceded by a focus breakdown.  Unregulated focus undermines all physical skills and talents. 

CENTRAL VISION (Visual Acuity): Accuracy in almost every action is improved with the use of central vision at the time of the action. When a hockey player uses central vision when looking at the puck, he is able to see the direction and rate of spin of the puck. When he does this the puck looks larger and slower and does not appear to have as much trajectory change. When a hockey player uses his or her central vision to focus on a small target he experiences a positive impact on his or her mechanics, as his or her balance and body control is enhanced. The potential quality of central vision can be tested with each eye in terms of visual acuity or contrast acuity. Equality of the two eyes may be important for a Hockey player than having the highest potential measurement of visual acuity

PERIPHERAL VISION: A hockey player needs a wide peripheral vision when assessing how a play is developing and prior to directing his or her full focus on the puck or an opponent. Peripheral vision allows each player to take in a larger picture prior to their focusing in on a narrow area of action. 

PERIPHERAL AWARENESS: Peripheral awareness has some value for a defensive player during a play for being aware of an opponent’s actions of intentions. However, a hockey player must learn that peripheral awareness typically allows a distraction to disrupt performance.  

VISUAL MEMORY: Visual memory allows for recall of prior proper or improper actions. It is vital for proper planning and anticipation. Visual short-term memory is necessary to maintain awareness of an assignment and a sequence of focal points. It provides vital information for decision making and allows for learning from an action. Visual memory affects how well a player can recognize, remember and past observed actions. It provides the basis for recalling a past action, a demonstrated action, a focusing sequence, and remembering possible defensive reactions. 

VISUAL PROJECTION Successful Hockey players are experts at projecting where a puck is going to be at the time that their actions are going to meet the puck. Unsuccessful Hockey players rarely project accurately and their timing is frequently off. When a hockey player sees a puck, he or she first needs to project whether the puck is coming to them; and then has to project exactly where the puck is likely to end up in relation to where he or she wants to hit the puck. Projection includes speed, change of speed, initial height, trajectory, final height of the pitch. It is a vital yet very difficult task. 

VISUAL THINKING: Verbal thinking is the most common form of thought among players; yet highly successful players tend to be visual thinkers.  Visual thinking is usually accompanied by a feeling and is quicker and more complete than verbal thinking. Visual thinking is used in all phases of the game ranging from planning and anticipation to recall and learning from an action. 

PERIPHERAL-CENTRAL VISUAL INFORMATION PROCESSING: A few players can process information peripherally and centrally at the same time; however most can only do one or the other. Mistakes are made when a hockey player is processing peripherally when they should be processing centrally. A hockey player can over-focus centrally when they need to process peripheral information. 

NON-VERBAL MEMORY: The sounds of the crowd, smell of the stadium, the sight of an opposing team and the referees all in uniform, the feel of the turf from the cleats trigger prior ways of successful and/or non-successful performance. 

FLEXIBILITY OF PRIMARY BRAIN FUNCTIONS (SHIFTING): Through planning and anticipation is very significant in playing the game, the game changes and a hockey player must be able to quickly shift his approach, his or her focus, and his or her thoughts. 

RESPONSE TIME:  Fast response time is required in every action, including a decision-making action. Researchers have proven that physical response speed cannot be improved, but visual and brain processing speed can be improved. However, the proper physical position can maximize the capability of the innate physical response time.

DIVIDED ATTENTION:  Multiple things occur at every moment in time of the game. A hockey player must determine what their task at hand is at that moment in time and focus exclusively on it. Breakdowns occur when focus is divided between two possible occurrences. Divided attention can present a major problem when a hockey player thinks is aware of his or her feet while his or her primary task at hand involves the puck or an opponent. 

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