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  • Seeing the puck in strobe

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2014
The buzzer sounds. The crowds cheer. Twelve angry hockey players fly out onto the ice, blades clicking, to test their reflexes, brute force and balance. It’s pandemonium. Chaos. And in the middle of it all, each player is hunting for a tiny, wily puck. Any training tool that offers the upper hand is invaluable, even if it sounds counterintuitive.

One such instrument is a piece of special eyewear that improves player performance by only allowing snippets of action to be seen by the wearer – much like a strobe light. The lenses of the Nike SPARQ Vapor Strobe quickly switch between transparency and opaqueness, producing stroboscopic visual conditions that improve on-ice skills by 18 percent, according to a recent study.

Training the eye to operate effectively in these choppy conditions, the eyewear strengthens the vision and concentration of the wearer through a visual workout. Testing the eyewear in real-life situations – rather than keeping it within the confines of its birthplace, the Duke University Center for Cognitive Neuroscience – is important, said Dr. Stephen Mitroff, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes tested the eyewear during practice drills, showing improved vision, visual attention and ability to anticipate the timing of moving items.


Carolina Hurricanes trainer Peter Friesen (left) watches as NHL goalie Justin Peters performs a drill with a tennis ball while wearing stroboscopic training eyewear. Photo courtesy of Peter Friesen.

“From a sports perspective, you want to know if something is going to be an actual, viable training tool,” Mitroff said. “If players train with it, will they likely get the benefits? Our previous work showed that stroboscopic training affected vision and attention, and here we explored if those changes can benefit sports performance.”

Working with Hurricanes athletic trainers and coaches, Mitroff tested 11 players during the team’s 16-day preseason training camp. Six players wore the eyewear once daily during normal training, and five players did not. Forwards were asked to perform a task that involved complex skating before taking shots on goal. Defensemen were asked to skate in a circle before completing long passes. Each group completed performance assessments before and after training; those in the control group showed no change in skill, while those who wore the eyewear improved by 18 percent.

“That 18 percent improvement for on-ice skills for professional players is huge,” Mitroff said. “This is a dramatic improvement observed in professional athletes … I would imagine that with more data the effect will be significant and real, but a smaller percent improvement.” And it’s not just athletics that can reap the benefits of strobe vision: potential also exists for medical, military and physical rehabilitation applications, Mitroff said.

The study appeared online in Athletic Training & Sports Health Care (doi: 10.3928/19425864-20131030-02).


GLOSSARY
light
Electromagnetic radiation detectable by the eye, ranging in wavelength from about 400 to 750 nm. In photonic applications light can be considered to cover the nonvisible portion of the spectrum which includes the ultraviolet and the infrared.
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