Stick to the Puck
Sally B. Patterson
Hockey goalies’ hand-eye coordination must be phenomenal to react to full-speed puck action in the midst of a scramble of players. Professor Joan Vickers has led research at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, to discover just where the athletes focus in the critical seconds before reacting. In hockey, they concentrate on the physical interface between the puck and the stick that strikes it.
Vickers’ lab has developed a vision-in-action system to record the movement of athletes’ eyes to within milliseconds as well as the direction of their gaze. The setup for this study comprised a goalie’s helmet and face mask outfitted with an eye-tracking device from Applied Sciences Laboratories, a Sony video recorder and two digital video mixers from Videonics. Data was synchronized with a Horita time-code generator.
The researchers used the equipment to test eight elite goaltenders defending against shots from 5 and 10 m away. The athletes succeeded in making saves approximately 75 percent of the time. The shooting distance made little difference, because the focus was not on following the puck’s trajectory but on evaluating visual cues from the orientation of the stick and the puck at the moment prior to the shot.
Vickers calls this period of focused attention and decision-making the “quiet eye.” In the trials, the longer this moment lasted, the better the performance. She has researched this cognitive moment in connection with other sports as well and believes that coaching players to focus is as important as building body strength and other techniques.
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