Hockey is a game that requires intense concentration and awareness of what is happening around the player. A slight deficiency or lapse in either of these areas can mean a mental or physical error or much worse – injury!
As hockey is a sport of almost constant motion, for the players and the puck, well developed dynamic acuity is just as significant as good static acuity.
The following is a comprehensive outline of the most important dynamic visual skills for hockey.
Focusing and Tracking
The ability of the eyes to work in unison while tracking a moving object, the puck or the puck carrier, etc. and to change focus instantaneously as the distance of that object changes in relationship to your own position. This can be particularly important for the victim of a two on one, or for the goalie when facing the long shot, or as it is often mistakenly referred to 'the easy shot'. Actually, it can be extremely difficult to handle for a goalie with accommodation problems, as the eyes must adjust so rapidly over such a great distance in order to keep the puck in clear focus all the way.
Most miscues occur not because of the action taken, but rather when the action was taken. The player caught out of position usually reacted too soon or too late, due to faulty visual information regarding when to perform. A goalie who is down on the ice when the puck goes in the top corner of the net has committed too soon. Offensively, anticipation timing helps decide where a teammate is going to be; where to pass the puck; when to make a move around his opponent; or when to break for holes in the defense.
The ability to concentrate on the task at hand despite harassment, crowd noise and numerous other distractions. It is important to maintain this concentration (focus) even when stressed and fatigued. A goalie must be able to keep his focus on the puck through a maze of players and must also be able to maintain high levels of concentration to keep himself in the game, even when the majority of action is at the other end of the ice.
This is a critical visual skill for a goalie. Excellent depth perception allows him to judge the distance, speed and direction of the puck as it approaches the net. Players need to know where their teammates are in relation to the opposing players in order to make effective passes. In a one on one situation, good depth perception helps you judge when to make your move in relation to the defensive player between you and the net. You can also more accurately judge the movement of the puck as it relates to stationary lines and or moving players to prevent offsides.
The process of taking a pass and accurately shooting to the open part of the net is one of the prime examples of this skill. Eye-hand coordination plays an important part in deflecting shots and knocking down high passes in order to control the puck, or in helping a goalie to make a glove save.
The ability to focus on the appropriate key (i.e. the puck carrier) and still maintain an awareness of overall play/action including the position of all other players on the ice. Peripheral awareness is essential in tracking both opponents and team players outside the major focal point in order to avoid a miscue or possible injury. Maintaining an awareness of all the options for play development will help to keep the player from being caught out of position. It also allows the players to use a 'heads up' skating style and still be confident in his puck handling.
Speed and Span of Recognition
The speed of the game demands that players take in and absorb many different actions at one time. A player must keep his focus on his assigned task but must also be aware of, and interpret, other action developing elsewhere on the ice. The faster the speed and the greater the span, the less likely a player will be caught out of position.
Visual Reaction Time
The faster a player processes visual information, the faster he is able to initiate a physical response. By improving visual reaction time, players more consistently follow the flow of play and respond more effectively as the play develops. Excellent visual reaction time can help a player create a turnover; control a rebound; help a goalie make the save; a center to win the draw; or be the difference between avoiding or taking a body check at the wrong time.
Typical Symptoms That May Be Related to Poor Dynamic Visual Skills:
Difficulty in judging distances.
Inconsistent performance from one game to the next or even one shift to the next.
Problems staying focused, particularly in high pressure situations.
Trouble judging the position of the puck in relation to other players and their position on the ice.
Difficulties with making a precise pass when having to judge the speed and position of teammates.
Trouble tracking the puck over long distances.
Trouble making timely decisions and keeping up to the speed of the play.
Problems with multi-tasking. Must come to a stop physically in order to process play development and make a reaction decision.