Unmasked: How Vision Training benefits NHL Goalies
When it comes to elite athletic training, the emphasis is typically on strength and conditioning. This is especially true of hockey players. Physical strength, conditioning, muscular strength and cardiovascular fitness are valued at a premium. But what about goalies? They don’t seem to move about nearly as much as the offensive and defensive lines, who spend significantly more time skating, dodging and puck handling.
Goalies rely on a whole different strategy. Their job is primarily to spot and track the puck like a hawk hunting its prey. That kind of visual refinement doesn’t come from doing the usual lunges, dynamic stretches or movements that are designed to warm up key muscles required to stop pucks. It actually comes from eye training and visual exercises.
Vision Training in Hockey
Most NHL franchises are fortunately very aware of the utility of vision training. For many NHL goalies like Vancouver Canucks’ Ryan Miller, or Richard Bachman; “I try to incorporate the vision and tracking that I use on the ice with a tennis ball.” Or as Braden Holtby says, the most important muscles are in their head; “Your biggest muscle as a goalie is your eyes, I do a lot of visual training in my pregame routine to warm up my eyes and keep them sharp. If you’re not seeing it, nothing else matters. Your eyes are the basis of your whole game.” Florida Panthers’ goaltender James Reimer, and Anaheim Ducks’ goalie Jonathan Bernier have similarly taken to ‘warming up’ their eyes before they hit the ice.
Spending time over the last 20+ years in the bowels of Rogers arena in Vancouver as I have, it has been an increasingly more common visage to see players from both teams participating in many hand eye coordination drills like hacky sack, ping pong, bouncing balls, juggling and other pregame ‘hand eye’ rituals just as often as seeing them stretching.
Goalies need to maintain focus, but more and more they need to better focus on their visual potential, and these habits are extending beyond the pregame warmup as many NHLers, trainers, and coaches are adding sports vision training to their off season development.
A goaltenders sole focus is on a speedy, small puck which can be easily lost in their peripheral field of vision. The only way to improve focus and quicken perception is through VT, or visual training. With quick eyes comes quick hands, and quick saves!
Eye Exams for Goalies
At the Canucks, the first step is to examine and assess all the players’ visual system. But their eyes are not necessarily checked in the same manner as one would encounter in a typical eye exam. Sports vision doctors look for very specific visual tell-tale movements and signs which could indicate an underlying vision problem. Uncovering these clues make it easier to find the right training for each athlete, as these visual deficiencies can be especially crippling to an NHL goaltender.
There are four factors that doctors look out for when testing goalies’ eyes:
1.the eye’s ability to converge on objects coming closer to them
2.the eye’s ability to diverge to see the background and larger peripheral view
3.tracking different moving patterns
4.saccades and pursuits (the eye’s ability to move quickly and smoothly up and down, left and right, and diagonally)
All four visual tests require both eyes to accurately work in tandem if the visual system is performing at it’s best. Eye Movement Vision Problems exist when one or both eyes do not track, dart, or move smoothly. If a goalie’s eyes cannot properly “track”, then binocular vision needs to undergo some level of rehab just as one would expect any for any other physical shortcoming or injury. Based on the assessment, a training regimen can be designed and these deficits can be ‘trained away’. It’s not about acuity, or 20/20 vision, it’s training the visual system to work binocularly in concert and the exponential dividends in improvement that it yields.
Vision is the goalie’s most valuable attribute. It’s not about being the biggest, strongest athlete, it’s all about how your vision dictates your movements and reflexes.
Many professional sports teams will use strobe spectacles, peripheral vision enhancing regimens and a machine called the Neurotracker can improve cognitive capacity in these fast moving sports:
For many years we’ve had the ability to diagnose and quantify these visual system vulnerabilities, and now we have improved tools to maximize visual performance with the measured results resulting in more wins!
Dr. Boyco is the President, CEO and Owner of Image Optometry & Official Team Eye Doctor to the Vancouver Canucks, BC Lions, Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Vancouver Canadians.