Making a save is a matter of observation

Sport biomechanist

It is known that the speed response of goalies is not just a matter of reflex, but is also a conscious information processing (reaction time). However, what do goalies really respond to? How do they determine the trajectory of the puck that quickly?

One might think that goaltenders react to shooting only after the puck has been shot. If so, the goalie’s response time should be so short that it would be way beyond the physiological limits. For example, for a shooter positioned 10 m from the goalie and rushed with a shot going at 140 km / h, the goalie would have 0,257s to determine the trajectory of the puck and execute the movement in order to stop it. Even for the fastest goalies of the planet, it is impossible to achieve such feat.

Goalies then use other visual information that allows them to estimate the trajectory of the puck even before it is actually shot (4). In some studies, researchers have hidden the eyes of the goalies for a split second before the initial contact of the puck to see what their reaction would be (1,3). Not only the goalies did the right move to stop the puck, but their reaction time was also just as good as when they had access to visual information at all times (1).

Main visual cues used by goalies include the position of the player’s hips, the movement of his shoulders, the trajectory and direction of the stick, and the position of the supporting leg (6.7). Although most visual cues are components of the player’s movement, the gaze of the goalie is often only focusing on the puck as soon as this one is hit (2). In fact, a novice goalie will tend to wait longer before reacting in comparison to an expert goalie (5). The beginner is less efficient at anticipating the trajectory of the puck and need more information on the movement of this one.

In sum, goalies use the shooter’s movement as element to predict the trajectory of the puck and then make the save. Consequently, the improvement of a goalie requires the development of their ability to recognize different movement patterns among shooters. Considering this, one wonders if goalies who train with shooters wearing no equipment fully benefit from its training, as the recognition of these elements are certainly not the same due to the equipment’s size of hockey players.

Written by Léandre Gagné Lemieux, M.Sc. Kinesiology

References
1- Baker J, Farrow D, Elliot B, Anderson J (2009) The influence of processing time on expert anticipation. Int J Sport Psychol 40:476-488
2- Bard, C., & Fleury, M. (1981). Considering eye movement as a predictor of attainment. In I. M. Cockerill & W. M.
3- MacGillvary (Eds.), Vision and sport (pp. 28–41). Cheltenham, England: Stanley Thornes (Publishers) Ltd.
4- Farrow D, Abernethy B, Jackson RC (2005) Probing expert anticipation with the temporal occlusion paradigm: Experimental investigations of some methodological issues. Motor Control 9:330-349.
5- Panchuk D, Vickers JN (2006) Gaze behaviors of goaltenders under spatial–temporal constraints. Hum Mov Sci 25 :733–752.
6- Samela JH, Fiorito P (1979) Visual cues in ice hockey goaltending. Can J Appl Sci 4(1):56-59.
7- Savelsbergh, G. J. P., Williams, A. M., Van der Kamp, J., & Ward, P. (2005). Anticipation and visual search behaviour in expert soccer goalkeepers. Ergonomics, 48, 1686–1697.

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