Great like Gretzky: Hockey Training pt.1
While the rules and action of these sports differ dramatically, from playing surface, number of people on a field, equipment, etc, there are still common threads that tie them together.
Just as baseball players rely heavily on their vision and perception to make a catch, hit a ball, or throw out runners stealing bases, so too do athletes in other sports. Goaltenders need to be able to see through traffic and move to stop a ball or puck, quarterbacks have rapid-fire progressions to pinpoint defensive weaknesses, and in contact sports, peripheral vision and strong depth perception can help athletes to avoid strong contact.
Strong vision and perception are common traits amongst sports superstars. Ted Williams famously had 20/10 vision and could detect slight variations in the dirt of the batter’s box, while Wayne Gretzky had an almost supernatural ability to move the puck to teammates at precisely the right moment.
While good natural eyesight obviously plays a role, practice and repetition provide a way for athletes to capitalize and improve their skills to bolster their overall performance. Williams credited his training and discipline with his ability to see the ball so well. Gretzky spent just about every free moment on the ice from a very young age.
In faster-paced, more physical sports, the ability to quickly and accurately analyze action can make the difference between good and great.
Take Gretzky for example. He was far from the most physically impressive hockey player aside from his stamina and he played in an era renowned for bruising hits and heavy enforcers. Fellow players and hockey commentators say that what set him apart was his ability to anticipate things before they happened and be in the right spot to make a play when the time came.
Ed Belfour, a Hall of Fame goaltender said in an interview that Gretzky “sees the ice probably better than anyone who plays the game. He knows where everyone’s at. He’s always in the opening planning holes in the ice where no one’s at.”
And nobody was more skilled at avoiding heavy hits than Gretzky was, which meant fewer injuries, more games played and more points scored; his ability to anticipate pervaded every aspect of his game.
Above all else, he credited his success to the hours he spent on the ice and in training rather than any innate ability he may have possessed.
Ice time for individual players can be hard to come by, no matter where you live. But practice is key to developing skills and staying sharp.
That’s where a tool like MaxBP, stored in the garage for the winter, can shine. Just as there are near-endless ways for baseball players to work with MaxBP, so too can hockey players use the machine and other related products to bolster their game.
Fun fact: wiffle balls don’t produce the cracked drywall and broken windows that a baseball or rubber puck will, especially when used indoors.
To start, you don’t even need to use a stick or pads. The visual skills required to play hockey at a high level can be practiced and honed via tracking drills. Depth perception, peripheral vision, reaction time, and visual fixation can all be developed without ever lacing up the skates.
For reference, check out one of MaxBP’s many tracking drills here: https://www.maxbp.com/blogs/news/maxbp-drill-of-the-week-track-decide; while designed as a baseball drill, the same principal of trusting your eyes, tracking a small object, and identifying that small object at rapid speeds holds for hockey.
For an additional challenge, give the tracking drills a go while someone pitches the STGD discs at you for a better visual representation of how a puck-like object moves.
One of the biggest lessons young hockey players learn is to keep their heads up, especially once checking is permitted. If you can focus on what’s in front of you and train your body to react in tandem with your eyesight, you won’t have to follow the path of a puck all the way to your stick blade or crane your neck to see where teammates may be.
A study from the University of Cincinnati found that when athletes participated in peripheral and sports vision training, the overall number of concussions dropped by 80% over previous seasons because athletes were able to identify and protect themselves from blindside hits.
Gretzky wasn’t the greatest because he had the absolute best hands or the hardest shot. His understanding of the game and ability to process and react to what he saw on the ice were what set him apart. He anticipated, observed, and adjusted, the fruit of countless hours spent training.
So if you want to put up numbers like Gretzky, you have to see like Gretzky. And incorporating MaxBP into your hockey training regimen is an excellent way to start out on that path.