If you go to any local hockey rink and watch a practice, there’s a high probability that you’ll hear a coach yelling at players to get their eyes up when handling the puck. I believe that a lot of younger players get confused at what that actually means.
Coaches are looking for something called “split vision.” It means bringing your eyes up far enough so you can see what’s around you, but more importantly, still being able to see the puck out of the corner of your eyes.
Teaching vision training for hockey is just like any skill set – it has specific steps, takes time to develop, and requires a lot of repetitions. You can’t expect a six-year-old to be able to navigate up the ice without looking at the puck. Yet, coaches continue to cue players to get their eyes up.
Stickhandling is all about learning movement patterns. You’re trying to create a permanent motor program in your brain, so that the pattern becomes automatic. What’s an automatic pattern you have already mastered? The easiest to explain is walking. Do you say in your mind, “right foot, left foot?” No, you just walk. The same thing will happen with stickhandling – the more time you put into practicing that skill, the more automatic it becomes. Vision training progresses the same way.
When learning something new, like the backhand toe drag, I want the player looking at the ball or puck 100% of the time. I also want them doing it at a slow pace, for the first 10 reps. Once they complete the pattern with close to no mistakes, I start increasing the speed until they can master the faster pace without missing. At that time, I introduce vision training to the move by placing an object about 10 feet in front of the player. They now do the drill while looking at the object.
The final phase is to add movement. I will have players start moving toward the net or tarp and then do the pattern ending with a shot. The whole time this is going on, they need to look at the goalie’s pads on the net.
Hockey is a game played where your eyes are constantly looking up and down. You want to make sure you look up, more than you look down. Keep reminding yourself, either on or off the ice, to work on your vision training. The more you do it, the more confidence you’ll gain.
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