Hand Eye Training for Hockey Goalies ??

Please stop emailing me asking me for exercises that will train your reflexes because you can’t train your reflexes, but you can train your hand-eye coordination. And I’ll explain in a second.


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So a reflex is when you put your hand on a hot element or something hot and it pulls away right away. It’s a reflex response. A signal just comes straight from your nervous system, straight from your spinal cord. Boom. You know, pull that finger away.

You can’t really control it or train it. You can’t. When you aren’t expecting it, your hand’s going to pull back right away.

So, that’s not really what we’re talking about, but I know what you mean. You mean, “Hey, I want to be able to get my hand exactly where it needs to be really quickly.”

That’s not really a reflex. It’s a response to stimulus that you’re getting. So we’re going to go over some ways that you can train that. So let’s talk all things hand-eye…

So there are two parts of the element, the hands and the eye. And we forget a lot about the eye training. We focus a lot on the juggling, but we don’t train our eyes. So, I’m going to split it out. Let’s talk about the eyes and then let’s talk about putting it together with your response, and your catching, and your blocking.

Let’s not forget that your peepers are controlled by muscles. And it’s like if you never trained your hip muscles, they would never change, or get different, or get better than they are right now. So we actually do have to train those muscles and learn how to use them.

There’s a couple of things that we can do. Really simple one is just to look without moving your head. So keep your nose straight ahead and then look all the way to your right. Look all the way to your left so you can do some repetitions that way.

Then you can look up and down, and some of you will find it’s hard not to move your head a little bit as you go. And then you would go on a diagonal. So looking up here, down here. Up there, down there. And you could even videotape yourself doing it and see how smooth is that pattern? Do I stutter? Do I have trouble?

And then you would go on the other angle and you’ll probably find that one feels better than the other. And then you can mix up the patterns. So side to side, up, down, diagonal, diagonal. Diagonal, diagonal, and just work different patterns like that.

To see kind of, okay, well, is that improving anything? If you have your thumbs out to the side and you bring them forward until you can just see them in your peripheral vision when you’re looking straight ahead. And then you’ll look to see how much further you can see as you go with your eyes.

Another progression would be if somebody in your family or a friend or whatever who got a laser pointer and was just standing behind you, pointing (not spraying it in your eyes) standing behind you. You’re looking at the wall. They’re standing behind you and they’re moving it in different patterns on the wall and you’re keeping your head still and following that laser pointer as it goes.

So they could keep it on and move it in tracing patterns, or they could put a dot, take it off. Put a dot, take it off. You know what I mean? So then you’re just looking straight ahead and you have to look at it, look at it. Or You could follow the path and get good at moving your eyes in all directions.

So, do work the muscles of your eyes. And because two of you can be here and then you stop. You think someone’s coming or you’re taking that quick look. If you can get that quick glance from your eyes rather than having to turn and get it right in the center of your vision, that’s a nice advantage. It could be enough just to save you that split second.

Now let’s talk a bit about your hands. So, juggling is probably one of the basics that you’ve started with. And I don’t mind juggling when you’re getting started because it is going to be tricky and you will have to really follow it and get your hand in the right spot, and the ball gets a little crazy. But your success in juggling is really dictated by the toss of the ball. Tossing the ball so that it’s going to come down in a predictable, repeatable fashion every time.

That’s really the hard part of it. Once you’ve mastered that and you see guys on YouTube or before hockey games, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, and they can just juggle like crazy or juggle off the floor. And it’s just the same pattern over and over.

Now, I don’t mind if you do that if it helps you get in the zone, helps you focus. That’s totally cool. But I don’t feel that it’s really expanding your envelope of hand-eye coordination the way that you need it on the ice.

Because on the ice it’s really not that much of a predictable pattern. So, I still think it’s a good idea to learn to juggle because there’s a big learning curve there. You have to learn how to control your hands, take your visual input, make the right type of response. But once you’ve got it hammered down, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of benefit to just doing the same thing over and over. We need to find ways to make it harder and more specific.

Just like if you’re learning the guitar and there’s a song you really want to play and then you get to be able to so you can play that song, no problem. Well, then you need to find another little bit more challenging song to expand your capabilities.

So once you can juggle, then you can juggle off the wall… I’d like you to juggle off the wall overhand rather than underhand because I’m not really catching down here that much. So on the ice, we’re a little more here.

Then add in some elements of movement. Even just a little hip shift, going down on one knee, coming back up. There are all sorts of patterns that you can work into that. But also don’t forget, I want you to wear your glove.

We have talked about this lots of times before. When I catch the ball off the wall with my bare hand, I’m catching it in my palm. Even if I catch it with… somebody will say, “Well, catch it between your finger and your thumb.” Okay. Well, even if I catch it there, when I put on my glove, even if I catch it between my finger and my thumb, it’s not going to be in the right spot in the glove

If I put it in the palm of my hand, it’s in the heel of my glove. So that’s exactly what I found when I was doing hand-eye catching. I was not actually not too bad. But when I was on the ice, the puck was still, you can see all the puck marks off the heel of my glove, off this part. It was really frustrating until I just looked at it and thought, “Oh yeah.”

And your body doesn’t know like, “Oh. Well, now there’s a pocket and the pocket is about four inches above the palm, so we’re going to make that adjustment.” Your body just knows, “Hey, when I see an object coming here, boom, that’s where my hands should be.” Well, in the glove then it’s bouncing off the cuff.

Then you say to me, “Well, but then I can only practice on one side because my glove is only on one side.” That’s fine because you’re really only catching on one side. Like you’re not catching the puck. Maybe you are catching the puck with your blocker hand, but that’s a different story altogether.

So that’s totally okay just to work on throwing with one hand, catching with the other. It’s fine.

So how do we add elements of unpredictability to that? Well, there’s going to be just a learning curve to start with. So practice. You can practice with tennis balls are a little slower. Lacrosse ball comes off the wall faster and it has a little more mass when it hits your glove. So I like that because sometimes you could really feel when it’s hitting your glove.

These are black tennis balls from the guys that make catch ball. It’s, I think, that’s prolapse sports. But, again, so you’re picking up something that’s black, not a big yellow because you’re not going to really face too many yellow pucks.

So get good at just throwing and catching, throwing and catching. When you’re good at that, then we need to add a layer of complexity.

One of the layers of complexity I like is, I’ll write numbers on the lacrosse balls, and in magic marker, big numbers. One, two, three. Usually we just do one and two or one, two, three. So then when I throw the ball, I have to try to see what the number is before it hits my glove. So I’m trying to pick up off the wall. Really look at it. Okay, number one, as I catch it in my glove.

So, now I have to make visual attachment to it and really concentrate on that.

So, start with, I’ll just read off the numbers.

Then we add another layer of complexity. I’ll add the numbers. So, I’ll have a little bin that might have six or eight lacrosse balls in it. I’ll pick one up, throw it at the wall. It’s a one. Catch it, drop it back in the bin, pick it up. And I’ll usually do that from my knees. So, I’m close to the bin.

Throw the next one. It’s coming off though I see it’s a two. So then now it’s one plus two. That’s three.

Drop it back in and grab another ball. Throw it. That’s a one. Okay, now that’s three plus one. That’s a four.

So now I’m having to use my brain to process information that’s going on while I’m still executing this skill with precision.

What’s a progression for that?

Well, now we can add in an element of movement. So if we do a… I’ll throw the ball. If it’s an odd number, then I’m going to… And it can be whatever movement you want it to be. Maybe I’m going to do a shift to my right or to my left. Let me get down on the turf, show you exactly what I mean.

So, I’ve got my little bin of balls here. These are actually numbered one, two, three. So I decide ahead of time if it’s an even number, maybe I’m going to do a little post-lean to my right. If it’s an odd number, maybe a post-lean to my left.

So I throw the ball, boom. Oh, I see it coming back. It’s a three. So I’m going to do a post-lean this way and come back.

Throw the ball. Oh, that’s a two. So now I’m going to do a post-lean the other way and come back.

Or you could do a, you know… Okay, if it’s an odd number, I’m going to recover with this leg and down. If it’s an even number, I’m going to recover with the other leg and back down. It can be whatever pattern that you want it to be.

If you want to add another layer of neural complexity, then you can sum them again.

So if I throw this ball, it’s a three, so I’m going to do my post-lean this way. Drop it back. I’m going to throw the ball. This is a two coming back. So three plus two that’s a five. So that is still odd number. Post-lean this way.

Now I’m going to throw a one. It comes back. One plus five is six, so it will be a post-lean the other way.

There’s basically limitless combinations. One of my favourite ones, it requires a partner, but you’ll stand or kneel about six to eight feet out from the wall. Your partner stands behind you. So you can’t see the ball coming. All you see is the ball hitting the wall and then coming back at you. I really like those black tennis balls for that one too.

So then you’re just in your ready position. And you can vary your ready position. You could have it so that you’re standing. You’re standing square to the wall. You’re standing at a bit of an angle to the wall. You’re over here and you have to react to the ball. I think that’s another drill that you could do with your blocker as well. And with the blocker I’ll put out like some bins, or like a recycling bin or something that’s turned on its side, that is the corner. So then if I’m going to block the ball, I’m trying to aim it and get it where I want it to go.

But I know some of you just use the back of your hand as well. And I think that’s probably okay. I would maybe put on my blocker and see how the back of my hand correlates with the center of the blocker, to make sure, again, I’m not teaching myself to hit a spot that isn’t where I actually want to hit it when I’m on the ice.

And then you saw that we are playing around with some of these out in Colorado at the global goaltending retreat. It’s the catchall, and I think this is one of the best tools that you can get to work on hand-eye.

So, it’s like a little bungee cord and I attach it to the side where I’m going to be catching the ball.

I want to have slacks. So when I’m standing up the ball’s on the ground, there’s a bit of slack. And I’ve made it a little bit more because that makes it a wee bit easier. You’re going to wear your glove for this one as well. It’s really hard. And then I did a nice video with Dušan Sidor who showed us how to throw the ball because there is a learning curve to it.

But yes, you can use your glove for this one as well, and that’s what I suggest you do. But now you don’t have to go searching, through the rink to find a place where you can throw the ball. You can just bring this, you can do it anywhere you live, in an apartment, or in your bedroom, or the basement, or anywhere you can do it.

You can also add in agility drills as you’re doing it. And again, we covered that in the video we did with Dušan.

When you use the catch ball, you really have to follow the ball with your head. And obviously, that’s what you’re supposed to do anyway. But if you don’t, if you just keep your gaze out in front, it’s amazing at how impossible it is to catch the ball. So I like it for that too because it really trains you and forces you like number one, I have to keep my glove out in front and number two, I have to follow that ball right into the pocket.

So like anything there’s good, better, best. And the best is still reading the puck off a stick, being on the ice, taking shots on the ice. Not practical for most of us to be on the ice as much as we want to be seeing shots, but maybe, too, get a little shooting pad. Get your friend to take shots on you. And again, be able to see the puck coming off the stick, get the practice reading that information once you’re pretty good at the other stuff.

Any of these things are going to help. So I’m not saying juggling is no good and you should do this. Use a combination but get the competency, add layers of neural complexity and wear your glove.

Leave a comment if you have questions about hand-eye training. There’s a million things you can do. These are just a few suggestions to get you started. And I have other videos on hand-eye training that you can find if you search the channel.

If you’re looking to get better flexibility, you feel like that’s really where you need some help. I’ve got a free app. It’s called the butterfly challenge. You can find it in the app store. Just go to whatever your Apple, or the Google Store, or whatever it is. Type in butterfly challenge and you can download it there for free. It’s a 14 day flexibility program for your hips.

That’s it. I’m out of here.