Wednesday, December 07, 2016

An Information Processing Model For Goalies (A Puzzler For You)

This is about goalies, nominally, but it's also about information acquisition and decision making in general. So some of you will like this, and some of you have already fallen asleep.

I'm very excited about writing this, though. And you guys can help Eli in a major way.

I've noticed that Eli 15.4 has been very dominant at times this season, even against nationally ranked teams (he's won in goal against teams rated as high as #8 in the country).

At other times, though, he's looked vulnerable, and even though I've been thinking about it for a few months, I couldn't figure out why.

Until now. And it relates to models for processing information.

Being a good goalie has much in common with being a good driver, believe it or not.

A good driver is constantly acquiring information in a steady stream. Information from side and overhead mirrors, from peripheral vision, from constantly assessing the situation in front of them. Along with information acquisition, there are good habits, like always observing a safe following distance, which support and reinforce the data stream.

Let's call this the steady state acquisition model.

Even the best drivers, though, wind up in high traffic situations at times. Situations where they can't have a safe following distance, or the road conditions are unstable, or (more likely) other drivers are unstable.

A guy cuts in front of you and you have to swerve, but also manage to avoid drivers who might be coming up behind you. A car who emerges out of a blind spot.

In these situations, there is a split-second where a driver has to correctly and almost instantly react to a huge amount of new information. Even a high level of skill in the steady state acquisition model is useless here, because this is an entirely different model.

Let's call this the sudden state acquisition model.

There are drivers who are absolutely awful at steady state information acquisition. They have terrible driving habits. Yet they excel in sudden state acquisition, at avoiding accidents in split-second situations. They cause some of these situations, yes, but they're still adept in critical situations. That doesn't make them good drivers--they're not--but they're skilled in a very specific way.

A high-level goalie has an enormous set of steady state information acquisition that he continuously processes. It amazes me when Eli talks about it, because his information acquisition model is incredibly sophisticated, and he processes a staggering amount of information during a game.

In this mode, he is utterly dominant.

In the sudden state mode, though, he is much less dominant. A puck squirts off someone's stick, or suddenly appears from behind a screen.

Deflections. Turnovers.

Instead of steadily sipping information, the sudden state situations require an enormous gulping of information and an almost instant response, particularly because most of these situations happen only a few feet away.

That's when I realized why Eli was dominant at some times but not others.

In practice, in lessons, every drill focuses on steady state acquisition. He's dominant in steady state mode because he's learned the skill.

There really aren't any sudden state drills.

Until now, at least, because you guys are going to help me create some.

This is absolutely a trainable skill. All you need is an experience bank to draw on. And if Eli is able to do this, he is going to be an absolutely monster in net.

Let me explain two drills that I made up as starting points. Remember, we're trying to create situations where a huge amount of visual information has to be processed immediately and appropriate action taken.

Drill #1
There are three shooters and a coach (who passes the puck) in this drill.

The coach calls out a position and location for the goalie. So the position could be standing, the butterfly, VH, or reverse VH. I'm sure there are others, but you get the idea.

Certain locations go with certain positions, so the VH and reverse VH are always against the post. The coach calls out a valid location along with the position.

The goalie gets into the position--and closes his eyes.

The three skaters move into three distinct positions.

The coach passes the puck. While it's traveling across the ice, the coach shouts "GO!" The goalie opens his eyes and has to immediately acquire the puck location and immediate threats, and respond.

The skater will shoot immediately, or can make one pass. So it's a bang-bang play, as they say.

The skater location can be constantly changed between reps, even including very difficult locations like behind the net. Or two guys could be together, with one screening the other.

The number of positions for the skaters is basically infinite, but the drill will focus on positions inside fifteen feet, because that's both the most dangerous in a game and the most difficult in terms of the amount of information and the time available for processing.

You could have more skaters in this drill, but it's usually tough to find shooters for goalie drills, so three is probably as high as is possible.

Drill #2
This is also a "blind" drill, where the goalie starts out with his eyes closed.

The coach stands about twenty feet away and tumbles a puck, tossing it in the air so that it's going to bounce erratically when it lands on the ice.

Each puck should be thrown differently--different heights, different speeds.

When the puck is still in the air, the coach shouts "GO!", and the goalie has to find the puck, even if it's not in his expected visual frame (So a puck high in the air can be difficult to acquire, because the goalie is never expecting a puck to be that high, but it does happen in games on deflections sometimes).

Eli calls these "knuckle pucks", and they're very, very difficult to handle in games.

There should be a shooter (or even two) located close to the goalie, and their job is to get their stick on the tumbling puck and shoot. Their locations should change between reps, just like in the previous drill.

The shooters can shoot immediately or make one pass to set up a shot from the other player.

This is a very in-close drill, with an unpredictable puck, so it's a somewhat different type of data being acquired than the other drill. In both, though, there's a flood of information that the goalie has to acquire immediately.

Interested? Here's where you can help.

If you have ideas for on-ice drills based on these principles, please e-mail me. Also, if you can come up with off-ice drills that incorporate these ideas, also let me know. I think these skills can definitely be improved off-ice, but not at the computer--it needs to be based in 3D space, so that his body can move at the same time he's acquiring the information.

I think this is totally doable, and it will really help Eli build his game. Thank you for your help.

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