Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Wilson, Timothy D.


Ice hockey is a dynamic, fast-paced game where players need to be aware of multiple factors, devoting appropriate attention to varying salient aspects to enhance performance. The term “keep your head up” is ubiquitous encouragement because if players do not, their visual field (what they can see) is compromised, performance (what they can do) decreases, and likelihood of injury increases. Head-down behaviour is problematic and is observed at all skill levels. Head position (HP) behaviour has not been quantified objectively in any sport. Through collaboration with an NHL player development coach, their practice-based knowledge and tacit experience informed the direction of the research objectives. The overall question of this dissertation was “How does head position effect game vision and skill demonstration in ice hockey players?” Objective one utilized a 3-week coaching intervention that incorporated helmet-mounted player point of view (PPOV) video and specialized training drills to provide post-practice feedback regarding HP and vision (n=18). It was hypothesized that these training sessions combined with video feedback would alter head position behaviours (Chapter 2). Results revealed this approach did not refine behaviour. Objective two simultaneously quantified multiple players’ HPs during small ­area games (SAG). The HP were measured in 2-on-2, and 3-on-3 SAGs (commonly used in practice). Players’ HPs (n=25) were measured with accelerometry during each on-ice shift and categorized further into HP during stickhandling or skating during offensive and defensive play (Chapter 3). The range of HP were portrayed as frequency distributions indicating player HP behaviours changed with respect to the number of players involved and the skills exhibited. Objective three quantified how players’ on-ice field of view (FOV) changed as HP decreased from the horizon, both with and without a half visor (Chapter 4). The results illustrated that head down positions severely impact FOV and it becomes dominated by immediate ice area, reducing game visibility regardless of eye movements. This dissertation, the approaches, and the results, suggests how closer collaboration of coach and performance scientist afford better blending of practice-based knowledge derived from experience with evidence-based knowledge derived from research for coaches to enhance team performance.

Summary for Lay Audience

Ice hockey is a fast-paced game where players always need an awareness of their surroundings. If you watch any hockey game, there are times you can point to and wonder what the athlete was thinking. Often when hockey players drop their head and look down at the ice, their ability to see is impacted potentially limiting their performance and leading to injury. Three studies were conducted to address the overall question of “How does head position affect the players ability to see and their performance on the ice?” A device was attached to the players’ helmets measuring head movements, and a small helmet camera attached above the visor to record players’ views. The first study attempts to change player’s head behaviour using drills that stress vision, here players completed drills over a 3-week period. At the end of each training session, players were provided with video feedback from their helmet camera as they performed the drills on the ice (Chapter 2). Further research is required with a focus on player skill development and how to enhance player head positioning during training. The second study simultaneously measured multiple hockey players’ head positions during 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 small area games, designed to mimic game play. The head positions measured were further grouped into skill categories identified in the game (stickhandling and skating) while the players were on offense and defense positions (Chapter 3). Players displayed a wide range of head positions for different skills, generally, as the number of players increased (2-on-2 to 3-on-3) each players’ head position dropped down towards the ice. The final study determined how a player’s vision changed as their head position dropped towards the ice, with and without a half visor on their helmet (Chapter 4). As players’ heads drop toward the ice, their ability to see decreased, and we quantify the proportion of vision dominated with ice. In order to better understand player performance and behaviour, sport scientists need to work closer together with the sport coaches. Incorporating the coaches’ knowledge can help inform the direction to conduct future research that is meaningful to the coach.