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What is reactive acceleration? and how does it apply to hockey players?

Acceleration is the rate at which the velocity of a body changes in regards to time. In hockey, we are specifically concerned with the hockey players ability to move their body from a stationary (or slow gliding position) to top speed over the shortest time possible. This would result in a very high rate of acceleration for that specific athlete. The higher the acceleration, the better chance that athlete has of being the first person to the puck. The term reactive means the tendency to respond or react to a stimulus. In hockey, we will consider the puck as the stimulus (or this could be good ice or a soft spot in the defense) and we are concerned with how effectively the player can react to a loose puck. If we combine these two words into REACTIVE ACCELERATION we are interested in a player’s ability to read and react to a stimulus and then produce the greatest acceleration towards that stimulus.

What does this mean for hockey players?

As a hockey player, we spend hours working on our first step quickness and our ability to accelerate in a a linear (or straight forwards) direction. However, what happens if our hips and shoulders are facing one way and the puck squirts free at a 45 degree angle from the way we are facing. As a hockey player, we work on front starts (straight ahead) and x-over starts (straight sideways) but rarely do we work on the in between positions. What's the best footwork to use in this type of situation? Should I square up to the puck and then begin accelerating? These are all questions which hockey players should think of when they see this situation. As an instructor, the one key feature I always emphasize to my athletes is that the perfect case scenario will rarely exist and we need to practice every scenario to be prepared to make the right decision in a game. I think it’s vital that athletes are able to take their first step with either there left or right foot with very little separation in skill and ability. As a result, I think this should be practiced and focused on during skating and skill development sessions.

In order to practice this skill, it should be noted that an athlete needs to work on their acceleration through all 360 degrees of a circle in order to be able to move in any direction at any time. Once this has been accomplished, begin sliding pucks into open space or shouting out a position (ie. 4:00 or 9:00) and have the athlete react to the stimulus and respond appropriately with good skating technique!

Brian Shackel, MSc