Sunday, May 17, 2015

How do ice-hockey players make decisions? – Decision-making in an instant and tactically challenging situation


Time pressure affects our decision making tremendously. When we have a lot of time we ponder things longer, consider many options and do better choices in general. How does a person decide when there is practically no time at all, the situation is complicated and changes all the time?

Decision making in hockey


Ice-hockey is a dynamic game which requires extraordinary physical skills in addition to ability to do instant tactical decisions. Furthermore there is challenge with very limited amount of information, since the player has only time for one glimpse to gather the essential information.  

The choices one player (holding the puck) has are pretty simple: he can pass it, shoot it or keep it himself. It gets more complicated when one considers that all ten players on the ice are moving with tremendous speed. It is essential to be able to predict others movements at the same time when deciding what to do and how. This sounds rather challenging and it is not wonder that decision making in ice-hockey has not been overly researched.

Martell & Vickers (2004)[i] have done a study using cameras in helmets measuring the eye-movements of the players. They found out that the best layers used a tactic of two glimpses. On the way towards the puck they glimpsed once in order to map the situation and make a tactical plan. When they reached the puck they glimpsed again – very briefly – in order to check that their plan is still valid. The mid-level and lower level players glimpsed only once, when they reached the puck. Mulligan et al. (2012)[ii] reached quite similar results with video cameras in helmets. They also interviewed players and used video material. They argue, based on their research, that better players use recognition primed decision-making technique[iii]. (See more about the method from my previous blog post). In short they recognize the situation (familiar/unfamiliar) and then choose a tactic (familiar/innovative). According to Mulligan et al. the more players had experience, the more they recognized situation. Furthermore, the more familiar the situations were the better choices they made

I think it is likely that players use also a decision method called “like heuristic” (see more details). If a tactical choice feels good (player likes it) it will be chosen and vice versa, if a choice feels bad it is rejected. Relying on feelings is a good way to decide in a situation when there is no time. The characteristics of ice-hockey (fast, dynamic and tactical) and both studies above stress the importance of intuition in hockey decision-making.  But trusting on one’s instincts does not always lead to optimal solutions. When does it?

Good intuition skills in sports and making outstanding choices


According to Mulligan et al. experience is vital in making good intuitive decisions. Williams et al. (1994)[iv] have noticed that good soccer players focus on gaining the bigger picture – how the players move and what are their positions and expected positions. The not-so-talented players focused on the position of the ball and it’s movements. In other words the good players were skilled in predictions. Feng et al. (2010)[v] have also reached the same conclusion in their neural study of fencing. The good focused on the big picture and updating their tactic constantly. The experience, ability to see the big picture, tactical tool kit and ability to foresee other’s actions affect the goodness of intuition. However in fast dynamic settings it is useless, unless intuition is instant (or at least very fast). Actually the rapidness of intuition is the key element separating the good players from mediocre player in football[vi], American football[vii], fencing[viii] and other sports[ix]. However having an instant accurate intuition pretty useless, if the player is unable to do accurate and fact decisions. Figure below gathers the elements effecting the accuracy of sports intuition:




(The photograph in the beginning is taken by skeeze and it is available in http://pixabay.com)


[i] Martell, Stephen G & Vickers, Joan N. (2004): “Gaze characteristics of elite and near-elite athletes in ice hockey defensive tactics”, Human Movement Science ,22(6),p.689-712, Apr 2004

[ii] Mulligan, Desmond, Janet McCracken, and Nicola J. Hodges. "Situational familiarity and its relation to decision quality in ice-hockey." International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 10.3 (2012): 198-210.

[iii] Recognition primed decision making, Recognition Primed (RPD) model of decision-making, Klein (1999).

[iv] Williams et al., 1994 A.M. Williams, K. Davids, L. Burwitz and J.G. Williams, Visual search strategies of experienced and inexperienced soccer players. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,  65 2 (1994), pp. 127–135

[v] Feng, Yan, et al. "Neural mechanisms of Tactics Intuition Decision-making Predominance of High Level Fencing Athletes." Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering 30.1 (2010).

[vi] Williams et al., 1994 A.M. Williams, K. Davids, L. Burwitz and J.G. Williams, Visual search strategies of experienced and inexperienced soccer players. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport,  65 2 (1994), pp. 127–135

[vii] Schmidt & Lee (2005) R.A. Schmidt and T.D. Lee, Motor control and learning: a behavioral emphasis, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL (2005).

[viii] Feng, Yan, et al. "Neural mechanisms of Tactics Intuition Decision-making Predominance of High Level Fencing Athletes." Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering 30.1 (2010).

[ix] Raab, Markus & Laborde, Sylvain (2011): ” When to Blink and When to Think: Preference for Intuitive Decisions Results in Faster and Better Tactical Choices”, Research Quarterly for Exercise & Sport Mar2011, Vol. 82 Issue 1, p89-98

1 comment:

  1. Making decisions in ice hockey is not just easy. Players should have a great sense regarding how to make decisions in short time. The ice hockey game playing skills split into two categories, Hockey sense and Technical skills. Mostly decision of the player depends upon the skills of the player that how he/she chooses to carry out the decision. Hockey speed and creativity of the players makes them take right decisions in very short time.

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