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Train Your Brain

By; Theodore F. Monnich
International Goaltending Consultant & Puckstoppers US Schools Coordinator


Focused Neuromuscular Response Training is based on how goaltending skills are taught and learned so that students may assimilate the appropriate skills through practice and repetition, and store them, like tools in their subconscious “toolbox,” ready to use when the game demands it. This enables the goalie to react perfectly, without thought, to the unpredictability of the game. The teaching techniques utilized involve focused neuromuscular stimulation applied through, and combined with, transfer of learning techniques.

Contemporary approaches to the improvement or facilitation of a cognitive ability or motor skill by prior learning or practice in another distinctly different area usually refers to "transfer of learning" or simply "transfer effects". This type of cross-task facilitation is thought to be based on similarities between processes that are involved in the original and the recipient or facilitated situation. This is at the core of sports cross training. A common example in motor skill transfer is that learning to ride a bicycle facilitates learning to skate, ski, or other activity that requires learning to maintain balance while moving forward. Likewise, with goaltending, learning to play a stringed instrument enhances motor functions, particularly of the left hand and arm, traditionally a goalie’s catching hand. Playing handball or racquetball likewise enhances the goaltender’s eye-hand coordination. Basically what is occurring is that the same parts of the brain utilized in a goaltender’s neuromuscular response is being stimulated by an unrelated activity. This stimulation heightens the acuity of this region of the brain and transfers that same acuity to the goaltender’s relative performance.

Transfer of learning is a phenomenon of learning more quickly and developing a deeper understanding of the task if the student brings some knowledge or skills from previous learning. Therefore, to produce positive transfer of learning, students need to practice under a variety of conditions both on and off the ice. Note that there is a brief slowdown in the learning curve when variation is first introduced. However, the variation soon begins to strengthen previously acquired skills and knowledge. The power of varied context in teaching as well as different practice scenarios cannot be overemphasized. No matter if you are learning simple movements or complex patterns, stimulus variations are helpful.

Transfer of learning is a fundamental issue in the cognitive and brain sciences. It has a long history and continues to be a topic in education both for cognition and motor skills. A simple search of "transfer of learning" in PsycInfo, the database of the American Psychological Association, turned up 6919 citations. Transfer effects are not limited to motor skills but are very well known for cognitive processes and abilities.

Building & Stimulation of Neural Pathways

When we break individual save movements down into their smallest components, and initiate a repetition of each movement we construct a neural pathway for that movement. Through repetition the neural pattern is reinforced so that when called upon that pathway fires automatically. When each small movement is linked into the complete save the small pathways are joined into a larger neural pattern that fires sequentially. Through correct, and regular repetition of the complete movement, in practice situations, the entire new neural pattern is further reinforced and fires, not in stages, but instantly, in one large pattern, to a subconscious stimulus. Thus no thought is required to respond to the puck as it leaves the shooter’s stick. The save selection and response is seemingly automatic and subconscious.

It is essential to keep each individual movement as economical as possible in order to minimize the complexity of the neural pathway. Traditionally goaltender training has accomplished the same neural pathway building through save repetition. However it has done this without a conscious focus on neurological effect. Thus incidental, uneconomical and simply incorrect movements are included in the neurological patterns, and the goalie reacts uneconomically, expending more energy and requiring more time to execute the save movement. Likewise it is possible to link dissimilar responses, using this technique, to improve response time. Recovery can be linked to save selection so that the recovery response becomes one with the save response, thus eliminating the thought-time previously used to consciously determine the recovery response. Save-response is then automatically followed by the correct recovery-response as they are learned as one action, and the related neural pattern is all-inclusive.

Efficient practice has everything to do with the correct use of repetition and variety. It is critical not to practice mistakes. The student must focus on the trouble spots and correct them. A student can tire out doing the same thing repeatedly and begin making more mistakes than before. Instructors should move on and come back to it later. Also, when we play faster, we don’t think faster: We simply rely more on the habits we have previously ingrained. So practicing movements in the correct order is critical to their correct and efficient execution.

Through the integration of a conscious and focused program of neuromuscular development based on refined, economical response, integrated with cross-task facilitation the student gains greater performance acuity, more economical performance and more effective energy management. The sum of these equate to greater learning and ultimately greater on-ice performance.

Copyright 2004: Theodore F. Monnich


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