Dual-Task Training in Hockey

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Written by Evi van Goor

Hockey is a dynamic sport that demands a combination of technical skills, cognitive abilities and physical strength. Successful decision-making is based on the player’s ability to distribute their attention between different stimuli in their surroundings (e.g., opponents, ball and teammates). At the same time, players need to execute various motor actions, such as running, dribbling and passing. This shows that there is a high dual-task demand in hockey and other team sports. Dual-task training, which involves performing hockey-specific tasks while concurrently engaging in additional cognitive activities, is a training that has gained attention in the past years.

First, some background information about what dual-tasking is. For this, the dual-process theory needs to be explained. This theory suggests that human behavior is controlled by automatic- and controlled processing systems. Automatic processing happens fast, autonomously and is activated by triggers. For controlled processing, activation of the working memory and attentional control are required. Controlled processing may overrule automatic processing in dual-task situations. Dual-task training aims to improve the balance between those controlled and automatic processes. Besides, it includes an increased cognitive load and therefore challenges players to multitask effectively.

Multiple studies have looked into short-term and long-term effects of dual-task training on cognitive and motor performances of athletes. A small number of studies specifically focused on hockey players. About dual-task testing in general, various studies found that an athlete’s cognitive and motor performance while dual-tasking is inferior to its single-task performance, due to the increased demand of the working memory. Runswick et al. highlighted that the addition of context does not negatively influence cognitive load.  

For dual-task training, it is most important to look at the long-term effects. Multiple studies have shown that dual-task group training improved both motor and cognitive performance. For example, Bherer et al. suggested that dual-task training leads to optimized attentional control, contributing to improved decision-making.

We hypothesize that simultaneously engaging in hockey-specific tasks and adding increased cognitive load will lead to more efficient allocation of attention and improved ability to concentrate under pressure. Especially the combination of ball handling and additional cognitive training, may be of interest to hockey players who want to refine their motor coordination and control while maintaining accuracy and precision. This may be improved by introducing additional cognitive or physical activities during hockey-specific tasks. Besides, passing accuracy and decision-making are crucial aspects of hockey gameplay, by directly influencing team coordination and goal-scoring opportunities. Dual-task training may be beneficial in improving players’ passing skills and decision-making.  Incorporating dual-task training into hockey practice may also improve players’ adaptability and game intelligence. By simulating complex and unpredictable scenarios during training, players become more adept at quickly adjusting their strategies and decision-making based on varying circumstances.

In conclusion, dual-task training offers promising benefits for hockey players. The increased cognitive load and attentional focus fostered by this training method may improve attentional control and decision-making abilities under pressure. Moreover, the refinement of ball handling, passing, and shooting skills through dual-task training may lead to more accurate and precise execution during gameplay. As supported by scientific research, dual-task training has the potential to enhance players’ cognitive abilities, technical skills, and adaptability on the hockey field, ultimately contributing to improved overall performance.

 

References:

  • Pedro Emilio Drumond Moreira, Gabriel Teles de Oliveira Dieguez, Sarah da Glória Teles Bredt, Gibson Moreira Praca. (February 2021). The Acute and Chronic Effects of Dual-Task on the Motor and Cognitive Performances in Athletes: A Systematic Review.
  • Elkohon Goldberg. (2017). Executive Functions in Health and Disease.
  • Beurskens R., Steinberg F., Antoniewicz F., Wolff W., Granache U. (April 2016). Neural correlates of dual-task walking: effects of cognitive versus motor interference in young adults.
  • Runswick, O. R., Roca, A., Mark Williams, A., Bezodis, N. E., Mcrobert, A. P., & North, J. S. (2018). The impact of contextual information and a secondary task on anticipation performance: An interpretation using cognitive load theory.
  • Bherer L., Kramer A.F., Peterson M.S., Colcombe S., Erickson K., Becic E. (June 2008). Transfer Effects in Task-Set Cost and Dual-Task Cost After Dual-Task Training in Older and Younger Adults: Further Evidence for Cognitive Plasticity in Attentional Control in Late Adulthood.

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