Coaches can simplify performance skills by modifying the equipment used. This is referred to as task simplification.
The benefits of modifying equipment have been well document for children.
Could similar benefits emerge with adults?
Joshua Nimmins and colleagues investigated this question in ice hockey. Their aim was to identify if altering puck mass affected skilled and less skilled adult players differently.
25 skilled and 25 unskilled ice hockey players participated in the study. The mean age of the participants was 21 years.
Participants performed 2 ice hockey tasks. One task required participants to control a puck through an obstacle course as fast as possible. The other task required participants to skate from the midline and shoot for goal against a goalkeeper.
All participants performed these tasks with 3 different pucks:
- Lighter Puck (133g)
- Regulation Puck (170g)
- Heavier Puck (283g)
Puck mass had a different effect on performance for less skilled players compared to skilled players. For the less skilled player, the lighter puck resulted in:
- Obstacle course completed faster and with less errors.
- Better goal shooting accuracy.
For the skilled players, however, the regulation puck resulted in the best performance.
Take home message
The authors emphasized two key messages in the discussion. The first message related to less skilled players:
“… the constraints afforded by the lighter puck may direct a participant’s attention away from puck control and towards the tactical placement of the shot in order to score.”
Hence, a lighter puck made it easier for less skilled players to execute skills, and presumably this allowed their attention to be directed towards other aspects of the task.
The second key message related to skilled players:
“… skilled participants have become attuned to the mass and feel of the regulation puck allowing them to shift attention away from the puck in order to perceive any approaching danger and act accordingly……… Here, with limited experience using a light puck, skilled participants were unable to functional (re) organize their skating behaviour quickly enough to satisfy the task constraints.”
Hence, the skilled players were skilled at using the regulation puck as opposed to the lighter or heavier pucks.
Nimmins, J., Strafford, B., & Stone, J. (2018). Effect of puck mass as a task constraint on skilled and less-skilled ice hockey players performance. Journal of Motor Learning and Development, 1-20.