A hockey player is running through different drills, including one where the player is positioned right above the goal line, on the left-hand side, receiving passes from various locations at the top of the zone. The player needs to read where the pass is coming from, bring it in, shoot on the goalie, and repeat.
Training at the Sense Arena gym at the Bedford (Mass.) Edge, the player does these drills for a solid half-hour to 45 minutes and calls it a day. And then the player simply has to remove the helmet and put down the stick and the training session is complete.
Sense Arena’s virtual reality training runs through game-situation drills and provide brain training to improve as a player.
“We’re after proving brain training is the next step for an athlete. Everybody lifts weights, everybody runs on the treadmill,” said Tyler Lopinsky, the Sense Arena business development manager for North America. “What we’re after is to prove the brain is an important muscle to train. The effects of training the brain are really significant.
“It’s not that we have the newest installment for a video game franchise,” he added. “The progress and data we collect are the most important aspects of the company.”
The company originated in the Czech Republic and was founded by Bob Tetiva, a former professional basketball player. According to Lopinsky, Tetiva’s son plays hockey, and he was looking for a way to gain an edge on the competition and to train at home.
Sense Arena is equipped with more than 70 hockey drills as well as 15 cognitive drills — for example, a light wall where a player needs to touch certain colored walls in a certain sequence — all designed to open the pathways to the brain. The drills simulate real game environments.
“The virtual environment is actually a hockey rink based off of Madison Square Garden,” Lopinsky said. “There’s a scoreboard. There’s fans. It’s not in high-def, but it’s virtual reality. You put on your helmet. You get one of our custom-made hockey sticks.”
The drills are developed by professional coaches. Filip Pesan, head coach of the Czech Republic U-20 team and Liberic, is a partner, as is Boston Bruins winger David Pastrnak and former NHL winger and current NHL scout Jan Ludvig. The drills constantly are being updated and improved on.
“The bots move,” Lopinsky said about the virtual defenders. “There’s no pattern. You’re not trying to beat the game. We try to keep it as organic as possible.”
Sense Arena can be purchased by a hockey rink or training center, a team or an individual. Lopinsky said the minimum amount of space it requires is 13 feet by 13 feet, while 20 feet by 20 feet is the biggest it can stretch. According to Lopinsky, the installation takes a few hours, installing four stations. The program runs via Wi-Fi.
“We couldn’t have done this 10 years ago, but it works with a personal hotspot on my phone,” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of juice. Know where to hit the ‘on’ button, where to log in, and you’re good to go.”
Once the system is on and set up, the player puts on the virtual reality headset and uses the custom-made hockey stick, which holds the technology that helps the player maneuver through the drills. This includes the virtual reality puck.
The player undergoes a 30-minute diagnostic that tests game skills and cognitive skills. Once completed, the system will show the player the areas of strength and the areas that need improvement and recommend certain training sessions. Coaches also can input what drills players should work on.
The drills give players a hard score on items such as accurate passes and goals while also scoring the player’s decision making in an effort to quantify “hockey sense,” which is essentially the player’s “hockey IQ.”
“You get your hard score, and that’s shared with everybody in your age group, so there’s a competitive aspect to it,” Lopinsky said. “The feedback would be there’s never been anything like this before. People love the idea someone is going after the mental aspect. Coaches love that the drills are game-like situations. No one can offer you an in-game drill scenario without having to rent ice. Kids under the age of 15 naturally gravitate to it.”
There are several training advantages Sense Arena provides. According to Lopinsky, the technology in the stick recognizes where the virtual reality puck is, which allows players to look up in the drill rather than look down for the puck. Looking up not only helps the player with his or her skill, it also helps to prevent injuries and concussions.
Speaking of injuries, players can practice with Sense Arena while hurt; players can participate while staying stationary, allowing them to stay sharp mentally.
With an easy set-up, enticing technology and focus on player development and well-being, Sense Arena is a great way for a player to gain a competitive edge.
“All the data we take in from a player, you see it on the cloud platform,” Lopinsky said. “(A coach) can see his player’s real-time results and make a custom game plan. You want to make it as easy as possible to make these kids better. You can’t get this environment anywhere else.”
Check out more at sensearena.com.