Keys To Great Hockey Sense

by Kim McCullough, Total Female Hockey
HOckey Sense 101

I read an amazing article recently that explained in great deal why hockey is the smartest game in the world.

To be honest, it’s a very nerdy article. That’s probably why I liked it so much.

It basically talks about 2 of the key components of what we typically call ”GAME SENSE” and how they are more important in hockey than in any other sport.

Those components are: 1. Spatial intelligence and 2. Situational awareness

Spatial Intelligence

Spatial intelligence is the ability to take in all the things that are happening in a particular time and space on the ice and anticipate what might happen next.

This kind of split-second decision making is made at every position. We see it in defensemen trying to read what the opponents are going to do in a 2-on-1.  We see it with goalies trying to stop a breakaway and with forwards trying to read what the goalie is giving them on said breakaway.  Those are just a few basic examples of spatial intelligence.

Keep in mind that these decisions are being made in reference to all the other players on the ice, where they are and what they are doing. Not to mention the fact that you’re standing on knife blades, people are probably yelling at you and someone is likely trying to hit you.

The best example of a player who excelled at spatial intelligence would be Wayne Gretzky.  He seemed to have eyes in the back of his head and knew where he wanted to put the puck before he even got it.  He had an amazing ability to read the game and make decisions that no one else on the ice had even dreamed of making.

Situational Awareness

Situational awareness is very closely related to spatial intelligence.

While spatial intelligence boils down to knowing everything that’s going on around you, situational awareness centers more on being conscious of all that’s going on in the context of the what the other players intend to do and anticipating their next move.

Have I lost you yet?

To simplify it even further:

Spatial intelligence is knowing what’s going on all around you.

Situational awareness is understanding how the intentions and actions of those around you effect what’s going on around you.

The players with the best “game sense”  excel at both of these. When you couple these high-level mental components with tremendous individual skill, you get a fantastic all-around player who can both skate and think the game at high speeds.

Now to the untrained eye, hockey appears to be a game of wild improvisation.

We know better. 

That’s why coaches put systems and tactics in place. To bring some degree of order to the chaos. We put these in place not because we want players to do everything ”to the letter” every time.  The systems and tactics are simply a framework for the game – a starting point for execution of a game plan and something to come back to when things get messy out there.

What every coach wants are players who can take what they’ve learned about systems and tactics in practice, couple that with their individual skills, and also be able to “think” the game at high speeds.   Spatial intelligence and situational awareness are 2 of the toughest things to teach players. That’s why those who posses those traits are so valuable out on the ice.

Needless to say, to have a group of players with great spatial intelligence and situational awareness, along with great skill, attitude and work ethic, would be a coach’s dream.

Work Hard.  Dream BIG.


Kim is the director and founder of Total Female Hockey. When not writing articles, creating training programs or shooting videos for her website, Kim travels across North America running workshops and camps for players, parents, coaches and associations, teaching how to develop players both on and off the ice. She is the girls’ hockey director at the PEAC School For Elite Athletes in Toronto, Canada, and is a faculty member for the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA), the only organization in the world that certifies coaches to work with young athletes. Visit to learn more and to download her free training videos.