Redesigning the Ice Hockey Experience for Paraplegic Athletes
Sled Hockey is an Olympic sport played by athletes who have lost the use of their legs. Players sit in a sled with blades on the bottom and propel themselves over the ice. Existing equipment is extraordinarily barbaric with little thought put into comfort and safety. As an internal company wide initiative, Eleven LLC rallied it’s team of designers and engineers to rethink sled hockey equipment as a pro-bono project.
Role: Product Experience Designer; Softgoods Designer
We found that players want to be safe, comfortable, and agile. And they want to look like bad-ass athletes! Physical mock ups explored solutions to comfort and safety issues, and visual designs explored aesthetic solutions.
How can we redesign the equipment for this physically intensive sport to meet the diverse needs of players so they can focus on improving their game?
Understanding the Experience
Tools: In person interviews, Empathetic experience immersion, In-play observation
A variety of empathetic research tools were used to learn about the physical and emotional challenges experienced by sled hockey athletes. We had one-on-one conversations with emerging and experienced players, observed practice sessions, and studied the culture around the sport.
We traveled to local ice rinks to immerse ourselves in hockey practice. We were fitted into sleds and got on the ice for grueling sessions of drills and scrimmages. We also observed seasoned sled hockey veterans’ ingress and egress, movement around the arena, and storage and transportation of their equipment. The experience unveiled many challenges both on and off the ice.
- Children: “Make me comfortable so I can focus on the game”
- Parents: “Safety and accessibility are top priorities”
- Professionals: “Make me look like the awesome athlete that I am!”; “Streamline my equipment for agility and speed”
Designing the Equipment
With a focus on ergonomics, we reengineered the structure of the sled to have much more adjustability and back support. We took special consideration to the diverse physical abilities of the players. Working prototypes had adjustments for leg length, seat angle, and seat width. Breadboard models allowed for exploration ultimately narrowing down to a specific set of adjustments. Angles and positions were optimized for speed and agility on the ice.
A major focus of the project was improving safety. Current equipment uses modified hockey padding, which provides little protection to the legs and core, which are key areas of impact in sled hockey. Padding was designed to be easy to take on and off for players of all levels of physical ability. Top considerations were custom adjustability, machine washability, and athletic aesthetics.