An Open Letter to Coaches,
Without doubt, the most common
complaint I hear from parents of goalies of all ages and skill levels
is that their kids receive little or no instruction on the ice during
practices. My set response to the complaint, and I wish it were not
so true is, Get used to it, it doesnt get any better!
To invoke a much overused cliché,
the goalie IS the most important player on a team. Just
like the pitcher in baseball and the quarterback in football, the ice
hockey goalie plays an individual game within a team sport. He is the
pivotal player who must be confident and focused for the entire elapsed
time of a match. This confidence and focus can be supported by good
skating and mechanical skills, proper timing, and superior eye-hand
coordination, but it is born and continually fed off a large personal
ego that supplies the self confidence to creatively and consistently
perform well. Much like a golfer, who must truly compete against himself,
the ice hockey goalie needs to be totally focused on seeing the puck
and keeping it out of the net, WITHOUT ever thinking about how hes
doing it while he is playing.
With these beginning thoughts
in mind, what follows are suggestions for bringing the natural talent
out of your young goalies and incorporating them into your practices
as equal participants, not just the kids you leave alone and dont
try to coach.
If I had one piece of advise
to give anybody planning to coach a young hockey team, it would be to
build your players respect for their goalies. Whether the kid
in your net is awful or a superstar, your players must show respect
for each other, and especially the goalie, if your intend to build your
team for a successful season. Many a perceived weak goalie at the beginning
of a season has won championships for his team, and many a superstar
has lost confidence in himself during the course of a season and floundered.
Young people are very aware of peer pressure, and what their friends
think of them. It is paramount to a young player that his teammates
have confidence in his abilities; it is what builds their ego. You,
as coach, must set the team on the right course. This course starts
with the highest respect for the guy in the net, and the job he is responsible
for. If you set the tone for the year with your words and actions towards
your goalie, your team will follow.
The goalie should be treated
no different than any other player on the team in terms of understanding
what his responsibilities are, but unlike forwards and defenceman, the
goalie is often left on his own to determine what his goals need to
be. Coaches take plenty of time explaining how to run a 2 on 1 and how
to play a powerplay. Players are walked through theory on a blackboard,
learn concepts slowly on the ice during practice, and eventually move
up to practicing at game speeds. It is a common sense approach for passing
on knowledge, with a general goal of getting each and every player to
learn and grow as a hockey player and for the team to execute and win.
With regards to the goalie, the thinking should be the same.
It goes without saying that every goalie, regardless of
age, should know the basic goaltending job description. Keep puck out
of net. My first suggestion to the coach is to remind his goalies of
this obvious fact. By doing so, you are first letting him know that
you have standards that he needs to work to obtain, but most importantly,
you are reminding him in the simplest way what his fundamental job is.
When a goalie is not going well, he knows it. He also knows that you
no it, the team knows it, and the parents know it. He is not thinking
about keeping the puck out of the net before a game, he is worrying
about the game itself! Instead of going on the ice and taking charge
of the game, and thus having some control over the final outcome, he
is worrying about what might possibly happen. You cant imagine
how awful and isolating this frame of mind is, and it cannot be allowed
to infiltrate your goalies head. Simple reminders are a good way
of keeping him focused.
GET THE FIRST SHOT
One definite goal to demand of your goalies is for him
to stop all the first shots he faces. If hes getting those first
shots, your teams chances of winning are high. Just like reminding
the rest of the team that they must pick up their checks and not get
caught deep in the offensive zone, a regular pregame demand on your
goalies should be to get us the first shot. Again, you are
setting standards, in front of the team, that remind him of the basic
goaltending truths. Also, without the first shots stopped, your team
will be sunk, along with the goalies confidence. In order to build
respect for their goalie, the team must know hes there for them.
By getting most of first shots, the teams perception of their
goalie will be that hes working hard and doing his job. A team
will respond to a goalie like that.
CONTROL YOUR REBOUNDS
Another point to emphasize before games and during practices
is the need to control rebounds. Rebound control is a mental decision.
Once a young person can skate and execute solid save techniques, he
can concentrate on controlling his rebounds. With the exception of getting
the first shot, rebound control should be your most important demand
from your goalie. Once he realizes how important it is to you and the
teams overall success, you will start to see less second and third
REBOUND PRIORITY (from most desirable
1. Stop and control every shot so you can freeze or move the puck. (Utopian
I know, but an absolute standard)
2. Put all shots to the corners or over the glass out of play (This
is the drill to work on a lot in practice)
3. Put the rebound where the other team is not
4. Give the rebound right back to the player who shot it, rather than
to your sides where it will be an easy tap-in goal.*
*Priority 4 is some what radical in its thinking, but makes
sense. It is better to give a second shot to the player youre
already facing than to put it off to your sides to an uncovered man.
These rebound priorities are
an excellent set of goals to give to your goalies. They are a set of
standards that you can keep statistics on. Rebound control is becoming
a less emphasized skill, and it shouldnt be. Below is a way to
set up a sheet to chart your goalies success during a game. Get
one of the parents to do the work.
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5
FIRST SHOT GOALS
TOTAL CONTROLLED REBOUNDS
Type 1 Type 2 Type 3 Type 4 Type 5
TOTAL BAD REBOUNDS
TOTAL REBOUND GOALS
TOTAL FIRST SHOT GOALS
SAVE= Any puck the goalie had to stop to prevent
it going into the goal
CONTROLLED REBOUND= A save safely controlled and set out of harms way,
further classified according to the prior priorities.
BAD REBOUND= any rebound that is not placed, but carelessly left to
REBOUND GOAL= Any goal that is the result of a second, third, or fourth
shot in a row
BAD REBOUND GOAL= any goal that is a result of a careless first save
GOALS= Goal against
BAD GOAL = Any goal that the goalie should have had
FIRST SHOT GOAL= all goals that are shot directly in the net, not a
result of a rebound
GOALIES & PRACTICE
Ask any old goalie about his memories of practice, and
their first reaction will probably be an uncontrollable flinch of pain,
accompanied by involuntary closing of the eyes. When I got to professional
hockey I quickly learned that the number one priority during a practice
was to survive. I had a beefed up Chest/Arm protector that I wore only
in practice and an extra heavy-duty catching glove, with so much plastic
in it I couldnt begin to close it. Unfortunately, this scenario
is the norm, rather than the exception. Goalies have always been treated
like targets in practice, and, after being shot at, are usually left
alone to work on their game as the rest of the team works on specific
plays and situations. It shouldnt be like this! Goalies can be
incorporated into practice to keep them safe and working with only a
little thought from the coach and respect from the players.
If you, as coach, agree that
the goalie is the most important factor to your teams success,
then you must structure your practices to let him work on the things
that will make him a better goalie. If, during practices, the goalies
are distracted with a primitive need to live, they cannot begin to focus
on the job of stopping more pucks. Practice for a goalie is not like
a game. There are far more shots coming at him, and he usually has no
support to take away shooters options that arent usually
available during a real game. The following are some of my thoughts
on strategies you can use to let your goalies get something out of practice,
and to instill the respect in him and his position that is so important
from the rest of the team.
Most coaches think that goalies dont like to have
hard shots taken at them early in a practice This is false. Goalies
dont like hard shots taken from close range early in a practice.
Have your team warm up the goaltender with slap shots coming from just
inside the blue line. The goalie needs to be able to see and follow
the puck before he starts to bear down on the shots from the slot. If
you do not demand this simple warm-up discipline from your players,
your goalies are going to be thinking about getting hit, rather than
following pucks and reacting. If this type of behavior continues as
the season progresses, you find yourself with goalies who do not start
practices well, and, as it goes to follow, will not have as good starts
to their games. If you can demand your goalies bear down in practice
right from the start, they will get used to, and start expecting to,
start well. The better your goalies play early in a game, the more games
your team will win.
Try not to use rapid fire drills
in any of your practice warm-ups. Try and keep your goalie drills game
real. In a game there is only one puck. A goalie must learn to
follow that puck from the shooters stick, along its path in the
air, into his body, AND off his body into the corner. These skills make
for good eye-hand coordination. If you are shooting puck after puck
in a row, the goalie cannot follow each puck from stick to corner, and
he develops the most hurtful habit possible, not watching the puck.
STOP USING PRIMITIVE SHOOTING DRILLS. Incorporate movement and eye-hand
coordination into every warm up drill. The benefits will be immediate
Once you have developed good
team warm-up habits, you can begin to demand more saves, perfect puck-following
discipline, and better rebound control from your goalies. This will
translate into consistently better goaltending.
When a goalie either gains or
loses confidence, he does so in stages. Confidence is lost when the
goalie starts to guess what the shooters are going to do. By doing so,
the goalie will start making the first move, thus presenting
the shooter with new options. Long term confidence is built on the discipline
of holding your ground and being able to react to any situation. By
not making any first moves, the goalie forces the shooter to either
aim at small portions of the net or readjust their shooting/passing
angle. THIS IS THE KIND OF GOALTENDING THAT WILL WIN YOU GAMES! The
whole process starts in practice by keeping drills orientated to a single
puck, and giving the goalie time to establish his system. The process
will not occur if the goaltender is:
a) Worrying about getting hurt
b) Having to deal with more than one puck, shot after shot
c) Facing too many uneven, non -realistic situations that encourage
him to guess to make a save, and punish him with short, tap-in goals
when he does his job and takes the man with the puck.
If you run bad practices that
encourage guessing, YOU ARE TO BLAME FOR THE RESULTS YOU SEE IN GAMES.
I am a firm believer in having your goalies skate the regular
practice drills with the rest of your team. An old goalie maxim is that
you can never be a good enough skater. Expect your goalies
to do all of the pivots, crossovers, and stops and starts that the rest
of the team does. Obviously they shouldnt be as fast, BUT they
can do the drills as WELL as their teammates. Sideways skating and crease
movement is important, but must be monitored by someone who can identify
and correct any problems that develop. Much like figure skating, proper
goaltending movements involve small mechanics that have to be understood
before they can be implemented. This is where a skilled goalie coach
There is an old saying that says, shake a tree and
10 drummers will fall out, but only one of them can keep time.
After 18 years of teaching ice hockey goal, I can unfortunately attest
that the same holds true for goalie coaches, or, as we refer to them
in the trade, goalie experts. If you recall my previous
months letter to parents, I have a couple theories on what attracts
such personalities, but at the base level there is a certain aura and
glamour about the goaltender position, and people want to feel part
of that glamour. In all due respect to goalie experts, most are doing
more harm then good. As head coach, you need to choose your goalie coach
carefully. After all, you are putting him in charge of your teams
most important player.
Following are some Dos
and Donts for choosing a goalie coach:
DONT let one of the goalies Dads
be your goalie coach. (a sure disaster for 12 -17 year olds)
DONT allow a store-bought
or text book coach. If the person has knowledge without
any playing experience, the children will not respect the information.
Besides, most text book concepts are superficial at best.
DONT invite the old goalie who wants
to coach, but has zero experience. Playing experience is one thing.
The ability to think out and PRESENT a system of play suitable for the
age involved is something else. Teaching goal demands concentration
on repetitive drills and techniques. Someone who doesnt know how
to pace and build a goalie will rush the process.
DO invite the hot shot teenager to work with
7-10 year olds. If the kid is reliable, the youngsters will look up
to his polish and energy. Just what the Goalie Doctor orders!
DO invite a local goalie coach with a strong
track record and word of mouth reputation.
DO allow a former Pro who wants to be involved.
The kids will automatically respect his ideas, and he is coaching for
the right reasons, to give something back.
TAKE A GOOD LOOK at the adult beer
league goalie. Is the information he teaches well thought out and presented?
Does he demand a system of play based on one NHL goalie model, or can
he develop a system of play for your goalies natural talents?
Is he trying to force a young goalie to play a stand-up
disciplined style of goal, or is he presenting that style as a sub-group
of the overall system? Is his own game sloppy and ill-defined, or is
it accurate and precise?
Obviously there is much more
that can be discussed about developing your young goalies. If you have
any questions, please send them
our way. We are here to help!