It’s that time of year when youth hockey teams have been selected and games and practices have started.
It’s also the time of year when people begin to realize whether or not coaches are making an effort to improve the individual skills of the goalies on their teams. In a lot of cases, nothing is being done to help the goalies.
Throughout the year, I am invited to speak about goaltending at several USA Hockey coaching clinics.
My message to coaches is always crystal clear.
Coaches need to change the way they currently do business and work to make goalies first. They need to break out of their comfort zone, so goalie development becomes a priority and not an after thought.
I often wonder why is it that hockey goalies – arguably the most important players on a team – receive the least amount of coaching.
There are a variety of reasons for this. Many youth hockey coaches know very little about the goalie position or perhaps more importantly, take the time to get up to speed on what they can do to assist in the development of their goalies.
Common reasons (excuses) given for this are the coach never played the position, they don’t understand the latest goalie techniques, they have to worry about 15 other players, they don’t want to mess up a goalie who is working with a private goalie coach, or they assume their goalies get all the position-specific coaching they need at in-season goalie clinics or summer goalie schools they may or may not attend.
Therefore, adults often coach in their comfort zone, spending countless hours on Russian circles, breakouts, systems and power plays while basically ignoring the development of their goalies. They hope that somehow the goalies magically improve and become that much-needed difference-maker in big games. Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually work that way.
Some hockey associations turn to outside goalie development providers to work with their goalies. This is certainly a step in a right direction. However, this should not be a reason to ignore goalies during team practices because of the feeling that goalies will get their “individual skill work” during weekly goalie clinics.
Constructive use practice time, in addition to any goalie clinic an association may or may not offer, is a key part of goalie development.
Figuring out how to coach goalies can be a challenging and intimidating aspect of the job for many head coaches. However, it doesn’t have to be.
Here are some goalie coaching tips that can help:
- Assign some to be team’s goalie coach.
- Encourage designated goalie coach to learn as much as they can about goalie position so they can teach proper fundamental techniques.
- When developing practice plans, schedule 15-20 minutes per practice for goalie coach to work with goalies on individual skill development. Make sure to write this down so you don’t forget about it.
- Allow goalie coach time and space to work with goalies during practice.
- Spend time during each practice working on goalie specific skating/movement drills.
- Mix up location on the ice where goalie coach shoots pucks on the goalie. Most goalie coaches shoot multiple shots from slot area. In game, a goalie actually faces very few shots from this area.
- Incorporate movement into shooting drills goalie coach uses to simulate more game-like scenarios. For example, have goalie move from post to post and out to top of crease before attempting to make the save.
- Goalie coach should shoot the puck at appropriate speed/locations to properly challenge to the goalie.
- If you hold breakaway contests at the end of practice, control the pace of the skaters, so goalies have a chance to recover from previous shot and have time move into proper position to play next breakaway.
- Stick to the basics, most goalies need to improve fundamental skills.
- Successful goalie development includes quality repetitions; encourage your goalies to practice their movements over and over again; at first, they will have to think before reacting, eventually, they’ll react without thinking.
- Encourage goalies to be leaders and not followers; have them be at the front of the line during team skating drills like Russian circles, not at end of the line because they skate slower than others.
- Goalies should be among the best skaters on the team; having them participate in the team skating drills is fine, but also give them time to work on their goalie specific skating skills and movements.
- Teach goalies to treat every shot in practice like it means something, and to be accountable for their effort and performance.
- Set your goalie up for success. Control flow of practice drills so goalies have time to get set for the shot and into position to play rebounds.
- Encourage goalies to work on their individual skills while team is doing other drills. You want goalies to make the most each practice session, so they improve every time they are on the ice.
- Pay attention to your goalie; make them feel like an important member of the team.
- Goalies are not shooting targets for players or coaches. They should be treated with respect. Coaches need to stop reliving their glory days as a player by blasting shots past their goalies to show everyone who is watching that “they still have it."
- Talk to your players about not shooting pucks at your goalies’ head or when they are not looking. This rule should be enforced from the beginning of the year; nothing destroys a goalies’ confidence more than shots aimed at their head. This can also cause a serious injury.
- Do not allow your players to take slap shots from inside the top of the face-off circles; again, it’s about building up goalie’s confidence.
- Teach goalies the four “R’s” of goaltending – READ the play, READY for the shot, REACT to the shot, RESPOND to the puck.
- Encourage your goalies to work on their puckhandling and shooting skills.
- Incorporate goalies into team drills— for example have them stop puck behind net on breakouts and leave it for teammate to pick it up or have them shoot puck ahead to teammate.
- It’s possible to run effective team drills without having a goalie in the net while they are off working on their individual skills on different part of the ice.
- Teach your goalie to talk it up and give helpful tips to their teammates such as icing, screen, player in front, changing, clear it etc.
- Teach your goalie to understand various calls by the referees so they know when to head to bench on a delayed penalty.
- Coach should try not to criticize the play of their goalies in front of teammates. There are usually three to five other players on the ice at the same time who share the responsibility of preventing a goal. When choosing to discuss game performance issues, it’s best to do it on an individual basis and before the next ice time, when emotions are not part of the mix so goalies can give full attention to correcting mistakes.
- Think carefully about removing your goalie during a game for poor play, when possible make any change between periods.
- Coaches need to control their reactions/emotions on bench when goalie gives up a goal. Goalies typically feel bad enough when that happens and it doesn’t help the situation when they look at bench and see coach upset and/or screaming at them.
- Encourage your goalie to develop a post-goal routine so they can mentally analyze what happened on a goal in a short period of time and refocus on stopping the next shot by the time the puck is dropped at center ice.
- Make sure your goalie gets a good pre-game warm-up with plenty of quality, stoppable shots.
- Successful goaltenders compete, are consistent and play with confidence; build your goalies confidence, improve their play, improve their play, improve your team win-loss record.
- If your association holds goalie clinics, make every effort to have designated goalie coach attend – taking notes and/or helping out on the ice. Build on what’s being taught at the clinics during team practices.
- Be good to your goalies, and chances are, your goalies will be good to you and your team.
- For more goalie development information, visit www.usahockeygoaltending.com or the goalie page at www.minnesotahockey.org (located under the players tab).