Concentration or focusing is one of the most difficult skills for a goaltender if they wish to be on top of their game. In fact focusing and goalie success are inseparable. Learning to focus effectively can be the difference between a good goaltender and a great goaltender. Simply put, focusing is the ability to see only what you want to see – what you should see and screening out all distractions.
Before we learn to focus effectively we have to learn to properly relax. A goaltender must be continually cognizant of how important it is to be relaxed when playing. He can’t guess what is going to happen. He can only react to something that is taking place or to something he properly anticipates will occur. For instance, if he moves before a pass has left the opponent’s stick without knowing if it is even going to be passed than he is just guessing!
To show you how important relaxation is, try this exercise. Make your hand into a tight fist. Then, while clenching your fist tightly, make believe you are going to make a catcher save. Notice how difficult it is to move your arm quickly.
Now relax your hand and repeat the move. See how smoothly your arm moves now. If your body is tense, you can’t use your reflexes properly. You have to learn how to be relaxed at all times.
At first glance, breathing may not seem to have much to do with relaxation, however by learning some deep breathing drills you will learn to master the relaxation process and thereby enhance your concentration and focusing.
Use this breathing drill to initiate your relaxation drills:
- Use a slow count of four to fill your lungs first and then your diaphragm. You will know your diaphragm is filling by placing your hand on your stomach, your hand will move as the diaphragm fills.
- Next, hold the breath for a slow count of four
- Slowly let it out to a count of four. Let the air out of your diagram first and then your lungs.
- Repeat this a couple of times.
Eventually you will be able to relax completely by doing three repetitions of this breathing drill. To relax during the game you can periodically do it i.e. just before the referee drops the puck at a face-off or during any stoppage of play – whenever you feel yourself becoming too tense.
Learn to relax completely. Off-ice sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and first tighten and then relax your entire body each time, being sure to breathe in, hold the breath and then to breathe out slowly. Begin with your toes, then go to your legs, then your stomach, your chest, your arms, your hands, your neck and then even your face. Be sure to tighten each series of muscles and then relax them.
Initially you will have to consciously tell each part of your body to relax, but as you progress you will be able to relax simply by starting your breathing drills.
When you have mastered the relaxation process use it in the dressing room before a game or practice. You may even want to remove yourself from the distraction of your team mates and do it in the hallway or even on the bench as the zamboni is re-surfacing the ice. If your coach is the type who likes to get the teams adrenaline flowing with a big speech, learn to shut out the sound of his voice. You can’t have an adrenaline overflow. You are not a forward or defenseman and can’t make things happen on the ice. In fact I recommend you remove yourself from the dressing room as soon as possible, so as to properly prepare yourself.
Do the relaxation drills after your stretching exercises and after your tennis ball, eye-hand coordination. Remember they have to be done before your focusing drills.
Focusing and Concentration
Now that you have mastered your relaxation exercises and are properly relaxed you can begin to focus effectively.
When you’re learning to play goal, the most important thing on the ice must be the puck. It’s relatively easy to watch the puck when it is in your end of the rink. However, you must train yourself to watch it at all times. Even when the puck is in the other end learn to zero in on it. Watch the puck at all times, even when it goes into the crowd.
A goaltender should never hear the crowd. After you have mastered seeing the puck, you will learn to block out all sounds you don’t want to hear. You will learn to see and hear only the things that are important to stopping the puck. You’ll hear the sounds of skates on the ice or the puck hitting a stick and see the play shifting position in front of you.
There are a couple of focusing drills you can learn which will make your job a lot easier on the ice. The first one can be done anytime you have a few minutes with nothing to do. This first drill will better train you for the game situation. You should be sitting comfortably. Look around the room and pick out an object at eye level. It can be anything at all, a picture, a book, anything (but not the computer or TV screen). Now stare at it. Don’t take your eyes off it. Learn to focus with a totally blank mind. If you find yourself thinking about anything other than what you are focusing on, you are losing your focus or concentration.
Every once in while, pass your hand quickly in front of your face. Learn to ignore this distraction. Screen out everything except the object of your focus. When you can do this drill and barely notice your hand, your concentration is extremely good.
Time yourself. Start a stopwatch when you begin concentrating. When the edges of what you are staring at become fuzzy, stop the watch. See how long you can concentrate. Be honest, you won’t be cheating anyone but yourself. Focusing for three or four minutes at a time is excellent.
The primary drill prepares you for game-like situations and is to be done at the rink in the dressing room or in the hallway, away from distractions, before a game or practice.
Start this exercise by placing a puck on your knee. Simply stare at it and say to yourself, “This is the most important thing in my life. I will not take my eyes off it during a game.” Keep repeating this as you stare at the puck. See the seams, the pattern and even the brand name on the puck. Do this for about five minutes then close your eyes and “see” it in your mind as you repeat the exercise.
When you are staring at the puck, be certain you see it completely. If it starts to get fuzzy around the edges it means you are losing your concentration. If this happens your mind is wandering, give yourself a “mental shake” and start over again. Eventually, you should be able to concentrate for longer periods of time on anything, without having to “think” about it.
After focusing on the puck close your eyes and imagine you are on the ice playing in a game. Picture yourself in your net with the puck at the other end and see the play develop as the opposing team moves up the ice for a shot on your net. Watch the puck all the way up the ice and see the passes that are made. As you see the puck move over the centre red line feel yourself move out of your crease cutting down the angle on the puck. In your mind see yourself make a fantastic save. Always picture yourself stopping the puck, always making a great save. See yourself making a variety of saves, against slapshots, breakaways and deflections – all the saves you will make during a game. See and feel everything that would happen as if it were real.
By imagining you are stopping the puck you are learning to do just that. You are using repetition to teach your mind and body to make the correct plays every time. Using your imagination when you are not on the ice helps to develop your goaltending instincts.
The more you do anything the easier it becomes. The same goes for focusing. Even though you are not physically making the save your mind is storing the information needed to make the save. Use this technique whenever you learn a new skill. After a lesson with your goaltender coach or while at your goaltending school, sit down and go over it in your mind. Remember to first do your breathing and relaxation drills, then focus on seeing yourself doing the new skill perfectly each time.
By mastering these techniques and by using them prior to each game you will greatly enhance your performance.