Goaltenders are Different

(As it appeared in inGoal magazine) “Goaltender Know Thyself” Goaltenders are different! Or so they say.

Just ask anyone coaching at any level, any age group, or either gender. Of course, what they are actually saying is they know very little about the position.

Now since they lack proper knowledge and they believe goaltenders are different these coaches feel goaltenders have to be treated “differently.” Many times that means goaltenders are left to their own devices. These coaches feel it’s best for them not to do anything so as to make sure they don’t make a mistake and teach them something wrong; however, goaltenders left alone acquire bad habits.

Sometimes coaches won’t correct errors because they don’t want to “change a goaltender’s style.” That old mantra is evoked often by coach and goaltender alike. Some goaltenders reject correction because it may interfere with their “style.” More times than not the goaltender is using his stubbornness and reluctance to change as an unconscious means by which he prevents correction. Among teenagers it is a common thing to question authority and to ignore adult corrections. With an ignored goaltender this is further complicated. A goaltender’s own reluctance to change is a persistent problem for many elite-level goaltending coaches. This reluctance prevents a goaltender from improving as they should.

Recently I suggested a goaltender change the way he tape his goalie stick so as to better accommodate a faster and more effective poke check. He looked at me as if I had just beamed down from Mars. “But I’ve had my stick this way my whole life!” he said. When I asked him his age he told me he was 13! I laughed and told him I had articles of clothing older than him.

But his statement reflects a rising attitude amongst rep goaltenders. Coach me only as long as you don’t change me! I’m perfect just the way I am so don’t correct me!

It happens at all age groups and at all competitive levels. It can be due largely to a goaltender’s emotional insecurity or it can be due to poor coaching they have received in the past.

On another occasion I remember coming out to a minor peewee practice on the invite of the coach who was a longtime friend. When he introduced me to the goaltenders an interesting thing happened. One of the goaltenders stood up threw down his gloves and yelled loudly at the coach “You think I’m crap don’t you? Why did you bring out a goaltending coach?” – That boy was 12 and believe me that practice was anything but a “joy” to behold.

Now, I understand that a lot of goaltenders have a fear of failure. Left on their own by coaches, pressured by their teammates to stop everything and berated by opposing players when they let a goal in, they are just terrified of making any mistakes and they are defensive about errors they do make.

In practice they are afraid to try anything new for fear it will make them look like an idiot. Teenagers have a natural reluctance to try anything new but when you add the additional insecurity of some goaltenders you can end up with a deeper problem.

Goaltenders have to be groomed to accept correction, as long as it is based on sound principles and logic. Forcing a goaltender to do something just because that was the way you played goal is not enough. A good goaltending coach has to understand why something works and how to best explain it and then to teach it so it sticks.

A good goaltender should accept instruction but should be confident enough to ask why something should be done the recommended way. Blind acceptance will only allow a goaltender an opportunity to acquire bad habits instead of improving.

A good goaltender is never satisfied with their present play, they are always striving to improve.

When you take on the responsibility as a goaltending coach you are actually structuring a partnership of sorts. This partnership, when done properly, creates a safe environment for the goaltender. Within this environment the goaltender will feel secure and will be more willing to try things, to experiment and therefore to improve. The initial steps leading to this partnership require a special non-threatening approach. Jumping into a team and imposing yourself on a goaltender as his coach could create friction. No matter how well the head coach and the goaltender get along, simply having the coach enter the dressing room and presenting the goalie coach to the goaltenders without prior warning could create tension. And tension is not a good basis for any teaching situation. Now I don’t mean the goalie coach and the goaltenders should be “pals.” They are allies with a strong mentoring component. When I am asked by a coach or parent to work with a team’s goaltenders I arrange sufficient time so as to properly watch a game or practice and thereby better observe the goaltender or goaltenders. After seeing them play I meet briefly with them one on one. I quickly explain who I am, why I am there and will tell them whether I feel I can help them improve. I don’t tear apart their game nor do I give them a long list of what has to be improved. I give them a reasonable improvement goal by saying “I think I can improve your play by 10-20%, are you interested?” I then ask them to go to my web-site where they can check me out and read my articles before they make up their mind. I often will ask them to email me a short description of their strengths and areas in need of improvement.

This approach puts the impetus on them to analyze their own play and by doing so I find as well that they are more open to my instruction.
Throughout the working relationship I observe and present small corrections which are less likely to overwhelm a goaltender. Once these are adopted I ensure they lead to further improvements.

No matter what the age – basic agility, balance and foot speed drills are worked on in each practice. In addition, I emphasize something I call attitudinal drills. These drills introduce positive, proactive actions and reinforce activities which compel the goaltender to take charge! The goaltender has to be aggressive and forceful in his play both in practices and in games. A goaltender who stands back and waits and watches is non confident. While a goaltender who resists intimidation and who consistently challenges the opposition directs a game and reflects confidence. This confidence reinforces his own play and uplifts his own team especially in the defensive zone.

The goalie coach has to build a stronger goaltender by helping him to improve. This improvement has to be based on sound movement principles and analytics. An improved goaltender is confident, self-analytical and continually looking to improve.

Keep these points in mind and you will end up with a stronger more confident goaltender who continually is improving.

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