May 22, 2011

The Goalie Guru: For goalies, it's about the goals

by Brion O'Connor

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Goaltenders don’t score goals; they prevent them (or try to, anyway). But not all goals are bad. In fact, goalies need to have goals.

One of the bedrock realities of the position is this: Over the course of your career, you’ll have to rely on yourself more than you rely on anybody else. Goaltending is a singular position that requires a singular commitment. If you want to be good, if you want to get the most out of your talents, it’s on you. Not a parent, not a coach, not a teammate. Goaltenders must be self-sufficient. That starts with setting goals. Your goals.

The summer is a great time to do this. During the season, as we mentioned in last month’s column, the goalie’s primary concern is preparing for the next game. In the summer, you can step back and take stock, taking the time necessary to evaluate your game, decide where you want to be for next season, and put a game plan in place to get there.

And the first step is an honest assessment of your abilities, both strengths and weaknesses.

Assessment

You can lie to yourself after surrendering a bad goal, but a goal is still a goal. Pretending it was somebody else’s fault isn’t going to help you prevent the next one.

Likewise, if you have weaknesses in your game, you need to concentrate on improving in those areas. Coaches can help in this regard, but it’s important that young goalies don’t fool themselves into thinking they’re better than they are. Take a good look in the mirror, and then list those areas that need work. Trust me, this ought to be a significant list for most youngsters, even those playing at the elite levels.

As you head into the summer, seek out advice, from coaches and teammates, about what you need to do to get better. Be brutally candid with yourself about the state of your game. We typically know what we need to work on, but it’s human nature to want to keep working on the things we already do well.

Goals

Ask almost any fitness trainer, and they’ll tell you: Most New Year’s resolutions fail because people set unrealistic goals. The guy who is 60 pounds overweight on Jan. 1 is not likely to run a three-hour Boston Marathon in April. And a youngster gearing up for youth hockey or high school shouldn’t be concerned with college scholarships or pro contracts. Not yet, anyway.

The key is adjusting your goals, focusing on a handful of improvements that will take your game to the next level. If you’re an incoming freshman, with a junior and senior already established as the varsity’s tandem, it’s still OK to set your sights on the starter’s role. Just don’t be crushed if it doesn’t happen.

Instead, make a list of those goals that are just out of reach. How is your recovery? Can you get up just as quickly on either leg (younger goalies are notoriously dependent on one leg)? Can you pop up on both legs simultaneously?

Here’s a few more areas that young goalies almost always need to work on as they develop: stance, skating, crease management, staying square, moving into shots, butterfly slide and push, pad and glove control, rebound control, stick use, and stickhandling.

Have a plan

Once you determine what you need to work on, it’s time to put together a workout regimen that meets your goals. Take your list of goals, and next to each one, write a few thoughts about how you’re going to reach them. Don’t go overboard, and get bogged down in the details, but keep it straightforward enough that you can measure your progress toward achieving those markers.

For young goaltenders, that plan usually goes hand-in-glove with strength training. Goalie-specific off-ice training regimens have improved dramatically over the past decade, and the benefits will carry over to your on-ice performance. I’m not necessarily advocating weight training, but staying active is essential.

A summer of sloth doesn’t bode well for the coming season. In addition to improved flexibility and strength training using plyometrics, I advocate sports that put a premium on agility and hand-eye coordination, including tennis, lacrosse, basketball and soccer (foot skills are a huge plus for all hockey players, particularly goalies).

This game plan can also help sharpen your mental approach. Decide early on, and write it down, that you’re going to be the first skater on the ice, and the one they have to drag off it. Be assertive. Don’t be the last in line during skating drills just because you’re the goalie. Be the first one to jump between the pipes when the coach asks for a goalie.

Commit to the plan

Wanting something, and doing the work to get it, are two vastly different concepts. At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, I often see a simple lack of effort from today’s youngsters. Those who do try — many for the first time — are often startled by the results. To see that light go off, and the accompanying smile, is one of the great rewards of coaching. But it won’t happen without effort, and parents and coaches should constantly encourage (within reason) their goaltenders to stick with their game plan, and to keep trying.

There’s an old coaching maxim that you can never rest on your laurels, because somewhere someone else is training harder to knock you off your perch. I can tell you, from experience, that even professional goalies are constantly evaluating their game, and working to correct minor flaws (which, of course, is precisely one of the reasons they’re playing at such a high level).

Lastly, if you’re at a camp, don’t be afraid to ask the other goalies if they see a hitch in your skating or technique. Even better, if you see something another goalie does particularly well, ask them about it, and try incorporating it into your own game.

Goalie coaches are always stealing ideas from one another (good-naturedly, of course), and goalies should do the same. Try different styles, and different techniques. See what works for you. Don’t let false pride get between you and being a better goaltender. You owe it to yourself and your team.

Brion O’Connor is a Boston-based writer and owner of Inspired Ink Communications. He is also a long-time hockey coach and player, specializing in goaltending instruction at every age level. Learn more at TheGoalieGuru.com. He can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com