When Designing a Practice, Don’t Forget the Goalies

Goalies need some special attention but it doesn’t have to be intimidating

By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – Goaltenders always deserve a little love.

Steve Thompson knows that firsthand having played goalie at the Division I level for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

These days, Thompson is trying to get goalies all the attention they need. As USA Hockey’s American Development Model (ADM) manager for goaltending, Thompson focuses on teaching coaches around the country to feel comfortable working with young players at that position.

He crosses paths with plenty of coaches who are quick to admit they don’t know much about training goalies, so they tend to exclude many goalie-oriented activities in practice.

“I would say it’s a lot easier than we make it out to be,” Thompson said about working with goalies. “I think a lot of that has to do with private goalie coaches. We try and use terms like RVH and we really try and make everything sound so complicated for job security a little bit. But most of the coaches played the game, so if you know how to score a goal, you probably have some good ideas on how to stop the puck as well. It’s reversing what you were trying to get done when you were playing, and thinking how that would be defended or what was challenging for you when you were playing.”

When Thompson discusses goaltending with coaches, he always instructs them that when they are drawing up a practice plan, they need to have an idea what each drill is doing for the goalie and what each goalie is going to be focusing on within the drill.

“Oftentimes we can get caught up where we have all these details about — we will cross the circles, receive the pass, shot, stop at the net front. There’s all these different cues we’re giving our forwards and defensemen as to how we want them to be better hockey players and then we just start the drill,” Thompson said. “There’s no attention to detail for what the goalies should be doing for that specific drill to get better at their game as well.”

When a coach is offering feedback to his skaters, the goalies always need to be in the conversation as well.

“Just thinking clearly about, what would the goalie be thinking in this position based on this shot we’re giving them,” Thompson said. “That alone will make a world of difference as far as their motivation to work harder in practice, their growth throughout the season and their attention to detail throughout as well.”

Thompson does not recommend splitting off goalies from skaters during practice and having the goalies off on their own without a coach being present. That has proven not to work. The most likely scenario is the goalies won’t pay attention and will just go through the motions. Getting goalies involved in the regular team drills is the most effective means to running a good practice.

“Any drill that is going to facilitate a lot of net front presence, and then people just hammering home rebounds, smacking that puck, giving those kids time to play that puck out,” Thompson said. “Anything like that just really holds them accountable.”

Also turning practice time into mini interactive games is a fun thing to do for goalies. From what Thompson has encountered, most coaches conduct practices that are often routine. But practices can be enjoyable for every player on the ice.

“It’s the same drill for 15 minutes, it’s the same shot location,” Thompson said. “The kids are engaged for 10 minutes at most, then the kids after that are just going through the motions. At that point, have we really lost the kid? Are we just wasting time in practice if they’re not really into it anymore because of how often the monotony has been going on?”

Traveling around the country and speaking with coaches, Thompson hears plenty of stories. A familiar scenario that plays out often is where a coach will try to help a goalie out, but then the kid’s dad and mom intervene.

“‘Don’t talk to my kid. I’m paying a goalie coach on the side. I don’t want you to conflict what he’s learning,’” Thompson has heard from coaches.

Thompson suggests that a regular coach, a goalie coach, the kid and his parents can all coexist if discussion is streamlined.

“Whether it’s in a text group and the private goalie coach can say, ‘Hey, today we worked on rebounds,’” Thompson said. This is what is what we worked on. This is what it looks like. Just having that open dialogue so everybody understands the terms that are being used — because there’s different ones out there. One big hiccup is when we start using different terminology. So, one coach uses T-Glide and the next coach comes in and says, T-Push. Then all of a sudden, the kid’s looking cross-eyed but it’s the same exact thing just being used two different ways. Now there’s a red flag as to why my coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about because he’s not using the same language as the goalie coach.”

Thompson knows how important teaching youth goalies is to the game. A big reason he joined USA Hockey on a full-time basis last June was realizing the push USA Hockey is making with its goalie training throughout the nation.

“We have the opportunity to be the first country that’s truly, truly taking goaltending seriously to the point where there’s no coach anymore that does not know enough to help their goalies,” Thompson said. “No nation has done that yet. There’s not a state in this country, nor is there a country in the world that’s decided, you know what, we’re going to take this serious enough that my head coach, any of my assistant coaches all have learned enough that we’re all going to be part of the process, the development. We’re not just going to push that away to our goalie person and whoever our youngest assistant is to shoot pucks to kids.

“I think the first country to do that is going to be the one that’s going to get the best goaltending athletes, and we all know that any gold medal that this country’s ever won and every Stanley Cup that’s ever won is typically on the back of a really strong goalie that kept the team in it. If we can do that consistently, I think we can have a pretty good product.”

That all starts at the youth level.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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