Nature of the position means goalie skills can lapse without time on the ice
By Greg Bates, Special to AHAI – The last eight months have been difficult for everyone. For hockey players, not only are they missing jumping on the ice and skating with friends, they’re losing valuable skill development time.
This is especially true for goalies, who rely on reps to maintain their unique skill set. USA Hockey ADM Manager of Goaltending Steve Thompson has some ideas for goalies to stay sharp during these unusual times.
“I think the challenge that we face with the pandemic has been social circumstance,” Thompson said. “We’re having to stay away from one another and distance and essentially can’t play games or be in a locker room, so in a lot of ways it doesn’t change much for our ability to develop our goalies.
“I think that’s one of the most individual positions in sports. If there’s any positives to look through in this, it’s going to allow our goalies to look inward and develop some mental skills, develop their off-ice physical skills. There’s a lot of things that we neglect to train because it’s not as fun as the game or as fun as team practice. I think in a lot of ways it’s a really good opportunity for us to work on things that are so important for our success in the net, but oftentimes we push to the side and just play goalie in net with our buddies.”
Thompson’s recommendation for goalies — especially those who are in their later teenage years — is to dive into articles that focus on mental skills training. There are many resources in magazines and websites.
Ted Monnich is a familiar name when it comes to goalie-specific mental skills training. His website, tedmonnich.com, is a valuable asset.
“I know he’s getting his Ph.D. in sports psychology and it’s actually driven specifically to goaltending,” Thompson said. “I think there’s a lot of information out there that could be of good use now that we can’t play with our team.”
How much of goaltending is mental?
At the highest levels, Thompson said he believes that is what really separates goalies.
“Everyone has kind of mastered the physical skills at that point in time and it’s who can be consistent mentally that’s going to stop the puck most often most nights,” Thompson said. “I would say the younger youth hockey kids probably up until 14, 16, somewhere around there, it’s probably not mental, it’s about mastering the physical skills. The mental skills would be how to enjoy the process and not get too stressed out when the puck does go in. There’s definitely elements that will allow a kid to come back in the rink each day motivated.”
For the younger ages, say goalies around 8U to 10U, Thompson recommends it is the coaches’ job just to develop a passion for the game and the position.
“It’s less about development and more about excitement,” Thompson said. “I would have a hard time asking a 9-, 10-year-old to go read a book on mental skills — I think that’s a little bit too soon. For them, maybe it’s street hockey and watching YouTube videos of goalies making cool saves.”
USA Hockey doesn’t necessarily want players who aren’t in their teenage years to specialize at one position. Thompson said the goal is to have players try every position in hockey and also compete in other sports.
“If you do decide at 14 years old that goaltending’s your thing and you want to be identified as a goalie and that’s going to be your world, then maybe that’s when you put your player skates away and maybe opt out of some other sports in the winter that might take away from your goalie training,” Thompson said. “Until that point, I really think our job is to develop an athlete and then specialize once they’re more well-rounded.”
If a kid has 15 or 20 minutes per day or a couple times a week, there plenty of activities they could do to keep sharp while off the ice.
“Puck handling’s always one thing that we struggle with in net,” Thompson said. “I think this could be a good opportunity for them to put their glove and blocker on and grab their goalie stick and fire some pucks. A skill that we neglect often in practice because most practices aren’t structured around goalies handling the puck. Then you get into the game and you turn it over and it’s all your fault. We know it’s not their fault, but sometimes the way that they feel about it — when coach tells them not to play the puck any longer because they just made a mistake. This could be a good chance to work on some of the puck handling skills if they have availability in their backyard or their garage.”
During this time of not being able to get on the ice, Thompson would advise parents be patient with their kids. If a kid is fired up to get back to playing, then parents should provide some video content and maybe opportunities to play street hockey. Kids should never be forced to work on hockey if they are not interested.
“I would strongly encourage that if your kids aren’t begging for it and they’re younger, whatever they’re interested in, facilitate that need now,” Thompson said. “When they get back to the rink, they’re not going to lose any steps because hopefully they diversified their skills by playing other things. But I wouldn’t stress out if your 12-year-old is missing a few shots in practice for a few months. That’s in no way going to impact their ability to play college hockey one day, if that’s one of their goals.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.