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Strategies for coaching goaltenders effectively

This is an excerpt from Hockey Goaltending by Eli Wilson & Brian van Vliet.

The Head Coach


As stated earlier, some head coaches build relationships with their goaltenders, whereas others communicate to their goaltenders through the goalie coach. Eli Wilson believes that a positive relationship between the goaltenders and all the coaches on the team will result in better production from the goaltenders. Whichever style the head coach believes in, the following principles should apply.


Be Positive With Your Goaltenders

It is essential that you stay positive with the goaltenders. Give the goaltenders some leeway to work through challenging times. It is never a good idea to keep your goaltenders on a short string. If the goalie believes he will be pulled after every bad goal, then his focus becomes attached to worrying more about not getting scored on than stopping pucks. There is a big difference in the mindset between the two (see chapter 8). If your goaltender struggles early in the game, it is never a bad idea to pull him for a short time and then put him back in the net. This allows the goaltender to regain his composure while letting him know that you still have faith in him to win the game.


If you have concerns about your goaltender, you should express those thoughts to the goalie coach, who in turn can relate them to the goaltender. This allows the goalie coach time to prepare his drills with the goaltender for the next practice. The environment that you as head coach need to create in the dressing room is one of continuous improvement. Things are not always going to go as planned, and it is important that you understand that and work to improve not only the goaltenders but all the players on the team. Threatening the goaltender or directly blaming him for certain goals allowed will only heighten the goaltender’s anxiety level and surely lead to even worse results. If you want to get the best production out of your goaltenders, be patient and stay positive.


Confer With Goalie Coach When Choosing Starting Goalie

Decide with your goalie coach who is going to get what starts. Involve your goalie coach in that decision-making process because he is the one working with the goaltenders daily and he should have a better feel for each goaltender’s current mindset.


Give Starting Goalie Time to Prepare

It is not a good idea to wait until game time to let a goalie know that he is starting. Goalies should be made aware about a day before the game. Similarly, there is no advantage to telling a goalie too far in advance that he is playing. Twenty-four hours is ideal. In a tournament situation where you may have two games in one day, let the goalies know who will be starting as soon as possible following the end of the first game. The backup goaltender must be ready to go if called upon. However, understand that the pregame preparation as a backup is different from that of the starter.


Incorporate Goaltenders Into Team Practices

Most of a team practice should be designed for the skaters. You need to run your team through such things as breakout drills, penalty killing, power plays, and defensive zone coverage. However, goaltenders need time in practice to work on their game. The concept that a goalie will improve because he will see a lot of shots in a practice is not altogether true. As a head coach, you can design your drills to incorporate the goaltenders into more realistic gamelike scenarios. There is no such thing as a drill that is "for the goalies only" when shooters are involved. If you make drills competitive for both the goaltenders and the shooters, it helps to build camaraderie on the team. Be open minded to having certain handed shooters in positions to make the drill most effective; don’t just line shooters up indiscriminately. Drills should be set up to give both the goaltenders and the shooters optimal opportunity to improve.


If you run a drill that is more goaltender specific, you can add a component to it that allows the shooter to improve his game at the same time, such as incorporating a second shot whereby the shooter tries to score. That way the shooter stays fully engaged in the drills. Make your drills shot specific. If you want a goaltender to recover to his blocker side, make sure the shooter puts the puck to that side. You don’t want the skater arbitrarily picking a side to shoot and then expect the goaltender to recover to a predetermined side. However, as previously mentioned, you can make the second shot a "shoot-to-score" scenario, allowing the shooter some freedom in where he wants to direct the shot.


If you feel that an ice session has lost intensity, you may choose to have the whole team perform wind sprints at the end of practice. Wind sprints occur when the team skates the length of the ice and back numerous times. If you skate the team as a group, then the goaltenders must join in. If the goaltenders do not participate, then a division is created between the goaltenders and the rest of the team.


Also, remember to give your team days off. Rest is important because it allows players to refocus and overcome any small, nagging injuries.


Learn How to Compromise

It is always a balancing act for head coaches when it comes to incorporating goaltender training into team practices. The following suggestions help to alleviate this issue. You can allow 15 minutes at the start of each practice for the goalie coach to work with the goalies. Once the time is up, the goaltenders join the rest of the team for the duration of the practice. Another option is if there are multiple practices each week, you can take one of those ice times and hold a skills session with your skaters on three-quarters of the ice while the goalie coach works with the goalies at the other end. Shooters can come in and out as needed to assist the goalie coach. However you decide to structure your practices, it is important to find a balance whereby the goaltender is getting the training he requires while also being available to help the rest of his team improve. This is discussed in more detail in the next section of this chapter.

Learn more about Hockey Goaltending.