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Confidence

Confidence!  It is a corner stone on which successful goaltending is built.

Confidence inspires you to play at a top of your game; playing at the top of your game inspires confidence.  The question is, which comes first?  Perhaps it is a bit of both.  But, make no mistake, self-confidence is crucial to performing at your highest level.

If you are confident, you'll be better able to handle difficult situations - those times during competition when things go wrong.  Your demeanour both on and off the ice will reflect that confidence and your attitude will be "play to win" and not a "try not to lose" mentality, which will influence your team mates & inspire confidence in them as well.

On the other hand, when you aren't confident, you'll struggle with mistakes, likely become frustrated and play too cautiously.  You become tense, your movements are no longer smooth, you "fight" the puck, you create rebounds and overplay situations.

So, if we understand how important confidence is to our performance, why do we struggle with confidence issues from time to time, and more importantly, how do you acquire/maintain/regain confidence.

From our experience, confidence seems more evident when the goaltender focuses on his/her strong points (what are the things I do really well?) and not their deficiencies or weaknesses.  There is no room for negativity if you are to perform at your best.  

Confident goaltenders concern themselves only with the things they can control (emotions, preparation, attitude, thoughts).  We also note that, generally, the more prepared the individual is, the more likely they are to play with confidence.

And, that leads us to one of the most important elements that will affect confidence - PREPARATION.  We've talked about pre-game preparation many times before & we are firm believers that the better prepared physically and mentally (and especially mentally) you are to play, the more likely you will play with confidence.  There is something about routine and familiarity that gives us a feeling of comfort and preparedness.  And, never underestimate the use of mental imagery to boost and maintain confidence

If you noticed, all the things we mentioned in the previous paragraph are controllable by the goaltender.  As a starting point,

1. make a list of what you can control
2. make a list of those things you can’t control
3. forget those things you can't control.

Remember, there definitely will be ups & downs in your game and it is natural that you will struggle with confidence at times.  The secret is to understand that it will happen, and to believe in yourself and that what you are doing will bring positive results over the long run.  

Understand the process, what got you to where you are today (hard work, motivation, dedication, on & off ice training, good personal choices).  Understand, as well, that your skills don't just "suddenly" leave you.  They don't say "that's it, I'm done" and go away.  More likely, you are hi-jacking your skills with negativity.  Our experience is that, goaltenders get into trouble with confidence when they start thinking the game, thinking about their mistakes or their team mates mistakes, the referee, missed opportunities, what their team mates think, what the coach thinks, what the fans think....the better able you can control that "little voice" inside your head the more likely you will play with confidence. 

No one can "give" you confidence and no one can take it from you.  Your confidence (or lack of) is in your hands (or, more exactly, in your head)  Understand the things (negative thoughts, unmet expectations, mistakes etc.) that affect your confidence level and focus on replacing those thoughts (the little voice inside your head) with the notion that you can get through this because you are doing all the "right things" and that this is just one small bump in the road in your journey to becoming the best goaltender you can be.

Confidence is preparation.  Everything else is beyond your control. - Richard Kline

 

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Consistency = Success

“CONSISTENCY beats Talent. Because it’s not what you do once in a while that matters, it’s what you do every single day”. #ChampionMinded 

 
In the world of hockey, consistency is something that every coach wants & expects from his/her goaltender. 

 

Why? Because if a goaltender is consistent, coaches know they can count on him/her to deliver a solid performance game in and game out and this allows the coach to formulate a game plan based around that without fear that things could go “south” sometime during the match.  

 

So, what effect does your consistency have on the team?   

 

  • Your team will play with more confidence because you are giving them a chance to win every game 

  • It gives everyone that extra layer of security so they can play their game without doubt, knowing that you are going to handle your end & that you are reliable and dependable  

  
As a consistent goaltender, what you don’t need is: 

 

  • To be flashy or super aggressive 

  • To play a perfect technical game 

  • To not allow yourself to make mistakes 

  • To let pressure situations overwhelm you 

 

What you must do from game to game is: 

 

  • Keep the number of mistakes you make to a minimum 

  • Keep your emotions in check & your energy level steady  

  • Keep the "lights out one day, play below average the next" performances to a minimum 

 

What leads to lack of consistency? 

 

1. Lack of pre-game preparation. I cannot emphasize this enough.  Preparation is the key to so much of a goaltender’s success because being inconsistent there will lead to inconsistent performances.  Other inconsistent habits we develop when we are away from the rink such as not following a regular off ice training program or sound nutritional, rest & sleep habits will also lead to lack of consistency on ice. 

 

2. Thinking we are good enough. Sometimes we like to relax and think “we’ve made it”.  Understand the toughest part is not necessarily “making it”, it’s staying there. If you aren’t getting better every day; you are getting worst and at some point, everybody else passes you by. 

 

3. You aren’t confident.  To be consistent requires confidence.  And you won’t develop confidence by second guessing yourself every time things go wrong.  Simply put, confidence is having faith & trust in what you are doing.  You don’t have to necessarily win the “big game” or get a shutout to develop confidence.  And, at those times when you don’t feel confident, try “faking it”.  You might be surprised. 

 

4. You lack a little mental toughness.  The smallest things upset you during the game & then you have trouble regaining focus.  Soon, the little distractions pile up and soon it affects your game.  Understand what is happening and that you need to address this.  You probably are as mentally tough as the next guy; you just don’t know how to deal with what is happening. If that is the case then you need to have a serious discussion with someone who can help.  Because of the nature of the position, and the pressures, goaltending, in itself is a real mental challenge. 

I encourage every goaltender who competes at an elite level to seek out the advice of a mental coach WHETHER YOU THINK YOU NEED IT OR NOT.  It is definitely one sure way to “up your game consistency” and your success. 

 

 

CONSISTENCY LEADS TO SUCCESS 

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Pre-competition Preparation

Pre-competition Preparation
Game day preparation is vital to the success of a goaltender, especially at a high caliber level of competition.  To neglect this important area is to jeopardize your potential to play at your best.  Proper preparation will give you a sense of control over the things you can control (emotions, reactions, attitude etc.) which in turn will give you confidence and you will go into the competition feeling at ease and comfortable. 
 
Prepare for the opposition 
 
1.  Through your own experience or by viewing video or statistics, determine “players to watch” on the opposing team.  This prepares you to deal with the better players on the opposing team because you know who they are and their tendencies.  (usually the “better” players are the “better” players game in and game out) 
 
2.  Again, through your own experience, or simply ask your coach, determine how this team gains entry into your zone. (wide rim/dump-in at the blue line or puck possession zone entries) This will help you to look for the cues to read the play better as it develops inside your blue line.  It will also influence the need for communication between you & your defense & how you work puck retrieval situations 
 
3.  Similarly, you want to learn the opposition tendencies once they penetrate into the defensive zone.  In puck possession zone entry situations, do they like to generate scoring opportunities off the rush or take the puck deep work the play from there?  Is there a pattern to their play when they recover a dump in? How do they set up in power play situations? Having even just a little knowledge of these things improve your chances for success. 
 
Prepare your mind 
 
Breathing: take 5 minutes and work on your breathing (this helps calm your mind and relaxes your body) 
 
Inhale for a count of two… hold the breath in for a count of one… exhale gently, counting out for four…  and finish by holding the breath out for a count of one. Keep your breathing even and smooth. If the 2-4 count feels too short try increasing the breath lengths to 4 in and 6 out, or 6 in and 8 out, and so on.  There are many variations of breathing exercises so try several & use whatever works best for you. Controlled breathing is also beneficial during the game whenever you feel nervous or to settle yourself after a goal is scored. 
 
Visualization: 5 – 10 minutes of visualization work will effectively bring you into “game mode” 
 
Find a quite spot without distractions.  Create a mental image (visualization) of different game situations in your mind as though they were happening, and you were   looking at them through your own eyes. (watch the puck coming at you and hitting your equipment, or you catching the puck or controlling the rebound. In other words, you are successfully making the save. Try to do this for 5 - 10 minutes.  It will be difficult at first and perhaps you will only be able to concentrate for a few minutes.  But as you practice more you will be able to concentrate longer. 

Visualization is the single most important, not technical tool of the elite athlete 
 
(visualization and breathing exercises can and should be practiced several times per week away from the rink) 
 
Physical Warm-up (typical) 
 
Pre-ice 
 
1.  Dynamic stretch / warm-up (10 minutes) 
2.  Technical movements include quickness and agility exercises (5 minutes) 
3.  Hand/eye drills with tennis balls or “reaction” balls either alone or with your goaltending partner.  (5 minutes) 
 
On-ice 

First couple of minutes – skating & movement drills (saves & crease movements, slides – do outside the crease) then team warm up (discuss with your coach & team mates the most effective warm up for you) 
 
Focus on the process of the warm up and not whether a shot goes by you and into the net   
IT IS A WARM UP ONLY TO PREPARE YOU TO PLAY 
 
 
Reminders 
 
Pick one or two self-reminds to take with you into the game.  Here is a quick list of some self-reminders you might use: 

- track the puck into and away from your body 
- focus on getting into position quickly on passes 
- re-position quickly on rebounds 
- set my feet before every shot 
- fight to find pucks in traffic 
- be patient 
- be under control (physically & emotionally) 
- help my “D” by communicating with them 
- get out & handle all pucks that are near the net 
- battle for every puck 
- BREATH 

 

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Best Practice "Practices"

I like to watch team practices whenever I can.  I find I can learn a lot about a goaltender simply by the way they practice. One of the first things I look for is commitment on their part to stop every puck (even in desperation save situations) & secondly, what they do with their “down time” (not engaged in drills or drill explanations).

​​It is truly amazing to see the number who just let shots go by without really attempting to stop them and/or stand idly leaning up against the net or side of the rink during their “unproductive time”.  Of course, there are many other parts of the technical & tactical game I will take note of, but those two items are always first.  I dare say most recruiters, or scouts follow much the same pattern.
Before I move on to the best practice "practices", understand it is my belief that the old saying "you play like you practice" is exactly true....if you give your best effort in practice you'll do the same in the game; if you pay attention to details in practice you will in a game.  For the goaltender, I think this so much more important because your play, good or bad, could determine the outcome of a game.  I also believe that every goaltender needs to take responsibility for their development and needs to engage in a certain amount of self-coaching and that practice is the only opportunity a goaltender gets to really work on skill development.
 
Here are some observations that will make practice more productive for you:

prepare for the ice time; make sure your body is warmed up and stretched before you get on the ice.  Time on ice is meant for developing skills, not for warming up and stretching

pay attention when drills are being explained;  Think about the role you could play in drill (don’t be afraid to jump in and ask your coach how you could be a part of the drill particularly if it is a breakout or regroup) or how you can use the drill to improve your technical or tactical skills if it is a shooting drill or a defensive zone entry.  Many of the drills used at practice will mimic game situations and likely you will see other teams in your league use some form of that particular practice drill to create scoring opportunities once they enter the defensive zone.  This helps your ability to read the play.

have a plan for each practice; you need to go on the ice with a goal or an objective.  Otherwise you will tend to just “float” through practice & come off ice without really producing any positive result except for a bit of perspiration (maybe). Discuss it with your position coach, if you have one, before going on the ice.  Perhaps it is something you want to improve on from your last game such as keeping your hands ahead of your body in stance, keeping your stick on the ice and in your 5-hole.  Basically, anything you want to become better at

get your skating in first; as soon as you step on the ice, head for a crease and do your skating drills.  You need to work on skating every practice.  Ask your coach first so he can keep one net clear from player shooting at the beginning of each practice

practice tracking every shot; From the time it leaves the shooter’s stick, as it comes into your body and you smother it or catch it or direct the rebound away with your blocker, pad or stick keep your eyes focused on & your nose pointed to the puck
 
physically reposition on rebounds; if you cannot, (sometimes the spacing between shots does not permit time to physically reposition on rebounds) at least continue to visually track pucks after you make the save 
 
work on your in-game communication skills; vocalize information to your team-mates when the team is working power play or penalty kill or breakouts.  It will be easier to transfer this skill to games if you have already practiced it.  (ask your coach to put a plan together with your teammates on how you should handle rimmed pucks or dump-in situations to help your team make zone exits easier) 

battle hard to stop every shot; even those you know you don't have a chance to stop.  Your team-mates will appreciate your effort when you challenge them & it will show your commitment to improving.  And secondly, your “battle mentality” will translate into your game play and help you make that "game saving" stop from time to time

handle pucks every practice; make it a point to get out and stop, set or play any rims or pucks that come near the net to get a feel of how you want to react in different situations.  Better to make a mistake there, than in a game.


"There are no shortcuts to any place worth going"
 

 

 

 

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Expectations & Reality

I am sure everyone who starts their hockey life as a goaltender, expects he/she will move along the goaltending pathway year after year until they have a legitimate shot to play professionally or at National team level. 

It is an unfortunate part of the game that, for some goaltenders, those expectations meet the realities of the situation at some point.  Perhaps it’s not making the travel team, competitive team or being cut at a training camp.  And that creates the doubt that it might not happen. 

This is when goaltenders, parents & coaches need to take a proactive approach to the situation.  It is not the time to throw in the towel.  And, a well thought out plan will keep everything on a positive note. 

The goal always should be to “play at the highest level possible based on one’s skill set and physical capabilities”. 

Now let’s a minute to think about one approach the situation when you meet that “bump” in the road. 

First, everyone involved whether goaltender, coach or parent, needs to be HONEST.  For all it simply means putting aside bias & accepting, now, exactly where you fit. 

For the goaltender, you need to discuss with a trusted coach, how your present skills compare to those needed to move up the next step along the goaltending pathway (PW to Bantam, Bantam to Midget, Midget to Junior and so on).  By focusing just on the next level (whatever that is) and not looking beyond, you are bringing the conversation into a more realistic mode.  This conversation about what needs to be done & why it needs to be done is necessary.  That, plus a plan for continued improvement, will be critical to maintain your motivation & focus. 

From there, the ball (puck) is really in your court.  You must provide the effort, motivation and hard work with coach & parents providing direction and support. 

In any event, all involved must understand how steep the climb to the top really is. The numbers who "make it" are extremely small by comparison to those who start out. The hockey pyramid is very wide at the bottom but becomes so much smaller as it nears the top.  Hockey is now a global sport and once you leave Minor or Youth hockey, competition for spots on high level teams could come from almost any corner of the planet.

At this point as well, I suggest to all parents and goaltenders go and see games at the next level above where you/your son/daughter presently plays.  Sit at the side of the rink as close to the boards as you can.  There you are going to get a sense of the speed of the game and how quickly the puck moves, how hard the players shoot, how skilled they are at executing fakes, how quickly goaltenders must react and be able to read situations and on and on.  When you do, I think you/they will find it is a real eye-opener. 

At any rate, it should point out the gap between where you are and where you want to be as it relates to skill.  Hopefully this will be the motivation factor that spurs you on. 

And, finally, I point out, it is not always about skill.  A POSITIVE ATTITUDE, EXCEPTIONAL WORK ETHIC, A COMPETITIVE SPIRIT, BEING COACHABLE, A DESIRE TO IMPROVE EVERY DAY & BEING A TEAM PLAYER are all attributes that are meaningful to coaches at every level. 

Many times, it is the goaltender who possesses these intangibles who will improve & move up the chain more rapidly to the next level. 

There is never a good reason, not to put your best effort into being the best goaltender you can possibly be, every time you go out on the ice, at whatever level you play.

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