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Choices

Recently I spent a bit of time with my son who works with the Blues in St. Louis. And, fortunately I was able to take in a couple of NHL games plus spend some time around the rink.

It’s been a few years since I saw a live game and it didn’t disappoint.
  Not surprisingly, today’s game is incredibly fast.  Speed of puck movement, shot speed & accuracy are all at the highest level.  However, what impressed me most was how quickly players & goaltenders make decisions and choose between the available options. 
 
I’m sure some of what I saw is a product of the player’s individual experiences moving up through the hockey system, but you must believe that the majority of what we see is a direct result of an incredible amount of time spent practicing their skills, off season training, hard work and time management.
  And, this applies not only to reaching the NHL but also to staying there.  
 
On the trip back home, I mused about what I had seen and wondered what the impact would be if every goaltender could see what goes into a “day at the office” for a professional goaltender.
  How many would commit, and dedicate the time & resources necessary to become the best they could given any physical limitations.
 
Understand, hockey must and should always be fun and up to the point of a goaltender’s teen age years. Throughout those times, it’s all about developing the basic physical and mental skill requirements of the position. But, at some point after, things need to change (the fun still needs to remain though) for anyone who aspires to play at the highest level they can.
  
 
However, after all my years of working with goaltenders, it totally amazes me the numbers that appear to have absolutely no idea what it takes to be an elite athlete, and, more importantly, who don’t take the initiative to research & understand how to become one. 
 
When you consider we live in the information age, it’s really no ones’ fault but theirs.
  Perhaps they are just among the “want to; would like to; wish I could” group.  Or perhaps they just “follow the crowd” thinking that, if everybody else is doing it, it must be right.  Still, it disturbs me to see the talent wasted needlessly.  

I say, take responsibility for your development! Carve your own path! Lead the way!

 
At about this time I can hear people saying how much you will need to “sacrifice”.  And I remember using that word in my last e-mail.  But on reflection, I now believe this word is totally overused when it comes to explaining what is necessary to become an elite or above average athlete.
  “You need to sacrifice to be the best” is absurd.  It is only a “sacrifice” if you are giving up something and are not completely committed to the task.  There isn’t any “sacrifice” involved if you make a choice about what you want to do and ‘go for it”.
 
At the end of the day, our choices define us and ultimately will determine the level to which we will rise.
  MAKE GOOD CHOICES! 

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Use being cut as motivation to improve

As we enter the first couple of weeks of hockey season, and now reflecting back on the tryout period prior to the season, it has probably been a stressful time for a lot goalies (and parents too)

And, I am sure, some of you didn't make the team you tried out for.  Believe me I've have personally experienced being cut and, recalling those days, it wasn't the most pleasant of times.  So, I thought I would pass on a little advice which I hope will help out a bit.

I know the first question that comes to mind, when it happens, is WHY?  Truth is, sometimes, it doesn't make a lot of sense, even when you get the answer.  Maybe it was just that the competition was really tough (a lot of exceptionally good goalies in your age group) or you didn't perform up to the expectation of the coaches or your skills were lacking.  Or maybe, "politics" came into play.  Maybe it was your demeanour, how you presented yourself in the net, your size or the coach just felt more comfortable (confident) with other guy (or girl)  Whatever the reason, you have to move on.  You can't hang on to the thought that the coach didn't like you or they didn't see you at your best or because you allowed fewer goals than the other goalie(s) you should have been selected.

Understand, that, unless we do fail from time to time, we will never become the best we can be.  Most top end athletes (goaltenders) will tell you that fear of failing is what has driven them to become successful.  And, they learned from the failing experience because they were able to "move on", understand their deficiencies, and vowed to work diligently on those to make the necessary corrections and improve.  And so, failing is a necessary part to improving your game.

So, what are YOU going to do about it.  The first thing you need to do is take an honest look at your game and identify the parts that need to be improved .  If you feel the need for outside help to do this, enlist a trusted coach to sit with you to make the review.  Just remember, if he/she are being  honest, you may hear things you don't want to hear.  However, if you REALLY want to get better, then the need for honesty.  During the review, identify 3 or 4 areas for improvement, put those into writing plus what you want to accomplish for each and how you plan to do it.  Again I highly recommend you enlist the help of a coach or your parents in the plan.  But remember it's YOUR plan and not the responsibility of Mom or Dad or a coach to lead you along.  They can help set you off in the right direction, but the ball (puck) is in your court when it comes to providing the motivation, dedication & hard work.  

If you truly WANT (not wish, like to, would be nice) to be a top end, above average or elite goaltender then it is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to put in the work, provide the motivation and MAKE THE SACRIFICES necessary  No one else can do it for you!

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Mental Toughness - Are You Ready For the Next Challenge

Some time ago I happened upon an interview with the “mental skills coach” of the New Zealand “All Blacks” famous rugby team.

The article begins with the headline “Make Mental Strength Your Strongest Skill”.  In the article, he attributes the team’s phenomenal success, for the most part, to each individual’s “mental toughness”.   Understand that the “All Blacks” are a premier professional team (and so not unusual to find a “mental skills coach” as part of their staff).  But, when you think of the disproportionate amount of the time & effort we, as coaches, put into physical skill & technical development versus the time, on average, a goalie spends developing his/her mental skills it is easy it is to understand why many a goaltender can go through extended periods of time playing well below their capabilities if these skills are not developed.  I am not saying that better mental skill training and mental toughness is the answer to every goaltender’s performance issues, but, when you think of the number of above average skilled goaltenders who have never developed to their full potential because of lack of mental skills it is easy to understand how important these skills are for success.

The position of goaltender, has some unique pressures which very few, if any, who have not played the position fully understand or appreciate.  It is really the weight of expectations.  And is it a very, very heavy load.  But, fortunately, one that most goaltenders enjoy having the opportunity to play such an important role in the success of their team.

So, what really is “mental toughness”.  Mental toughness is described in the following as the capacity of an individual to deal effectively with stressors, pressures and challenges, and
perform to the best of their ability, irrespective of the circumstances in which they find themselves. 

Mental toughness is not something that everyone is born with.  It is developed over time and through experiences.  It is understanding that one must “stay the course”.  Giving in is not an option.
It is understanding what the reality of the situation is and exactly what your job is.  It is maintaining focus and dealing with one moment one after another & not getting ahead of yourself spending precious time & energy thinking of consequences.

In the “heat of battle” here are some quick things we can do when our “Mental Toughness” is challenged

  1. Let go of the miscue/distraction and stay in the present (park it!)
  2. Take a deep breath, relax your body part by part (I'm not one much for the "water bottle squirt" bit) and reset by recapping in your mind what happened and how you might have prevented it from happening (or not)
  3. Eliminate any negative thoughts & focus on the present

So how do we develop “Mental Toughness”

Well the first thing we need to do when we are faced with adversity is understand that by facing and accepting the challenge head on, we are strengthening our coping habit & developing mental toughness and our ability to deal with future adversity and, at the same time, develop our resiliency

Secondly, we need to just “get over it” and focus on the next challenge

And, thirdly, understand what we need to do in a physical sense & mental sense to meet those future challenges

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What does it take?

I am often asked; “What does it take to become a successful, top performing goaltender?”  Usually my first response is TIME, LOTS OF HARD WORK, PROFESSIONAL COACHING & LUCK followed by “the list is quite long, where would you like me to start?”  Sometimes the conversation ends there but not always.  Unfortunately, parents and goalies today expect immediate success & results.  It just doesn’t happen.

Here are SOME of the physical & intangible elements that go into a top performing goaltender from my perspective.

Physical Elements

Speed & Agility -  ability to start & stop, change direction & shift momentum all while maintaining good
balance
Leg & Lower Body Strength & Power -  explosive starts, sharp stops, hard slides & pushes.  Allows for smooth transition and body control from skates to pads & pads to skates and from side to slide in a lateral movements
Core Strength - well developed abdominals, oblique & back muscles for smooth, quick, efficient
movement in & around the net.  (Core muscles are the first to be activated when we initiate goaltending movements)
Quick Feet - speed of foot movement in and around the crease for single or multiple directional changes or save sequences
Flexibility - the ability to initiate movement outside the normal range of motion;  especially useful
in scramble situations or when caught out of position
High Fitness (Cardio) Level – above average anaerobic capacity and all round conditioning
Hand/Eye Coordination & great vision - ability to track pucks, read the shot release and co-ordinate limb & body movements to intercept the path of the puck effectively on every shot

Intangible Elements

Passion - a burning desire to be best  you can be and have fun doing it
Competitiveness - a willingness to compete hard to stop every shot every time you step on the ice
Mental toughness - able to handle the pressure of the position and the game, the ups and downs of sport, fatigue and injury
Work Ethic - willing to work hard at practice, and in games as well as in the off season to further develop skills and improve strength and conditioning
Character - a positive attitude on and off the ice; a team player;  accepts responsibility without placing blame; uncompromising integrity
Student of the Game - observes, asks questions and constantly strives to understand the elements of the position and the game
Ability to Adjust - able to make modifications to their game when necessary; a simple adjustment during a game or a long term commitment to change style or adapt to a new method in goaltending
Concentration - able to focus on what needs to be done and going out and doing it
Focus - able to "zone in" on the puck and find it through traffic under all types of circumstances; able to read plays and the puck off the stick
Preparation - understanding that good game preparation cannot be substituted; develops a pre-game routine that enables them to maintain a  high level of confidence and game focus
Resiliency – that “bounce back” ability after a bad game or goal
Habits – personal home & off ice habits that contribute positively to all these intangibles 

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Off-season activities

Just found this article in my "e-news" this morning & thought it would bear repeating.  I am not sure if I wrote this.  Unfortunately, if not, I have been unable to find the author.  So, for the moment, let's go with "Author Unknown" and if he/she turns up, proper credit will be given.

I have to say, after over 20 year of watching, coaching and involved the the sport of hockey, I am convinced that this article is "bang on".   For the most part goaltenders on Spring Teams are left to their own devices relative to any type of goaltending specific coaching during the "Spring Hockey Season" (which could consist of anywhere from 6 - 8 weeks of practices & tournaments).   I don't have any first hand experience of this, but I am told that goalies pay the same as any other player while sharing tournament games with a partner.   And lastly, let's not make any mistake here, the goal is "WINNING".  So, if one goaltender has even marginally better skills than his partner, who do you think will play the majority of important games in tournament play?

 

"As hockey has become a year round sport there has been much speculation that we are not developing well-rounded athletes and sport specific training and competition needs to be balanced. The theory is that a better athlete will make a better goalie down the road. Goalies sometimes have a large number of off-season tournaments to participate in that are exposure driven and goalies as well as parents feel compelled to participate because of the potential to be "seen".  But, on the other hand, the number of tournaments has grown dramatically lately and many feel the cost of participating and the time involved is not a positive trend.

There is a clear distinction between training and competition. Training programs offer goalies the tools to become better while exposure tournaments only give them the forum to demonstrate their skill.  Unfortunately, there is a distinct trend toward the latter and it is not only cutting into participation in other sporting activities but also the opportunity to develop better skills and all round athleticism. 
  
Many top end coaches from the professional ranks are recommending that all Minor Hockey players compete in other sports and are urging them to put the skates away to play lacrosse, tennis and soccer instead of going on the spring and summer “tournament circuit”. Of course the risk of following this advice is the multi-sport athlete who ends up underexposed and slipping through the cracks.

But, at the end of the day, with so many scouts & recruiters looking for talent, if you are deserved, they will find you."

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