Hey there goalies, players, and coaches! Coach Dana here with some advice for coaching goalies that will help for any age and skill level. I am a goalie coach, personal trainer, and career firefighter. I work with athletes to build good habits, leadership, accountability, and self-image both on and off of the ice. I have been playing for 20+ seasons including NCAA and coaching for 15+. I am also an NASM Personal Trainer.
I spent all except one season of hockey without consistent goalie coaching and have made it my passion project to ensure that other goalies are not left on their own to ‘figure it out’. Here are 10 simple and effective guidelines for coaching your goalies and helping them to not only succeed but to love the game and feel like a part of the team.
- Design and run your drills with your goalies in mind. Make sure that shots are coming from the proper spot-don’t allow players to skate in and deke if the drill is designed for a shot from the slot for instance.
- The goalie must have the proper time to recover-this is both your responsibility and your players responsibility. As coaches you have to be aware of the timing and miscues going on because those small missed passes or stutters add up to rapid fire for your goalies once players get on top of each other. Players also need to be taught right away to never shoot at a goalie that isn’t ready for them. Not only can you injure your goalie (or other players in front of the net) but shooting at a distracted goalie isn’t going to help you improve your game whatsoever. If you see this unfolding stop the drill and regroup.
- The goalie needs to feel confident and safe to be able to follow instructions and focus on their part of the drill. This ties into the points above but if you are running a drill where a goalie is expected to do a crease pattern movement prior to the shot and you have players not allowing that goalie to complete their portion of the task you are going to end up with goalies rushing or skipping what they are supposed to be doing because they are too concerned with getting to the next puck. The wheels can very easily come off in a multiple shot drill in this way too.
- Don’t leave your goalies on their own. I get it that you need to work on breakouts and regroups and special teams and sometimes these sequences don’t provide action to the net, but it is your job to include all members of your team and that included your goalies. If you have an assistant coach or helper shooter that you trust you can send your goalies to a net in the neutral zone out of the way or the other side of the ice if it is open to work on some basic drills (I will be making a manual for coaches to have drill ideas for this coming fall season that will be easy to follow and explain the points of the drills for both you and your goalie). You can also give your goalie crease pattern movement drills to focus on. The best idea is to include them in the drill somehow-work on their communication and puck handling and set-up as part of your systems drills. Check out Firehockeyfit’s youtube for lots of drill ideas! That brings me to the next point…
- Your goalies need to learn to handle the puck and communicate plays just as much (if not more) as any one of your players. I have almost never encountered a goalie that is comfortable in their ability to handle the puck and quarterback the play to help their team. Even worse is that I also have almost never encountered a coach that trusts their goalie to help in this way. You can’t expect your goalie to gain confidence and skills if they don’t practice these scenarios under pressure and so often I have seen a goalie make a mistake one time in one game and for the rest of the season that coach is screaming at them to ‘FREEZE THE PUCK’ instead of playing it because they are scared of another mistake. I am 33 years old and just in the past few years of beer league began focusing on my puck handling because I never properly learned how to do it (I shoot right—handed when not in the net and left-handed when playing goalie) and because I made a couple of highlight reel bloopers throughout my competitive career that stuck with me and made me very nervous to make the same mistake again. Your goalies see the entire game and you may be surprised to learn just how much they notice in terms of your systems both in your d-zone and offensive zone. It is a wasted opportunity to not work on getting your goalies comfortable, confident, and able to help when appropriate with puck movement and set-up. I have a video here explaining some key points for goalies in playing the puck so be sure to check it out so that you can help coach them to improve this aspect of their game!
- An odd-man rush drill is NOT a warm-up drill for your goalies. Not only do I almost never see goalies with their own warm-up routine when getting on the ice (aside from 2 minutes of chatting and stretching cold muscles) but I often see coaches lead off with an odd-man rush drill. These drills, although fun, are not things that unfold every game and the amount of time and energy we waste on these fantasy scenarios is frustrating. The worst part is that you are not only throwing your goalies literally into the fire and expecting them to make saves on back door plays, rapid rebounds, and poorly timed grade A opportunities (see points 1-3) but you are also setting your goalies up for injury. Have you ever taken a cold rubber band and tried to quickly stretch it to its limits? Visualize that being your goalies next time you lead off with one of these drills. Just like any player in any sport you need to properly plan out time to warm-up and stretch and get into the flow of a high tempo. I always lead off any session with goalies with 5-10 minutes of skating drills and then go into at least 1 simple warm-up drill to get their eyes and body going in-sync before introducing anything complicated. This is a common practice amongst professional coaches as well-when you go to an NHL game to those guys start peppering their goalies with 2 on 0’s? If they did I bet that goalie would have something to say! Here is a video for your goalies to do off of the ice before even getting their gear on once they are at the rink. This is important for younger goalies to learn good routines so that they can minimize additional wear and tear on their bodies. This is also obviously very important for my fellow weekend warrior goalies that are getting to the rink 20 minutes before a game and rarely getting an actual warm-up before seeing non-stop odd-man rushes (as is the nature of beer league).
- Hydrate hydrate hydrate! This one is valuable for all members of your team because often times youth players are not educated the importance of hydration. Goalies are wearing the most gear and they tend to lose the most water weight in competition so it is really important to both teach them and allow them time to hydrate. I have seen many goalies trying to grab a drink of water between rapid shooting or attempting to sneak a drink with their stick and gloves on the net while stepping to the side typically with their helmets lifted and hands exposed begging for injury. Even if you only have one goalie you need to take care of them and allow them time to come to the bench and get a drink and regroup. Goalies don’t take shifts so in practice it is really easy to leave them out there soldering on without a second thought for basic things like hydration, a moment to take a deep breath, and the ability to stretch out once in awhile if needed. A recommended rule of thumb is for a younger athlete to drink 1/2-1 oz of water per pound of body weight and to aim to not lose more than 2% of your body weight during exercise. So a 100 pound athlete should not lose more than 2 pounds during a workout and should drink close to a minimum of 50 ounces to around 100 oz of water a day when being active. Another common rule is to take 4-6 big drinks of water for every 15 minutes of exercise. So during a standard 60 minute ice session your athletes need to get at least 3 ample water breaks to take some good drinks of water, regroup, and get going again. This does not need to interrupt practice or become a social hour as I know that is difficult to wrangle your players back up but you can have each player have their own water bottle that is accessible and allow the proper quick breaks and instructions to get a drink and come back. Gatorade is NOT water neither is an energy drink. In highly competitive situations where athletes are working their hardest I recommend one Propel or Gatorade to be mixed with half water to provide ample hydration and some carbs and glucose replacement (more important for children as their glucose stores are much smaller than adults). If you have any kids that are diabetic or have other special health requirements then always make sure with their parents and the athlete that their individual needs are being met.
- Allow your goalies to have some fun and remember that they are not just shooter tutors! I always loved the practices that ended with something competitive and fun such as the 8-puck drill, rebound game, or a shoot-out challenge. Obviously you need to know your goalies personality as some kids just aren’t the competitive fire type and can be discouraged by these one-on-one challenges, but finding out what drives your goalies and makes the sport fun for them is vital to preventing burn-out and frustration.
- Be mindful of how you speak to or about your team in the locker room. This one is tough because we want to encourage and comfort our players as much as we can. A season can be very long if your team is losing a ton of games and there are always moments of fantastic wins and crushing losses to be felt each year, but being aware of how your locker room talks may indirectly be singling out your goalies for better or worse is a really important skill to add to your coaching tools. I distinctly remember a 16u States game while playing travel hockey. I had a scout coming to the game for recruiting purposes for a Prospects camp that summer and I was really wanting to play my best but feeling a bit nervous as this was the first time I knew of a scout being there for me. We were playing a team that we never beat and we ended up losing 4-2. A couple of the goals were unfortunate tips and we were very much outshot and outplayed but I felt the weight of the world on me as the goalie. So add to that the scouting situation and I figured I had already blown it for the season. In the locker room after the game our head coach spoke about how our team ‘played a strong game’ and that we ‘deserved to win’ and how we will come back tomorrow stronger and get going. The other goalie was given the nod for the next game and this was our first competition of the tournament so I went home assuming that I had let my team down and would ride the bench the rest of the time. It felt unfair because I am my own worst critic and really didn’t feel that I had played that poorly until my coach spoke those words-then my entire view of the game and my abilities took a major hit. By the time we got home that night I was feeling really low and since this was back in the days of email I figured I wouldn’t hear anything for a week about the camp I was trying to make. To my surprise my mother called me into her room because our goalie coach had already sent an email to her explaining to keep my head up and that I did not play poorly. He went on to explain that as a head coach sometimes you have to try to encourage and help as many of your players as you can and this can turn out to come across as an attack on the goalie but in reality he was just trying to make sure the team as a whole could come back tomorrow feeling encouraged instead of defeated. This meant the world to me and really helped me in the rest of my career to know to separate my own performance and outlook from these speeches when necessary. This coach played NCAA D1 and was very successful in his own goaltending career so he really helped me in a pivotal year to not only improve my goaltending but also my mental game. The following year I played AAA and we didn’t even tie a game let alone win any but I managed to get recruited to play collegiately and I very much credit this one coach and this one season in helping me to grow towards that opportunity. Again, I am my own worst critic and my coach knew this so this isn’t to say that your goalies are never wrong and should never be called out. Also, I made the camp and got an email the next morning encouraging me and welcoming me for the summer. The scoreboard doesn’t tell everything and your goalies really need to know this ASAP!
- You can not expect your goalies to be the foundation of your team if they are not provided the proper tools to succeed. As a goalie coach I often feel like a ‘clean-up guy’ as I will have teams and coaches disappear on me for weeks or longer then out of the blue call me and want me to come out and ‘fix’ their goalie in one session expecting a miracle. Usually this happens when the team is losing or letting in a lot of goals or when their goalie is so deflated mentally that they don’t even know where to start to address the problem. I understand that goalie coaching costs money that teams and parents may not have but you can’t invest nothing into something and expect it to excel. I never once had a private session with a goalie coach, even in college outside of camps, so thank goodness for the one 16u travel season of a dad that was a D1 goalie and assistant coach who helped me tremendously (see above). There are so many resources available now for free or little cost and you can basically throw a rock and hit a goalie coach anywhere in North America (please don’t throw rocks at us but you get what I mean) so there really is no excuse for goalies to go multiple seasons without some special coaching tailored to them. USA Hockey now recommends that goalie don’t specialize in a position until they are 12 and while I don’t personally agree with this I think that it really drives home the point that burn out and injuries are very heavily associated with goaltending. Do your part, educate yourselves, get your goalies and their parents/guardians on board, and make sure that your are fostering an environment that is positive for all members of your teams.
If you would like some advice or idea or just need a little help reach out to me! I am happy to help because I truly would love to know that every goalie every where is being supported and falling in love with the game each day as I have been so fortunate to do for the past 20+ years.