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A Layman's Guide to Coaching Goalies

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Coaching a goaltender when you have never played the position is a problem for many coaches. You want to give your goalie the same amount of instruction as the skaters, but, you don't want to screw him up with misinformation or bad advice. What happens then is that you don't communicate your thoughts to your goalie and he or she feels neglected. While it definitely helps to have played goal, you can teach the position if you were a forward or defenseman. To coach goalies effectively, you must treat them correctly in practice by giving them responsibilities in drills and by observing three key areas: stance, positioning, and movement.

If your goalies are to improve, you must give them practices which encourage them to be more than a target for shooting drills. Don't leave goalies out of "non-goalie" drills and don't limit "goalie work" to shots, shots, nothing, but, shots. First of all, be careful not to consider some areas as "non-goalie" subjects, namely face-offs, forechecking, breakouts, etc. The goalie should understand all of these concepts because he will be faced with shots when the team's systems break down.

Too many coaches think that all the goalie is there for is to stop shots. Granted, stopping shots is the goalie's main responsibility, but, the game has changed and requires him to be active in other areas as well. This brings us to the next problem. When you think of your goalie at practice, how many times is it in the form of, "Oh yeah, my goalie. Hey, everyone get a puck. Line up and shoot on the goalies"? This type of shooting is not game related. Does the referee blow the whistle, stop the game, and put all the players in an arc to see how many goals go in? The goalie must stop the puck, but, he must also skate, handle a puck, leave pucks for the defensemen, tie up rebounds, communicate, and position himself properly. If you're doing breakouts, let the goalie handle the puck. If you are talking about face-off alignments, address the goalie with his duties.

Remember that the goalie's game is one of confusion and uncertainty. There are screens, deflections, puckcarriers with multiple options and defensive breakdowns. Your drills should reflect this uncertainty. Look at your typical drills. Does your goalie see the puck clearly all the way? Does he know who will shoot...and from what area...and when? Build the reality of games into your drills. Don't put up with a goalie who claims that he is not a practice goalie, but, will be okay in games. That is a selfish attitude. Remind him in no uncertain terms, that his full presence in practice is for the team's benefit as well as his own. If he isn't pushing them at practice, they won't be game ready.

The goalie's stance is the foundation that good saves are built upon. If the stance is not correct, a good save will be harder to achieve. No matter what style your goalie plays, the fundamentals remain the same. The weight should be balanced on the balls of the feet so he can move quickly to the slot. If your goalie winds up on the seat of his pants an awful lot, his weight may be balanced too far back on the heels. This explains why he over-splits. The hands should be held out in front of the knees so he can cushion the puck and keep all movements in front of the body where mistakes are less costly. The pocket of the glove must always face the puck. The blade of the stick should be a foot or two in front of the skates to cushion the puck. Keeping the stick in front of the skates will also keep the hands in front of the body. Be a troubleshooter and let your goalie know when he is getting sloppy.

Positioning is your next concern. Does your goalie challenge each puckcarrier or does he sit back and let the shooter have the advantage? He doesn't need to move thirty feet out of the net to challenge someone. Challenging a puckcarrier means positioning yourself in a way that eliminates some of the shooter's main options. If the goalie sits deep in the crease, the shooter has access to all of his options. The goalie should play a few feet outside the crease whenever possible to cut down the angle to the corners and to take away passing and skating lanes that the shooter wants to take advantage of.

The stance and positioning are stationary elements of goaltending. A goalie can look like an all-star in his stance, but, all-sieve when he has to move. Does his stance fall apart as he moves? Does his stick come off the ice with each stride? Is there enough space between his legs to drive a truck through? Is he able to move out quickly to cut down the angles and still be able to back in with the deking puckcarrier without losing his balance? Is the goalie's body moving in the same direction as the save? Is every shot an adventure? If the goalie is stationary, in practice, he will play the same way in a game. Make the drills the goalie faces in practice full of movement. Even if the goalie has difficulty, it will develop his skating.

Finally, let's go over dealing with goalies in games. Is it best to split games or let each goalie play a full game when they are younger? At the young ages, split them down the middle. With older goalies, have them play a full game to develop their concentration. When deciding who will start a game, there is no need to tell the goalie in advance. If a kid complains, "I didn't know I was playing. I need more time to mentally prepare myself." Nonsense! Respond in this way: "That's good to know. If the other guy gets hurt in the middle of a game, I'll know not to put you in because you won't be prepared. I guess that also means that you won't be seeing much icetime since the other goalie seems ready all the time.

Design a pre-game warm-up that gets the goalie moving. You don't always have a lot of time, but, you don't want the goalie warming up from a stationary position. During games and between periods, the goalie should be able to receive constructive criticism as long as you don't distract him with too many items to focus on. If there are issues that require a lot of thought, save it for the next practice. Don't yank a goalie after a bad goal. If the goalie is struggling, pull him for the team's benefit, but, don't do it if it was just a fluke goal. A goalie must learn how to put a bad goal behind him and focus on winning the full game. The power of the spoken word is tremendous. If your goalie plays well, a subtle praise will do wonders for his confidence. If the goalie is struggling, talk with him about habits that have developed that limit his ability. Work with him to get his confidence back. Do not ignore him because that will add to the problem.

If you are able to consistently run meaningful practices and you monitor your goalies progress, they will show improvement. You must communicate your interest to your goalies so they know you care. Brainstorm with the goalies about ways to make them better. They will be encouraged to take pride in themselves and their role with the team.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training


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