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Goaltending: Quality vs. Quantity

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Each year at countless rinks, coaches and parents ask me for goalie drills they can use. People will come to my goalie schools or clinics to video drills or copy them down into notebooks. It is too bad that they are all missing the point that it isn't the drill that improves the goalie, but understanding the concept the drill is based on.

Many coaches get hung up on acquiring fancy drills that no one in their area has seen. Whether it is a shooting, passing, situational or skating drill, all coaches get caught up in running the drill instead of teaching the concept in a way that the players can identify how or when to utilize it in games. Goaltending in particular requires a lot of hands-on instruction, but most coaches settle for giving them drills which have them face lots of rubber. Instead of having mistakes in technique corrected, the habits get reinforced by all the repetitious shooting.

Far too often, goalie practice is synonymous with shooting drills like the arc where the goalie gets pummeled by a multitude of shots. How often does a referee stop a game, line players up in an arc and let them blast away? If coaches expect to improve their goalies, they must provide them with game situations or drills that reflect them. Many coaches believe goalie practice is a separate entity from the regular practice when, in actuality, the goalies can become an active part of every drill.

The key to giving goalies quality drills is merely giving them responsibilities as you would give a forward or defenseman and then watch them to make sure they are paying attention to their duties. If the team is practicing one-on-ones, give the goalie some keys to focus on. For example, in a one-on-one, it is very important that the goalie does not back into the crease because the offensive player will be able to move in between the defenseman's body and the goalie's. The goalie must hold his or her ground so the forward has a tough time cutting into the lower slot from the wide angle. The goalie also looks to pokecheck if the puck-carrier gets real close or moves to him in an aggressive shuffle if he cuts a little farther away. When the goalie knows you are looking to see if he executes his responsibilities, it is easier to create an environment where the goalie is learning.

During breakouts, does the goalie make effort to stop the puck? Does he set the puck so the defenseman has a quick transition away from the net? Does the goalie pass the puck promptly to the correct location? In skating drills, does the goalie goof off at the end of the line because none of the coaches are watching him? Can you make the goalie skate the drill in a stance or can you make a slight alteration to the drill so the goalie can benefit from it?

My point is that you don't need to disrupt your practice to improve your goaltenders. Here are some simple things to do on a regular basis: First, don't have the drills run so fast that the goalie doesn't have the time to set up for the next rush properly. Make the shooters play rebounds. Rebounds will provide your team more scoring opportunities in games, so it is helpful to practice the same way. Goalies must learn to instinctively play rebounds because in games there is only one puck, not the multitude they see in practice. Give the goalie a few seconds to follow his rebounds. Secondly, make your shooters take game-like shots in practice. If the shooters pass off in the slot or take slap shots from five feet away, they won't score in a game and the goalie won't be seeing game-like situations. Third, don't let the goalies play deep in the crease. Remind them when you see them coasting back to the goal line when they should be at the top of the crease. Finally, observe whether the goalie's head and shoulders are turning in the direction of the saves or whether they are behind the body. If the goalie turns properly, it is easier to be in position to play rebounds.

Coaches, teaching goaltenders is not rocket science. If you pay attention to some basics and give your goalies responsibilities in drills that they can be held accountable to, they will improve. Saying you can't teach goaltending is a lazy copout.

This article was contributed by Fred Quistgard of Quistgard Goalie Training.

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