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4 Things Coaches do to Harm a Goaltenders’ Mental Game (without knowing it)!

Justin Johnson

Justin Johnson
Performance Coach, Mental Edge

This past fall I traveled across the state of Minnesota conducting goalie coaching clinics for youth hockey associations. During the two-hour sessions I consulted with coaches about ways they can increase the likelihood of their goaltenders having a positive experience in the game of hockey. 

What I discovered is there are many coaches who are on the right track with their goalies and their development. 

There are also a few who have trouble communicating with their goalies. Even more struggle with how they orchestrate practices and games in a way that encourages goaltender development.

In an effort to shed some light on how coaches can set their goalies up for success, I have included four common pitfalls to avoid. My aim is to inform coaches about the ways they harm their goaltenders’ mental development, often times without even knowing it!

1.)  Not sure what to say, so say nothing
Historically head coaches and their staff have struggled with how to coach, challenge and develop the goaltenders on their team. Many coaches haven’t played the position, so they feel paralyzed when trying to address technical information and fundamentals. This lack of goalie know-how, typically leads to frustrating conversations or even an avoidance of conversations because it doesn’t land in the coaches’ comfort zone.
I encourage coaches to make an effort to positively impact every player on the team, including goaltenders. Rather than keep quiet, sit down with your goaltender(s) to learn about what they need to be successful. Many goaltenders, even as young as squirts know what should have been done differently on goals they give up. As a coach, ask them what you can do to make practices better to address the situations you are seeing in games. Goalies need to feel a part of the team and process – ignoring them because of your ignorance can shake their trust, confidence and ultimately negatively impact their experience.

2.)  Pulling the goalie without giving explanation
Eventually a game will get out of hand or an off-night will come around where it is in either the team’s or the goaltender’s best interest to pull them from the game. I believe that the pulling of a goalie is a necessary part of the game and one that if done correctly builds character and a winning spirit in an individual. If done incorrectly you may have a disruptive issue that lasts all season, and negatively impacts the mindset of your goaltenders for quite some time. I have witnessed and yes been a participant to many ugly pullings, where coaches yell at the goalie on the way to the bench or display incredibly poor body language that sends the wrong message to all watching.
When you decide to pull your goaltender doing so correctly comes down to two items. Conduct yourself in a calm and professional manner, including body language, by continuing to coach your team in a positive way. Secondly, you must not let that goaltender leave from the arena without knowing why you pulled them and or how you intend to help them have a better outing next time. As a side note I feel it is acceptable to tell the goalie on the bench why you pulled them if it was done so to help change team momentum. If it was simply a rough night for the goalie, it is better to discuss in private after the game.

3.)  Shouting instructions from the bench

Rarely have I seen great coaching advice that makes an immediate impact on a goalies performance by being yelled from the bench for all to see and hear. Other than encouragement or to notify the goalie to come to the bench, coaches should never yell to a goaltender. The repercussions of yelling include embarrassment, confusion, frustration, and a fear of making mistakes all of which deter a quality mindset and performances. In other words whatever gem of advice you may have and result you get from it will be eroded by a mindset that requires the goaltender to play for you rather than themselves and their instinct.
If a persistent issue is occurring there are a number of ways to communicate more effectively. You can wait until there is an intermission, relay the message to a mature player you feel will communicate to your goalie with the correct tone and message intended, or call a time-out.

4.)  Waiting right before the game to designate the starter
Perhaps the most common mistake coaches make without knowing it is waiting to decide or inform which goalie will play. Coaches fail to understand that goaltending is a position that requires a significant amount of preparation. If a goalie does not know, that preparation is undermined, resulting in a less than prepared, less confident goaltender. Coaches have stated they use this tactic to judge who looks best in warm-ups or to make sure both goalies are ready. Both of these tactics are mentally counterproductive and will create negative effects not only for your goaltenders but also the rest of the team.
I suggest coaches give notice to BOTH goaltenders as to who will be playing a night in advance if possible or the morning of the game at the latest. This should be plenty of time for your goaltenders to prepare, giving your team the best chance of a quality performance. This is a simple request and one that will be greatly appreciated by your goaltenders.

Remember if you are good to your goalies they will likely be good to you and your team!

For more information, contact Justin@MentalEdgeNow.com

Copyright © 2019 Shaun Goodsell