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Don’t Mess Your Goalies Up – What Goalies Want Their Coaches to Know

In Leadership by JasonYee

I lived with too many goalies and they’re so weird. One of my goalie/roomates slept with a gun under his bed due to a fear of intruders. But he kept the firing pin in a separate but nearby place in case he sleepwalked…

I could go on, but you all know of weird goalies. Even goalies will admit they’re weird. (I think I could have been a good goalie based on my psychological profile). I digress…

Most head coaches admittedly have no clue how to coach or manage goalies. I want to give coaches an idea of how to coach & manage goalies to get the best performance from them. I want you to know exactly what to do in a given situation.

So what I did was ask some questions of three high level goalies to make a head coaches job a bit easier. I know all of them personally, and they’re all different people. I’ll caution though that they are from one demographic (19-25), so this sample doesn’t include younger goalies. The goalies I interviewed will have their responses honed and their preferences clearly known at this point in their career. That being said, I’ve found younger goalies to have equally strong opinions. After the Q&A, I’ll outline Goalie Boosters for Smart Coaches that I think relate to what my interviewees had to say and what I’ve noticed through my own experience with them.

Describe yourself as a goalie and a person. How do the two interrelate?

NR: I would describe myself as a very competitive goalie who never gives up on the play. However is very relaxed and calm in between whistles and periods. Talking to guys and having fun. Kind of split personality. I am very similar as a person in that I work very hard but when it is time to break I can loosen up quickly. It’s probably beneficial to my game that it is so similar to my lifestyle because it is easier to achieve mastery. 

SS: As a goalie I like to start every rush/play/game off in a calm focused manner with the same technical approach. However, once the game gets going I am very instinctual and trust my training, conditioning, and athleticism to get the job done. I always try to be my best for my teammates.

As a person I find I am calm and analytical when it comes to making decisions and approaching conflict. I like to observe rather than partake. Just like in hockey, the heat of the moment can change my approach to any situation.

Both on and off the ice I live a read and react lifestyle. 

EW: As a goalie I would say my game is based off of intensity and a controlled aggression. Where as a person I am much more laid back and relaxed. I think it gives me good balance and the ability to be relaxed right up until the drop of the puck.

Granted, most head coaches don’t know much about goaltending. What is the most helpful thing that they can do to help you play at your best?

NR: Hire a goalie coach. The other thing is to really know your goalie. Some guys like to talk before the game an know the other teams players and systems. Others just want to be on their own planet. 

SS: Lorne Molleken got the best out of me in Saskatoon and I believe it was because he left me alone. He didn’t ask me to focus on certain specifics in a game (as some coaches did i.e. FOCUS SOLELY ON THE PUCK). 

For me I found that a coach who told you when they expect more from you and who left you alone when you were track was what I needed as a goalie. With Lorne, I never really knew if he was happy with me so I’d always push to be better.

Everyone is different though. 

EW: Having a coach show confidence in you, even at the worst times helps you bounce back faster. The ability to just have a talk with a coach about anything and not always focus on your game specifically. I always found this to help me want to play for a coach knowing he has my back and I can play free knowing I am not on a short leash.

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What is something a coach can do to prevent you from playing at your best?

NR: Threatening me, for example “one more and you’re pulled.” Also playing mind games with goalies.

SS: Read Above: emphasizing specifics focuses for games. If a coach says “this guy always goes backdoor, anticipate it.” You’re going to get roasted short side. The specifics should be covered in practices. In games you need a clear mind.

EW: I find anytime a coach tries to micro manage a goalie and constantly be talking to about past goals and expectations it can mess with your head. All goalies at a high level generally know exactly what to correct to prevent the last goal as soon as it goes in. A coach making you relive that, hurts more than it can help.

What has a coach done that’s made you want to punch them in the face? Did you punch them?

NR: I was out into a series down 3-1. I won the next 3 games to win the series. And I didn’t get the start in the second round. No i didn’t punch him but I would have loved to. 

SS: He pulled me and then wanted me to go back in after the other goalie let in 3 more. I didn’t punch him, but I told him I wouldn’t go back in. Got healthy scratched for a week and then traded. This was actually the best thing that happened to me in my Junior career, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

EW: I have never punched a coach but I’m sure they have made me want too. I can’t think of a specific example but it’s always best to just nod and smile when a coach starts to lay in to you. Then go out your next game and prove them wrong.

What is the most helpful thing that your defensemen can do to help you play at your best?

NR: Have a good relationship with great communication. Always stay positive but let us know what you want us to do and we will do the same. 

SS: Block shots and clear rebounds.

EW: Communication can never be focused on enough, On and off ice. Talking to guys in the dressing room understanding how each other want to play every situation can only help when it comes to reading a play when you know exactly how your defense is going to play the situation in a game.

What do defensemen do that absolutely pisses you off?

NR: Not communicate or do a shitty job. The other thing is if you get in the shot lane to block the shot and you don’t block it. You’re just a screen. Also if you try to block a shot with your stick and it tips off it and changes directions 

SS: When they back into you or interfere with you during a scramble.

EW: I am sure some goalies prefer it but it absolutely drives me crazy when defensemen play a two on one to completely eliminate the pass allowing the player to essentially be on a breakaway. I rather the d-man force! the puck carrier to make a pass or take the shot before he is ready giving me the advantage on both scenarios

First shot in a game, it goes in. What’s going on in your head?

NR: I just try to go for a skate and shake it off. I think it puts a lot of pressure on the next shot. But you just have to try to clear your mind and start the game over mentally. This happened a lot to me in Victoria. 

SS: “shit” , drink my water go for a skate and get ready for the next shot.

EW: It is has definitely happened multiple times, and it depends on your confidence level. If ive been playing well over a stretch and feel good I often play some of my best games after giving up the first shot. But if you’ve been fighting the puck for a couple games it can definitely put a little doubt and guessing in your head.

How do you think your mental game is different from most players’? Do you think it’s stronger or weaker?

NR: I think it has to be much stronger. We can win or lose every game for our team. It’s much more individual than players. 

SS: It has to be stronger. A goalie doesn’t have the opportunity to take 60-180seconds on the bench stare at the floor and refocus. You have to bounce back forget about the last play and get ready for the next one.

EW: Over my career my mental toughness has gotten a lot better with every season, this has led to more consistent play over my last couple of seasons. I do think a goalie has to be more mentally tough then other players. With the added pressure and nowhere to hide when the red light starts flashing, it takes a special breed.

Has it ever helped you when coaches play head games? What was helpful/unhelpful?

NR: Not really at all. Some mind games make you compete harder but it is a very delicate tool. 

SS: It goes both way. Sometimes the coach has no choice if he isn’t getting the performance he wants from either goalies. I’d prefer no head games, but sometimes a goalie can get sloppy or develop bad habits if a coach doesn’t keep him on his toes.

EW: The mind is a complicated thing and having someone else in your head will never help. Trying to stay in a happy place and be focused on what I need to do to help my team win is hard enough without a coach trying to play mind games with you.

What things could an opposing player ever do or say to you that would get you off your game?

NR: I try to make it so nothing can be said to shake me. I just try to think of something funny to say back between whistles. 

SS: I’ve yet to hear something that has had that effect. Guys usually just tell me how ugly my gear is or that I’m not any good! Ouch!

EW: There really isn’t anything, it’s their job to try and get under my skin and my job to not let it bother me. Just letting it roll of my back and focus on what I can control. Although there are definitely ones who can make you laugh with some horrible attempts.

Goalie Boosters for Smart Coaches

  • Don’t give them technical instruction. They apparently hate it and it doesn’t help. As SS said, giving technical instruction may even backfire. Leave it to a goalie coach.
  • Ask them about their technique. As a (weird) player, I’m always asking goalies about what they’re doing and why. Like why did they use the “VH” in this situation? Goalies love talking about this the same way old ladies love talking about their grandchildren. If you ask in a non-judgmental, non-critical way, you may inspire learning WITHOUT MESSING THEM UP!
  • Empower, empower, empower. Threatening, micromanaging and mind games apparently do not work for goalies (let alone any athlete). They demonstrate lack of trust. Goalies don’t like it and I don’t think it’s an effective approach. Empower by trusting in them to bounce back instead. 
  • Goalies always complain to me if the coach isn’t clear on who is starting and/or they aren’t told until game time. They hate it. And research shows that keeping athletes “on their toes” does not actually help improve performance.
  • Communication between defence and goalies is critical. Typical coaches will say “we need better communication”. Smart coaches will ask two questions: 1) what was said during that mess up? 2) what needed to be said to prevent that mess up? Smart coaches will ask the players & goalies those two questions and trust them to fix it. Typical coaches will try to micromanage.

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About the Author
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JasonYee

Hi, I'm Jason Yee. I'm a professional hockey player, kinesiologist, and the founder of Train 2.0. My goal is to make instructions for hockey players simple, trustworthy, and measurable by leveraging science, technology, and psychology. My method is to research NHLers through video, instruct others and myself, then gather feedback to refine my knowledge. I love documenting the journey publicly and online. I'd love to hear from you and let me know what you think - Your feedback is my oxygen. Thanks for reading my article today. Hit me up on email: jason@train2point0.com or follow my Instagram account: @train2point0

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