The Goalie Guru blog, and all its linked materials, is offered as a one-stop resource to assist ice hockey goaltenders, their coaches and parents (realizing that the latter two are often one and the same) in gaining a better understanding of this truly unique position. Comments, questions, and suggestions welcomed! Reach me at 978-609-7224, or brionoc@verizon.net.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dealing with the fear of losing

Hi gang,

At the goalie coaching outfit I work for, we have some general rules about goaltending that have stood the test of time. The first is this: "You're going to give up goals." A corollary to Rule No. 1 would be this: "You're going to lose games." In fact, it's inevitable.

And that's not the end of the world. Trust me. The reality of competition is that there are going to be winners and losers. No one is going to win them all, and (hopefully) no one is going to lose them all. Still, given the pressure that goalies typically accept as the "last line of defense," it's worth taking a closer look at how to deal with the outcomes of our games.

Let me know what you think! Best, -Brion

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DEALING WITH THE FEAR OF LOSING

A decade ago, I was working with a young goalie who showed considerable promise, despite his tender years. He had good athletic ability, terrific control of his body, super concentration, was very coachable, and was willing to work his tail off. That's not a combination of traits that you often see in an 8-year-old.

But there was one additional trait that "Danny" had that concerned me. He was consumed with winning. Every goal, whether it was his fault or not, was cause for a meltdown. He'd work himself into a lather, which always made me nervous. Because when Danny was in that state, his game fell apart, and pucks would start flying past him. In other words, his competitive streak was sometimes his own worst enemy.

Obviously, it's one thing to compete, and it's another thing altogether to lose your composure. So I found myself in the unenviable, and unpredictable, position of coaching a young man who was the polar opposite of many of his peers. Instead of slacking off, he worked himself to exhaustion. Instead of not caring enough, he went overboard. While we worked (and worked) on the technical aspects of the position, I made sure to spend more and more time just getting Danny to lighten up. To laugh. To enjoy the game. Because if it's not fun, what's the point?

That's what makes goaltending so stressful. So much of you sense of self-worth, and success, is predicated on team success. I once won an Over-40 tournament where I hardly saw a shot. My team simply dominated, and I only gave up a total of five goals in sweeping five games. My teammates raved about my performance, even though I knew I didn't deserve the praise. They did. But it's one thing for a 45-year-old man to understand that situation. I'm not sure it's fair to ask the same of an 8-year-old.

That's why the following question – posted on the Positive Coaching Alliance (positivecoach.org) web site – caught my attention: "Can you send me information on how positive coaching affects how certain athletes play to win instead of not to lose? How can coaches help athletes feel good about themselves, have confidence and own that 'fighters' mentality? How does a 'fighters' attitude translate to team sports and how is it affected by positive (and negative) coaching?"

The PCA turned to Lucid Performance's Graham Betchart for a response. Betchart provided the following three tips for helping these players so they can play to win and be great instead of playing to avoid mistakes and not to lose, with additional comments from yours truly.

One. "Emphasize process over outcome." This is a great way to make sure your goaltenders don't get too high or too low. Regardless of whether your goaltender has a great game or stinks the joint out, and regardless of whether your team wins or loses, make sure your very next practice plan focuses on simply getting better. The best players know this intuitively; they're never satisfied. No matter how many achievements, or accolades, they collect, they want to improve. Cultivate that mindset.

Two. "Emphasize and recognize athletes who are action-oriented, with a great attitude and giving maximum effort." This is another variation, I think, of "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." There is simply no substitute for hard work. And when you can combine hard work with an upbeat, positive attitude, magic can happen.

Three. "Stay present. Coach your players to lock into the present moment, focused on what they can control. The only place an athlete can affect an end result is in the present moment. They can't replay the last play or play the next play before it arrives." My daughter Maddi had a volleyball coach who had a great expression: Drop the brick. In short, it meant "let it go." This is not the same thing as "having a short memory," which is a favorite-if-flawed adage among sports analysts. Goalies need to have long memories, in order to learn. But in the moment, they need to "move past" a bad goal, because they need to concentrate on the next shot. You never want one bad goal leading o another bad goal.

On a related note, I want to credit Stop It Goaltending's Brian Daccord for a terrific idea that he recently posted on Facebook. Daccord is one of the true innovators in goalie coaching circles, specifically because he's open to new ideas and new techniques. His suggestion for teams to create a "goaltending department" – essentially a team within a team – is inspired.

"So you've got your goalie coach, your starter, your back-up, whoever that may be," said Daccord. "It's about everybody in that goaltending department making the team better. How do you make the team better? You challenge guys to work harder in practice. You make it harder for them to score. You make them become better. You push your other goalies. The goalie coach helps both goalies, or all three goalies.

"And then when it comes to game time, one guy gets to play," he said. "Only one guy plays, but that guy is a reflection of the department. And if that guy does well, everybody does well."

It's a new twist on an old concept – you win as a team, and you lose as a team. And that helps take the pressure off any one player (i.e. the goaltender). Now, there are a couple of necessary caveats with this idea. First, I've actually dealt with parents who would actually see the team lose with their kid playing than the team win with their kid on the bench.

Second, Daccord assumes each team should have a goalie coach. He's right, of course. But the reality is that far too many teams still don't consider having a goalie coach a necessity. That's simply shortsighted. These days, having a goalie coach is a must. Not a separate coaching program where you send your goalies, but a coach who is actually on staff. That provides a far better conduit between the head coach and the goalies, and will allow you to create that "goaltending department."

POSTS AND CROSSBARS: Kudos to the New Jersey Devils for stepping up and making the forward-thinking decision to support the National Women's Hockey League's Metropolitan Riveters. Far too many NHL owners talk about growing the game, but it's just that: Talk. Too many of them fail to walk the talk. This is something that Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs should be out front of, but that hasn't happened. Given the less-than-charitable nature of the Bruins ownership (see "failure to uphold TD Garden agreement to fund local youth hockey"), that's hardly surprising. But it's disappointing nonetheless. Supporting the NWHL is a tremendous way to grow an audience – young women – that's full of potential. That's how you grow the game. For example, the Devils-Riveters alliance began in early October at Prudential Center with a World Girls Hockey Weekend. The Riveters joined more than 60 area youth hockey players for the Devils home opener against the Colorado Avalanche. The girls not only met the Riveters, but also participated in a skating clinic after the game. Brilliant. The Bruins, and the rest of the NHL, should take note.

FINIS


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

If you're a hockey coach, try to think like a goalie coach

Little goalies need patience, and understanding.
Hi gang,

I'm returning to a familiar theme, based on a recent telephone chat I had with a concerned dad from Arizona. The father had an 11-year-old daughter who was a goalie, and was already developing a case of the "yips" because of the amount of shots she was seeing each practice. This simply drives me nuts. Hockey coaches, at every level, need to develop an understanding of the right way -- and the wrong way -- to coach goaltenders. Stop treating them like some oddball. They are part of the team. You, as a coach, owe it to them to take care of them.

Remember, I'm not talking about all the technical details about the position. It is different ... I get that (even though you should strive to have an understanding of the basics). What I'm emphasizing is an awareness about what drills are beneficial, and how many pucks a goalie ought to see each time he or she steps on the ice.

Let me know what you think!
Best, -Brion

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IF YOU'RE A HOCKEY COACH, THINK LIKE A GOALIE COACH

Consider the following a cautionary tale heading into your 2018-19 hockey season.

Perhaps the worst thing for a dedicated coach is to see a team fail to reach its potential. All things being equal, wins and losses are usually predicated on talent. And talent, particularly at the high school level, can vary dramatically from year to year.

Getting the most out of whatever talent you have on the ice is the goal. When a team doesn't, it's incredibly frustrating. To illustrate, I'll refer to a girls' team that I knew well (I'll refrain from identifying the squad, to protect the guilty and the innocent alike).

Part of the reason this particular team fell short of its potential is the predictable dilution of talent that often happens with girls' high school hockey programs. The 2016-17 team I'm referring to lost its best natural sniper, who led the team in scoring as an 8th grader, to a local prep school (why any prep school is allowed to compete against public schools is beyond me, but that's a topic for another day). They also lost another talented 8th-grade defender to a full-season "select" program.

I saw this changeover firsthand. The year before, during the 2015-16 season, I was part of the staff as a goalie coach. The first-string netminder that season was a freshman who had come on board the year before as an 8th grader, having never played hockey, much less goalie. She hardly saw the ice that first year, backing up a senior. Her mom even told me that she was happy in the role, content to record stats and cheer on her teammates.

This youngster (I'll call her Patty), was a very good student, and a solid little athlete, playing field hockey and softball. Those are all good things. But it was also clear that hockey was going to be number No. 4 on her "depth chart," behind academics, field hockey, and softball.

Patty worked hard, made nice strides during the 2015-16 season, and actually was given the "Most Improved Player" award at the team's banquet. It was nice to see. However, the following summer, things went sideways for me.

My lower back tightened up in early July. By August, I was losing feeling in my feet. A visit to a back specialist led immediately to an MRI on my spine, and a next-day appointment with a neurosurgeon. The prognosis was spinal stenosis – an arthritic narrowing of the spinal column and nerve openings – and two herniated discs.

By mid-October, I was scheduled for surgery, with a three-to-12 month recovery period. When it became clear that my back wasn't going to allow me to get back on the ice, I immediately told the head coach that I wouldn't be able to work with Patty.

Another long-time goalie coach attended a few early season practices, but that was it. That's not going to make much of a difference. The instruction has to be consistent to have any lasting impact. There was also a former All-American goaltender who lived in town, but no one bothered to reach out to her.

That gets to the very core of my frustration with this team. When you, as a coach, have an obvious need, you have to be creative in addressing that need. That's an integral part of coaching. You need to go beyond the X's and O's.

Out of habit, I attended several practices, and quickly noticed that not only was Patty not getting any specific instruction, but she was also victim of the traditional "goalie killer" drills. Warm-ups consisted of players waltzing right down the slot, on their forehands, without any pressure, ripping shots. Seriously, how the heck is this supposed to "warm up" the goalie? Instead, it's the perfect recipe for developing a case of "the yips." And Patty had the yips in spades. How a coach could not see this is beyond me.

Moreover, Patty wasn't doing any of the goalie-specific skating exercises that I gave her the previous year. Those exercises are specifically designed to allow goalies to limber up without getting peppered by pucks. So I went home, drew up a set of three goalie-specific shooting drills (which, by the way, are also excellent shooting drills for the forwards), and a "save sequence" warm-up developed by Brian Daccord at Stop It Goaltending.

This sequence is a form of physical visualization – or "ghosting," as Daccord calls it – where a goaltender mimics the basic saves (stick left, stick right, smother, butterfly glove, butterfly blocker, standing glove, and standing blocker, following the imaginary rebound (except for the smother and glove saves). I walked the coaches through the "save sequence" warm-up, and the drills. I reiterated how important the drills were for the shooters as well as the goalie. Shooters had to go at game speed, stay on their backhand if they cut in on their backhand, and drive the net for rebounds.

The first session was encouraging. And then … nothing. I checked in occasionally to make sure the goalie-specific drills were being run, and was disheartened to learn they weren't. It was if the other coaches felt as that single session would make a difference.

News flash: It won't. Goalies, especially young goalies, need to work on these basics, over and over again. If you're coaching kids at the high school level or younger, you have to make sure they're adhering to a good warm-up routine and good practice habits. That's your job.

Almost predictably, Patty's development stalled, and the team finished two games below .500, and out of the playoffs. In short, nowhere near its potential.

So here's the bottom line: It doesn’t matter if you're not a "goalie coach," per se. You owe it to your goalies, and ultimately your team, to learn the basics and be able to run some rudimentary goalie-specific drills. Your goalies will benefit. And if they benefit, your team benefits. What other motivation do you need?

 POSTS AND CROSSBARS: Typically, I'm a fan of technology (even if I'm a slow learner sometimes). I'm perfectly OK with using cameras and instant replay to determine a goal at the game's higher levels (NHL, minor pros, and collegiate). But the idea of winding back the video 20, 30 seconds, and sometimes even more than a minute to determine if the offensive team gained the zoned illegally, is ludicrous. So I wholeheartedly endorse the NHL rule change that penalizes teams with a two-minute penalty if an offside challenges isn't upheld upon review. In fact, I'd like to see the offside review rule abolished altogether.

In a game that's starving for goals, this review simply makes no sense. It seems like everyone (except goalies and goalie coaches) complains about netminders and their gear being too big, and taking up too much space. At the same time, rule-makers are allowing borderline calls to take goals off the board. I've found that linesmen at the game's higher levels do an exceptional job at making these calls correctly, on a consistent basis. Even if they get the occasional call wrong, it's typically a matter of inches, and certainly doesn't contradict the spirit of the rule (which, of course, is to prevent cherry picking). I equate it to the strike zone in baseball. Can you imagine a video review after every close call at the edges? Of course not.

There is rarely any distinct advantage gained by an offensive team when a call at the blueline is that close. Let it go.

FINIS

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Young people, and hockey players, need good mentors

Patrick Keough was an exceptional mentor.
Hi gang,

My wife and I were winding down from a recent mountain bike ride when we spun past a spot in town that once housed Looking Glass Farms. For years, this was something of a magical place where our daughter Brynne delved into her unbridled infatuation with all things equestrian.

The stables and paddocks were plowed over a few years back, and replaced by a handful of large single-family homes. But the original ranch house is still standing, and the site will always remind us of Brynne, and horses, her instructor Karla Parnell, and Patrick Keough.

As we pedaled past, Lauri mentioned that it had been two years since Patrick's untimely passing. We still both think of him often, and every time I do, I pause to check my emotions. Which reminded me to post this column I wrote about him last fall. Let me know what you think.

Best, -Brion

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Young people, and hockey players, need good mentors

Earlier this fall, my wife and I were settling in for a relaxed evening. I'm typically immersed in early season hockey this time of year, but noticed that Lauri was particularly quiet.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I was just thinking about Patrick," she replied. "It was a year ago that we lost him."

"Patrick" was Patrick Keough, one of the finest gentlemen I've ever met. I didn't know him well, but I knew him well enough to realize that I'm enormously indebted to him, and the life lessons he taught my daughter, Brynne. He died suddenly, of a heart attack, doing what he loved most – riding one of his horses here on Boston's North Shore.

Patrick was a legend locally, known as something of a "horse whisperer," a man completely committed to the animals he was responsible for. When Brynne, at 6 years old, indicated that she wanted to ride horses, I asked a hockey buddy who belonged to a local "hunt and polo club" for recommendations. He replied, without hesitation, "Patrick Keough is your guy."

It was one of the best pieces of advice I ever got. You have to feel absolutely comfortable trusting your 6-year-old daughter to another adult, especially when that person is putting your child atop an 800-pound animal. Patrick put my mind at ease right from the get-go.

"Oh, we'll take good care of her," he told me with his trademark grin that conveyed a calm, self-assured manner. "And we'll make sure she earns her keep."

Perfect. Even before her first lesson, I told Brynne that riding horses meant more than simply "riding horses." It meant learning about these fabulous animals, and committing the time before and after lessons to care for them. Brynne embraced those duties. In turn, Patrick Keough embraced my daughter. Horses weren't a hobby for Brynne – they were a passion. And Patrick knew a kindred spirit when he met one.

Once Brynne became a teenager, Patrick gave her more tasks. If Patrick was out of town, she'd stop by the stables to feed the horses, and clean out their stalls. Her payment was the chance to ride, and that was a reward far greater than any paycheck. I felt Brynne, much like Patrick, would trade just about anything to be in the saddle.

Of course, Brynne wasn't the only youngster to benefit from Patrick's guidance. There were hundreds. Heather Player met Patrick when she was 8, when her folks brought her to Patrick's barn for a riding lesson.

"I looked around for Patrick but couldn't find him anywhere. All of a sudden from up above I heard 'You better get out of the way, kid; this will give you one hell of a headache,'" said Player. "Patrick was up in the hayloft, directly above me, getting ready to throw down a bale of hay. He climbed down the ladder and acted as though I had been there forever and knew what I was doing.

"He quickly put me to work, watering horses, mucking stalls and turning horses in and out," she said. "I thought I was just showing up to ride a pony. I loved it though. I loved it enough to sneak out of the house, take off on my bike and pedal a few miles down the road to go work for Patrick. After a few hours of searching for me, my mother would show up at the barn ready to ring my neck for disappearing on her. Patrick, with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, would look at me, shake his head, and laugh. 'Time's up,' he'd say.

"This went on for years. Twenty-seven, to be exact."

I absolutely love Player's story. Patrick Keough was a peerless instructor, with a firm-but- easygoing manner that helped his students relax. He seemed to know intrinsically what a kid wanted and, more importantly, needed. He had rules, and his kids had to follow those rules. But he was wise enough to know that kids also needed freedom to explore, to find out what they wanted to do. Not what their parents wanted, but what they wanted.

"Patrick had a way of sort of throwing you into things, that sink or swim sort of thing," said Player. "But he was always quietly there if you needed him, although he wouldn't tell you that much."

When Player moved to Virginia when she was 21, Keough, who was shipping horses up and down the East Coast, "started staying at my house, overnighting the horses he had on the van at my barn," she said. "This was one of the ways Patrick would show you that he was looking out for you."

For the past four years, Player has been the "huntsman" for the Norfolk Hunt Club in Massachusetts. "There isn't one day that goes by that I don't sit on a horse or go out with hounds that I don't hear him say, as he always did when we left the barn to exercise horses, 'Now don't get casual out there.'"

Patrick never let my daughter "get casual." Which was how I knew he was looking out for her. To him, she was much more than a young girl hopelessly in love with horses. She cared intensely about them, and Patrick cared about her. My wife, revealing her mother's instincts, saw this before I did.

"It's just so important for young women to have strong men in their lives who aren't their dad," said my wife, tears welling in her eyes. "Patrick was that for Brynne."

I suspect the same holds true for many young women, and young men, who play sports, especially these days when so many kids come from single-parent households or broken homes. Life may seem complicated for us grown-ups, but it's infinitely more complicated for our kids. My daughters – Maddi and Brynne – are lucky if only because they've had a stable home life. But they've each had teammates who weren't as fortunate. And even in a home with two loving parents, and without any lingering drama, they still needed adult role models.

Which brings me back to Patrick Keogh. This is a man who rubbed elbows with some of the wealthiest folks in the Northeast, but you'd never know it. He was utterly and completely comfortable in his own Irish skin. I'd drive up to Brynne's events in my old Subaru wagon, a bit self self-conscious parking between Range Rovers or Mercedes. Patrick couldn't care less.

As Patrick's daughter said at his funeral last fall: "He could connect with everyone, whether they were 70 or 7 years old. Because he was so raw, and genuine, it allowed those in his company to follow suit, and let down any guard that they may have carried with them. He found common ground. When defenses are down, and the act is over, that's when the real connection can begin."

Every coach should aspire to that standard. Patrick Keough always did. And we miss him, deeply.

FINIS

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Want better goalies? Be sure to appoint a goalie director

A goalie director helps every goalie in your organization.
Hi gang,

With the start of the youth hockey season just about a month away (I know, I know ... way too early), I wanted to share this column on an outstanding suggestion by Brian Daccord of Stop It Goaltending and the Foundation for Goalie Research and Education. Establishing a "goaltending director" position within your youth hockey organization -- someone who oversees every aspect of the position -- may be one of the best methods of ensuring improvement of every team in the program, top to bottom. Here's why ...

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Want better goalies? Appoint a goalie director

As coaches, my colleagues and I are always telling kids that summer is when they can really make a difference in their game. But they're not the only ones who should be taking advantage of the off-season. This month, I'm imploring parents and officials with youth hockey and select hockey programs to do the same.

Take the quiet summer months to reinvest in your program, and the brave kids who step up to play goalie. Establish a "goaltending director."

Don't delay. Because if you don't create and fill the position during the summer, it will get pushed aside. That's simply unfair to your goalies and their parents. Once September rolls around, board members are going to be up to their eyeballs with issues ranging from team placements and practice times to rink rentals and league schedules.

This is one of the reasons why programs hire goalie outfits like the one I work for – Stop It Goaltending – to provide separate goalie training. But, for reasons I'll get into, that's simply not enough. Programs need a point person to serve as goaltending director.

Now, the standard excuse for not creating this position is this: "We don't have any former goalies among our parents or volunteers." That's simply not good enough. The reality is, you don't need to be an "expert" in goaltending to take on this responsibility. You don't need to have played the position. You simply have to be willing to be an advocate for these kids, and to take the time to learn the basics.

How can I be so sure? I've seen it firsthand. My older brother Sean is an orthopedic surgeon in New Hampshire. He has countless demands on his time, to the point where there literally aren't enough hours to get everything done. Yet, despite that time crunch, he has made himself a very good goaltending coach in girls' lacrosse and field hockey.

Why? Because his daughter Michaela played those sports, and Sean wanted to have a role in helping her teams. Michaela wasn't a goalie, but Sean recognized that the position wasn't getting the attention it deserved. So he went to work, attending clinics, reading how-to books, scouring YouTube for clips on goaltending technique. And he made himself into a fine coach.

We'd sit around his kitchen, chatting about the differences between playing goal in the three sports – field hockey, ice hockey, and lacrosse. My eldest daughter was considering playing lacrosse goalie, and I leaned on Sean's expertise. He never once gave me bad advice.

The flip side is poor coaching. What we goalie coaches also see, time and time again, is goaltenders who perform really well in camps and clinics, and then regress when we don't see them for a while. I've written about it before. I call it the "Auto Body Shop Approach to Goalie Training."

That approach works like this: A goalie starts the season with his team, and for the first month he gets completely barraged with shots. Then the coaching staff realizes that he or she is starting to falter, maybe even acting a little puck shy (d'uh!). So they decide to send their goalie to us. What we get is usually a kid with potential, but often dented and banged up. We fix them, send them back to their team running like new, and the coaching staff promptly runs them into another tree.

It's frustrating beyond belief. Some of these kids excel despite the "coaching" they get with their team, not because of it. The reality is that too many of the kids we coach go back to a team that has no dedicated goalie coaching. And they suffer, or stagnate, as a result. What's the solution?

Stop It owner Brian Daccord established the Foundation of Goaltending Research and Education to broaden the scope of goalie development. FGRE encourages all youth hockey organizations to institute the position of "Director of Goaltending Development." I agree wholeheartedly.

The following is an abridged description of the position and its function, a blueprint that can be tailored to meet the needs of each organization.

Director of Goaltending Development

The director is responsible for the development of all the organization's goaltenders, including oversight of tryouts, placement, coaching, skills, practice and games as well as education. The director reports directly to the organization's president or board. Being a former goaltender and educated in modern goaltending techniques is preferred, but not a prerequisite.

Tryouts

The director should oversee the organization's tryout procedure for goaltenders. This includes providing a clear understanding of opportunities for goaltenders and communication how the tryout process will be conducted.

Placement

The director should oversee team placement of goaltenders. Once a goaltender is placed, the goaltender and parents should be informed of the name and level of the team, how many goaltenders will be on each team, whether the squad emphasizes "play to win" or "equal ice time," how many games and practices will be included, and whether there will be goaltending-specific skill sessions.

Goalie Roster

The director should create a roster of the organization's goaltenders. This roster should include all contact information of the goaltender and parents, enabling the director to directly contact them to distribute information including educational material.

Goalie Coaching

The director should oversee the structure of goalie coaching within the organization. If each team doesn't have a dedicated goalie coach, the director should work with each team's coaching staff to create an "Assistant Coach responsible for Goalies." Each team should have either a goalie coach or assistant coach responsible for the goalies, a copy of the protocol associated with the assistant coach responsible for goalies, a written policy of how ice time will be distributed for the goalies, and a coaching staff that is informed of what training the goaltenders will receive throughout the season.

Goalie Skills

The director should oversee the structure of the organization's goaltending training, presenting training options and working to provide the best training alternatives within the organization's budget. Options include no additional training, providing a goaltending Junior Instructor (current Midget/Junior-level goalie), a goaltending coach (professional) at specified team practices, goaltender-specific skills sessions on the organization's ice time with organization coaches, goaltender-specific skills sessions on the organization's ice time with a contracted goalie development firm, or goaltender-specific training at a professional goaltending training center.

Education

The director is responsible for providing coaches, goalies and parents educational material that might benefit the goalies, including goalie-specific websites, books, magazines, and videos, material on off-ice training, nutrition, and cognitive training, and notifying coaches, goalies and parents on any local workshops or presentations.

Follow Up

The director is responsible for following up with the team's head coach, goalies, and goalie parents to ensure there is either a goalie coach or assistant coach responsible for the goalies, that the protocol for the assistant coach responsible for goalies is being followed, that the policy of distributing ice time is being followed, that there is feedback from everyone involved on the organizations goaltending development training, and providing feedback and suggestions on how the organization can better provide for its goaltenders.

Is this a lot of work? Yup. Is it important? Absolutely. And your goalies are worth it.

For more details on the Foundation of Goaltending Research and Education, visit fgre.org.

FINIS

Thursday, July 5, 2018

For hockey players, variety is the spice of the off-season

Find something else to do this summer besides hockey!
Hi gang,

Just last night, I was watching a great special on youth sports, and it was driving home the point of how important it is to be a multi-sport athlete. The show featured a number of athletes from a variety of sports, including the NHL's Johnny Gaudreau and Nate McKinnon. And all of them had essentially the same message: Playing many sports makes you a better athlete.

So stop listening to all those money-grabbing "elite" sports programs who insist that you'll "fall behind" if you're not playing hockey 24/7, year round. It's a marketing ploy, plain and simple. Here's my Goalie Guru column on the topic. Let me know what you think! And don't forget to get outside!

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 Variety is the spice of the off-season for hockey players

When my editor suggested a training-related column for our annual training issue, I immediately thought of the myriad workout programs that have been developed in the past dozen years that are designed to make you the best goaltender your God-given talents will allow. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like going in a different direction. After all, it's the June issue. And June, unless you're playing in the Stanley Cup finals, is not exactly hockey season.

Now, to be completely up front, I'm not opposed to playing year round. There's an old adage in sports that "champions are made in the off-season." There's a great deal of truth to that saying, provided people don't lose proper perspective. It's important to note, the adage doesn't say anything about playing the same sport 52 weeks a year.

Proponents of sports specialization have taken advantage of that adage, twisting its message to imply that a full-year commitment ought to be a requirement for the serious athlete. In doing so, they've duped thousands of parents who feel like they're doing their little hockey player a disservice if they don't provide year-round instruction and training.

(Full disclosure: I, as a coach with a goalie instruction outfit, recognize that I can potentially be seen as "part of the problem." But at Stop It Goaltending, we actively encourage kids to pursue different activities to complement their goalie training. That's a big difference, to my way of thinking.)

This has been a hot topic lately. Houston Texan defensive end J.J. Watt, an all-world talent, recently took to Twitter to voice his concerns about playing a single sport full-time. Watt, who grew up playing hockey (Can you imagine what a power forward that guy would be?!), was remarkably candid in his criticism of specialization. In a Tweet from early March, Watt wrote: "If someone encourages your child to specialize in a single sport, that person generally does not have your child's best interests in mind."

I agree. I also believe there's far more to Watt's simple statement than appears on the surface. There is an entire youth sports industry – and it continues to grow – that is banking on parents believing that the only way their child will reach the pinnacle of their sport is to have little Jane or Johnny play that sport over and over and over again.

Those parents ought to consider this telling statistic: Of all the athletes selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, nearly 90 percent of them were multi-sport athletes in high school, according to TrackingFootball.com, a website that compiles multi-sport participation data on high school and college football players. Watt played four different sports in high school. Arizona Cardinals All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell told the web-based training site STACK why playing numerous sports helped him become a better football player.

"Playing multiple sports 100 percent made me a better athlete," Campbell said. "When you play different sports, you're forced to do different things. I learned quick-twitch stuff from basketball. Track and field, I learned about my stride, my jumping, my hip thrust. I actually even wrestled for a while, and that helped me learn leverage and momentum. It all transfers over and develops different muscle groups."

My guess is that Campbell also enjoyed switching things up. When I was in high school, I loved the dissimilarities between being a soccer midfielder, where I ran all day between my attacking and defensive responsibilities, being a hockey goaltender, where I was far more confined but had a very important role, and being a third baseman for the baseball team, which I found was the ideal blend of cerebral and physical challenges.

Only in hindsight did I really stop to think how each sport benefited the others. For me, the variety is what I enjoyed most.

I've lost count of the number of parents I've talked to who would bemoan that their sons and daughters weren't all that motivated to play during the summer. These are the same parents who have their kids attending skating clinics (on and off ice), shooting clinics, and stickhandling clinics almost non-stop. I haven't found a polite way to say: "Can't you hear yourself? No wonder your kid wants a break."

Except for the very rare instance, kids crave diversity. Can you imagine a math whiz going to school and taking nothing but algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, etcetera? Really? Of course not. We want our children to be well rounded academically. Well, the same holds true for athletic pursuits. Variety is a good thing, not only from the perspective of development, but also to prevent overuse injuries.

The reality is that sports specialization is nothing new. I remember writing about it as a cub reporter in the spring of 1983. Yup, 34 years ago. Things have only gotten worse since then, and it's all driven by one factor: The Almighty Dollar. There is a ton of money to be made in the sports development landscape.

Those folks aren't going to make much money by telling their kids to "just go ride your mountain bike." But I'm telling you, that's exactly what you, as a parent, ought to do. Let the kids play.

Here's my chief concern. Advances in goalie training have created an entire generation of robotic goaltenders. They're strong and quick and technically proficient, but they're not necessarily better athletes. I compare them to a mountain biker on a familiar slice of technical singletrack trail. When that mountain biker knows every twist, turn, and obstacle on the trail, he can anticipate what's coming and rip a pretty clean line. But put the same cyclist on a trail he's never seen before, and he'll be more tentative, more cautious, slower.

A hockey game is much more like that unknown ribbon of technical singletrack. Out of necessity, many of the drills we develop and employ during goalie clinics and camps mirror the well-known trail. We want to build muscle memory. But coaches also need to recognize when goalies start performing "to the drill," instead of simply reacting. That's why, at Stop It, we always try to end each session with "game time."

The beauty of game time is that it's organic, and unpredictable. Our games are design to make the goalies employ what they've just learned, but also to improvise. That's when you find out who your competitors are. It's also when you discover who the better athletes are.

Over time, I believe kids gradually discover the benefits of being a multi-sport athlete (though they may not understand it in the moment). Their movements become more fluid, more natural. In a very subtle sense, they become more confident, which allows them to be more patient, and let the game come to them.

So get out of the rink. Expand your horizons, and enjoy other sports. Ride your bike, surf, play tennis, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, baseball. Anything other than hockey. Have fun. Laugh. You'll be a better goaltender.

FINIS

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The King's rule: Fun is vital

Henrik Lundqvist shares a lighthearted moment
with teammate and fellow goalie Antti Raanta.
Hi gang,

The last of my rapid-fire three-post medley. At our recent Foundation for Goalie Research and Education symposium, a new topic came to the forefront. Actually, not a "new" topic, but one that's finally getting the attention it deserves. And that topic, in a word, is fun.

Sports have become such a high-stakes activity that many of us, including coaches and parents, lose sight of the fact that these are still games. And games are supposed to be fun. Because, if they're not fun, what's the point? Which reminded me of this great column written by all-world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist for The Player's Tribune. Which led to a column of my own. Let me know what you think ...

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Lessons from the King: Fun is vital

I'm a big fan of Henrik Lundqvist. The regal Swede has the noble bearing that I love seeing in goaltenders, as if they're almost invincible ("The King" being one of the best, and most appropriate, nicknames in the NHL). Technically, he's a rock star, and beneath that calm exterior is one of the league's fiercest competitors. There have been several years when he's almost single-handedly carried the New York Rangers on his way to collecting 400-plus wins (not to mention the gold and silver Olympic medals in his trophy case). I personally think he's worth every penny of the $9.5 million that the Blueshirts pay him annually.

So when I saw that Lundqvist wrote a "Letter to My Younger Self" in The Players' Tribune, I had to check it out. I wasn't disappointed. Some of his comments to his 8-year-old self are predictable, like the following segment, where he recounts the very first time he put on goalie gear.

"You'll glide to the top of your crease, bend your knees, then glide backward toward the net. And keep gliding. And keep gliding and gliding.

"Eventually, you'll hit the back of the net and topple over. You've fallen, and you can't get up. Nobody told you how heavy the pads were going to be.

"As you're laying there on the ice, completely helpless, your own brother will skate down on a breakaway and bury the puck in the open net. He'll skate away with a big smile on his face, arms in the air, while you lay there staring at the puck in the back of the net. Remember this feeling. It never gets any easier.

"This is just your first practice. In your first game, you'll let in 12 goals. Nowhere to go but up, right? Well, in your second game, you'll let in 18. Don't get discouraged."

These feelings – adjusting to cumbersome gear, feeling embarrassed, dealing with disappointment – are fairly universal in the goaltending community. As is Lundqvist's next thought.

"Believe it or not, this is the start of something beautiful. You have found something that you truly love. No matter how many goals you let in, the feeling of making just one save makes it all worth it. That's how you know you're on the right path."

This is music to my ears. As a goalie, and as a goalie coach, I know exactly how Lundqvist was feeling way back when. I've often told parents, when they ask whether their son or daughter will stick with goaltending, "Oh, don't worry. They'll tell you."

What that means is that the position quickly weeds out kids who simply aren't cut out for the rigors of goaltending. Some will stick it out because they're the only option, or they really enjoy being part of a team. But the ceiling for these kids is always going to be low. Why? Because developing into a really good goaltender takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication. If you don't love the position, the odds of you committing to those countless hours in the gym and on the ice are slim.

As Lundqvist goes on to say, there's nothing mysterious about becoming great. Good gear will help, but ultimately it isn't the equipment that's going to make a difference. It requires God-given talent, and a willingness to put in the work required to make the most of that talent. It takes heart.

"There's no magic recipe for becoming your hero Pekka Lindmark (the former Swedish national team netminder)," wrote Lundqvist. "You don't need shiny new pads – you won't get your own pair until you're 18 anyway. You don't need expensive camps. You don't even need to be very good yet. The only thing that matters right now is that you keep having fun.

"You can compete like crazy against your brother. But never stop having fun. Be dedicated to having fun."

And that's where The King got me. "Having fun." Such a simple concept, yet so remarkably profound. Despite all the challenges that goalies face, kids who flourish in the position are typically (not always, but typically) the ones having fun. Because if it's not fun, the pressures and expectations of the position can crush you.

Some of my favorite goalies embody this concept. I think of guys like Martin Brodeur and Marc-Andre Fleury, guys who looked like they were absolutely in their element when they were between the pipes, no matter how high the stakes were. Their smiles, their attitudes, were absolutely contagious. One of my favorite clips that airs over and over on the NHL Network is Canadien/Avalanche great Patrick Roy grinning and winking after yet another highlight save.

When I coach young goalies, I still try to nurture, above anything else, a love for the game. If a puck gets by you, try to figure out what happened, try to adjust, but don't agonize over it. Concentrate on what's coming next, not what's in the rear-view mirror. Remember to have fun. After all, it's a game.

I kept playing goalie past my 50th birthday. If my old-goalie hips and back didn't give out, I'd be playing today. I have several friends in their 60s who are still suiting up, and when they complain about this or that hurting them, I tell them to zip it. Because I'm utterly jealous that they're still heading to the rink once, twice, sometimes three times a week. My wife thinks I'm nuts. But, then again, she was never a goalie. There's no way she can understand.

I miss the fun. I miss the chirping, the camaraderie, the physical challenge, the subtle-but-very-real satisfaction of feeling the puck hitting me. Stepping on the ice, fully geared up, was an act of joy. It might not have always seemed like that to others, when my competitive streak occasionally overshadowed the more pleasurable aspects of the game. But, underneath it all, there was no place else I'd rather have been. Because it was fun.

The concept of "fun" is clearly so important to Lundqvist that he ended his missive to his 8-year-old self with this wonderful nugget:

"In fact, let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Tomorrow, when you put on that surprisingly heavy goalie equipment for the first time, right before you step out onto the ice, take a deep breath, block out all your thoughts and worries, and ask yourself a question: 'Why am I doing this?'

"The answer will come to you very quickly. 'I'm doing this because it's fun. I'm doing this because I love to compete. So let's go out there and have a blast.'

"Keep reminding yourself of this when things don't go as planned, even when your stage is Madison Square Garden.

"Being a goalie is 90 percent mental. If you are stuck in your own thoughts or dwelling on negativity you won't have the mental focus necessary to compete and succeed. Nobody tells you this when you're a kid, but the best way to get in the right mindset is to start by having fun. The rest you'll figure out.

"Your life will take you to many interesting places, and many big stages. But it doesn't matter if you're stepping out onto the frozen lake in Åre to battle with Joel, or stepping out onto the ice at Madison Square Garden in front of 18,000 people. It's all the same game.

"It's just ice. It's just a puck. Stopping it is fun."

Words that befit a King. Perfect.

FINIS

Monday, May 7, 2018

Making the most of your goalie camp investment

Good communication is a hallmark of a good goalie camp.
Hi gang,

As promised, Round 2 of my early May post blast. If you haven't already signed your young netminder up for a summer goalie camp, here's a laundry list of items to consider to ensure you maximize your dollars. Just make sure your child isn't playing hockey every day this summer. It is, after all, the off-season ... And, as always, let me know what you think.

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Making the most of your goalie camp investment

It's that baffling time of year, even before the end of the youth league season (and just after the close of the high school campaign), when parents are already looking ahead to summer camp options. I know that sounds crazy, but it's simply the reality of year-round hockey.

Now, I'm a big proponent of down time, as opposed to playing hockey 24/7, 365 days a year. I don't believe players – not even the most diehard hockey fanatic – can maintain that level of enthusiasm year round.

But summer camps are important, because they give goaltenders a chance to work on their technique without the additional pressure of game results. Brian Daccord, founder of Stop It Goaltending in Massachusetts, refers to off-season camps and clinics as "developmental" training.

In season, it's all about "performance," or preparing for the next game, said Daccord. During the season, goalies (and coaches) don't have the luxury to work on new techniques or tweaks to their game. They have to focus on the task at hand, and that's winning. It's all about results. Consider the basketball player who needs to improve his free throws. Can you expect him to try something new in a game, when every point counts? Of course not. He's going to default to what he's most familiar with, regardless of the success rate.

The same is true for goaltending. The game is simply too fast to consciously think through every movement. There's no time for indecision. Reactions have to be automatic. So you need enough time to put in the repetitions needed to create adequate muscle memory without any related concern over game results.

Spring and summer training allow goalies time, and a pressure-free environment, to explore and experiment. Comfortable with the "load" on the post (or "VH," for vertical-horizontal), but want to try to "lean" (or "Reverse VH")? Off-season camps and clinics are the time to try it out. Like many techniques, the "lean" requires time to get comfortable with, much less master.

So, all that said, there are a number of questions that parents and players should ask before selecting a summer camp. In other words, to quote Daccord, "you should know what you're paying for."

First and foremost, does the camp have a "curriculum" that spells out exactly what goalies and their parents can expect? For example, at Stop It, we have a well-established 8-week program – called "blocks" – that is specifically designed to establish a foundation that goalies can build on. As any contractor will tell you, a strong, sturdy, reliable foundation is the key for a solid structure.

Here are some other key factors:

THE FORMAT

Weeklong camp or a series of clinics? I personally like a series of clinics that stretch over the course of a several months, maybe once or twice a week, for an hour to 90 minutes per session. This keeps things fresh (and, let's face it, there are worse places to be than an ice rink on a steamy summer day). This approach also works well if your child is skating in a low-key spring or summer league. For the last two years my daughter Brynne played in the New England Women's Hockey League. This league was more like organized pick-up, giving all the kids a chance to try something new without worrying about costing their team the game. That kind of freedom is liberating.

The weeklong camp is what Daccord calls an "experience." It's typically an intense setting, with 16 hours (four hours a day over four days) on the ice, covering a wide range of skills and game situations. It's the goalie camp version of cramming for a big exam. The downside is that they don't always allow for the repetition that's so important in creating muscle memory. So it's on the goalie to remember what they've learned, and continue to work on that skill set in the weeks following camp. On the positive side of the ledger, weeklong camps typically expose goalies to a number of different coaches – and coaching philosophies – and other goaltenders. And that's fun.

Is the camp goalie specific? One of the reasons that goalie-specific training is so popular is that goalies rarely get enough individualized attention in a typical "team practice" environment (this holds for youth as well as high school and junior programs). Mixed camps, offering instruction to forwards, defensemen, and goaltenders, can have the same pitfalls. "You're going to get X amount of minutes of training or instruction, and then get stuck in the net to be a target," said Daccord. "At the end of the day, is that what you signed up for?"

Do the camps offer large groups or small groups? This really comes down to ratio of coaches to goalies. On a regular sheet, we at Stop It can have as many eight stations running simultaneously, but each station has a qualified coach, working with one to four goalies. So even though we've occasionally got up upwards of 24 kids on the ice, all are getting personalized attention. That's key.

Does the camp stress basic skills, like skating and puck handling? Footwork is essential, because getting to the right place at the right time in the right position is the hallmark of good goaltending. Being able to handle the puck often separates starters from back-ups. Look for a camp that doesn't ignore these details.

Technology. Keeping up with the times is a big bonus. We employ tablets with video delays, so campers can actually see what we see, and can immediately apply what we're teaching. This is particularly useful for "visual" learners, but almost every goalie enjoys watching himself or herself in action. If they're getting lit up, watching might be less fun, but it's more important from a coaching perspective.

ANCILLARY ACTIVITIES

Closely related to "the format," camps can be judge by what they offer for off-ice activities as well as on-ice instruction.

Is there a strength-training component? Whether you're a butterfly netminder or prefer the hybrid style, modern goaltending requires strength and endurance. No matter what level you're currently playing at, getting stronger will make you better. But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Proper weight training instruction is invaluable.

How about nutrition? You are what you eat. My mom said it, more than 50 years ago. Today's nutritionists pretty much say the same thing. In order to get stronger, and have durable connective tissue that aids in flexibility, you need to eat right.

Yoga/flexibility/mindfulness. I've lumped these together because the crossover benefits are almost countless. Knowing how your body works, how your mind works, and how the two work together are crucial to improvement. I don't break the position down into percentages (physical and mental). Suffice to say that both are necessary to reach your full potential. Instruction here will pay big dividends on the ice.

What are the non-hockey activities? Softball, Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, basketball, soccer, and similar sports are all beneficial. They not only keep kids active, working those quick-twitch muscles and honing coordination, but they'll also ensure that everyone will sleep well at night.

LEVEL OF COACHING

This one is tricky, because there are so many qualities that make for a good coach, and not all of those qualities are readily apparent. For starters, you want experience, enthusiasm, and technical expertise.

Experience. Most camps employ a combination of full-time professional coaches and part-time coaches, plus college and high school "junior" instructors. Do some homework, and check the bios of the coaches (reputable camps will list those on their web sites). If you're selecting a camp with a "name" coach, first ask how long that coach has been instructing, since playing at a high level and coaching at a high level are two very different things. Oh, and make sure the "name" coach actually plans to be in attendance and coaching (see "Tim Thomas").

Enthusiasm. There is no substitute for an upbeat staff that understands how important it is to be a positive. Goaltending is hard enough. At Stop It, we set the bar high, but then we're relentless in our encouragement to help kids reach and exceed that bar. Similarly, the best coaches are not only students of the game, they're also students of human nature. There are significant differences in my approach to coaching girls and boys, women and men. And there's an almost infinite number of subtle differences in the "proper" approach within those groups. Every child, or young adult, is different. Find a coach, or a coaching outfit, that takes pride in getting to know each camper.

Technical expertise. Flexibility is equally important for coaches. In short, a good coach is open-minded and well-versed in a number of goaltending "styles." The ability to pair a goaltender with the correct style is vital to that goalie's chance of success. Beware any coaching program that boasts a "one size fits all" approach. That's the goaltending equivalent of squeezing a square peg into a round hole.

THE SHOOTERS

I've said this in prior columns, but it bears repeating. You might have the best coaches on the planet, but without good shooters, the instruction is limited. Having really good shooters takes your instruction to another level. And by "good," I'm not just talking "talented." I'm referring to kids who can bring it, but are also willing to do exactly what they're told. Often, that means paid shooters.

"The other question parents never ask is, 'Do the coaches coach, or do they coach and shoot?'" said Daccord. "When a coach shooting, they're putting their head down. They're not watching, they get tired, and their coaching suffers."

Having quality shooters allow coaches to do what they do best, and that's coach. That's what you're paying for. Make sure you get your money's worth.

FINIS