|In goaltending, as with most sports, it's not how often|
you fall that matters. It's how often you get back up.
After spending last weekend evaluating young goalies at the MassHockey/CCM High Performance Festival, I thought this column on body language was particularly appropriate. It was quite remarkable how you could see, even from a distance, which goalies had confidence, and which ones doubted themselves.
Confidence, of course, is a tricky and sometimes elusive thing. Some kids are born with it. Others develop it as they experience success. But its definitely a characteristic that can be nurtured and developed. And that starts with body language. It's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you project an air of confidence, the more likely you'll assume the actual trait of being self-assured.
Let me know what you think. Thanks.
Body language that speaks loud and clear
During summer camps, we goalie coaches spend most of our time on the ice teaching technique, the physical tools required to stop the puck. We concentrate on things like skating (and more skating), angles and positioning, head trajectory, reading shots, proper stance, the butterfly, butterfly slides, butterfly pushes, and recovery.
For younger goalies, we'll also assess equipment. We want to make sure it fits properly, so the gear can do its job and protect the person wearing it. But there are other facets to the position that, while subtle, can be very important. Good camps, and good goalie coaches, will make an effort to focus on those aspects as well.
When covering team settings, we often discuss communication, and the goalie's responsibility to be a quarterback of sorts, providing instructions and encouragement to teammates. There's also non-verbal communication, which can have an enormous impact on a team's fortunes. In short, body language can speak volumes.
The way a goaltender carries himself (or herself) is vitally important to both individual success and team success. The position, as the last line of defense, brings with it inherent leadership qualities. A goaltender needs to exude confidence (even if his knees are shaking underneath those pricey leg pads). A goalie who looks nervous will typically play nervous. It's a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. And that nervousness can infect an entire team. Defensemen start playing tentative, and forwards are apt to take fewer chances.
Furthermore, goalies who look nervous gives their opponents a big boost. Hockey forwards – good hockey forwards – are predators. And like any predator, they go for the weak link. The last thing any team, or goalie, wants to do is give their opponents any additional edge.
Confidence, of course, is built through good practice habits, and exacting repetition. The "appearance" of confidence, I believe, breeds genuine confidence. So, during camp, I encourage my goalies to take chances. When I ask for a goalie to demonstrate a drill, I want them all racing for the net. Though a simple step, it reveals a willingness to step into the spotlight, and to take chances. That's essential.
Here's another example of how body language can affect both your team, and your opponents. How do you react when you give up a bad goal, or when your defense hangs you out to dry? Do you throw a tantrum, slamming your stick, or yelling at your teammates? Trust me, that isn't passion. It's immaturity. And, more often than not, an immature goalie is a liability.
I don't allow these little hissy fits during camp. In fact, I'll stop a drill to let the goalie know, in no uncertain terms, that these outbursts are never acceptable. Typically, a young goalie will say, "But I won't do that in a game." I don't believe it. One of the great truths of hockey, and goaltending specifically, is that you typically play the way you practice.
In a recent USA Hockey article, Boston University sports psychologist Adam Naylor talked about the importance of hockey players developing a healthy sense of "swagger."
"Body language is one of those funky things where our emotions can shape our body language and vice-versa," said Naylor. "Our body language can shape our emotions. We usually don't appreciate that blend.
"So I always tell players to go beyond what they look like to others," he said. "How will your body language feed your performance?"
A goaltender with bad body language can almost appear to shrink in the net. Positive body language, meanwhile, helps a goalie look bigger, can buoy an entire team, and demoralize opponents.
"To me, there's so much more than putting a fake smile on it," Naylor told USA Hockey. "I always talk about that with hockey teams: how do you spread emotions? I think it's just awareness and knowing the performance benefits."
Again, practice is where you develop that veneer of invincibility. Summer camps are also a great setting. Why? Because no one there is judging you. At least no one that really matters. Your coach isn't there, and your teammates probably aren't there either. You're not going to win the starting position during summer camp. But you can build the foundation that will allow you to compete for that starting spot, or league all-star honors. Whatever goals you set for yourself, attaining them starts well before the season.
On that point, it's important to address one influential group that is present during summer camps: Parents.
My advice to parents is to dial back their expectations during the summer. Yes, I appreciate the investment. You're footing the bill, and you want to make sure it's money well spent. I get it. But I can tell you from experience, as a coach and as a hockey parent myself, that you can undermine your child's development by being overly analytical.
You can demand effort. Absolutely. There's no substitute for hard work. You can expect that your child be engaged, as opposed to simply going through the motions (yes, kids, we can tell the difference). But try not to get into the habit of dissecting every drill, and every goal. I learned this the hard way, with my own daughter.
I wanted so much for Brynne to improve – believing that the better you are, the more you enjoy the game – that I risked squeezing the fun out of the game. That's what constant critiques, no matter how well intentioned, can do.
So, instead, I enrolled her in a couple of light-hearted sessions of the Northeast Women's Hockey League. NEWHL, run by long-time goalie coach and girls' hockey advocate Bob Rotondo, is almost like organized pick-up hockey. NEWHL has teams and coaches and refs, but no real pressure to win each Sunday. That gives girls the freedom to experiment, to dare, to try new things without the corresponding peril of failure. All I asked of Brynne was to try hard each time she was on the ice. In return, I promised not to pick apart her game.
As a result, Brynne's game flourished. Though she plays defense, and not goal, Brynne's newfound confidence was evident. She was more comfortable handling the puck, made fewer turnovers, made more precise passes, had better gap control. This past season was by far her best, as she played with a new level of poise and self-assurance. It was a wonderful thing to watch.
Which brings us back around to goaltending. Confidence can be a fragile thing. You need to nurture it, constantly. That comes more easily to some than others. But confidence is almost always rooted in two things – hard work, and a joy for the game. Focus on those during practice, and during summer camp, and confidence will become a hallmark of not only your game, but also your character.
It will show in your body language. And your team will be the beneficiary.