|If you're going to be a leader on the ice, you have to |
make sure that you and your coach are on the same page.
Another month, another column.
This topic is one of my favorites, probably because I was never very quiet in the net. I felt if I was going to be held responsible for any goals that got by me, I was going to take responsibility for telling my guys what to do in front of me. That trait came naturally to me, but was also drilled home by two of my favorite childhood goalies -- Eddie Giacomin of the Rangers, and Billy Smith of the Islanders.
However, it's one of the trickiest traits for me to coach, because goalie coaches are rarely involved in "teaching" game management, or taking a leadership role. In other words, unless we're part of a specific team's staff, we don't won't closely with the goalies about how they ought to quarterback their teammates in the defensive zone.
Instead, that's primarily the job of the head coach. But I've got a few suggestions. Let me know what you think ...
Shout out! Goalies must take charge in the D zone
As parents, and coaches, we're often telling kids to "Pipe down!" Usually, it's for a good reason, like before a hockey game, in the locker room, when you're going over a forechecking scheme or a breakout play while all your Squirts are yapping about their latest X-box donnybrook. But, for once, I'm asking coaches to encourage one player in particular – the goaltender – to speak up. Here's why ...
Coaches are usually looking for some kind of an edge. Northeastern coach Jim Madigan, just before the 2013 Beanpot Tournament in February, pulled former Husky and Beanpot MVP Wayne Turner out of his bag of tricks to rally his troops. "He talked about mindset, about mentality," said Madigan after the Huntington Hounds dispatched BU, 3-2, in the opening round. "He talked about how we're not going to get faster in the next two days, we're not going to get smarter the next two days. It's about mindset."
What Turner was saying is that there's no "magic bullet" to improve your game, but you can sharpen your focus in order to make the most of whatever physical gifts you're bringing to the table. In the same vein, I believe that one of the quickest ways for a team to improve is better on-ice communication between the players. That goes double the goaltender.
I always tell my young goalies that the position, by its nature, comes with certain leadership responsibilities. You need to take charge in the defensive zone. Remember, the goaltender is at the center of the action, the proverbial "eye of the hurricane." Even though the action is invariably coming to the goal, it's actually the quietest spot on the ice. Good goaltenders engage their peripheral vision to keep tabs on everything that's swirling around them. They literally have their head on a swivel. It's actually very similar to being a quarterback in the pocket. While the quarterback is surrounded by mayhem, either at the line of scrimmage or dropping back to pass, he has to be able to make smart decisions and guide his team. In other words, be a leader. The same holds for the goaltender. That's why they need to speak up.
How do you, as a coach and/or parent, get youngsters to do that? First, goalies need a big voice, one that can be heard above all the helter-skelter activity that positional players must deal with. I often start most practices by asking my goalies their names. They often look at me as if I'm nuts, because most know that I already know who they are. But what I want to hear is them responding with a big, loud, and clear voice. I usually tell them this in my best imitation of a booming, James Earl Jones baritone (which convinces most of my students that I've lost my marbles, but at least it gets them laughing). But the point is simple – if I can't hear you, standing a few feet away, in a quiet rink, I'm sure as heck not going to understand anything you say in the heat of a game.
Now, I realize some kids are shy or soft-spoken, but that's no excuse for whispering instructions to your teammates. Neither is a mouth guard. If they can't hear you, you're just wasting your breath. You've got to be loud and proud. Positional players – defensemen and forwards – are trying to process a dozen different things in the blink of an eye, while all that blood and adrenaline is rushing between their ears. If goalies want to be heard, they need to pump up the volume, and make sure their voice cuts through all that white noise. The rule of thumb for coaches and parents is whether you can hear your goalie from the bench or stands. If not, they're not loud enough.
Second, goalies must be decisive. Instructions need to be clear, and concise. The game is much too fast for lengthy conversations or complicated explanations. Share the basic instructions you plan to use with your teammates, such as "Screen!" when your defender is blocking your view, "Man on!" when your defender is being pressured, "Time!" when they can take a moment to look up ice, "Reverse it!" when the opposite wing is free, or "Stay home!" when your defender is tempted to leave the slot to go chase the play in the corner. These are just a few examples, and you can use whatever terms you want, but make sure everyone knows the lexicon.
The key here is to make sure you and your teammates are on the same page. Use practices and scrimmages to repeat these verbal instructions often, so your teammates get used to your voice, and understand what each command means. Believe it or not, these commands, when used wisely, are a huge help to your teammates, because it removes the responsibility of decision making. In other words, it's one less thing for them to think about. The goalie, however, needs to make absolutely sure that the instructions are accurate and unambiguous. Precision is critical.
Third, goalies have to encourage. When I say be loud, and be a leader, I'm not talking about yelling for the sake of yelling. Castigating your teammates after a bad play, or a goal, is never a good thing. Hockey is a game of mistakes, and everyone makes them. You don't want your teammates berating you after a soft goal, right? That lesson goes both ways. The best thing you can do after a mishap, or a bad goal, is a tap on the shinpads, and a quick "don't sweat it. Let's get one back." Players love these types of goalies, kids who understand that it's a team game, and everyone needs to contribute to win. Chastising your teammates erodes confidence the same way your own confidence takes a hit when your coach pulls you for goals that aren't your fault. So remember, there's a big difference between barking instructions, and criticizing.
Fourth, coaches need to be inclusive. Here's where coaches need to make sure that the goalies are included in all their chalk talks by the bench during practice, and not sitting in the crease, waiting for the next drill to start. In order for the goalie to be a coach on the ice, he or she has to have a solid understanding of your game plan. What kind of breakout do you want? Where do you want your center to play? Leaving the goalie out of those discussions is not only shortsighted, it's foolhardy.
Again, think of the quarterback in football. He has to know the passing routes, the audibles, the blocking schemes, the snap count, all of it. As a football coach, you want your quarterback thinking just like you. That only happens when the player is fully engaged. It's no different for hockey coaches and their goaltender. Give your goalies the tools to orchestrate your game plan, combined with the freedom to instruct, and the entire team benefits.