|Goaltenders could learn a great deal from the Chinese philosophy|
of yin and yang, where contrary or opposite forces are actually
complementary and interconnected in the natural world.
Back after a brief sabbatical. Boy, there's nothing quite like serious hip surgery to help an old goalie regain his perspective. So I thought "perspective" would be a good topic to tackle this month.
Far too often, goalies (and young athletes in a variety of different sports) concentrate far too much on their chosen craft. There's a fine line between commitment (a good thing), and going overboard (a bad thing). And if you can't identify and respect where that line is, you risk losing perspective. Here's a column I did on the topic for the New England Hockey Journal. Let me know what you think.
All the best,
Too much of a good thing is potentially bad for goalies
"Get the balance right … "
Almost every summer, I do a column or two on taking advantage of the off-season to work on improving your technique and keeping fit. Or improving your fitness. Because, as the old adage asserts, championships are won in the off-season.
One highly regarded goalie coach I work with delineates his roles between the off-season, when he calls himself a "development coach," and in-season, when he's a "performance coach." Translation? During the season, it's all about results. Just win, baby. The off-season is when he works on the big picture, the goalie's overall game. That's why summer camps are important. You can really push yourself, find out what works, and find out what doesn't, because you have time to assess the results without worrying about whether those results are affecting your team.
In-season is not the time to overhaul your game, or even experiment with new equipment (unless your old stuff is getting you hurt). You can tweak things, like your technique and your fitness level. It's always a good idea to be continuously mindful of what's working and what's not. Self-assessment is a trademark of all good goaltenders.
The same goes for hard work. Most goalies I know – especially the ones with a true competitive streak – will double down on their workouts if they feel their game is slipping. But there are limits.
Sometimes, we lose sight of a very simple, and very profound rule of athletics. You need time off. Your mind, and your body, need a break. The reality is that exhaustion, both mental and physical, can lead to poor performance. In other words, it's perfectly OK to chill from time to time. And that's something that parents, coaches, and even instructors like myself need to keep in mind.
"There's a growing enthusiasm, and a huge market, for training, teaching and supporting young athletes," said Dr. Adam Naylor, director of Telos Sport Psychology Coaching. "Elite sports performance and medicine services are available to all with a credit card, and if a family desires, a passionate and competent coach and advisor can be hired. This may not be a good thing.
"Forget the popular – yet very real – concern that pushing a young athlete toward athletic excellence can lead to burnout, dropout, and even mistreatment or abuse," he said. "Surprisingly, research has shown that encouraging youth to achieve athletic excellence can also lead to young athletes not fulfilling their athletic potential."
According to Naylor, we've become enamored with the works of researchers and authors like Anders Ericsson and Malcolm Gladwell (author of "Outliers") that indicate it takes 10 years and/or 10,000 hours of practice to perfect a certain activity, whether its computer programming, being a musician, or mastering a particular sport. Likewise, research by Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania has studied the value of "grit" in the classroom, and that has been applied to the playing field (or the ice, in the case of hockey).
Grit, according to Duckworth, is the "tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals," while self-control is "the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions." Both, it's safe to say, are considered attributes for a position as demanding as goaltending.
However, both concepts – repetition and grit – can be taken to extremes.
"In both cases, the message is loud and clear: train relentlessly and regularly and greatness is within grasp," said Naylor. "Unfortunately, this is an example of society and sports being deaf to nuance.
"Failure to understand Ericsson's entire conception of deliberate practice can make much athletic striving time ill-spent," he said. "Even if one is fortunate enough to have found excellent coaches and a sufficient number of competitive opportunities, striving toward excellence requires regular rest."
There's the rub. Athletes who push themselves to the breaking point, no matter how well-intentioned that effort is, risk breaking down. This past season, I was working with a freshman goaltender who was a coach's dream. The youngster was an absolute sponge when we talked about the technical aspects of the position, and he worked his tail off when we applied those lessons on the ice.
Then, one day, Andy (not his real name) was really dragging. He had no "pop" to his movements, and was continually dropping too quickly, instead of waiting on the shot. Once he dropped, he stayed down. So I asked him what was going on.
"I'm exhausted, coach," he said. "I did a leg workout after practice yesterday, and the day before. Today, I've got nothing."
"Well, d'uh," I replied. "You can't just keep running yourself into the ground, Andy. You've got to make sure you give yourself a chance to recover."
My response was almost a knee-jerk reaction, and had more to do with my prior life as an amateur mountain bike racer than my current role as a goalie coach. In my 30s, urged on by a few cycling pals, I started competing in mountain bike races. I wasn't ever very good, but I still wanted to get better. So I started training like a maniac, burying myself in these brutal training sessions day after day. Not exactly a scientific regimen.
Instead, I subscribed to the "No pain, no gain" theory so prevalent in the 1990s. If a one-hour training session was good, a 90-minute session was better. And, come the weekend, at the starting line, I had … nothing. Just like my freshman goaltender, I was toast. It didn't mean I couldn't race, but it was a slog.
So I started doing my homework, including long talks with my racing friends who had far more experience. The first thing they taught me was the "recovery ride." On Mondays and Tuesdays, especially post-race weekend, the gang would go out and soft pedal, spinning an easy gear just to encourage blood flow. We maintain a "conversational" pace, and never pushed our heart rates.
By mid-week, my legs had that "snap" that cyclist's love. I could push hard on Wednesday and Thursday, and then taper briefly on Friday. Then, come Saturday and Sunday, I had the lungs and legs to compete. Not that I was any threat to the top racers in the pack, but I could bring my best. Even better, I was having fun. Which is exactly what Naylor believes is a critical byproduct of rest.
"Physical and mental breaks during practice sessions, throughout seasons, and over the course of the year are necessary for an athlete to rebuild and return to play stronger and stronger," said Naylor.
"Hours of practice and participation in hyper-focused sports environments can saddle athletes with unnecessary expectations, where mistakes on the playing field are failures and stumbles feel like letting coaches and families down," said Naylor. "At the end of the day, sports is 'play.' When adults enthusiastically provide these opportunities but remove 'play' from the equation, something is amiss."
I couldn’t agree more.