|Mountain biking is a great summer option for goalies.|
Hard to believe that June has arrived, and that the start of summer camps is just around the corner. Although I love working summer camps -- Really, is there any better place to be on a hot, sticky day than an ice rink? -- I always approach the season with just a little apprehension. That's because I think kids need a summer vacation from hockey almost as much as they do from schoolwork.
As a result, my approach to summer camps and clinics is to keep them light and a little less serious. It's a mental break as much as anything. We'll work hard, but in short bursts, and without the pressures of winning and losing. And the rest of the time, I want my younger goalies branching out, pursuing other activities, and playing different sports. Here are a few thoughts on the topic, originally written for the New England Hockey Journal and the New York Hockey Journal. Let me know what you think ...
Summer fun that prepares you for the first puck drop
Old-timers like myself vividly remember the days when goalies were mercilessly stereotyped. Not only were we thought to be a few cents short of a dollar, but we were the big, slow (and often overweight) kids who couldn't keep up with the game, so we got stuck between the pipes. And, like most stereotypes, this one is a combination of fact and fiction.
Much like today, there were kids in my day (growing up in the 1960s and '70s) who absolutely loved playing goal, who were more than willing to take on the challenge of stopping an entire team from scoring. Those of us enamored with the position were usually in pretty decent shape, because we were driven not just to be goalkeepers, but good goalkeepers.
Likewise, there were also plenty of kids who found a sort of refuge in the nets, dumpy kids who just wanted to be part of the action despite not being particularly gifted. And they could could away with it, for two reasons. One, you didn't need to be a great athlete, or in great shape; you just needed a relatively high pain threshold. Two, the rest of the kids were happy to have anyone with a pulse put on the pads.
There will always be kids who gravitate to goal, but the ones who do so because they think it requires less effort, and less fitness, are in for a rude awakening. Those days – like my cherished youth – are long, long gone. From the way the game is played (think 100-yard dash, instead of a Sunday jog) to the way we teach the position, goalies need to be fit. Notice I didn't say "great athletes." Of course, that helps. But a youngster with the desire and requisite physical fitness can accomplish great things between the pipes.
On the other hand, come June, kids need a break. Playing hockey – especially goalie – 12 months a year concerns me a little. I think of Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance character in "The Shining," with his obsessive "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" mantra. Talk about scary. I believe it's really important to have an off-season, to recharge our batteries, to work different muscle groups and learn different skills. To have fun.
So, with school out for summer and the start of a new hockey season at least three months away, here are a few of my favorite off-ice activities to ensure that you'll get the break you need, but ready to go when the puck drops in the fall. One important point regarding team sports, such as lacrosse and soccer – don't play goal. Again, give your mind, and your nerves, a vacation. It's summer, after all.
For my money, the best off-season exercise comes with two knobby tires underneath you. Mountain biking is a full-body workout, improving stamina, explosive power, reflexes, balance, and proprioception (body awareness). Plus, it's a hoot to play in the dirt. Just remember, I'm not suggesting a casual little pedal along a rail trail. If you want to get the greatest benefit, hit the singletrack. The tighter and more technical the terrain, the better. Toss in some vertical, which will really build your quad strength and lung capacity, and your on-ice workouts will seem like a snap by comparison (Interesting side note: I was recently listening to an NHL Classic broadcast of the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs, with color analyst John Davidson talking about how Kings goalie Kelly Hrudy got super fit by mountain biking in the hills outside of Los Angeles).
Lateral quickness, instincts, reading the play, superior footwork, hand-eye coordination, mercurial bursts of action, endurance, a willingness to battle for every point? Sounds a lot like goaltending to me. Of all my suggested summer pursuits, tennis is probably the closest corollary to playing goal. The best part is you only need one other person (and a court) to really work up a good sweat. Racquetball and squash are terrific options as well, but since this is summer, and I'm an outdoor fanatic, the nod goes to tennis.
I love hoops. The game rewards skill, athleticism, hustle, peripheral vision, teamwork, and tough defense. In basketball, if you can't keep up, you get left behind. Period. That's how I want my goalies to think. They need to be in the same shape as their teammates, if not better. Plus, I love the critical thinking skills that basketball develops. You've got to process a lot of information in a hurry, and act on it.
Hockey's off-ice cousin, lacrosse has all the attributes of hoops, with the added element of a lacrosse stick and (in some instances) a lot more physicality. But, as I said earlier, think twice about playing goalie. I have a neighbor who plays goal in both hockey and lacrosse, and I'm just a tad concerned he'll burn out. It hasn't happened yet (and I hope it doesn't), but I prefer hockey goalies get out and run in the off-season. Play forward. Score some goals!
Those who mock soccer can't play it. In reality, the world's best soccer players make the game look ridiculously easy (much like the world's best hockey goaltenders). But the skill and footwork required to play the game at a high level is exceptional. Don't believe me? Just try it. I have a coaching colleague who constantly ridicules soccer, so I've invited him to come play with my group of Over-50 geezers. I've repeated the offer several times over the past few years, but he won't step up. Why? I suspect he knows just how difficult this sport is. So will you, once you try it. But stick with it. The rewards are tremendous.
It saddens me to see our national pastime falling by the wayside in many parts of the country, in large part because of the rising popularity of lacrosse. But it's a great game, and if you're a goaltender, there are several positions that are ideal. I played third base, and I loved the hot corner. It teaches you patience, because you need to be alert on every single pitch, or you risk getting your head split open. If you want to be more involved, and really employ some of your goaltending talents, consider picking up the "tools of ignorance" and playing catcher. Is it any surprise the Vancouver goaltender Cory Schneider was also a top-notch backstop for his Philips Andover high school team?
This isn't just for old guys (and gals). Athletes of every age can benefit from the flexibility, strength, discipline, and core balance that yoga offers. This is a low-impact exercise (unlike most of the others mentioned above), so it's joint friendly. And if you're friendly to your joints now, they'll repay the favor later on.
Last, if you get a chance to skate, skate out. Put on regular skates, and pick up a regular stick. You'll see the game from an entirely different perspective, which is refreshing. You'll use different parts of your body, and, more importantly, different parts of your brain. Similar to my belief that positional players should don goaltending gear at least a couple of times to appreciate what netminders deal with, I think goalies should rub elbows in the corners and find out just how difficult the game can be for positional players.