5 Ways Coaches Destroy their Goaltenders

5 Ways Coaches Destroy their Goaltenders
03/04/2011 Juha Halmesvaara

Copyright © Larry Sadler/Smartgoalie.com – April 3. 2011

1.       Coaches Ignore Them –  Believe Me Ignorance Is Not Bliss

  • Coaches will leave their goaltenders on their own much too often. Many coaches simply don’t know what to do with their goaltenders. They may feel threatened by their lack of knowledge when it comes to their goaltender, so they often intentionally or unintentionally leave them alone. Remember, just like any other athlete, left to their own devices goaltenders will repeat bad habits and fail to improve.
  • Coaches will set no goals for them. Without realistically set aims and objectives goaltenders will wither and dry up. This often happens because the coach has no idea what motivates a goaltender. Because of this the coach either sets improper goals or no goals at all. Without set goals and objectives for the season, for the month and even for each game, goaltenders will stagnate.
  • Coaches give them non-specific feedback and direction. When pressed, the coach just gives them a very general “good” or “pathetic” without being specific. Non-specific feedback will be disregarded by goaltenders as irrelevant or, worse still, they may over react and become completely disheartened. In either case this type of non-specific feedback prevents their goaltenders from improving.
  • Coaches hope the goaltenders know what to do. Coaches who leave their goaltenders to their own devices send a message that they don’t consider the goaltenders important. This guarantees the goaltenders don’t improve simply because the coach allows them to receive no needed corrections. The goaltenders therefore repeat mistakes over and over again until they become ingrained and impossible to change.
  • Coaches feel its better to tell them nothing than to tell them something that’s wrong. Coaches who are afraid to say the wrong thing often say nothing. This only serves to isolate their goaltenders. Remember, interaction between a coach and their athletes often confirms self worth, while non-interaction leaves the athletes with little or no self esteem.
  • Coaches do nothing to seek out help for their goaltenders. A coach who knows nothing about goaltenders and does nothing to alleviate that ignorance is acting irresponsibly! When coaches don’t even try to seek out help they send a message that their goaltenders aren’t worth helping.
  • Coaches who say goaltenders are different and thus they give themselves permission to forget about them. Coaches who don’t know goaltending often dismiss their ignorance by saying “goalies are a different breed”. They will often consciously or unconsciously use this as an excuse to do absolutely nothing with the goaltenders.
  • Coaches don’t bother referring their goaltenders to goaltending school/camps because they feel it’s just not their job. Coaches who don’t know goaltending should go out of their way to check out schools and then refer their goaltenders to the appropriate clinics, camps or schools. They should do their research! Failing to provide that info to goaltenders again isolates and devalues them.
  • Coaches who feel that if they can’t teach it than it just doesn’t have value. Insecure coaches who don’t know a skill often devalue it by disregarding it. It’s a modern day version of the Aesop fable about “sour grapes”. What you can’t achieve or do must not be worthwhile. This approach will only weaken their goaltenders by leaving them abandoned.
  • Coaches who fail to notify their goaltenders whether they will or won’t be playing the next game until the last possible moment. Goaltenders, like any athlete, need to be properly prepared to play. Coaches who fail to give their goaltenders sufficient time to prepare by waiting until game time to let the goaltender know who will be playing prevent them from being mentally ready for the game. Keeping both goaltenders in suspense, or on “tenterhooks”, right up to when the puck drops is unfair and very unwise. Failure to be properly prepared for a game may put too much stress on the goaltender that does play.
  • Coaches who frustrate any team work between their two goaltenders. Sometimes a coach forces his goaltenders to become inappropriately competitive. By that I mean he forces them to work against each other in such a way that they become singularly focused on their goaltending partner failing.  An effective goaltending partnership becomes a mutually agreeable pairing that allows them to feed off each other’s energy. This paired energy gives them the opportunity to work together and by doing so to improve themselves by working on areas in which they need to improve together. A poor coach creates inappropriate competition by having them compete to play. (I.e. one plays one period and the other plays the other and the one with the better GA plays the third, you play until you lose, etc.) Often, goaltenders become distrustful and selfish. Failing to use your goaltending partner as a sounding board or as a confidant isolates a goaltender and therefore weakens him.
  • The Coach gives the goaltender no guidance prior to or during the game. As the team prepares to hit the ice for the game the coach gives the goaltender no specific direction, no aims or objectives for the game. He gives no encouragement prior to the game and doesn’t assist them in any way with their mental prep or, worse still, does not allow them to prepare themselves properly.
  • Coach wants no goaltending coach. The coach feels threatened by having anyone else in a coaching capacity on the ice in practice.  He doesn’t want anyone else on ice during practice doing anything he can’t control. Control freaks don’t want anyone competent on the ice or bench. If a control freak realizes he doesn’t know goaltending he will feel threatened by having anyone on the ice or on the bench just because he can’t control them. For these coaches knowledge is a form of control and having someone on the ice or bench who knows something he doesn’t threatens that control.
  • Coaches give their goaltenders no proper work in practice. Coaches who know nothing about goaltending end up giving their goaltenders no work at all or worse, give them improper work. They allow them to skate improperly i.e. not skating in proper stance forward and backwards, skating the entire length of the ice when short explosive burst across the ice are more effective training tools, they allow them to stickhandle without their goalie gloves, or they allow them to leave rebounds in front of the net rather than have them direct them out of danger and off to the side. They allow them to recover slowly from saves rather than demand they recover more quickly.
  • Coaches provide no one-on-one interaction with the goaltender in practice.  A coach allows himself to become too busy with his forwards and defensemen. The coach therefore has no time or doesn’t want to spend any time with his goaltenders. By neglecting them in practice the coach frustrates their personal esteem and therefore programs them to fail.
  • Coaches forget to set up goaltender specific drills. Often coaches design drills with the forwards in mind first, the defensemen second and the goaltenders a distant third. With limited time the coach ends up spending 60% of their practice time on forward skills, 30% on defensemen and 10% or less on goaltenders.
  • Coaches do no research on the position. A coach who doesn’t know goaltending should do some research to fill that knowledge gap. Coaches are constantly researching defensemen and forward skills and drills – why not goaltender skills and drills?

2.       Coaches Pressure Them –

  • Coaches who constantly point out a goaltender’s mistakes. Coaches who criticize their goaltenders without pointing out proper corrections put an inordinate amount of pressure on them and therefore program their goaltenders to fail.
  • Coaches who become excessively upset when their goaltenders are scored upon. A coach who becomes clearly agitated when their goaltenders “let in” a goal undermines the goaltenders’ self esteem and weakens the goaltenders’ resolve.
  • Coaches laying the difference between winning and losing solely upon the goaltender. A coach who makes it clear to everyone that the goaltender’s performance is the difference between winning and losing puts an incredible amount of pressure on that goaltender. If anything, the coach should be trying to lift pressure from a goaltender’s shoulders so he can concentrate more effectively on the game. Remember, too much pressure makes a goaltender too tense, and leaves his self-esteem brittle and easily fractured. Coaches who blame their goaltenders for all goals against fail to realize that it took a mistake by at least one forward and another mistake by at least one defenseman to get the puck to the net. Sometimes blaming just the goaltender for a goal is like blaming a puddle for the rain.
  • Coaches who play a goaltender until he loses. This attitude makes the wins contingent on the goaltender’s performance alone. Minor or youth hockey coaches who constantly play goalies until they lose will cause their back-up goalies to wither and will definitely wear out their first string goalie.
  • Coaches who humiliate their goaltender for poor performance in front of the team. Any coach who openly criticizes any player in front of his team mates risks ruining his self-confidence. It is even worse for a goaltender because the nature of his position quite often sets him aside from the rest of his team already. Coaches who shout out non-specific or critical comments directed to the goaltender from the bench do nothing to help the goaltender’s development and only serve to embarrass and frustrate the goaltender.
  • Coaches who pull their goaltenders from a game too soon or keep them in too long. Coaches who pull their goaltenders too soon risk ruining their self-esteem and leaving them in too long, especially in an embarrassing situation, is just as bad. Pulling a goaltender without telling them why also sends the goaltenders a bad, demoralizing message.
  • Coaches who send small negative messages by telling their goaltenders they are “starting” rather than “playing” the game. A little thing like telling a goaltender he is starting implies he may not be finishing a game. Tell him he is “playing the game”. Referring to them as “targets” also implies the goaltenders can not be proactive.
  • Coaches who tell their goaltenders “It’s all up to you”. By putting too much emphasis on the goaltender as the prime reason for winning a game the coach puts too much pressure on the goaltender.
  • Coaches who expect their goaltenders to stop every puck in practice. Setting unrealistic objectives in practice and letting them know when they fail to live up to these objectives will cause many goaltenders to crack. To properly ensure goaltenders develop remember the 70% success rate rule. Every drill should guarantee an average of 70% success or goaltenders will get discouraged.
  • Coaches who allow their players to run the net in practice or to humiliate the goalies in practice. Coaches who don’t provide for their goaltender’s safety or who fail to prevent their goaltender’s embarrassment at the hands of their team mates will program their goaltenders to become easily intimidated. That quite often carries over into games.
  • Coaches who allow their players to “dipsy-doodle” too much in practice when attacking the net. By that I mean, coaches who allow their players to hot-dog or showboat during shooting or offensive drills by slowing down or dragging out their play in a completely non game-like pace. These non-game specific actions will have a detrimental affect upon a goaltender’s timing. It will also have a negative effect on the goaltender’s confidence.
  • Coaches who allow too many shots on net at one time. These shooting galleries, in which players shoot all at once at the goaltender at any time in the practice, could injure your goaltender or negatively affect his focus and confidence causing them to wince or to pull up on shots.

3.       Coaches Under work Them

  • Coaches will prevent the backup goaltender from getting any game work or severely reduce them from doing so. No matter how weak their back-up goaltender is a coach risks making them worse and thus potentially weakens the team by not giving the back-up goaltender sufficient game time. They need the in-game work so they can both maintain and improve their self-confidence.
  • Coaches refrain from giving the back-up goaltender any significant responsibilities. Coaches who don’t give their back-up goaltender proper responsibilities in games prevent them from developing their analytical skills. Operating a door on the player’s bench will not teach a goaltender how to better play a 2-on-1. Having them take stats or game notes will.
  • Coaches don’t provide the game goaltender with the opportunity to review their game performance critically. Coaches who don’t allow their goaltenders the opportunity to assess their performance after they have played prevent their goaltenders from developing their analytical skills. In addition, the coach prevents the goaltenders from correcting their errors and in improving their play.
  • Coach refrains from having any goaltender stats taken. Coaches who don’t provide goaltender specific stats severely hamper their goaltenders’ ability to learn from the game effectively, specifically from their mistakes and accomplishments. By goaltender specific stats I mean – shots against, save percentage, shot charts (where each shot directed at the net originated from on the ice) or net charts (where shots hit or entered the net)
  • Coaches who don’t allow their goaltender specific off-ice conditioning. Coaches who provide no goaltending specific eye-hand and agility based conditioning prevent their goaltenders from developing their hand and foot speed and thus allow their goaltenders to fail.
  • Coaches who don’t develop their goaltender’s ability as a defensive zone QB. Coaches who fail to enhance their goaltenders natural ability to direct play in the defensive zone hurt their team’s ability to develop. Goaltenders have the opportunity to help a team by being more aware of what is going on in the defensive zone. Goaltenders see more of the complete defensive zone and can relay information to their team specifically about offensive openings and defensive coverage needs.
  • Coaches who don’t provide specific goalie drills. By giving goaltenders little to do or too little to work on in a practice a coach allows their goaltenders to stagnate and prevents them from improving and growing as a goaltending unit. Coaches must stress drills in which the goaltender’s ability to move quickly and to stop the puck efficiently is enhanced.
  • Coaches who don’t provide high intensity drills – Coaches who don’t create drills which properly progress to a higher intensity pace will prevent their goaltenders from learning to excel – to push those limitations that separate them from what they can do now from what they should be able to achieve in the future.
  • Coaches who don’t provide balance and agility work. All goaltenders need to improve their balance, footwork, and agility. Coaches who fail to emphasize this in practice will force their goaltenders to fall behind the pace of the game. They will therefore not become faster, instead they will get slower.
  • Coaches don’t provide progressive drill work. Coaches who don’t allow their goaltenders to increase their ability to perform a skill at game pace by increasing the difficulty of a drill allow their goaltenders to stagnate.
  • Coaches who allow soft non-game-like shots. Coaches who encourage soft or weak shots in practice fail to test their goaltenders and therefore fail to allow them to develop properly.
  • Coaches who allow non-game-like drills. Coaches who fail to use game-like drills in practice prevent their goaltender from developing their play-reading ability.
  • Coaches who give their goaltenders too much time between shots and the next segment of the drill. Coaches who unrealistically space their shots out in drills prevent their goaltenders from increasing their recovery time in response to the pace of the game.
  • Coaches who fail to focus on the sloppy rebounds which occur in practice drills. Coaches who don’t do anything to encourage their goaltenders to direct or to move rebounds away from the danger areas (i.e. in front of the net) send improper messages. They don’t allow their goaltenders the opportunity to develop good habits.


4.       Coaches Overwork Them

  • Coaches who play their goaltenders until they fail could end up destroying their goaltenders’ confidence, exhausting them and setting them up for injury. They also risk hurting the development of those back-up goaltenders that patiently waits for their time to play – all the while slowly losing their competitive edge.
  • Coaches who fail to provide their goaltenders with proper game prep time. Coaches who don’t provide their goaltenders with a specific game prep routine ensure their goaltenders will not be at their peak of readiness by game time. Ball tossing in the hall brings the goaltender’s eye-hand coordination up to the required game pace.
  • Coaches who provide no time to the goaltenders for relaxation and focusing. Research shows us relaxation training is an important part of pre and post-game routines, especially for goaltenders. Coaches who don’t allow their goaltenders to have an effective relaxation and focusing routine hurt their goaltenders’ overall performance. The goaltenders don’t need to sit in the dressing room while the coach discusses team play. The goaltenders would be better served by staying out in the hallway or on the bench when the Zamboni is on the ice, mentally preparing themselves for the game.
  • Coaches who allow shooting drills without giving the goaltenders the proper time to set themselves. Coaches do their goaltenders a great disservice when they construct shooting drills which do not allow them the time to follow the puck into their body or glove, or don’t allow them the time to quickly recover. These non-game-like drills force the goaltenders to develop bad habits, habits like not following the puck into the body or glove or not trying to recover as quickly as possible.
  • Coaches who allow head hunting shots. Coaches who allow their players to shoot at their goaltenders’ heads in practice only serve to shatter their confidence.
  • Coaches who allow their players to crowd the net in practice. Coaches who allow the goaltender to be run in the net or to be crowded in the crease in practice could crush their goaltender’s confidence or worse injure them. The also sends their forwards and defensemen a subtle message that the goaltenders do not deserve their respect.
  • Coaches who allow unrealistic practice drills without a 70% success rate for their goaltenders. Coaches who don’t provide their goaltenders with the opportunity to be successful 70% of the time in a drill frustrate their goaltenders and hurt their ability to develop their skills.
  • Coaches who over-tire their goaltenders. Coaches who work their goaltenders to death in a practice risk injury and risk undermining their goaltenders’ confidence.
  • Coaches who allow their goaltenders to skate non-goaltender specific skating drills. Coaches who don’t ensure their goaltenders skate properly in practice prevent them from developing those skills to the utmost. The goaltending skating drills must emphasize lateral movement, explosive forwards and backwards movement in the proper stance and the unique stopping action that must be used when centering on the puck.
  • Coaches who allow non-controlled slap shots in practice. Coaches who allow their players to take slap shots at the goaltender whenever they want and without proper warning risk undermining their goaltenders’ confidence or worse will injure them.

5.       Coaches Misguide Them

  • Coaches who allow improper goaltending instruction. Coaches who take the first person who volunteers to work with their goaltenders without checking them out first could risk making matters worse. Competent goaltending skill development requires a competent goaltending instructor.
  • A big problem today is with the number of poor goaltending coaches out there. Many are improperly skilled as teachers or are not very knowledgeable. Worse still, think of this, if a head coach knows nothing about goaltending and then selects the goaltending coach how can he properly evaluate that goaltending coach? How does he make sure the goaltending coach is competent and doing his job?
  • Coaches set improper or unrealistic goals. Coaches who set goals, which are too low or too high, allow their goaltenders to develop improperly. A coach who knows his goaltenders (i.e. their strengths and limitations) sets more realistic goals for them. Allowing them to underachieve or forcing them to strive for something they are not ready to attempt is dangerous and could forestall the goaltender’s proper progressive development.
  • Coaches who allow the goaltending coach to impose an improper style upon the goaltenders. Coaches who allow goaltending coaches to impose a “cookie cutter” approach to their goaltender may program a goaltender to fail. A good goaltender coach teaches proper principles to their goaltenders. These principles are based on a scientific approach based on an understanding of proper bio-mechanics, and statistical analysis. A goaltending coach who just teaches what worked well for himself back when he played without really knowing why can damage a young goaltender’s development.  Goaltenders are all different due to individual body mass, height, strength, agility and visual acuity. A style must be scientifically accurate – based on statistical analysis and on proven biomechanical principles.  Coaches shouldn’t allow the goaltending coach to force their goaltenders to become something they aren’t. Allowing them to imitate pro goaltenders without allowing for their own personal differences and abilities will cause problems.
  • Coaches who acquiesce to their goaltending coach. Coaches should know what their goaltending coaches are doing and make sure they are in agreement with the approach taken.  Accepting the goaltending coach’s approach without proper explanation could cause confusion down the road and could end up sending conflicting messages to their goaltenders at critical times.
  • Coaches who don’t screen their goaltending coach before hiring him. Coaches have to be sure their goaltending coach has the credentials and track record needed to improve their goaltenders.
  • Coaches who preach using the butterfly in every situation. Coaches who preach the butterfly on every save are programming their goaltenders to fail down the road. Each save is a response to a specific situation. Using the butterfly on every shot does not reinforce proper play reading nor does it allow for quick lateral movement and more effective rebound control.
  • Coaches who use Shots Against stats without taking into consideration the difficulty of the shots – A coach who does take Shots on Net stats should be sure to qualify the difficulty of shot by where they originated and how fast or slow they were.
  • Coaches who constantly force their goaltender to “be safe” by staying in the blue ice of the crease. A coach who tells his goaltender to stay constantly in the crease or “blue ice” hampers the goaltender’s ability to challenge opposing shooters. By staying back in all situations more of the net area is exposed to shooters. Staying back also considerably reduces the goaltenders’ arsenal by reducing their ability to intimidate the opposing shooters by challenging more.
  • Coaches who don’t require their goaltending coach to clear his practice plan in advance. Coaches must have a comfort level with their goaltending coach. Therefore be sure the goaltending coach states what his practice plans are. This way the coach can ensure he is sending the same message to the goaltender. Also reciprocate the gesture by providing your goaltending coach with a copy of your practice plan in advance so he is aware of what you are planning.
  • Coaches who don’t supervise their goaltending coach.  A coach should be sure to periodically see what skills his goaltending coach is teaching, why he doing so and how he is teaching them.


Juha Halmesvaara