How to Become a Better Goalie

How to become a better hockey goaltender

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The age old question from goalies that are both beginners and veterans alike is “how do I become better?” “How can I take that next step to becoming a better goalie?” If only it were an easy question to answer! Unfortunately, each goalie is going to have different strengths and weaknesses, and things that work for one goalie may not work for the other.

That being said, in this article we will tackle a wide range of things that you can do, both on-ice and off-ice, to help yourself become a better goalie.

Become a Student of Your Own Game

There is no one in this world who knows you better than you. When it comes to becoming a better goalie, becoming a student of your game is the very first stepping stone to seeing greater returns from the effort put in. There is a saying in business that 80% of your profits will be generated by 20% of your work. So to be successful, you need to focus on that 20%. The same goes for goaltending. If you identify areas that are causing you grief in a game, and focus your effort on shoring those up, you will see a much greater return on performance than just continuing the same routine.

So how exactly do you become a student of your own game? Well, it is really all about self-reflection and the willingness to put in the work where it is needed. A great starting point is to watch yourself play. We will touch on video in the off-ice section of this article more in depth, but if you can start to video yourself for review, you will be surprised at what you may find! Don’t be afraid to really break it down too, as in the end it will only help you.

Identify what you need to improve on, but also identify what you are doing well. From there, take it a step further and start identifying the WHY. If you are good at lateral plays, ask yourself why? Is it because you have good leg strength? Is it because you rotate well? If you figure out why you are successful in certain things, you may actually be able to use a similar process towards your weaknesses to help fast track your improvement.

On the other side of the token, ask yourself why your weak spots are weak. This will give you a clearer picture as to what you need to do to improve them. Make sure you are honest with yourself, because otherwise you are just getting in the way of your development. Dissect what you need to work on to the smallest, simplest form as your starting point, and work up from there.

Identifying what you need to work on is the first step. Even if you don’t know how to improve it, now you have something to take to someone who can. Bring your findings to a goalie coach, or a personal trainer, or a sports psychologist, or whomever is an expert to be able to help you improve. From there, you can learn tips and tricks from them to be able to take action and become a better goalie.

Becoming a student of your own game is step one, and once you start to understand your own game, everything else becomes much easier.

On-Ice

At the end of the day, what we are trying to accomplish is better performance on the ice. There are a few basic fundamental items that can make a drastic change in how well you perform, which will be outlined below.

Skating

As a goalie, I hated skating. As a coach, I love it! As much as skating drills aren’t as fun as puck drills (although they can be made fun by throwing in some competition to them), they are crucially important to good performance. A goalie who can control their edges, move quickly and controlled, and get into position is a goalie that is going to be very hard to beat. Remember, it is easier to make a save while standing still than when you are moving. If you can get your skating to the point that any lateral play is turned into a straight shot (ie, you can beat the pass and get set before the shot comes), the game becomes a heck of a lot easier.

Improving your skating really comes down to two things: proper technique, and lots of practice. When it comes to the technique, there are a few things you can do. You can go out and see a qualified goalie coach who should be able to help identify any adjustments you need to make. You can get video of yourself playing and break it down (be a student of your own game!) to find breakdowns that you need to work on. You can also find videos online, such as on our TikTok and Youtube channels, that help to breakdown some of the technique and fundamentals.

When it comes to practice, being able to get on the ice as much as possible is really the key. Finding stick and puck or shinny ice times in your area can help lots. Outdoor rinks are another cost-effective way to find ice, or making a rink in the backyard if feasible. Take any free time in practices to work on some skating movements. Basically, any chance you have to get on the ice and practice your skating, do it!

If you can’t get on the ice, there are a couple of alternatives you can use to try and help mimic on-ice skating at home, such as synthetic ice or slide boards. However you can get practice, focus on the movements you struggle with, and start slow to really break down the techniques, then speed up as you get better. Here is a video outlining the basic set of movements you should be working on:

Tracking

Playing goal is really tough to do when you aren’t tracking a puck. Tracking, when boiled down, is basically just watching the puck. When there is a shot on net, the goalie should be watching the puck right from the blade of the stick all the way to contact with their body, and then off of contact if there is a rebound. You should also be tracking the puck as it is passed around, letting your head and your eyes guide your body to where you need to push. Tracking is actually so important that we talk about it twice in this article! Once for on-ice, and once for off-ice.

Getting better at tracking is going to allow you to be quicker and more accurate with your save execution, resulting in easier saves and less goals against. The big thing with tracking is to get your whole head involved, not just the eyes. This allows the vision of the puck to be direct, instead of in the peripherals, which allows for better and more accurate visual processing for your brain. The other bonus is that your body follows your head, so tracking into your save with your whole head will also pull your body towards your save which cuts off more net.

The biggest thing to make sure you’re doing while tracking is to track down into your save. What tracking down means is to lean your head down towards the puck as you are tracking it, which allows your body to move into the save. Even if a shot is coming high, we still want to keep our chin down as much as possible to maintain direct sight of the puck into our save. If the head tracks over our shoulder, or we pull away with the head (flinch), then a lot of times our body moves away from the puck, opening up net and making saves harder. The picture below shows a goalie using the whole head to track down into a save which is pulling the body towards the puck.

Goalie Tracking into save - how to become a better goalie

On the ice, work on your tracking as much as possible. Get someone to shoot some easier shots to your gloves or your stick, or even just casually toss pucks to you to make the save. Work on bringing your head and eyes down to contact, and off of contact if there is a rebound. When in practice, be conscious of where your eyes and your head are, and make sure to keep them glued to a puck (unless of course you are shoulder checking for a threat).

A couple of tools that can help with on-ice tracking are white pucks, and Swivel Vision goggles. White pucks are good because they provide little contrast against the white ice, which forces goalies to have to track extremely well to follow the white puck with their eyes to contact with their body. The weight and size is the same as a regular puck, it is just harder to see. Grab yourself some to help improve your tracking during your next practice!

 are a low-cost option to help goalies to focus in on the puck. They are goggles that can be put on under the mask (although you may have to take the bottom straps off to the mask to get it over them) so they can be used for on-ice sessions. They narrow the focus of vision by cutting off the goalie’s peripherals so that they are forced to focus more on the puck and really work on their head trajectory while tracking a puck into their save. They can also be used for off-ice tracking exercises too.

Positioning

You can make the argument that positioning is the majority of the battle when it comes to what you can do physically on the ice. When you are in proper position early, the game becomes so much easier. It is easier to make a save standing still than it is moving, so making sure you can get to your spot quickly and get set usually translates into easy saves. When it comes to proper positioning, there are 3 things you need to consider.

First thing is being on your angle. The best way to describe being on angle means that the imaginary line that goes from the middle of the net at the goal line to the puck goes through your belly button. This means that from the puck’s perspective, you are right in the middle of the net, covering as much as possible. This is the most crucial part about positioning, because if you do everything else perfectly but are giving up half of the net, it becomes very hard to stop a puck when a player hits the open half of the net.

To work on angles, you can set up pucks (randomly, or in a semi-circle, or whatever works best for you) and work on pushing out to each puck. Practice pushing out from your post, from the middle of the net, and pushing puck to puck. All 3 will help you improve your angles. If you can, have someone stand behind the puck to look and see if you are on your angle or not, and help you correct if needed. Getting good at angles takes practice, and with enough experience, you will just be able to feel if you are on angle or not.

The second part of positioning is being square. Being square means that your shoulders, hips, and feet are all facing directly forward at the puck. Since humans are naturally wider shoulder to shoulder than we are stomach to back, this allows the most coverage of the net from the puck’s perspective. It also allows for easier tracking since your head is facing directly forward to the puck.

The big issue caused for goalies when it comes to being square is during movements. Goalies like to perform what I call the “butt shimmy” during shuffles, meaning they lead more with their butt instead of their body. This causes them to not be square and makes it harder to make saves as the player carries the puck laterally. When you work on your shuffles, make sure you work on keeping your body facing the puck and performing small little rotations as you push. With longer pushes, such as t-pushes, it is really important to get a proper rotation before the push is made. Get square to where you are pushing with a good rotation and then make the push. This will allow you to be square once you finish your push and get set.

The last part of positioning is depth. Depth is how far out from the goal line you get set. The benefit of depth is that the further out from the net you are, the more coverage of the net you have. Too much depth, however, can make it easy for a player to deke or pass around you or flick it over your head. Out of the three elements, depth is the least important. This means that getting on angle and square are your priorities, and if you have time, then you can gain depth if needed. We would much rather get into the lane on angle and square and be a little deeper (further back) in our crease, than trying to gain more depth but not get on angle or square in time.

Depth is very situational as well. Once you can understand situations where more or less depth is appropriate, again, your game becomes a lot easier. More depth is not good for situations where lateral plays are likely, such as a 2 on 1 or a penalty kill. Gaining depth is also not great for when the puck is at a dead angle (off to the side of the zone, close to the boards) because the angle causes the net to look small from the puck’s perspective, so that depth doesn’t gain you any advantage for net coverage. What it does do, though, is make it harder to move laterally if there is a pass. The picture below outlines the general area that is considered to be a dead angle (the blue area)

An example of dead angles for the overlap and post play to become a better goalie

However, this does not mean that we sit back on our goal line when there is a lateral threat, as that just opens up the net for the shooter. We have to strike a balance of shot coverage and being able to get across in a reasonable time. Also, there are situations where being more aggressive with depth is warranted. For example, if their player is coming in on a one on one with no threat of a lateral play, coming further out to cover more net makes perfect sense.

Watch the pros and take note of when they are further out and when they are deeper in their net. Make notes in your own game too as to if you got burned on a back door pass because you were too aggressive with your depth, or got scored on from a point shot because you were too deep in your net. This will help you understand when to gain depth, and when not to.

Efficiency

We have all heard it before. “Just stop the puck.” As if it were so simple 😂. But realistically, when you boil goaltending down to its absolute most basic function, it is to stop the puck. So the question is how to stop the puck more often and more consistently. Well, the more efficient you can be in your game, the better results you will see. A lot of goalies tend to move more than they need to and tend to add delays to their game, making it take longer to move or to execute a save.

So the big question to ask when it comes to efficiency is “does this serve the purpose of stopping the puck?” If not, then try to eliminate it from your game. Here are a few common examples of some inefficient things that can be in your game. Bringing your body up (almost like standing up) during your pushes. Not taking a direct straight line to the puck while making the save (ie pulling hands in towards the body before coming out for a save). Making saves behind or beside your body (sorry windmillers), instead of meeting the puck in front of the body. Overpushing. Not getting your feet set and still be moving when making saves.

There are lots of examples of things that can creep into your game that could cause you to be less efficient and slower. So now that you have started to become a student of your own game, break down every aspect of your game and ask “does this help to stop the puck?” If something is taking away from that, then try to work it out of your game.

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I like to tell my goalies that everyone calls us goalies lazy, so we may as well play lazy. And by that, I mean do the least amount of work possible to get the job done. During a save, your body is only moving in a straight line to meet the puck, so not going through or past the puck. Let the puck do the rest of the work coming to contact with your body. Meet the puck in front of your body so you have to move less to make your save.

During movements, you should be rotating to get square to the puck, pushing in a straight line, staying low through your push so you can stop in a set position, and get a good hard stop once you hit your spot. The hands shouldn’t be swinging back and forth or dropping, your body shouldn’t be elevating through the push, you shouldn’t be pushing in a semi-circle motion…you get the point.

Basically, everything we do should be for the purpose of stopping the puck or getting into position to stop a puck, and that is it. All the extras add delays and take longer (and unfortunately as a goalie, a tenth of a second could make or break you) and they also burn more energy. Once you start breaking down your own game, find the inefficiencies and work towards eliminating them through practice.

Off-Ice

Honestly, if you really want to succeed as a goalie, what you do off the ice is what is going to set you apart (or set your competition apart if you’re not keeping up). Ice is hard to come by and expensive in most areas of the world, so it can be a challenge to work on your game on the ice. Take into account the following tips to implement off the ice to help take your game to the next level.

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Video

We had talked about this when it came to becoming a student of your own game, but video can be a crucial difference maker in taking the next step in your development. Once you can start to breakdown your game from an outside perspective, you will start to see things that you never knew were issues. You may be able to get someone to video for you, or you may have access to a service like LiveBarn in your rink, or you could even set up a GoPro on a suction cup tripod on the glass behind the net. Whatever works best for your situation, do your best to start getting footage to be able to breakdown your game.

What can make a big difference, especially if you are new to this and not entirely sure what you’re looking for, is having somebody qualified and knowledgeable to break down the footage for/with you and provide feedback. A goalie coach, or a higher level goalie could be someone to reach out to. We here at The DIY Goalie also offer virtual video breakdown services through our video app which you can learn more about here.

Breaking down video of your own game isn’t the only option for using video. You can break down video of other goalies and see what they are doing right or doing wrong and how you can implement that into your game. Another thing that you can do if you have access to it is looking over video of your opponents. Check out their systems and their player’s tendencies to be able to start thinking situationally of how you can play against their structure. Do they have someone loaded up for the back door one timer on the power play? Maybe play a little bit deeper to get across. Their best player always goes forehand-backhand then slides it five hole? Well now you can be prepped for it.

Regardless of how you use it, video is a powerful tool that can help you to understand your own game and the game around you. Do what you can to implement video that works with your situation!

Cognitive and Vision Training

If I was given an opportunity to take only one piece of information back to my former goalie self, it would be to put work into cognitive and vision training. That, or maybe investing in Bitcoin. It’s a toss up. Anyways, this is probably one of the most important things you can do off the ice to see tangible results on the ice. The quicker that you can process information, the quicker your decision making and reaction time will be on the ice.

Cognitive training is the act of training the brain. Just like how working on our bench press makes our arm and chest muscles stronger, working on cognitive exercises makes our brain stronger and faster. This helps us to react to shots quicker and to have better eye-hand coordination. It also allows us to process situations better such as where the opposing players are, where our players are, what way the player sitting back door shoots, etc. Goaltending is such a cerebral position that the better shape your brain is in, the better your performance.

Any sort of activity or exercise that helps you to think and process information is good for improving cognitive function. One great resource which is free to use and simple to do is concentration grids. Doing one grid a day can help drastically improve tracking, cognitive function, and focus over a period of time. There are also various apps on the app store and Google Play store too that can be downloaded to help improve cognitive function. Find a way that is fun while working on your cognitive function as that will help make a habit out of putting in the work!

Vision training is very closely related to cognitive training, as it is the act of training our eyes and our ability to process visual information (so it also uses the brain). Anything that you can do that involves exercising the function of the eyes, such as focusing on different objects, tracking objects, stretching and moving your eye muscles, etc., is going to be good for improving your vision. One great tool that can be used for this is the Vizual Edge program which personalizes a program for you based on your initial evaluation. It even has a game day mode for a quick brush up on your visual skills before you go on the ice for a game! Another great product for vision and cognitive training is the Senaptec glasses, which you can use code DIYGOALIE15 for $15 off all of their products, or DIYGOALIE50 for $50 off their elite strobes.

All in all, the better you are with your cognitive and visual processing, the better you become on the ice. If you take nothing else from this article, at least understand the importance of cognitive and visual training as it could potentially be the difference maker for elevating your performance on the ice.

Workouts

One way to improve skating on the ice is to get stronger and better conditioned. This can be accomplished through workouts that we do off the ice. We are going to break down workouts into 3 different sections: strength, conditioning, and flexibility.

When it comes to goalies, a lot of people put an emphasis on flexibility training for off-ice work outs, both for performance and injury prevention. The problem is that most people forget about the strength training aspect of things. You can be as flexible as you want, but if your muscles aren’t strong enough to support your joints and ligaments in the crazy positions flexibility can get you into, you still risk injuring yourself.

On top of helping with injury prevention, strength training is important for being able to get strong pushes while on the ice. It can also help with maintaining proper balance. The biggest thing to think of when strength training is ensuring you have a balanced approach. Work on your core muscles, but also work on your back. Work on all of the leg muscles, quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, calves, etc. Balance yourself out by working on all of the muscles, not just a select few.

As goalies, we aren’t trying to accomplish Schwarzenegger sized muscles. This can actually hinder our movement and decrease performance. Instead, we want to build strength and endurance, so focusing on less weight but more reps is ideal for goalies. The big focus should come on strengthening below the chest. This means focusing on core, back, and legs, as these will provide the greatest performance benefit on the ice. However, we still want to maintain a strong upper body as goalies can easily develop shoulder and other upper body problems if the upper body isn’t taken care of.

Conditioning is a big part of a goalie’s game. Hockey players tend to need short extreme bursts of energy and then they rest for a few minutes before doing it again. As goalies, not only do we need those short bursts of energy, but we also need longer term conditioning to deal with being out there for an entire period with no breaks. When performing cardio workouts, ensure to balance longer, lower intensity (aerobic) cardio workouts with shorter, high intensity (anaerobic) ones.

Aerobic cardio usually focuses on the traditional cardio routes, such as cycling, running (although sprinting is usually classified as anaerobic), swimming, etc. Anaerobic cardio is more focused on quick, explosive bursts for a short period of time, such as box jumps, lunge jumps, or heavy lifting. In your workout routine, have a balanced approach to both types of exercises to be able to improve your ability to deal with long term stamina and quick bursts of energy. You’ll need both during a game.

Finally, make sure you are working on flexibility. This is probably a no brainer as everyone associates goalies with the splits, but the biggest thing with flexibility training is to help prevent injuries. Yes, flexibility can also help with performance, but the first focus should be injury prevention. Stretching before and after activity goes a long way in making sure your muscles can keep up with the range of motion you will be putting it through on the ice.

When stretching, make sure to include all of your muscle groups. This includes adductors, glutes, hamstrings, back and core, calves, etc. The more muscles you can loosen up, the greater your chance to prevent injury. It also helps to maintain a stretching routine outside of just before and after activity, and that is where you can put in the work to try and increase your flexibility. Bear in mind that you don’t want to push the limits of what you can do to the point of pain, as that can lead to injuries itself.

Tracking

Tracking has already been brought up in the on-ice section of this article, but it is important to take every opportunity to work on tracking as possible. As brought up before, unfortunately ice time can be pretty limited and hard to come by. The good news is, tracking is something that can easily be worked on off the ice as well!

Any sort of exercise that helps to work on following an object into the body will help to improve tracking on the ice. This can be as simple as bouncing a ball against a wall and catching it or having someone throw a ball to you while you catch it. There are also products that you can use to make things more difficult, such as , ,  or Senaptec Glasses.

When working on tracking off the ice, ensure to work on the head trajectory and having the head come down towards the ball, or whatever you are using in your training. The other thing to make sure of is to get used to catching the ball in front of your body, and leaning your body into your catch as best as possible. This helps simulate the movement of our save execution that we are trying to emulate.

Tracking also goes hand in hand with vision training, so there will be a good amount of overlap between the two for training. Working on peripheral vision drills will also help with tracking, and doing something as simple as some eye strengthening movements and exercises can go a long way as well. Remember, your eyes are muscles that can be trained to get stronger and faster.

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Lifestyle

Bear with me for a second, as in this section I’m going to sound a little bit like your mom. However, top performance on the ice is very much linked to how we treat our body. Although we live in an age where communication and information has never been more accessible, there are a lot of negative connotations to what has crept into our daily routines. Arguably the two lifestyle changes that will make the biggest performance differences are sleep and nutrition.

Sleep is where our body rests and heals. Top level athletes expend a lot of energy from their rigorous training schedule, and their body goes through a lot. For example, strength training leaves you sore because you are actually putting your muscles through small micro tears that then heal back a little bit stronger than before. However, if your body isn’t given the time to rest to properly heal, those tears can compound to the point that now you have a full muscle tear and are on the IR for the next 6 weeks. There is such a thing as over-exertion.

Find time in your day to rest and recover from the activities. Set yourself a strict sleep schedule and set an alarm for a certain time to go to sleep. Stick to it. It is recommended to get at least 7.5 hours of sleep (upwards of 10 hours for high performing athletes) to give your body adequate time to recover. It seems like it is hard to do this most days given busy schedules, but it is important to invest in your health and well being and make sleep a priority. You have an hour to kill? Have a nap. Your 6 AM Saturday morning practice got cancelled (Score!)? Sleep in!

Time spent sleeping isn’t the only important thing. Quality of sleep matters too. Put your phone on do not disturb mode. Take out any TV or computer screens you have in your room. Remove any noise or light stimulants (except for a white noise machine, if desired) to help your brain to shut off for a few hours. Remove screen time at the minimum an hour before bed, ideally two. If this isn’t possible, get yourself some . Sleep aids such as melatonin can help, but use them sparingly so as to avoid developing a dependence on them.

Nutrition is another big factor in high-level performance. As the saying goes: “garbage in, garbage out.” The choices that you make when it comes to the food and drinks you consume drastically affect your performance. Consuming whole foods in a balanced diet and getting enough hydration helps to feel energized for longer and also helps to fuel proper recovery. Just to emphasize it, ensure you are hydrated. Drink more water!

Portion sizing and timing of when you consume certain foods is important as well. Eating a large amount of complex carbs an hour before activity isn’t going to help you perform the best. One simple way to visualize portion amounts is to use athlete plates. This concept is very well outlined in the sports nutrition for elite hockey players course from Leverage Nutrition. This is a great resource to get more information on proper nutrition for hockey players than I am qualified to give. Use code firstcourse to get 15% off.

One last thing to think of when it comes to lifestyle is screen time. We talked about how it affects sleep, but it can also affect vision qualities such as depth perception and can cause eye strain and fatigue. Another negative that has spanned from our “short attention span” world of Tik Tok videos (FYI, follow our Tik Tok account 😂) is that a lot of people are developing problems focusing for extended periods of time. Yes, these platforms are great for information and entertainment, but the screen time and short videos can cause issues when it comes to focusing on a puck for a full 60 minute game. Like everything, keep it in moderation. Again, concentration grids are a great resource to help improve focus.

The Mental Game

They say 80% of goaltending is between the ears. You can argue the exact percentage, but at the end of the day I think we all can agree that our mental state of mind is a big component of how well we play. We’ve all been there. You have the game of your life, and one week later you’re sitting on the bench after being yanked for letting in 5 of the first 6 shots. A week later you had the same skill set as you did in the game you played well. The only thing that changed was mentally. Here are some things to work on to improve your mental game.

Visualization

It’s amazing the power that the mind’s eye can have, especially when it comes to performance. Being able to visualize all of the things that you want to accomplish during a game (and at anything really) can help your mind and body prepare for when you do get into that situation. Visualize making a routine stick save that you put to the corner, rotate, and make a solid t-push recovery to get set on the rebound. Watch yourself make a top-corner glove save look easy by catching it in front of the body, tracking it in, and leaning into the save. A few keys to successful visualization: keep it realistic, use as many senses as possible, and practice.

By keeping your visualized situations realistic, you have a better chance of your visualization successfully translating to positive performance. If we are constantly trying to visualize 5 on 0 barrel roll scorpion pad stack windmill saves, we may find that this doesn’t help improve our on-ice performance. However, being able to take routine situations such as good, crisp pushes and efficient saves, it can help the body to make those happen in the game easier. Mix in a few game stopping 2 on 1 back door saves or a big one-timer glove save, and you can go into your game confident and pumped up about how you will play.

Speaking of realistic, using as many senses as possible in your visualized situation will go a long way to helping make your visualizing more impactful. Imagine the other team’s jersey on the players in your visualization, even better if you can picture their actual players. Feel the puck as it hits the pocket of your glove, or deflects off your stick to the corner. Listen to the sound of the puck being shot from a slap shot, and then the sound of the puck hitting your blocker. Smell your rank gear and taste the salty sweat in your mouth. Makes it pretty realistic doesn’t it? The more you can bring in your senses, the more realistic your visualization becomes, and the more likely you are to repeat it once on the ice.

Finally, practice your visualization. It will be tough to do at first. Watching video of yourself helps to make your visualizing easier. Try practicing not on a game day, so that you can play around with what helps bring a more vivid picture and experience when you visualize. Focus on bringing one sense at a time into play to start, and then build from there. To start, think of one moment from your last game or practice that you remember vividly, and try to recreate that in your mind’s eye. Building off of memories is a good start as the information is already there in your mind, and as you get better you can start creating situations on your own.

Positive Self Talk

Fake it til ya make it. Goaltending is a game of confidence, and the best goalies are the ones who can adapt and rise to the occasion when called upon. All of this comes from being positive and confident in yourself. The self-doubt needs to go. Change your mentality and your framework from negative and hopeful talk to positive and definitive talk. This will translate to a little more swagger and confidence.

Do any of these phrases or thoughts sound familiar? “I hope I play well today.” “Number 14 on the other team always seems to score on me.” “I am in a slump, hopefully we can get out of it tonight.”

If you go into a situation thinking you will fail, or hoping you don’t fail, chances are you have already failed. The mindset shift towards knowing you belong and that you will succeed will translate more often to success. Something as simple as “I belong here.” “I will make the next save.” “My best game ever will be tonight.” All these phrases can help to shift your confidence and be in the right state of mind to be more consistent with your performance.

At first, take some time to think of and write down some phrases that make an impact for you. Think about what helps you feel confident and gets you amped up for game time. One thing that a lot of goalies do is actually record themselves saying these phrases and incorporate it into their pre-game routine, listening to the audio along with their playlist. Find what works for you, but whatever it is, stay positive and lift yourself up!

 

Pre-Game Routines

Speaking of pre-game routines, they can be a big part of helping you get into the proper mindset for a game. There are other physical benefits as well that should be incorporated into the pre-game routine, such as some ball work to help warm up your tracking and save execution, but for now we will focus on the mental side.

Having a routine is a way to have a bit of a mental switch that turns on to game mode once it is started. It is your cue to your body to focus up and get ready. Make sure you incorporate techniques to help get you into the proper mindset, such as visualization and positive self talk as stated above. You want to make sure the pre-game routine is repeatable, but isn’t to the point of superstition. Sometimes things don’t always go as planned, and if you live and die by certain things you can’t control, it can actually have negative effects. Things like having to sit in the same spot every time you play a game can have negative effects if you can’t get that spot in the room. Or what if your lucky pair of underwear gets a hole in them, or your mom shrunk them in the wash? Now what?

Everyone will have different things that work for them to get them in the right state of mind, but this is where experimentation can help. Implement or change one thing each game as you try to find what works for your routine and write it down. Record how you played and how you felt. If the new change went well but you feel there is still room for improvement, then implement another change.

Music can be a big help in getting you in the right state of mind. Find a playlist of music that helps get you into that sweet spot. Are you usually full of nervous, fidgety energy before a game? Listen to some slower more mellowed music. Do you like to get fired up and in the zone? Turn up that hard rock go hard workout playlist! Also implement your audio of your positive self talk phrases we discussed earlier, and you will be ready to rock.

Pre-game routines don’t have to start at the rink either. Start visualizing before bed the night before. Start talking to yourself or listening to music before you leave for the rink and on the way to the rink. Meditate, if that works for you! The bottom line is that we all have a “sweet spot” of focus and mental preparedness, so find how to get yourself into that zone. Again, writing down what you did and how you felt can really help you to shape your routine into what gets you in the right state of mind.

The Even Keel

A common trait among goalies who are successful at high levels is that they are cool under pressure. Now, we have seen a fair share of pro goalies lose their cool (I’m looking at you Tuukka Rask), but when it comes to the big moment and the big game, the top goalies rise to the occasion and deliver. This comes from being able to have an emotional even keel.

Another way to describe the even keel is “not too high, not too low.” With the game of hockey, there can be a lot of ebbs and flows that happen instantly within a couple of shifts. Your team is up by 3, they take a 5 minute major and then another penalty. On the ensuing 5 on 3, the other team scores. They score again and now the lead is cut to one and there is still 2 minutes left on the 5 minute major penalty. Unfortunately, you’re a big part in stopping the bleeding and maintaining the lead.

Success as a goalie comes from being able to tune out the noise and just focus on the next shot. Regardless of if the last shot was a big back door splits save, or a brutal goal against from the far blue line, the only thing that matters now is the next shot. The better you can be at maintaining neutral emotions, the more consistent your game can be.

If you make a big save, you can store it in the back of the mind for later, maybe even watch a video of it if there is one. It happens lots that goalies get overconfident or get caught up in their big save moment that not too long after a goal goes in that maybe they’d like back. Be proud of the big saves you make, but understand there is still a job to do, and most of the time that job is immediately after that save. The same goes on the opposite end for a bad goal. Focusing on it can very easily snowball into 2 or 3 more bad goals and now you’re on the bench for the rest of the game.

Figure out what works for you to stay grounded. Something as simple as a phrase you can say to yourself, or a simple routine. One example that was popularized by Braden Holtby was tracking water droplets. He would squirt water into the air and track one water droplet as it fell. Maybe you have a sequence to tap your posts with your stick and glove, or like to go for a quick skate to the corner. Whatever it is, find your “reset” that helps keep you focused on the next shot. If it is a phrase, write it on a piece of tape and put it on the backside of your blocker just above the opening for your hand. This way, you can quickly look down and remind yourself to stay in the game. Remember, you can’t change what has happened, good or bad. All that matters is what is laid out in front of you.

Control the Controllables, Don’t Worry About the Rest

At our camp this past summer, we had former NHL goalie coach and current sports psychologist John Stevenson as one of the speakers for our classroom sessions. He had brought forth the idea from a racing psychologist of the A + B = C formula where A = what you can control, B = what you can’t control, and C = results. The result you are looking to achieve comes from a combination of what you can control and what you can’t, so focusing on the result may actually hinder us from being successful.

For goalies, we would love to win every game, win championships, individual awards, make the best teams, play in the NHL, etc. Sometimes, however, there are things out of our control that affect these outcomes, and that’s okay. All you can do is ask yourself: “did I do everything I could in terms of what I could control?” If the answer is yes, then that was all you could do.

Focusing on things out of your control tends to put us in a negative mindset. You can’t do anything about the ref calling a goal on a scramble that you know for sure the puck never went in. You can’t control your defenseman throwing a gift up the middle to the other team. You can’t control that the team bus was late and your team got to the rink 30 minutes after scheduled puck drop and you are given 15 minutes to be on the ice, no warm up. (Yes that happened to me, yes we lost that game 6-0. I started, got pulled, and then went back in after the other goalie got pulled👌😂).

What you can control is your mindset and your attitude. You can control your commitment, determination and the work you put in. You can control the extra practice on and off the ice to get better. Does it suck to put in the work and still not win? Yes, for sure. But just know and understand that if you focus on making the A part of the equation the best it can be, you give yourself the best chance to get to the C that you want.

 

One of the best things about the position of goaltending, in my opinion, is that it is so intricate. A lot more goes into it than people think. It takes a special kind of person to be able to stick with it in goaltending, and the fact that you have read this far shows you are committed to getting better. After all, there is no better feeling than that big game-saving stop! But there is also something to be said for how good it feels to make a solid push across, and make a top corner glove save look easy by just keeping your glove out in front and catching it. Others may not know the work that went into that save since it looked so easy, but you know that your determination and hard work make that save easy.

Keep putting in the work, tweak the small things, and don’t overthink it. And most of all, have fun. At the end of the day, hockey is a game, and games were meant to inspire fun and competition. Embrace it. Enjoy it. And go crush it. I believe in you and I think you can get much better if you believe you can and put in the work.

Resources for Goalies

The following resources are great for goalie content to help goalies continue to improve their game.

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