How To Deal With A Struggling Goalie

How to help a struggling goalie, how to get out of a slump, how to improve mental toughness

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Unfortunately, at some point or another in their career, every goalie will go through a tough patch where they are not performing to their standards. Even more unfortunately, these dips in performance are highlighted because the goalie does not have anyone to hide behind. A bad mistake by a forward isn’t as blatant as a bad goal let in by a goalie. That usually leads to a downward spiral that is hard to pull out of. So what can we do to help the goalies around us, or ourselves, to get out of this funk?

The Mental Approach

Initially, giving the goalie a little bit of space is the best way to help them cool down and reflect. Goalies know when they are struggling, so they do not need to hear about it right after a bad game or a bad goal. Give them a period to reflect and to calm down a little bit before starting a conversation. Each goalie will be a little different. Some will need a few minutes, some will need a day or two.

One of the other things that is good to have a conversation about is if there is anything else going on outside of hockey. This is especially important to talk with youth goalies about, but also for adult goalies, whether it be yourself or a goalie close to you. Outside stressors can have a significant impact on on-ice performance. Talking with your goalie to see if there is anything that is bothering them, or if they are stressed or upset about anything might help open up a dialogue to address the root cause of the issue. Being able to tackle some stressors, or at least finding a way of coping with them can help with performance on-ice. Some things that may help include meditation, positive self-talk, and rhythmic breathing. There are many other things that can help get into the zone, and it is going to come down to each goalie personally, so find what works for you/your goalie.

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Making sure to support the goalie during their struggles is important in helping them get back on track. This goes for anyone close to the goalie: teammates, coaches, parents, etc. When I played my first year of Junior A, our coach brought in a third goalie ¾ of the way through the season. I spent a handful of games backing up as the other two rotated starts. During this time, I ended up going in off the bench in three separate games. I ended up getting the win in two of the three games we were down in, and had one goal against between the three appearances on over 50 shots. I went in to see my coach asking why I hadn’t earned a start after my good play lately. He showed me my save percentage on the year and said “that’s why.” I had been proud of my recent play despite having a tough year to that point as a 17 year old junior goalie, and thought I had earned a start. Instead, my confidence was dashed and I got one final start before the end of the year, in the very last game, and ended up getting pulled due to nerves.

On the contrary, after being traded in the off-season, I had torn my meniscus in the summer and got a surgery right at the start of the season. I didn’t play my first game until November. I was rusty for my first two games, but won one of them. My third start was against the last place team, and we lost 4-2 despite outshooting our opponent 50+ shots to about 17. After the game, my coach pulled me into his office and told me “shake it off, we have the utmost confidence in you and need you moving forward.” I finished the season 12-3 with six shutouts, a 1.56 GAA, and a .943 sv%.

It’s amazing the difference having a vote of confidence from an outside party can have, and how much the opposite can bring a goalie down. Ensure the goalie is getting a lot of positive talk around them as much as possible. That being said, ensure to talk positively about the future, and not the past. Most people are not naïve and understand that their past play has not been up to standards, and trying to make them feel good about their recent rough patch may come across as condescending. You can focus on a few positives from past performances for sure, but stay truthful and don’t try to sugar coat things.

The Training Approach

A focus on the fundamentals can really help a goalie climb out of a hole. While in practice, taking some time to dial in puck tracking and save execution can help to build some confidence and also just help with the goalie’s overall game. While focusing on these fundamentals, taking away as many variables as possible and just performing the task will help really nail down the skill. So for movements, just focus on one movement at a time, and getting on angle to a puck, but no shot. For save execution, take out any movement before the shot, and just work on making saves. For tracking, staying on the knees and just working on tracking a puck into a save will isolate just the skill of tracking. By taking out the variables, the goalie can quickly improve the skill being worked on and improve their game and confidence. Check out some other tips in our article about how to become a better goalie.

Practices should be goalie friendly. Talk to your coach about structuring drills that will help the goalie improve. For tips on running a goalie friendly practice, read our blog post here. Avoid drills that have multiple shots close together, 2 on 0s, and other elements that can add to a goalie’s frustration and decrease their confidence.

Make the game fun again. Even though we add a great amount of pressure to ourselves and our little athletes, at the end of the day, hockey is just a game. Anyone who is or has played the game is doing so because it is fun and rewarding. So through some small area games, a little bit of competition, some light-hearted banter and have some fun. Spark the love for the game again in a no pressure environment that just allows the goalie to go out and try to make saves, and have fun doing it. You can check out some fun competition drills here.

When push comes to shove, every goalie will go through ups and downs. The position of goaltending is unique in that there isn’t a lot of support, especially on the ice. A lot of times goalies are on their own to deal with their thoughts, and this can make it hard to get out of a funk. Each goalie will deal with certain situations differently, so finding tactics that work best for you or your goalie can go a long way in keeping your head above water. Remember, playing goal is fun, and there are five other players the puck has to go through. Very few have what it takes to be a goalie, so take comfort in the fact that you or your goalie are the one standing tall out there in the crease.

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