USA Hockey is on a mission to make every coach a goalie coach.
“As we’re moving towards a more player-centered environment with our athletes and development, we’ve come to the realization that if you are a coach for a hockey team, you need to be a coach for every athlete on the team,” said Steve Thompson, ADM Goaltending Manager for USA Hockey.
Sometimes coaches may have the attitude that ‘I don’t know anything about playing goalie’ or even be afraid to ‘mess up’ the goalie. However, to Thompson, it doesn’t matter what position a coach might have played growing up or if they even played hockey at all.
“We certainly have a lot of youth coaches who never played hockey and yet they are responsible for coaching the hockey players,” said Thompson, a former goaltender for the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “I’d say the argument needs to be true for those that did play hockey but didn’t play goalie, they’re still required to coach their goalies. So our mission now is to help them do that by employing them with the skills and knowledge required to create a training environment that all of our goalies and goalie parents will appreciate and trust.”
When thinking about youth sports, player education and development, it’s got to be about the kids first. That goes for every player and every position on every team.
Many coaches don’t intentionally neglect goaltenders when designing practice activities. They might be in a rush to the rink or want to focus on offensive activity. Regardless, there are a few simple things a coach can do to make every drill a ‘goalie drill.’
Thompson said that any activity that involves a goaltender should allow the goalie to be prepared before the shot is taken and then having time to play out the rebound and/or recover to where the puck went after the initial shot was taken.
“If the coaches require that all games and activities give their goalies time to prepare, time to make the save, and time to compete on rebounds if necessary, they can dramatically improve the training environment without a whole lot of effort in their practice design,” said Thompson. “That alone is going to be a big change in their goalie’s development.”
Another thing that a coach can do to make their goaltenders feel more involved, is to speak to them directly, just like they often do with their players who play forward or defense when explaining the activity.
“A very simple to thing to incorporate, for every single activity that they design, when they’re thinking about what feedback they’re going to plan for the skaters, plan something to say to the goalies,” Thompson said.
He gives this example: “If you’re working on underhandling the puck for skaters and you don’t want them to stickhandle before they shoot, maybe the cue for the goalie is, ‘You want to make sure your feet are set before the shot is taken – so get to your spot and make sure your feet are set.’ It’s as simple as that. If you’re going to give a cue to your forwards and defense, think of what a cue can be for your goalie and make sure that the feedback is equal for all parties.”
There are plenty of resources available for coaches to get some goaltender coaching confidence and to learn the lingo of the crease.
Coaches can start by taking the goaltending module through USA Hockey’s Coaching Education Program. They can further their education with the Bronze, Silver and Gold track clinics.
“As long as you have your Level 1 completed and you’re registered with USA Hockey you have access to attend a goalie coaching bronze clinic. I would say that’s the fastest way to get a formal education from a trusted source,” Thompson said. “There are plenty of resources outside of coaching education clinics for parents who want to get involved but may not be a coach. USA Hockey’s goaltending website is a great resource, and there are some USA Hockey coaching webinars through the USA Hockey YouTube channel as well.”
USA Hockey has age-appropriate guidelines for goaltender game play. These guidelines are created with the athlete’s physical, mental and emotional capacity in mind. Thompson adds that every time an athlete comes to the rink, he’d like to see that athlete play hockey.
“We never want to see a youth hockey player go to the rink just to sit on the bench with a clipboard in their hands to be a ‘good teammate.’ It is something we see in the professional game that has trickled down into youth hockey,” Thompson said. “If we can change that culture alone, I think it will have a real positive effect on the future of the position. We do want to challenge our older goalies with more playing time as they mature but we need to be careful to protect our younger athletes from too much of the inherent stress that this position provides.”
8U – Quick-change gear and intermediate nets. With quick-change gear, kids can play goalie throughout a game multiple times.
“Our players can change into and out of the quick-change gear in approximately 60-seconds with a helper. The player can make a couple saves as a goalie and rotate back to skater to score a goal within a matter of minutes,” Thompson said. “You get to see everybody playing the goalie position and rotating often.”
10U – Best for goalies to start wearing real goalie equipment. Playing recommendations are to split the halfway point of the period.
“At 10U they are playing 12-minute periods; one goalie plays the first 6 minutes and the other goalie plays the next 6 minutes,” Thompson said. “If you have multiple players that want to play goalie, you can change up who is playing ‘out’ while rotating through the goalie position.”
12U – Increase the amount of time they play to a full period before they switch. Each goalie would get a full 12-minute “shift” before they rotate.
14U – Split games at the halfway point. Alternate the “starter” and “closer” at the midpoint. Make sure both goalies are getting equal playing time and opportunities to start and come in halfway.
15 and up – “We still like to see them split regular season games because again we want to see players go to the rink and play hockey,” Thompson said. He added that if teams are in a tournament where there’s a multi-game day, this is a great opportunity for one goalie to play a full game in the morning and the other goalie to get a full game in the afternoon.
“This give players the opportunity to play a full game, feel what that pressure is like and have their partner play the other full game.”
These recommendations are based on the players’ cognitive and emotional skills and maturity. Giving goalies shorter shifts at the younger ages takes a lot of stress off them.
Shorter shift times and getting time to be back on the bench also gives an opportunity for coaches to talk to the players.
“Another element that is missing from game management of goalies is the ability to coach your goalie throughout the game. So by having shift rotations, it gives the goalies the ability to go back to the bench for a little bit and talk to the coach about what they did well, what to work on next time and then go back out and try it. Which is something we’ve seen with forwards and defense forever but we never had that chance to give goalies that same feedback,” Thompson said.
You don’t have to be a goalie scientist to be a great goalie coach. Showing interest in a goalie’s development, being consistent, available for support, asking questions, getting feedback is often what these young players need.
“It doesn’t need to be X’s and O’s or specific movements, it just needs to be a consistent person that is there to check in and reinforce good things that you’ve seen,” Thompson said. “If you see a good save, reinforce it. If you see some goals going in, ask the goalie what they noticed about how they were getting scored on. It needs to be a positive relationship more than anything else that, ‘I care, I’m here, how can I help?’”