Crazy, Quirky or Smart
Goalies – Crazy, Quirky or Just Smart Enough to Understand What They Need!
A goalie bangs his posts incessantly at the stoppage of play; another goaltender won’t play unless he’s hopped over every line on the rink on his way to the net, yet another refuses to speak to his players during stoppages. These are commonly referred to as ‘Superstitions’ or quirks of the goalies. Truth is most players have ‘quirks’ but does it all really rely on the underworld and the forces of evil vs. good, positive energy, good or bad ‘luck’. I think not.
The reality is most of these ‘superstitions’ or ‘quirks’ are simply the product of a routine, which is key to pre game preparation. Putting on your left skate or pad first, isn’t odd; it’s simply what makes you comfortable. When a goaltender ‘gets his game face on’ or is ‘in the grove’, ‘in the zone’ or whatever you want to call it, it always starts with the comfort level felt by the player. When you aren’t comfortable, you don’t often play well.
All players, and in particular goaltenders, should develop a routine that they follow each and every game. This routine doesn’t have to be elaborate or to ritualistic proportions, it only needs to be detailed and engrossing enough that it helps you to become comfortable prior to stepping on the ice.
Another very important factor is that it needs to be continued throughout the game to help you focus. There can be many components to this routine, but each will have a contributing factor in maintaining your comfort and focus levels, before and throughout games and practices.
As noted earlier, it starts with a routine, some players simply ‘fall into’ a routine and stick with it, others try and devise some great plan and then go to great lengths to create superstitions that are wildly distracting to the team and even themselves. Your ‘routine’ shouldn’t involve other players, be disruptive to the team and you shouldn’t look at it as a life and death situation if by chance you
don’t do a portion of your routine.
It’s important to get prepared, but there are situations when you simply can’t do what you want without creating a scene, and when this happens, there has usually been more disruption and loss of focus than ever would have resulted from the original ‘problem’, had it been ignored. Learn to be mentally prepared, but not overly focused on things that really don’t matter.
Here are some examples of ‘routines’ that can cause problems for the entire team and should be avoided:
The ‘post bangers’. Continually banging each post a specific number of times on every stoppage. I’m talking about those goalies that ‘clang’ each post loudly with their stick 5 or 10 times in a dizzying display, every whistle. Sure you might think this looks cool, but you are wasting a lot of energy and the ref will eventually drop the puck – ready or not. Not to mention the expensive sticks you beating up for no reason.
The “I need my space” goalies. I’ve seen goalies who had to have a specific corner in the room (we all have our favourite) but these guys take up about 6’ – always fun in the rinks with rooms built too small for Tykes - of bench space. They usually lay their gear out in a specific order and spread it out exactly the same way every time, and then ‘go insane’ if anyone ‘invades’ their space. This isn’t a routine; it’s a lack of respect and consideration for their team. If you have room to dress comfortably, that is all that is required and in some rinks, this isn’t even possible.
The ‘lucky underwear’ goalies. I worked with one goalie in particular who didn’t wash his playing underwear for TWO FULL YEARS and he never opened his hockey bag unless he was playing - over 250 hours of sweaty ice time went into those babies – they were absolutely disgusting. He smelled like a 2-year-old kitty litter box, left in the sun, in the desert, used regularly by about 40 cats… I’m trying to be subtle. This is unsanitary and will ruin your gear, not to mention losing you any friends you might have had. Lot’s of players have favourite shirts, shorts, underwear or whatever, but WASH IT. There is no reason for this, it ain’t lucky, it’s dumb! Hockey gear smells, but this is simply rude.
The “don’t touch my gear” goalies. Ok, no one wants their gear messed with, but there is no need to go nuts if someone bumps into a pad in the dressing room. Get over it, again this isn’t a routine, it’s a lack of respect and consideration for team mates.
The ‘specific order’ goalies. Again, many of us have a routine and this is one area it’s important to be set in. Put your gear on in the same order all the time, it’s just more comfortable to do this, it isn’t superstition. BUT, I’ve seen some, get completely dressed and then realize that they didn’t put the left skate on first or they had the wrong colour sock on the right foot, whatever. These goalies have their mind so programmed that they believe the world will cave in if they did something ‘wrong’, that they then remove all of their gear and start from the beginning. OK, if it wasn’t important enough for you to have noticed when doing it, it’s just not that important! Talk about disruptive, the coach wants and needs his time, everyone needs to be ready, this is a waste of time and worse, energy.
There are a lot of goalies with quirks; we’d love to hear some of your stories about goalies that went too far or have extreme ‘routines’.
Your level of comfort starts well before you arrive at the arena. If you don’t drive yourself, some areas of pre game routine may be out of your control, but there definitely ways to prepare yourself, aside from the drive time.
First off, let’s be clear, we understand that most of you reading this aren’t going to have, and shouldn’t need, all day to prepare. You have a life outside hockey and unless you’re being paid or are close to signing a contract, hockey is a game and only a small portion of your life. For most players, it’s still just a game, don’t make it bigger than it is, this can also become a problem.
What is described in the following article is based on the average players needs, obviously very high level athletes or those making a career of their sport, will have a different routine because their entire day may actually be focused on a single ice time. If you are in school or work outside of hockey, hockey is not the most important thing in your life, so it is important to find a balance, where you can enjoy and excel at hockey AND the other areas of your life that need to be important, such as family, work, school, friends, etc.
Each goalie will have different needs, but everyone should begin planning about 3 hours before ice time. Now, you may be thinking, ‘3 hours, I don’t need to prepare for hockey that far ahead!’ Yes, you really do if you want to be at your best on the ice, but this part of preparation doesn't involve too much effort.
The food you’ll eat plays a huge role in how you’ll play and the stamina you will have. Here are some simple guidelines to follow. Give yourself at least 3-4 hours of digestion time for a large meal, 2-3 for a smaller meal, 1-2 for liquid meals and 1hour for a small, low fat snack. This means absolutely no; fries, candy bars or soda pop in the dressing room before the game. The foods you eat are vital to your performance...but that’s another article.
Eating 'something'; is as vital as eating the right foods. Not having enough food in your system is like trying to run a car without gas. Remember, food is your fuel. Eat junk and, like a car on bad gas, the engine runs rough and not at optimum efficiency, eat correctly and at the right time and you will be like the car on premium fuel, running smoothly and efficiently. So although eating right is very important, not eating at all can be equally bad or sometimes worse.
If you are in the situation of coming home from school or work and then having to immediately go to the rink, plan ahead, don’t wolf down dinner and go, eat a snack and plan well ahead. Dinner afterward is the way to go. If you have no options and find yourself in the McDonalds drive through (we’ve all been there) on your way to the rink, remember, your play will be determined by what you choose, so a salad or a regular burger is all you’ll need to hold you until after you play. Remember, you only need to fuel your body for the time until the activity is over, not the rest of the day. Again, avoid the fries and soft drinks.
Once you have taken care of your ‘fuel’ requirements (that’s food), there is only one thing that really needs to be done before you leave for the rink. Pack your bag – assuming you take care of your gear and properly air it out, which is key to keeping it for a long time – if it is already packed, make sure you check it over. Underwear, lose screws and tape are all things to check out, early. Packing your bag BEFORE you are ready to leave allows time to fix or find things. Finding out that something is misplaced or broken as you are leaving will make you anxious and rushed. This can affect your mental state, preparation and overall play.
Tip for bag packing: It’s not superstition, it’s common sense! Put everything in the bag in the same order and in the same place each time. Put it in the bag in the order you dress or undress. You’ll be a lot less likely to forget something.
Once the bag is packed, the gear all ready to go and your stomach is taken care of, there isn’t much that has to be done until it’s time to leave. Every player will have different needs in terms of time to prepare and when they want to get to the rink, the coach may also have a pre set time to arrive, usually 1 hour before the ice time.
How you personally prepare will determine how much time you need, but again, hockey isn’t your entire life, so make it reasonable. Too much preparation can make you anxious. Remember, your goal is to get comfortable, focused and relaxed. How you accomplish this is completely up to you, but listening to music, stretching and visualization are some of the most common and effective methods. Depending on your own personal needs, you may want to do some of this at home or wait until you are at the rink.
If you drive yourself, leave with enough time to compensate for traffic, trains, etc. Set yourself a deadline and stick to it. If you are relying on a ride from parents or a team mate, make sure they understand that it is very important to arrive at the time you set. If something happens and someone is late or there is a slowdown en route, do your best not to let it effect you. Stay relaxed.
Once you are at the rink, regardless of how you prepare, it’s time to get serious and prepare yourself mentally and physically. This is where it is vitally important to have a routine, or ‘superstition’ as some call it. Doing the same thing each time you play will help with your comfort level and help you to focus.
Some things that you must do before you play; Give yourself enough time to socialize, even if it’s just a couple of minutes, it’s important to be part of the team. Remember, everyone who wears your jersey is your friend, if only for the time at the rink, treat him or her with respect and be genuinely happy to see and greet them.
Stretch! The older you get the more important this becomes, but it is just as important to develop a pre ice stretching routine at a young age, so you can avoid unnecessary injuries. Again, doing the same set of stretches at the same time, helps build comfort and you are less likely to forget something.
Dress in the same order every time. This is something that most players will do. As noted in Part 1, if you get out of order, don’t start over, just keep going, but if you develop a set way of dressing, you’ll probably never miss anything. You have to allow yourself enough time to dress and be ready for the next step of your pre ice routine. If you rush or skip any step, your play will suffer. So make sure you allow enough time to get to the rink and do everything you need to do.
For most players, after they have dressed is this the most important time to get focused and ‘get your game face on’. There are many ways to prepare and each individual will find their own way. Meditation, quietly listening to music, simple relaxation, and visualization are some of the most common. Again, each player will require an amount of time that works for them, but remember, you are part of a team, don’t get into a routine that disrupts others and it’s key to let your coaches and team mates know what you like or dislike. We’d suggest at least 5 to 10 minutes of focus and pre game mental preparation for the average goaltender.
Here is a great example of why it’s important to tell your team mates what you do to prepare. One of our instructors (C Jay) who played pro for a number of years has a very specific routine that involves a long period of quiet time where he focuses with his head down and covered by a towel. He was getting prepared for a pivotal game when one of the newer players, who weren’t familiar with his routine, walked by, gave his pad a smack and said “hi”. C Jay jumped up and punched the player in the face, not because he didn’t like the guy, but because he is such an intense individual that it was reactionary when his focus was broken. This illustrates how important it is to keep your team ‘in the loop’ when it comes to what you do and how you want to prepare.
Once you are focused and ready to play, the coach will usually have his time to speak to the players, your pre game focus time must be complete when the coach’s time starts. Although coaches seldom have much to say the goalies during a pre game talk, it is essential that you show the coach respect and allow him/her to have his time. Most coaches only talk for 3 to 5 minutes and while this is happening, you still need to be focused and have your ‘head in the right place’.
Once you head out to the ice, do a couple of quick laps to get your heart rate up, and then another quick stretch. Always following the same routine. Warm up shots should do just that - warm you up. Shots should be at your body and pads, so anything that forces you to stretch or overreact, should be ignored. There shouldn’t be any dekes during a warm up, if a player dekes, stand up and watch them skate by! How many shots you take is completely up to you but do what you want, not what the players ask, when you feel ready, leave the net.
For most minor and adult hockey leagues, games are only 50 - 60 or 90 minutes, so about 20 shots is all you’ll usually get in the quick warm up. Telling the players what you want before you hit the ice, will really help you get ready and make everyone more comfortable. Some goalies want all low shots, some want low then high, some want a mix, yet others will ask for several hard ‘game like’ slap shots from the point to finish the warm up (that’s me). It’s all about what you want and everyone needs to be on the same page here. It isn’t time to discuss this when you step on the ice. The coach will likely have input here as well and it may NOT be what you want, so you’ll have to discuss it with him/her as well.
Tips for warm up: You have to direct all rebounds where you want them, especially in warm up. Don’t just stop the shots, direct them. This helps your tem mates so they don't have to chase all the pucks and it gets you in the rhythm of doing something you have to do during the game. Remember; how you practice is how you'll play! If you feel really slow or sluggish, you might want to try taking part of the warm up without your stick, this should help get your legs and feet moving.
Some goalies will talk to their players during a warm up, some won’t. It’s what helps YOU to be focused that is important. If you look at a guy like Martin Brodeur, he is able to be intense and focused while the play is on, but when the whistle goes, he can laugh and joke around with the other players and even the ref. To us, this, on and off focus is the sign of a true professional who has his game completely under control. He’s comfortable! Whether you are a talker or not, you will need to communicate with your players at some point, so don’t get over focused and ‘zone out’ everything.
Once the game is set to begin, the face off is happening at centre, it’s time to be 100% into the game, comfortable and focused. Too many goalies seem to have to make that first save before they feel into the game and often the first puck goes in because they are too keyed up worrying about the fist shot. Remember, you will have just stopped many shots in the warm up, the first shot of a game should be viewed as just another shot, it might actually be the 30th or 40th shot you’ll have stopped since stepping on the ice. They are all of equal importance during a game, treat them all the same.
You will get scored on. Face it; no one shuts ‘em out every game! So don’t get down or upset when a goal goes in, be it on the first or last shot. Maintaining your composure is as important to your focus and comfort as it is to the rest of your team. Throw a tantrum and you will bring the entire team down and who’s comfortable while throwing a tantrum?
Accepting that goals will go in makes this easier, but don’t accept them without a 5 second replay (as explained above). Learn from goals. Accept them, but don’t expect them. It is definitely OK to be mad when you get scored on. Making a spectacle of yourself is NOT OK.
I teach my goalies that like the 5-second replay, they are allowed a 3 second ‘venting’. Sometime you need a quick release, but it can’t be too obvious. One smack of a stick on the ice is ok, although not a crazed swing at the goal post (if it breaks, you hit it too hard and it just became a costly swing). One word of frustration to yourself is acceptable, screaming at anyone is not.
The only time that it’s OK to get angry is on a goal that you immediately know you should have stopped. Most of the other goals will require that 5 second ‘replay’ and if you have taken 5 seconds to figure out if it was stoppable or not, you won’t be nearly as angry after you’ve analyzed it. You have to train yourself that once you have had your quick release, it’s over. Get refocused, forget that it happened and stop the next shot.
Some things to help you stay focused, calm and comfortable during the game:
- Try taking a short skate to a specific point on the boards and back to your crease, some goalies will skate figure eights
- 'Houseclean’ the crease (you should do this anyway to keep things smooth) by pushing all the snow away from it and to the side of the net. Don’t get a penalty for building snow banks!
- Others will take a water break at every stoppage in play (staying hydrated is imperative) or squirt water in their faces or on their head.
- Some will watch the clock, some refuse to look at it.
- Finding a specific stance while the play isn’t in your end helps some (remember Ken Dryden’s chin resting on the stick while he stood straight up).
- Can you picture a goalie with his butt against the back bar of the net and his head down, elbows on his knees, staring down at the ice, that’s refocusing!
- Most ‘routines and superstitions’ are quirks that happen over time, and become habit. One of these (with many variations) is sweeping the snow off to the sides, hitting the heel of the stick on one or both pads, then smacking the catch glove with the stick, banging the stick on the post and quickly bouncing into stance. Some may find it weird, yet for some, it HAS to happen or they can’t play well. This is a small example of a quirk that is harmless, but if it works, do it.
- You might see some of the pro’s flipping their masks up during breaks, it may help them, but it’s a penalty in minor hockey and if your mask is this loose, it’s not really safe, so we do not advise this.
- Ever seen a goalie dance, shifting his weight from left to right (you see this a lot of time in the pro's during the anthems), this is nervous energy being put to use, it helps some stay focused.
- How about hopping over all straight lines on the ice when skating on and off the rink (Patrick Roy). Quirky superstition, but harmless.
- Doing a quick set of stretches on stoppages is a good way to stay limber and can help keep you in the game, especially if you aren’t seeing much action.
- Tapping the posts is common, but can take its toll on your stick shafts (see Part 1), gently tapping and making sure you are positioned is a good way to stay in the game. This can and should be done while the play is under way as well
- Singing, believe it or not we know of some goalies who sing to themselves during play.
- Then there is one former pro who actually commentated the game as it was happening – you know; “Gretzky back to Lemieux, he shoots and a huge save by XXXX
So you can see there are a great many ways to stay focused but they all come down to doing whatever makes you comfortable, calm and focused. So have fun with it, don’t try and come up with something, let it ‘happen’ but make sure you don’t get into the rut of looking for ‘something’ to help you win and play well. What really makes you play well is focus and comfort level, not silly superstitions. It is also important that whatever you do to help maintain that comfort level, works with and for your team.
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