My Goalie Mom Rant
The need for a goalie development revolution in minor hockey in Canada
Last weekend, sitting next to a goalie father while watching our respective goalies practicing with a private goalie coach, we started a discussion about my biggest frustration with regards to minor hockey for goalies in our area — the lack of goalie development.
His daughter is a second year Bantam goalie with an all girl’s team. She was on the ice with Euan and another goalie for a 90 minute, goalie-only practice with a private goalie coach Euan worked with during the last hockey season.
His daughter met this coach through their hockey association a few years ago. She used to play with the boys in a neighbouring association to ours. It was interesting to find out that this neighbouring association had hired a coach to develop its goalies at no extra cost to parents.
It opened up the discussion about goalie development. As this father described, there is little development for goalie. He lamented that the goalie coach was only used once a month and so most of the time, the goalies were left to their own devices during practice.
That said, it is far better than what Euan has received since becoming a goalie – which is absolutely ZERO goalie specific development from our local association.
The hockey goaltender is inarguably the most difficult yet crucial position to play in terms of its impact on the outcome of the game. And yet we suit these young players up in equipment that is bulky and difficult to maneuver in — shoot hundreds of pucks at them at practice, with no semblance of real game situations — and judge their performance after each game without giving them any tools to improve and develop.
All other positions receive some kind of development and coaching. Usually, the coaches, which are volunteer parents, have played hockey to some degree, and have received some training for drills and development exercises they can practice with their players. But that is not the case for goalies.
It’s a wonder goalie continue to play and it is a testament to the character of these special players that many manage to develop, despite the lack of understanding or support for their position.
Euan’s development experience
Euan became a goalie after being mostly a forward but sometimes a defenseman for his first 4 years of playing hockey. I remember his first year showing up to our association’s evaluation camp. I was nervous. Watching your young athlete between the pipes, knowing that if he makes a mistake, everyone will see it — is almost unbearable.
At the time, I didn’t know much about glove positioning, power pushes or puck tracking – and neither did Euan. He was going on instinct and tapping into his competitiveness and determination more than skill.
As his first coach likes to boast, he had the first overall pick, and he picked Euan. He saw something in him. But it certainly was not because of his evaluation – which was done by the coaches (all volunteer parents) who did not know him and had no idea how to evaluate goalie effectiveness.
We are very grateful that his coach picked him. He is a great man that taught the kids as much about being a team and how to be a decent young man, as he did about hockey, but I can’t say that he was taught much about goaltending.
That summer, I enrolled Euan in an intensive goalie camp. During the next Fall selection camp, our hockey association invited a third party to evaluate the goalies which resulted in Euan being invited to the double lettre camp. That little bit of goalie instruction actually made a huge difference in his play.
Everyone ignored him at the double letter camp. They didn’t know him. He was not selected and sent back to A.
Euan had a great team in PeeWee A, and fortunately one of the parent associate coaches from the year before took him under his wing and worked with him, but again, that coach knew nothing about goaltending. The coach focused on his confidence, which is also important, and tried his best to find drills online, but he could not help him with developing his technique.
Again, it was up to me to find additional position specific instruction if I wanted him to develop and succeed. We enrolled him in another summer camp which improved his technique immeasurably.
When Euan showed up for selection camp last Fall he was prepared and his development surprised everybody at the local hockey association. He made PeeWee AA.
If I thought the more elite teams would provide more development, especially for goalies, I was wrong. It was the worse year, in terms of development, ever. The coach did not even assign one of the assistants to take care of the goalies while he did player drills. They were left on their own.
Again, I took matters in my own hands and enrolled Euan in a season long development program. He had a 90 minute session with a goalie coach every week, along with only one other goalie.
Focusing on process not outcome when there is no process
Not every youth athlete will develop into the next Connor McDavid or Carey Price. That’s not the point.
Youth sports is more enjoyable when a young athlete feels like they are improving and progressing, learning new skills and mastering old ones. Development boosts confidence and enhances the experience whether the player stays at the lowest level for their whole youth sports experience or progresses to elite levels.
Development should be the outcome of the experience — not winning or losing or which level is attained. As professional coaches and athletes point out — it’s focusing on the process not the outcome that leads to success.
Now imagine playing a position where your performance is judged and scrutinized during and after every game. Despite this scrutiny, no instructions or tools are given at weekly practices to help you improve or correct your performances. You are left on your own.
It would not be positive experience.
That is the youth sports experience we are providing for our young goalies, at least locally, and from what I have read, also across the country.
We should do better. They deserve better.