One of the challenges of good goalie training is to figure out ways to use goalies effectively in practice. Oftentimes, goalies just aren't the focus—defensive and offensive drills can take the majority of ice time with the goalie getting practice accidentally during shooting drills, etc. What drills they do participate in do not reliably simulate game conditions or, at worst, leave them with nothing to do while coaches instruct the other players.
Building your goalies into an effective practice plan will pay off big time on game day.
Goalie Training Tip #1: Smart Warm-Ups
Like all players, goalies should have the opportunity to warm up at the start of practice. They don't need to be peppered with slap shots five minutes after hitting the ice.
On the other hand, goalies don't necessarily need to participate in standard drills for defensemen and forwards, nor would those drills be an effective use of a goalie's time. But including goalies in some general skating drills once in a while will help them develop their skating skills. A good use of goalie time is to devise some simple on-ice warm-up drills they can execute on their own in one crease or the other. This will instill in them a sense of responsibility—they play a unique position and should be proud of it. However these warm-up goalie drills look, they should require goalies to perform game-play movements.
Take the time to instruct them in a half-dozen goalie drills and assign them two or three at the start of each practice. Since they may be on their own for much of warm-up, make sure they focus on correct execution, not speed.
Goalie Training Tip #2: Even, Consistent Workouts
It's a mystery why, in practices, goalies don't get the same attention as everyone else. They may not score the goals, but they prevent them from being scored on you, right? Don't make the mistake of neglecting on-ice goalie drills until the last half hour of practice and then overwhelm them with 30 minutes of slapshots.
Design your practices to include goalie positioning drills, goalie recovery drills, and goalie puck handling drills. A little creative thinking should allow you to incorporate your goalies into the flow of practice so that everyone's getting a productive workout.
Goalie Training Tip #3: Thoughtful Inclusion
Does this sound familiar? The first shooting drill of practice finds skaters lined up in diagonally opposite corners at either end of the rink. Coaches or other players are positioned in the neutral zone. When the drill starts, the first shooter passes to the guy at mid-ice, who returns the pass, and the shooter skates in for a shot on goal. After taking the shot, the shooter goes to the back of the other line.
The goalie gets to defend, essentially, a breakout shot. Yes, there are 1-on-0 shots in every hockey game. But the drill would be more game-like if the shooter, having taken the shot, stayed near the crease for a rebound from the next skater's shot. This would force the goalie to defend, mindful of another skater looking to put the rebound in the net. Without the rebounder, goalies have the tendency to go on auto-pilot.
It'll be worth your while to sit down for 20 minutes and integrate the goalie more firmly into your drills—the goalie will get more useful work. The same goes for face-offs in the defensive zone, etc. When the goalie understands everyone's role on a given play, he'll be a more effective player and can “quarterback” the defense more effectively.
Goalie Training Tip #4: Finding the Right Pace
Almost any multiplayer drill involving shooting can also be a goalie recovery drill. Pace is important. Give your goalies time enough to defend an attack and rebounds, and then reposition themselves for the next skaters in the drill. If the pace of practice is too quick, though, and the goalie doesn't have a realistic chance of recovering for the next set of attackers, the goalie isn't getting effective training.
Give your goalies a realistic chance to compete. Don't send pairs of skaters in for the kill in rapid-fire succession. On the other hand, you don't want the pace to be so slow goalies aren't getting a good physical workout or grow lazy. Find the pacing ‘sweet spot' through trial and error.
Goalie Training Tip #5: Balance and Variation
Because practice all too often emphasizes the importance of creating scoring opportunities in 1-on-0, 1-on-1, or 2-on-1 scenarios, goalies are limited to attacks coming straight at them. In an actual game, though, a goalie has to defend when the puck's behind the net or in the defensive corners. Designing drills that work the goalie's ability to manage different angles and attacks from all areas on the ice will develop a goalie's total game. Drills that focus on behind-the-net and/or corner plays will give the rest of your offense (and defense) the opportunity to develop these important aspects, too.
Goalie Training Tip #6: Creating Game-Like Conditions
Another problem in the general theme of “too much focus on the offense” is practice drills designed for shooters without defenders. These drills lack screens, second shots, or meaningful traffic the goalie must deal with. In many offensive/shooting drills that lack defense, goalies generally know in advance where the shot is coming from. This doesn't reflect a game-like situation.
A skill every goalie needs is the ability to track the puck for long periods of time through all sorts of traffic. Making the goalie track the puck develops their ability to focus and anticipate. Drills that fire shots at the goalie in quick succession require a goalie's attention for only a couple seconds at most per shot.
Make sure your goalies face game-like conditions at some point during every practice.
Goalie Training Tip #7: Developing Game Skills
Obviously, the most notable and statistically tracked aspects of a goalie's game are goals allowed and shots saved.
Many young goalies have difficulty with stick handling because they're not called to handle the puck much in a game. Consequently, they're more prone to make a mistake with the puck in front of the net at a critical moment. Goalie stick handling drills are important. Other goalie-related skills should be developed as well, like covering up the puck—the when, why, and how—to stop the play.
Another extremely important skill for any goalie is being vocal on the ice. Goalies have a unique perspective on any play and can see plays develop in ways other players do not. They can also call out screens and identify open skaters for the defense. All skaters should be vocal all the time, but goalies have the unique perspective that allows them to “call the shots.” Goalies need to develop the confidence for being regularly and loudly vocal.
Goalie Training Tip #8: Clear Instructions
Goalies—or any player—will benefit from specific instructions. Vague directives like, “Don't let in any goals” don't focus a young goalie's attention on a particular skill. Instructions like, “No goals through the arms and legs,” or “Nothing through the five-hole” are much more specific and will get the goalie to concentrate on a particular aspect of keeping goal, rather than just generally stopping everything, with no focus on technique.
Goalie Training Tip #9: Bringing the Right Attitude
Young hockey players are usually selfish. Their interest is in their own performance, their own game. Goalies are no different. Instill the understanding that goalies make their teammates better by practicing with intensity. Instructing your goalies to challenge their teammates on the ice is another way to help develop their role as team leaders. Goalies who are engaged and committed to practice not only improve individually, but positively influence the whole team.
Goalie Training Tip #10: Be Careful With Unskilled “Help”
Many parents are ready to volunteer and become official team staff members. Other times, though, parents will get involved when not asked. This can be detrimental for your goalies. As discussed, the position of goalie is specialized—it requires an understanding of specific skills other position players (and their parents) don't have.
At first blush, it might seem helpful for a parent to put a few shots on goal during a down period in practice. No doubt, the parent has the best of intentions. But this is when an injury can happen—parents will tend to shoot too fast, too hard, and too high. They're not the coach and the coaching staff should make an effort to control, if not prevent, these situations.
Oftentimes, a coach will solicit extra help. But that help must be knowledgeable, particularly if the coach is asking a parent to drill specific skills. Almost everything a goalie does is a specific skill.
Being a goalie is like being a catcher in baseball. It's a high-responsibility and high-pressure position. When the goalie fails, everyone knows about it. Consequently, practices should include plenty of goalie-specific attention. Invest in goalie training equipment. Construct a series of targeted goalie drills. Treat your goalies with the same attention and respect you would your high-powered offense. The more you invest in your goalie, the better they're likely to perform on game day.