How to Run a Goalie Friendly Practice
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
by Nathan Park
Goalies are often left out from their practices and do not get the development they need. A lot of this stems from a lack of knowledge from coaching staff who simply have little to no exposure on the goaltending position. So how can we address that? Well a few simple adjustments in the way a practice is structured can allow a goalie to thrive just as much as the players. This article covers the following points:
Warm Up and First Drills
One of the buzz phrases when it comes to hockey practices is "warm up the goalies." Despite a lot of coaches saying this, what does this even mean. Most coaches, when asked, will give you responses such as "shoot for the pads," "no head shots," "don't shoot to score yet," or other variations. So what can we do, and what can we tell our players to ensure our goalies are warmed up properly?
For the first few drills, players shouldn't be told where to shoot or how hard to shoot, but rather where to shoot from. The biggest way to help a goalie to warm up is to allow them to effectively track the puck. This is done by allowing them adequate distance to watch the puck leave the shooter's blade all the way until contact with their body. Ensure you communicate with your goalie that this is the time they should really be honing in on this skill, and that every shot should have their eyes and their head tracking the puck into their body.
The location that the shots ideally come from will vary based on age and skill, but it should be set up to allow enough time to track properly. For example, first year U9 players could be given the top of the circles to shoot by, whereas Junior level players should be encourage to shoot a step or two inside the blue line for the first drill or two. Not only does this help the goalie track effectively, but it will also allow the players to improve at hitting the net from all areas of the offensive zone, instead of just five feet from the crease.
Since the goalie has adequate time to track the puck into their body, players should be encouraged to actually shoot anywhere, and shoot to score. Remember, the location they shoot the puck from is the most important factor in a proper warm up drill.
How often have you ever seen a game of hockey (not shinny or pond hockey) played with more than one puck? If the answer is anything more than 0 times, please send me the link as I would love to watch it.
With that being said, a goalie is not expected to have to face more than one puck at a time. And yet, there are so many times where practices contain drills where shots happen two seconds apart, or sometimes even two shots are happening at once. Yes, sometimes the players can make mistakes in the drill and get the timing off and this happens, but in that situation the player(s) should have the mistake corrected in order to time the drill better (take ice, leave their line later, come down lower to receive a pass, etc.). The player learns to time their game better, the goalie isn't stopping two pucks at once. Win-win.
So when planning a practice, the drills should be set up to give the goalie enough time to be able to execute a save properly (tracking it into their body, and off of their body if there is a rebound), then be able to locate the next puck, make a proper push across, and get their feet stopped and set before another shot is taken. This spacing will vary from skill level and age, but a coach needs to have the ability to recognize that their goalie isn't getting set in time and adjust the drill accordingly. This can be done by telling players to adjust their route, or waiting an extra second before their rep, or a wide variety of other options that help space out shots better. Spoiler alert, the drill where the whole team starts in the corner with a puck and skates up around the circle and shoots, then one second later the next player is shooting, is a personal pet peeve of mine.
The most important reason why spacing out shots properly is important is because of safety. A goalie who isn't looking at one shot because they are looking at another one could get hit in the side or the back where there is no padding. Goalie equipment is designed to take shots straight on, not from the side. Goalies could also potentially pull a muscle trying to make desperation pushes to get from one shot to another that is unreasonably spaced out.
The next big reason is that improperly spaced out shots result in bad habits. Goalies are not getting on their proper angle, not squaring up to pucks, not getting their feet set properly, not tracking the puck properly, etc., if they are not given a chance to get themselves set for each shot.
It also is a psychological and emotional drain on the goalie, as frustration sets in because they are usually getting scored on a lot and don't feel comfortable in their net. Goaltending is made or broken with the mental game, and a poor mental state that starts in practice is usually translated into a game.
Keep Goalies Involved
This is probably one of the hardest things for coaches who have no experience with goaltending. Systems are a very important part of the game of hockey, and usually systems drills are very slow and involve a lot of teaching for the players. This is fine, players need this time to work on their game and to learn the team's systems. The problem is, a lot of times the goalie is left standing in the net looking at some Bantam B '86-'87 regional championship banner and trying to see if they can read the 13 year old autographs to make out what the names of the players were.
Yes, there should be some onus on the goalie to take charge and do something like crease movements, but realistically (especially the younger goalies), the goalies don't have the understanding that this is time they could be taking to improve on something, or they just don't know what to do. So, as a coach who is there to try and develop ALL of the players on your team, you need to take some action and give them the tools to succeed.
So what can be done? Well the most ideal situation during practice down times is to give the goalie some goalie time where they get to specifically work on their skills. This will be addressed in the next section so we won't dive too much into it here. Another option is to design the drills to involve the goalies a little bit more. Are you doing a break out drill? Get the goalie to come out and stop dump-ins. Maybe you can even have a breakout option where they pass to their defenseman. Or you could even have your dump-ins be shots on net. Your players are power skating? Power skating isn't bad for goalies. They may have to do some modification on some edgework drills, but anytime they can learn to control their edges is a big win. Are you doing stop and go defensive coverage? Add a portion to play it out in zone for 30 seconds at the end of the rep.
Trying to include shots or in zone time during these types of slower drills will help keep the goalie, and quite frankly the players, more engaged. If this isn't possible, and trying to get the goalie out to handle a puck during the drill isn't possible, then encourage the goalie to do crease movements or some stick handling work on their own.
Allow Goalie Time
This was alluded to in the previous section, but being able to allow goalie time for your goalies will go a long way in their development. I understand this is tough if you do not have a coaching staff member with any knowledge of the position, but even providing just some basic things to work on in a window as short as even five minutes will help to start the compounding development effect.
Fortunately, we live in a day and age where access to information and resources is easy, instant, and most likely free. There are a ton of Youtube videos, Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, and web pages dedicated to goalie drills and goalie information. Just a quick search on crease movements, or basic goalie drills will start to lead you down a pretty far rabbit hole. Even reaching out to your local, regional, and national associations for resources may help steer you in the right direction.
A bit of a starting point for some basics to research to help teach your goalie are as follows:
Puck Tracking (using their eyes to watch a puck from the blade to their body)
Simple movements (c-cuts, t-pushes, shuffles)
Advanced movements (t-push recoveries, inside edge pushes, knee shuffles)
Rebound control (covering pucks, sticking/blockering pucks to corners, catching pucks, chest saves)
There are so many more elements to goaltending, but this points will cover a majority of what your goalie needs to know. If you can search up some of these terms and find some videos or drills, you can then bring that to your next practice and take them aside for 10-15 minutes while your team is getting bag skated for letting 12 breakaways past them in the weekend games.
Play Out Pucks
This one is, once again, a great way to help improve both your goalies and your players (funny how that seems to be a recurring correlation). Set up drills that allow for players to play out rebounds if there are any. 3 on 2 drill? Play it out until the puck is cleared, the goalie covers it, or it's in the net. You can't technically teach a goalie athleticism or battle like you can teach them a stance or a butterfly, but what you can do is put them in situations that encourage them to battle and they will naturally get better at it. This will also help your players get better at hunting rebounds and putting them in the net. This can also encourage the goalie to get better at rebound control so they don't have to play pucks out at all.
Just make sure you tell your players that they don't make 6 or 7 passes for a back door tap in. This can lead to injured goalies but is also not very realistic for the players. Limit them to 1-2 passes per rebound
Communication is one of those things that doesn't happen enough in pretty much every practice, and this includes players and goalies. Make sure your goalies are encouraged to talk loud with their players. This will help them communicate in the game, and get your whole team on the same page.
This can be things like "I've got the shot," "take the pass," "can't see," "man on," "wheel," "reverse," "man back door," etc. Anytime a drill allows for a situation where your goalie can communicate with your players, encourage them to do so, and stay on them until it becomes a habit. This will help your whole team as the season goes on.
Fun is ultimately why we play hockey, and sports in general. It helps distract us from the daily grind, helps to regulate emotions, stay healthy, and fuel our competitive nature. In practice, help to nurture the fun and the compete of both your players and goalies. Battle/compete drills help to challenge your players. Players try a little harder to score, goalies try a little harder to stop them. As stated before, you cannot physically teach a goalie to compete and be athletic, but you can put them in situations where they develop simply from exposure.
These drills not only help to increase the compete level, but they help the athletes have fun. This keeps them coming to the rink and wanting to get better, wanting to make the big save, wanting to hear the cheers and the "ooh"s and "ahhh"s. At the end of the day, it is a game, and fun is the only thing more important than the development.