Being a hockey goaltender is probably the second hardest job in sports.
The first? Being a parent of a goalie.
It is not just the stress of watching your child perform as the last line of defense, its everything else that goes along with it.
What equipment do I buy? How much training is enough? How much is too much? How do I talk to them after a bad game? How much should I be involved with the coaching staff?
With so much to learn — especially if your family is new to the position — it is easy to make mistakes. Here are some that we have made in the past and why we realized that we may have been doing more harm than good …
Standing behind your kid when he is playing
Imagine working on a big project at your job. The company’s success rests on your shoulders and you can feel the pressure from your co-workers. Your boss can’t help you but they decide that standing directly behind you while you work is the best recipe for success. Does their presence help you do your job? Probably not. The same goes for goalie dads who stand directly behind their kid during games. Not only does the player feel even more pressure with you standing there, but you also can become a distraction as your goalie looks at you after every goal and every save instead of focussing on the next shot. They play the loneliest position on the ice and you can’t help no matter where you stand. Save the coaching until after the game and give your goalie some space.
Comparing your kid to their goalie partner
While inevitable — it will be done by you, the coaches, other parents and players — nothing good ever comes from comparing your child to their goalie partner. It is also inevitable that you will see your goalie through a different lens than everyone else. Almost every parent believes their player is better than they are in reality. It comes with the territory. But don’t let comparing the two goalies be your focus. Don’t use shot counts or goals against as a measuring stick. Those are meaningless stats as every shot, every goal and every game are different. Comparisons can lead to bitterness between goalie parents — the only other set of parents that understand what you are going through — and between the goalies themselves, especially if you vocalize your opinion on the matter. Stay positive with both goalies. Go out of your way to compliment or offer encouragement to other goalie parents on their kid’s performance. Always offer encouragement to BOTH goalies!
Not helping build a pre-game routine
Most goalies are creatures of habit. Routines can provide a calmness before a game and allow your goalie to relax and focus. They can start as early as breakfast and last right until the puck drops. So what can you do to help? First off, you know what makes your goalie tick better than anyone. Talk to your goalie and together start formulating a plan on what the goalie needs to be successful. Some goalies need to hear a specific music playlist on the way to the rink to signal its time to focus, some like to be alone before the game, some have superstitions that can’t be broken, some like to throw a ball against the wall. Most of this is psychological and often these routines build organically — “I did this before the last game and got a shutout so I am going to do it again” — but your job is to be supportive no matter how strange these routines may be. Don’t judge. Don’t be dismissive. Embrace it and you will find it actually strengthens your relationship with your goalie as they see you doing everything you can to help them be successful.
Putting pads on backwards
It’s early. You were up late and have taken only a few sips of coffee in the minutes between waking your child up and getting to the rink for an early ice time. You go through the routine of getting your young goalie ready, handing them one piece of equipment at a time as you chat with the parent beside you. Your child plunks down into their pads, waiting for you to do the buckles and straps like you have done dozens of times before. Finally your goalie is ready to go and you head to the stands. Suddenly you get poked as the kids skate their warmup laps. There are no words spoken, just a smile and a finger pointed directly at your kid. Your shoulders slump as you quickly see the problem — the pads are on the wrong legs. You begin the walk of shame back to the dressing room as several other people have made note of the pads. After finally reaching your goalie, you both work feverishly to make the switch. All finished, you send them back out on the ice as you haul your embarassment back to the bleachers.
Overreacting to a bad goal
Just because you don’t stand directly behind you goalie doesn’t mean that they can’t see you. It is guaranteed that every young goalie knows EXACTLY where their parents are in the rink. That means they can see every reaction you have to a goal against and a negative response can mean a loss of confidence for your kid. Most goalie parents can sense if their goalie is going to have a bad game just by watching warmup or seeing the first goal go in. Often this gives you time to prepare for a long day. Other times a bad goal comes out of nowhere or your kid fails to make a save at a crucial situation and you can’t help but to throw your arms up or storm out of the rink. Just remember that everyone is watching you — including your goalie — as you draw attention to the mistake and make yourself look foolish in the process.
Not asking for goalie training
You are your goalie’s advocate when it comes to practise and training. Goalies need much different instruction obviously and often their needs are ignored. There is only so much improvement that can be made making save after save in repetitive practise drills, especially if no corrections are being offered. Talk to your team’s coaching staff about taking at least 10 minutes of practice to work on goalie-specific drills, with goalie skating as a priority. Hopefully there is someone on the coaching staff or parent group who has experience as a goalie and can supervise these drills. Coaches who understand the importance of the position to the success of the team, also use money from the team budget to send their goalies to special instructors outside of the team ice time. Many minor hockey organizations also offer goalie-specific training sessions. If that isn’t happening, find out why. Work with other goalie parents to put pressure on teams and organizations to prioritize goalie training. While many kids have goalie coaches outside of the team environment, that doesn’t mean you should foot the entire bill for your goalie’s development as well as paying team fees.
Blaming Other Players
Be careful with the words you use after a tough game when talking to other parents as well as your goalie. Blaming other kid’s mistakes for goals scored on your child will only build animosity between parents as news travels fast in hockey circles. Being a goalie parent is tough enough as it is without becoming an outcast in the parent group. It is even more important not to point out mistakes of other players to your goalie. Odds are your words will make it back into the dressing room and eventually the player in question. Pointing fingers can destroy a team and further deflate the confidence of the player who made the error. They know they made a mistake and it has probably been reviewed with a coach. No need to pile on. This approach can also build negative traits in your goalie, who may now look to blame someone else on every single goal. Your goalie needs to take ownership of each goal scored on them. It is their job to stop every shot, regardless if it comes off of a teammate’s gaffe.
Making it a Job
Look, being a goalie is hard. There is a ton of pressure. It is lonely. Team practises are exhausting and boring. It is no wonder very few goalies want to play net on the pond or on the street. Acting like a drill sergeant who demands success at all costs is not going to make you kid want to be a goalie for very long. Playing the position has to be fun. Find a goalie trainer that your kid enjoys working with even if these means trying several different ones.
Ask if your child want to do extra sessions, don’t just sign them up. Keep the mood light on game days. Stay positive after bad games by focussing on the good saves rather than the bad goals. Create your own off-ice “games” to help your goalie improve or simply play catch to help their glove hand. Make equipment buying a fun process without complaining about the price. The goal shouldn’t be to play in the NHL but rather to play hockey for life. Remember nobody wants to work forever.
Dave Ashton is the Editor in Chief of Elite Level Hockey. He is a former goalie who has watched his oldest son play the position for the past 10 years.