“The only way to maximize potential for performance is to be calm in the mind.” -Brian Sipe
The above quote from former NFL quarterback Brian Sipe is a very relevant piece of advice for goaltenders of all ages and abilities. While everyone is different, there are certain habits that help to prepare and recover from practices and games and ensure that gains are made, whether it was a good or bad outing on the ice. By developing a good routine for yourself to follow both physically and mentally before you step on the ice you can put yourself to in the best possible position to maximize your physical abilities.
Just as goalies strive to be consistent by executing each save the same way very time, having a routine to follow before practices and games can help to develop consistent on-ice tendencies. In general most pre-practice routines have much less to them than game routines. Practices are different than games and that dictates a different warm-up. As goalies get older they may find trying to complete a full pre-game warm-up when the have a practice every day can become tedious and mentally taxing. There is more time for you to physically get warm in a practice rather than a game and mentally there are significantly different demands, so it is important for a pregame routine to reflect that. It is much easier to stay focused and track pucks when you see a large number of them in practice rather than when you have to hold your focus for a longer period of time and track the puck through traffic like an in-game situation requires. Many elite goalies will limit themselves to a quick stretch and maybe a short dynamic warm-up. Doing a brief visualization drill can help to warm you up mentally and to get your focus zoned in, something that you can see more on in the "Pregame" section.
A pre-game warm-up should have something special to it that can help to trigger your mind and body to know that it's game time. With most warm-ups being three or five minutes in youth hockey, and usually no more than ten minutes in prep school and juniors, your body needs to be pretty much ready to go before you even step on the ice. Everyone must figure out what works best for them but we do have some recommendations for things that you can try. Physically it is important to include a stretch as well as a dynamic warm-up in your pregame routine. This will help to prevent injuries that can occur when your muscles are cold and tight. Focus especially on warming up your legs and hips, because these take the most strain as you go through goalie movements and save selections. A light jog can help to loosen everything up and can be beneficial to your warm-up. Both the jog and dynamic warm-up should be done before your static stretch so that the benefits of the stretch are maximized. Using a foam roller can help to make your muscles better prepared for the strain of physical activity. Many collegiate and professional teams will do this as a team because it helps to increase blood flow and loosen your body up. If you do not warm up your body properly, that can distract you mentally as well as physically from performing at your peak.
Mentally there are several drills that you can put yourself through to ensure that your mind is game-ready. Many goalies like to toss a ball against a wall or to juggle to help arm-up their puck tracking skills. A goalie usually needs to see some shots to loosen up and start to properly track pucks, and this can help to reduce the number of shots that a goalie needs to feel comfortable. Goalies can also benefit from the use of visualization drills. This basically means that you try to replicate a game situation in your mind by visualizing it. Visualization can be used to help in training away from the ice, but it can also be used to help simulate shots that you may not have the opportunity to face during your on-ice warm-up. Below are three examples of NHL Players using visualization techniques. First is Michal Neuvirth, who had struggled prior to this game with screen shots. The video and announcer do a good job demonstrating how his visualization helped him to be successful in making adjustments. The second video is of Corey Schneider using visualization to help him warm up prior to a game. While these two videos do take place on the ice during their warm-up, remember that in the NHL they have the luxury of a much longer warm-up, and that had they needed to these drills could also have been done off of the ice. The final video is of Mike Cammalleri. While he is not a goalie, the video does a good job demonstrating how a visualization drill done prior to a game can have a positive affect during the game itself.
In game it is important to be focused on the task at hand, and to do so it is important to be able to process and compartmentalize events that occur in game. It is key to be able to self-evaluate in the moment, and then make any needed adjustment and move on. Too often goalies dwell on a goal or other in game event, resulting in another goal. It can help to have a saying or memory that you can repeat to yourself between whistles or when the play is at the other end, helping to calm yourself and refocus. This saying must be positive and should not include any words such as “don’t” or “can’t.” It is also can be helpful to take a break mentally between whistles. Some goalies skate to the corner, some talk with teammates or the ref before refocusing, but this mental break can help to relax you and reduce some of the mental toll a game can bring.
Physically, stretching out after a game can help to increase flexibility and encourage your muscles to recover. Using a roller after a game helps to facilitate myofascial release, which basically means that it acts like a massage and helps to reduce any knots that may form and just in general helps your body to recover faster. In addition to the physical benefits, taking the time to do one of these activities provides an opportunity to process what happened on the ice, what you did well with, and what you might have struggled with. It is good to be able to talk out what happened in game with a goalie partner, goalie coach, team coach, or even a parent. Some goalies also keep a "game journal" to help them keep track of what they're doing well with and what they are doing poorly with. As goalies get older, some like to watch all of their "touches" (when the puck is shot at them or when they have to handle the puck) post game. Regardless of whether it is talked out, written down, or thought to yourself, it is important to provide closure on the game. Whether it was the best game of your career or the worst, the next game is still the same and it is important to be able to approach it in the same way. While it may not feel like it, every shot is worth the same and should be approached as such. Having a level head is a great advantage that can set you significantly ahead of your competitors.