Chalk Talk: How to avoid the dangers of goaltenders over-training
Summers are an enormous opportunity for growth and development of hockey players at all ages.
The transition from endurance-based training becomes strength-based training as athletes are resting more and focusing more on off-ice training than on-ice. Summer training allows players to concentrate more on their skating abilities and puck handling skills without worrying that they’re going to be hammered into the boards at any moment. This is a low-injury training environment relative to the season, and it is a great habitat for growth.
Goaltenders, however, become the shooter tutor.
Goalies drop into their butterfly thousands of times in a season; each practice, this number could be anywhere from 50-200 times and in games, ranging from 10-70 (hopefully not more). In a week with three practices and two games, a goaltender could be looking at almost 800 butterflies! No other sport sees this much overuse of a specific joint, and that joint suffers.
With the advent of the successful “butterfly” goalies in the 1990s, it became a style of stopping the puck. And while the butterfly is a revolutionary movement for goaltenders, it is not a style itself. The overuse of the butterfly and other hip straining movements in the crease at young ages will lead to long term problems.
Hip surgery is becoming a popular topic among profession goaltenders, as more and more are needing to take time off to either have surgery or recover from a hip-related injury (Nicklas Backstrom, James Reimer, Tim Thomas, Pekka Rinne to name a few). While a 12-year-old shouldn’t need to worry in the slightest about having their hips replaced or worked on, they are already getting into habits that could lead to hip deterioration later in life. When goalies as young as 15 and 16 are having hip strain issues, it is time to take a different approach to training, especially during the offseason.
There are a tremendous amount of ice opportunities for goaltenders once the season ends and while they all offer their own advantages, too many of them together could spell trouble and lead to over-training. Private lessons, spring and summer programs, stick and pucks, Junior A and AAA camps can all lead to goalie-specific training when kept to moderate numbers. The atmosphere of each ice session may be different as well. In a private lesson, the goaltender may only be dropping to the ice 20 times if they are working on specific skill acquisition, whereas in a practice session at a player camp, they could be facing 150 shots.
To avoid this over-training mentality, we first have to face the fact that great athletes make great goaltenders, not the other way around. Goalies need to be tremendous athletes to succeed at the higher levels, and this is very apparent in skating skills and off-ice athleticism. If you cannot move to get in front of the puck, you will not be a successful goaltender.
Power skating, skating as a player, playing multiple sports, and focusing on the core athlete are more important to young goaltender development than having them face thousands of shots in
a structured environment. The sport of hockey is free flowing, and while there are concepts, structure, and systems to the game, no play is exactly the same as the last.
Fluid movement and adaptation skills are key to goaltender development. Small-area game opportunities and 3-on-3 game days are far more important for young goalies than structured drills of “move here and take a shot here.” Structure is still important, but for young goalies it should be applied in moderation.
Nurturing the athlete-first mentality will lead to less overuse injuries in goaltenders, and will help create puck stoppers who can move more freely in the crease and have more fun and more success in the long run.
Riese Niehaus is the director of player personnel and associate goalie director for the Colorado Rampage.