Billy Smith is a former New York Islanders’ goaltender who now coaches in the NHL; he was a mentally tough competitor. He says that if you are going to play tough you have to keep control. He says, “I never retaliated. I always initiated. There’s a big difference.” Reminiscing about his 1981-1982 Stanley Cup finals, Billy said, “We (the Islanders) had an understanding not to retaliate and not to fight. In addition, we did not. Even when Tiger Williams ripped the chain right off my neck, I would not fight. The Canucks did. They took the penalties and we scored the goals”.
Mental toughness means being able to play your best hockey whether you make your first or second choice team. It is discipline, focus, positive behavior.
Some of the basic parts of mental toughness are:
Chris Pronger described hockey/mental toughness as “having that feeling that your legs are just too tired, and still working hard and toughing it out.”
Self-Confidence: Self-confidence is a way of feeling. It can be developed with practice, and the key is belief in yourself. Learn to stay calm, set goals, think positively, maintain good self-discipline and always review your performance.
Visual / Imagery Skills: This is a process of creating pictures or images in your mind. Before you even arrive at the rink, visualize the rink and your performance. Rehearse in your head what you will do in the game. Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes for mental preparation before getting dressed. Find a quiet spot with no distractions. Close your eyes and run through in your head, a game where you played particularly well. This will help boost your self-confidence and put you in a more positive frame of mind. Now try to picture yourself actually doing everything you will be called upon to do in the upcoming game. Make these mental pictures as clear and realistic as you can. This may feel strange at first, but stick with it, it works for the pros, and it will work for you. Make sure you picture good outcomes for everything you are imaging. Do not spend much time on your weaknesses; that belongs at practice with you and your goalie coach. Just like strength training, the “mental training” has to be done consistently to see results.
Game / Mental Prep: Anything you do before a game that helps you get focused, calm and relaxed is good mental prep. Some goaltenders listen to music, some read, and some sit and think about the game, some do yoga and some meditate.
Attitude Control: The right attitude produces emotional control and the right flow of energy. This results in better focus and recovery from bad plays, goals scored, etc. Banging your stick on the crossbar, hitting yourself, swearing or yelling, blaming your defense etc., is self-defeating. The puck has gone in. It is over with; the game is still being played. There will be plenty of time after the game to review your performance.
Recovery: Obviously, the most difficult thing in any game for a goalie to deal with is letting in a goal. Especially a soft goal. Learning how to handle this situation, which EVERY goaltender faces in almost every game, is a big part of mental toughness. No goaltender anywhere playing for any team has a perfect save percentage. Goals go in. It is a fact that has to be accepted by all goaltenders. When it happens, you need to put it behind you. Hold your head up, stay mentally strong and focused. You have to decide in your own mind whether letting in a goal, soft or not, is the end of the world or a chance to learn something and improve your game. Successful, mentally disciplined goaltenders teach themselves to bounce back and compete stronger when things do not go their way. After a goal goes in, while the play is stopped, correct the mistake in your mind. This can be done with eyes opened or closed. The goal is now history, so you have to let it go. A talented NHL Prospect and Rochester American goaltender, Ryan Miller, stated “when something goes wrong, your team needs you to be confident, not some guy who rolls himself into a ball at the corner of the crease feeling sorry for himself.“
Try to remember also that the shooters on the opposing team are watching you closely. They would like nothing better than to see you “lose it”. They see this as a goal scoring chance. Make sure your body language at all times is strong, confident and determined. NEVER hang your head! Put your frustration and anger into the puck.
Michael Filardo has this to say about his routine at game time.
“Before every practice or game, I always carried a puck with me everywhere, whether we were on the team bus, before going on the ice, and in the locker room. I tried always to find somewhere with no distractions. While I held the puck, I picture myself between the pipes and focus on my best performances and all good saves during previous games. I also think about the crease and the distance between the net and the boards, as NHL and Olympic sized rinks are different, and you may play at both.
Self-Control: “Most of the time I kept a very positive attitude towards my teammates, my opponents, and even the referees. I did this because I would not have wanted to be eliminated from the game, or get a penalty for my team. In the middle of a game, any goaltender is “hot” or warmed-up. It would only hurt my team to have me pulled, especially in important or play-off games. Putting a “cold” goalie in the crease in the middle of the game, might affect the teams’ play, and the cold goalie may give up a few crucial goals.
Apart from that, most of the time I have had to use some self-discipline when I have made mistakes between the pipes. Occasionally, when I have had bad games, I lost my self-control and slammed my stick against the post and /or crossbar (although I have never hit myself in the head!). I have also sworn at myself, trying to get myself to “wake up”. However, these things were bad habits, and did not help me to play better. What worked the best for me, was realizing that I needed to let the mistakes pass, and move on to a fresh start, which is the best habits. Even when I have given up a soft goal, or we are losing by just one point, I have always told myself “the score is 0-0” and told myself what I needed to get done, while focusing only on my good saves during the game, and to analyze my mistakes to make sure they would not happen again. I just keep trying until I am successful.
I always remind myself of any good saves I have made, as the puck approaches, and after I make a save, I tell myself that I have done well.
Below are a few strategies and tips from NCAA Division I & III and semi-pro goaltenders, past and present. Due to NCAA restrictions, we cannot publish their names.
One of the goaltenders from Princeton University – NCAA Division I:
“I try and keep things simple by repeating my motto every 5 seconds during the games, so that I will not think about other things, and my reaction time will be much quicker…that is what works for me, but other goalies are different. (He would not tell us what his motto is, so you will have to make up your own! It can be anything, words, combinations of words, sounds etc., which help you staying focused). I use visualization in the locker room, usually about 3 to 5 minutes. Also, keeping your sense of humor helps. You have to learn to laugh about it. I also tend to meditate, that helps.”
One of the goaltenders from Bentley College – NCAA Division I:
Pre-Game: I usually try to eat the same stuff before every game, around the same among of minutes before the game. For example, I always eat my pre-game meal 5 hours before the game, and I make sure it is a big one. After that, I only snack on PowerBars and bananas. I drink plenty of water and Powerade. I always try to do everything the same way before games, for example; I always stretch at least 3 times before games and I always listen to the same music in the same order. I have the songs I like programmed into my MP3 player in a specific order for before games. I always try to do everything the same and listen to the same music so that I can get myself into a pattern, so that my mind and body knows it has a game coming. It is pretty easy in college because we really only play Friday and Saturday so my whole week leads up to those two days and my body knows it is ready for a game.
Warm-Ups: When I take warm up shots, I start by staying deep in my net so I can get my angles of the rink and I slowly move out. I always make sure my eyes follow each shot all the way into my body, and I always try to move my body into the shot. After I am done taking shots, I start talking to myself, not out loud; I just get a strong inner dialect going. I tell myself “See the puck off the stick, see that last foot into your body, and see the first foot off your body. Only worry about what you can control. Read the play, and adjust depth. If you see the puck early, you are quick enough to stop every puck, if you read the play, you are quick enough to get post to post. You can stop anything just concentrate and don’t over play it.”
I do this, because it reminds me what I need to do and gives me confidence. I try to never be too excited because I do not want to run around too much. I have never had a problem with being nervous, because I just worry about the game and not who is watching. Before I step into the crease before every period, I stop and sweep out my crease right before I step in. I do it to sweep out the bad energy.
Whistles: After every whistle, I have three things I always do, whether it was a goal against or a big save. I either tighten my glove straps, bang my posts each one three times, twice, or I skate a big loop out of my net and touch each post on my way back into the crease. I do one of these three things or sometimes all three things as a way to “reset” myself before play begins. This way it gives me just a few seconds away from the game so I am not concentrating for a full 60 minutes and I get to take little breaks. By doing the same thing after every whistle, it also allows me to not get too excited or frustrated because I have a routine I have to think about. If I give up a goal before I do my routine, I always get the puck out of the net as fast as I can, because it does not belong there.
Post-Game: After each game, I just try to think about mistakes I made and what I could have done differently, but once leave the rink I listen to different types of music so I can relax, and get some rest before the next day. I never dwell on a bad game, but if I have one, I think about what I did wrong and get excited to step to the ice again.
One of the goaltenders from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota – NCAA Division III:
The most important thing mentally that goaltenders have to remember, is self-control. I discovered through playing experience that self-control is necessary to stay focused on and off the ice. If the goalie lacks self-control, the goaltender’s game will be off and he will not be as focused as he should be. Self-control was one of my strengths in the crease. In games, I never show my anger and when scored upon, I stay calm and regain my focus on the next shot. I just simply forget about the puck that just went through me and visualize that the game is still tied or my team is leading by one goal in the 3rd period. I play better when I am under pressure because it gives me more mental focus.
Having self-control off the ice before games is just as important as having self-control in the crease. Before I go to bed the night before the game, I visualize different type of game situations (2 on 1, breakaways, penalty kills, etc.) and making great saves in those situations. When I wake up in the morning, I can stay focused right away by drinking plenty of water and sports drinks. I stretch throughout the day at different times when possible to stay loose. For me to have self-
control, I like to be humble throughout the day, so it can carry onto the ice when I am in the net. Different goaltenders like to have their own rituals before all their games. I try to keep everything repetitive for every game. On the day of each game, I like to carry a tennis ball to everywhere I go. I pretend that the tennis ball is a hockey puck, and I keep bouncing it off the walls to catch it as if I was in a game. Three to four hours before face-off, I eat a chicken salad sandwich with a protein shake. I feel that good protein gives me a great boost of energy. Finally, one our prior to game time, I make sure I urinate at least 3 times because when I urinate at least 3 times, I feel that I am fully hydrated and when I am hydrated, I feel like I am ready to play. Like I said, goaltenders have their own rituals whether they may be strange or not. All players always think goaltenders are weird, but we are just a different breed on the ice, a tough breed.