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Coaching the Coaches: Leadership

This is part eleven in a series of articles from guest author Ryan Honick, President GDI USA. Coaching the Coaches looks not at developing goaltending coaches, instead it looks to provide some support for the many coaches who have little or no experience dealing with the men and women they rely on the most – their goalies. Ryan regularly visits with coaches at all levels to share his insights, a taste of which you will get from this series.

To me the pinnacle of the goalie’s Mental Game, is Leadership. What can be most important to a team in any sport is the need to be led. I claim to not be from a military background, though my mother served in the US Airforce Reserves for a short time as a psych nurse, and her husband was a US Naval fighter pilot. But I have learned a thing or two about how our armed forces operate. I enjoy making references and using the similarities between service and sport. The players are the Privates, their captains are the Sergeants, and the coaches are the Generals. This is necessary for success in battle. The leaders set the tone and create the battle plan. When one fails, we all fail. I’m sure we have all experienced both good and bad examples of this through our coaching careers.

Leaders Lead

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo

Although he didn’t keep the captaincy throughout his time in Vancouver, Roberto Luongo was indisputably a team leader throughout his tenure with the Canucks. (InGoal photo)

Have you ever heard the term “Born Leader”? I’ve also heard “Leaders aren’t born; they are built.” Very contrasting opinions. Like most aspects of the goalie position, to each his own. We all have a reason for selecting our Captains near the beginning of the season. Are they your best players, are they your veterans, are they your example setters? We need to look for our goaltenders to also be a part of our leadership groups. I’m not asking you to award them a C on their jerseys, just to acknowledge them in a leadership role. In September 2008, Roberto Luongo was officially named the captain of the Vancouver Canucks. Their General Manager at the time, Mike Gillis, stated “Roberto is the leader of this team right now. We felt really strongly about that. To not do something like this means you have a leader that is unrecognized.” What if your goalie went unrecognized? Just this week, I made sure to tell one of my coaches to give his goalie a post game At-A-Boy in front of the team. What an easy way for confidence to fester within him. Luongo embraced the role and did his best in it. We need to get our goalies to understand that just by putting the pads on, they have accepted the role of leader. To what degree will they embrace their role is the question. They are the unofficial Captain by default, as the last line of defence. Anyone asked to make up for the mistakes of others is under that type of scrutiny and asked to be held accountable, the theme of our previous article.

Our Mental Conditioning Coach, Ted Monnich weighs in on the topic: “Being a strong leader means knowing themselves, having confidence in themselves, and knowing that they can help instil confidence in those around them. This is accomplished by focusing on the only two things that anyone can control: their attitude and their effort. Key to a leader’s attitude is humility and gratitude. When a leader is complimented on their performance they exhibit gratitude, and say thank you. They express their humility by crediting all of the hard work and effort that their teammates put in to help them succeed. Exhibiting humility and gratitude is very powerful, and, through example, extends to the team who begin to emulate the leader.”

Leadership Behavior

The young goalie, through likely Bantam, will not do much more than be liked by his teammates or be thought of as a good hockey player. As kids mature, some begin to understand that they can help their teammates in more ways. Kids start to accept responsibilities. They start to take initiative. They start to have a teammate approach. Later, some gain enough confidence to develop an ego, and I think ego plays a role. Most goalies you meet will have some degree of one. You have to have a somewhat of a “listen to me, I have the answer”, type of personality to lead. When channeled constructively, ego can help express oneself positively. This will be an example of a vocal leader.

Leading in the locker room can be a vital component to the overall role. Don’t expect your goalie to be the one to get the team pumped up with a boisterous cheer (yet I have seen this). We are probably the ones in the corner, zoning in on our own tasks at hand, only following the lead of the team as the last one to jump in. Our “first to the rink and last to leave” goalie obligation alone speaks volumes about how we lead our team. We do lead the team onto the ice surface, do we not?

Carey Price is the finest example of a calm goaltender who gives confidence to his team. (Scott Slingsby Image)

The goalie can be the calming influence that the team requires at times. Can they calm the team down with solid play when things go wrong? We want them to act individually from the team that is underperforming. When the team needs us we cannot fall victim to the same poor play. We need to play well when the team is not. A big shift in goalie behavior recently occurred. The days of “Battlin’ Billy” Smith and Ron “Hexy” Hextall who used to defend their own creases like an offensive lineman, seem to be long gone. The goalie has to stay focused on the play like the quarterback. We do have more important things to do. Now we want the goalie to be the guy with “Ice in his Veins”, “Cool as a Cucumber”, or the player that looks like he doesn’t care when things go right or wrong. Their “[email protected]&$% Meter” is very low at all times. Not too high; not too low. We want them to act as if they are “unflappable”, as Carey Price has often been described. In times when the team needs them most; the goalie must produce, regardless of the circumstances. Again, a tall task to ask of leaders.

Sometimes we know what a goalie not having a good day looks like. They are rattled. They can’t stop a beach ball and their negative attitude is irreversible. Occasionally, we want to see a little fire in the belly. We might want to see the goalie angry at themselves and break a stick over the bar and shout an obscenity when they allow a softy, we might want them to argue with a teammate when they are not doing their part, we may want them to snap at a referee in defense of a non-goal. We might have a goalie so fired up that nothing gets by them now. This could be their winning formula! But let’s see if we can maintain that emotion for the entire game. That is impossible. Every goalie coach will agree that a temporarily frustrated goalie is a worthless goalie. Ultimately we want them to simply keep the puck out of the net. As stated above, to each his own on how to accomplish this. Coach your goaltenders through these times. Let them know when a temper tantrum only results in immaturity and is terrible behavior for their teammates. Or conversely that you might need them to at least raise an eyebrow or have a pulse when they need to step up to the plate.

Goalies can Inspire

Henrik Lundqvist, a leader who personifies his team, city and country. (Scott Slingsby Image)

Henrik Lundqvist is an amazing example of a leader. He likely would be one in any sport. He personifies his team, the city that he plays in, and even the country that he is from. If you’ve been a fan at all, you are aware of this fact. He may be the best goalie leader in the NHL at this time. I think that’s because he wants to win so badly. His competitiveness drives him. He is often interviewed, be sure to listen into one of his post-game interview for an education in leadership. He is so vocal, so professional, so selfless, so charismatic, so humble, so experienced, the list of adjectives goes on. He is a true example to take home with you.

At the University of Notre Dame this season, Junior Goaltender Cal Petersen is a Captain, he actually wears the C. Associate Coach Andy Slaggert told me, The nature of the goalie position (handling pressure and remaining even-keeled), naturally leads to a leadership role on a team as long as the player can change his mind set to a team-first approach when necessary. It’s obviously a unique situation having a goalie as a captain but Cal has distinguished himself with his peers and the coaching staff. His time in USHL Waterloo as a hometown hero prepared him well for the challenges and expectations associated with being captain. It’s difficult for him to be a vocal leader during games and practices so he leads by example and by holding players accountable off the ice. He is confident and realistic when he serves as an advocate for the team with the staff. He is the face of our program.”

Making a big play at a big time is definitely the lead by example method. Being the player that we actually look to for those examples is even better. We all have self-doubt; we look to others to help us accomplish our goals. Leaders too doubt their abilities, but manage to somehow overcome their fear and do the job anyway. So if we find a way to perform under pressure, we should therefore be capable of leading. Isn’t that the goaltenders’ situation the entire game? See what I mean? Without even trying to, goalies lead, by default.

As Coach Monnich previously stated, what can an anyone control? Attitude and Effort. Output. When a game is close and a goalie makes the big save at the big moment, the team can rally behind it. They want to go get one in return. We are just doing as we are asked. When we as goalies fail, we ask that our team make up for our faults to overcome the adversity too. When we all accept our jobs and tell others not to worry about their mistakes, or even accepts the blame for them, then we will gain loyalty and become a group of leaders, all working together toward a single goal.

Let’s test your goaltender’s leadership ability.

Are they accountable?

How is their attitude?

How is their behaviour?

Do they set the tone?

Can they be a calming influence?

Can they express a little passion?

Are they inspirational?

Do they accept their role?

In our next issue, we’ll appeal to the female side of goaltending. Let’s explore if there are any similarities and differences compared to the male game. How do they play and how should they be coached? Is it truly a different game?

 See the other articles in this series:

Part 1: Intro
Part 2: Role of the Goalie
Part 3: Save Process and Positioning
Part 4: Five Ways Goals Go In
Part 5: Drills
Part 6: Battle Mindset
Part 7: The Transition System
Part 8: Communication/Buy-In/Style
Part 9: Naming and Relieving Your Starter
Part 10: Goaltender Accountability

Ryan Honick is a Professional Goaltending Consultant and is currently the Goaltending Coach for the USHL Green Bay Gamblers and USPHL Jersey Hitmen. Both of these team’s goalies won their respective Goaltender of the Year awards last season. He has previously coached in the ECHL for 6 seasons, along the way working with 4 goaltenders that have now played in the NHL. He consults regularly with College, USHL, NAHL, USPHL and Tier 1 teams within the United States. Ryan has also worked with the 2015, 2014, 2012, and 2010 ECHL Goaltender of the Year award winners, the 2014 USPHL-Elite Goaltender of the Year, and the 2011 EJHL Goaltender of the Year. Based in Washington DC, and Chicago, IL, GDI USA operates year-round and provides clients with a full gamut of programming. Contact Ryan directly for more information.

Ryan Honick
President GDI USA

C: (757) 641-9515
E: [email protected]