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The Beer League Goalie on the Zen of Goaltending

I wrote the orginal Lessons from a Beer League Goalie post as a filler. I was starting this blog and needed something to post. I don’t consider myself an expert on goaltending so it was hard to share anything. Yet, I have received all sorts of notes from goalies saying they enjoyed the read and wanted more. So, somewhat sheepishly, here’s more from the 40-something Beer League Goalie today.
Hockey Goalie
Thinking about those times when my play has been poor, or my enjoyment of the game has been suffering as a result of my mental approach to different situations has led me to the idea of the Zen of Goaltending. Zen is a well-used term these days, and frankly I don’t know exactly what it means. But in this situation I intend for it to convey the idea of remaining calm in the face of difficult circumstances. It’s about remaining focused when there are distractions around you.

There are many times in the course of a game when your mental approach can be very important, not just for your success, but simply for getting the enjoyment out of a game that you should. That is why we play, isn’t it? Well, that and the cool gear.

Of course the obvious situation is how you react to a goal. Goals are an opportunity to learn – just like any failure in life is a chance to learn. I don’t mean failure in the harshest sense of the word here, I simply mean when things don’t go according to plan and do not have the desired outcome.

If we aren’t making mistakes, if goals aren’t going in, chances are we aren’t learning as much as we can. That goes back to the last Beer League Goalie post when I talked about how playing on a defensively challenged team (see: just about any beer league team – hey the players want to have fun too!) can be a great opportunity to learn and grow as a goaltender. 

That on its own is an important life lesson. Many business leaders believe failure should be celebrated, that innovation (or for goalies, growth) can’t come without failure. As long as a mistake comes from trying hard, it’s a good learning opportunity.

So for the most part now when a puck goes in I don’t get upset. I don’t agree with those who say forget it and move on though either. I doubt they really feel that. I believe that on virtually every goal there is something I could have done to prevent it. I always take a bit of time to review and consider what mistake I made so that next time I will be better. That’s a challenge when the next game might be a week away, but thanks to that approach I honestly believe I am better in my 40s than I was as a youngster, technically, if not athletically.

Goals aren’t the only time when the Zen approach is important. Any of the things that happen during the course of a game that can be frustrating, upsetting, or a source of anger need you to think Zen.

The guy cutting through the crease as a shot comes from the point. The player who lifts your stick as he takes up more than his share of room in the crease. The official who thinks someone needs to tackle you to have interfered with your ability to do your job. The player on your own team who tells you to stand up, or cut down the angle more (when the guy he should be covering is on the post behind you). The opponent who takes a late chop at your glove after the whistle. There are many, many more.

Over the course of many years of goaltending, all these things have made me angry in a game many times over. They still do, but not as much now (I think Zen is supposed to take most of a lifetime to master, isn’t it?).  There are some who think anger helps them, but for me there is no value. All it becomes is a distraction. If anger rises, the pucks start going in. Plain and simple.

So, back to Zen. Like when goals go in,  it’s a conscious decision to not let anything upset you. More than that, for me it’s the understanding that you choose your reaction to any situation. The opponent doesn’t make you angry. The official doesn’t force you to argue with him. You choose to feel that way.

Don’t believe me?

Have you ever played against a friend? Have you ever had a buddy go play for the other team because they were short a player? What about pickup wth your friends?

All of a sudden in this situation things that normally anger you become a fun part of the game. My buddy takes a whack at me in the crease as a shot comes in? It’s funny. We have a laugh. I give him a hook or a little jab next time he is near. It’s a great part of the game for the recreational player. If a friend crowds me in the crease, I push back harder and we both think its great. We’re both laughing.

So why can’t you take the same approach with guys you have never met before? I don’t mean go out of your way to retaliate. It might be fun, but again, the pucks tend to go in. I don’t even mean laugh, because that is also distracting, but you can decide that the ultra-competitive opponent is fun to play against. You can accept the challenge and get on with stopping the puck. You can stay calm, stay focussed and win the battle.

I recall getting angry when I was interfered with. I really believed I was right – and the puck was behind me. Then I changed my reaction and decided that ‘this is what NHL goalies deal with’ albeit on a much higher level. It reframed the situation and instead of being upsetting it was an exciting new challenge.

It’s the little things like your mental approach to tough situations that make the game a lot more fun to play. The Zen of Goaltending helps me enjoy the game. And Zen stops pucks. Trust me. Try it.

If you liked this one, check out the original post from Beer League Goalie.

About The Author

David Hutchison

David is one of the founders of InGoal Magazine which he began in 2009. Of course he finds time for some goaltending of his own as well, and despite his age, clings desperately to the idea that some NHL team will call him to play for them - though in his mid-forties (OK, late 40s) it'll likely be for a practice when everyone else on their depth chart has the flu and the shooter tutor has gone in for repairs.

1 Comment

  1. Peter Romero

    Very well written and thought out article. As a recent converted goaltender from forward in a beer league, I can really appreciate the thought process. The journey is the fun part, which I believe you capture in this article, however the one part I think that separates the goalies from the rest of the players is if we have a perfect game nothing happens, we need someone on our team to score in order to win, the shutout alone does not win the game. Therefore we can never WIN a game; we can only keep the team in the game. I equate it to cutting the grass or making the bed, the only real reward is how you feel after you have completed your task. I really believe that you have to have a love of the journey to fully grasp the joy of goaltending.
    May we always enjoy playing this great game now in our 40’s as we did when we were 10.



  1. Lessons from a Beer League Goalie | General | Hockey Goalie Resource by Goaltenders for Goaltenders - [...] you liked this one, I have added another from the Beer League Goalie on the Zen of Goaltending.…

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