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Dealing with Distractions: Goaltender Mental Training Tip # 4

Dealing with Distractions: Goaltender Mental Training Tip # 4

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby

Having a pre-determined plan for refocusing within a game is important, something Washington’s Braden Holtby talked about in the last issue of InGoal Magazine. (Photo by Scott Slingsby)

When the topic of dealing with distractions arises, two words commonly enter the conversation: FOCUS and CONCENTRATION.

As defined by Webster’s dictionary, focus is the concentration of attention or energy on something. Concentration is similarly defined as complete attention or intense mental effort. Dealing with distractions is something all goaltenders desiring success must become comfortable with, so let’s take a closer look at this interesting topic.

In a general, distractions may be categorized as either being external or internal in nature.

Distractions of the external variety encompass all things outside the athlete’s mind to which they may be exposed either prior to, during or subsequent to competition. They affect goaltender performance by drawing focus away from those steps required to stop pucks and give their team a chance to win. This may include things like playing in an unfamiliar arena, heckling by annoying fans, dealing with equipment problems at a critical point in the game or a poor call by the official leading to a goal.

Conversely, internal distractions are more dangerous and originate from within the goaltender’s own mind. These can include negative thought patterns, dealing with unrealistic expectations of yourself and others, or thinking about results rather than what is immediately at hand.

When consulted regarding distractibility, sport psychologists frequently employ the “3 R’s strategy” to regain focus.

First, the athlete must RECOGNIZE and acknowledge when they are distracted and the nature of the distraction. Once this step is taken, athlete and coach can address the problem and develop a concrete plan of attack.

For example, if a goaltender has a poor record on the road versus a certain club, they must first accept it is so. Thereafter, you address all aspects of the day including nutrition, rest, dressing room preparation and anything else potentially contributing to distractions versus this one team.

The next priority is to RE-GROUP by letting go of the distraction when it occurs and re-focusing on the objective of playing well and winning. This is when the use of cues words to control the wondering mind becomes critical.

In the above noted example, the goaltender may engage in negative thought patterns regarding an inability to win based on the past. This is where positive self-talk can stop the internal distraction immediately and allow the goaltender to get back to stopping pucks. If you believe you can win, you can. More importantly, if you think you will lose, you most likely will.

The use of performance cues or “triggers” is not different if the distraction is external.

The final consideration is to actually RE-FOCUS on what you need to do to perform well.

It may be late in a game and you let in a poor goal, allowing you opponent to tie the score. At this point you may well be dealing with both internal and external distractions simultaneously. Internally, you may be either angry or disappointed at yourself or a teammate for the error that lead to the tying goal. Externally, the noise from the fans, the opponent who chirped you, or the celebratory music from the load speakers may be taking focus away from the next shift about to begin.

If the goaltender has not established a re-group and re-focus plan with trigger words, they will likely not be not thinking about the next shot and the winning goal may get past them before they can move past those distractions.

In an effort to leave all interested parties with ideas for improvement here are a few questions you may ask of yourself in an effort to eliminate distractions from your game or those you help or love:

  1. What are the most common types of internal and external distractions you encounter when you stand between the pipes?
  2. Have you every analyzed the triggers of these distractions and the response that usually ensues?
  3. To what degree if, any, have you address your distractions with a plan of attack to circumvent their effect on your emotional state?
  4. How would you actually like to see yourself ideally perform and what is the difference between this and your present state? (Performance profiling)

Famous vascular surgeon Wesley Moore once said, “ a complication not anticipated is certain to be experience.”

Dealing with distractions is not that different. It is important to expect the unexpected and to have a plan of attack ready so when it hits you in the face you know what to do. I hope this is of benefit to you.

About The Author

Tomas Hertz, MD BA

Tomas Hertz is a grass roots goaltending coach in Kingston, Ontario. Tomas has coached goaltenders from Novice House League through the Minor Midget ‘AAA’ level. He has been a goaltending guest lecturer at the College of Physical Education, University of Saskatchewan, and holds N.C.C.P. ADVANCED I certification. He has taught at different goalie schools including Jon Elkin’s Goalie School- East , Cooper Goaltending and Mitch Korn’s Specialized Goalie school. He is current a goaltending coach in the Greater Kingston Junior Frontenac’s Minor Hockey Association.


  1. Dave Shirley

    This is the most important aspect of good performance!

  2. Dan

    What helps me is listening to an empowering song before a game and when distractions pop up during a game or self doubt starts to seep in, I replay that song over and over again, quieting the negative noise inside and outside of my head. Unfortunately the song I’ve been singing is by Taylor Swift, we are never getting back together….

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  3. yo mamma

    I have never had distraction problems, but recently I do. Like Dan says, I listen to a “Power Song” prior to the game. I like to listen to Pop Evil’s “Last Man Standing”, which was made popular on NHL Network as the official song of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They would usually play a highlight reel of Tim Thomas, top goaltender at the time, while playing it. I get so pumped.

  4. dr.p.p

    I have had this problem for years are whenever they are breaking into the zone I just repeat “hockey, hockey, hockey…” over and over and it clears my head of real life.

  5. Ron

    It’s great to see that people are talking about self talk. Control your self talk or your self talk will control you.

    It is of critical importance to know what to say to yourself before the game during the game and after the game.

    Another incredible technique after the game is to replay the game. All the saves. Visualize them. Then the goals need to be replayed too only this time you visualize it with a save. This programs your subconscious and before you know it you are making saves and not knowing how in the heck you did it or a play will like it is in slow motion when you get good at this visualization.

    Ron Montaruli,
    Peak performance coach.


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