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The Motor Skill Development Window for Goalies

The Motor Skill Development Window for Goalies
Maria Mountain, M.Sc.

Maria Mountain, M.Sc.

The Motor Skill Development Window – no, this is not like a picture window or a stained glass window; I am referring to a window of development for young goalies.

Are you familiar with the saying, ‘it’s just like riding a bike?’ We never forget how to ride a bike, do we?

I remember being terrified when my Grama hopped on my brand new BMX bike that I got in 1982. I was terrified she would take a wipe out (and that my bike would be destroyed in the process). Much to my delight and surprise, Grama overcame a bit of a shaky start and then tore up and down the lane way at our cottage like no body’s business!

She probably had not ridden a bike in 50 years or more at the time, but she still knew how to do it. She still had that muscle memory because, like the rest of us, she probably learned to ride a bike when she was 6 years old or so.

So what is this phenomenon that imprints a skill for life, and how can we use it to our advantage as goalies?

This is where the motor skill development window comes into the conversation.

Our nervous systems become “hard wired” when we get older (like after 16 years of age), but at a young age they are very plastic, so we can lay down lots of new patterns with very little effort.

The best time for developing coordinated movement is between the ages of 7 and 14. Youth conditioning expert Brian Grasso reports that the most crucial time for young athletes to develop movement skill is between 10 to 13 years of age.

After the age of 16 it becomes harder for us to lay down new movement patterns. That’s not to say that we cannot do it. It just becomes harder and requires more deliberate practice.

So what does this mean for young goalies?

Many parents ask about strength training exercises their young goalie should be doing to get the advantage. I think they should be asking about movement skills to give them an advantage.

I would love to see a young goalie get involved in gymnastics or martial arts to develop a broad vocabulary of movement.

Although I personally do not feel that a young goalie needs to be working with a strength and conditioning coach, I do feel that they should be working with a technical goalie coach to learn proper execution of their movement patterns.

This will not only reduce wear and tear, but improve the quality of execution. I agree with the comments by Coach Dusan Sidor in the InGoal article earlier this week – rather than let the goalie figure out a way that feels right to him or her, but is biomechanically inefficient, teach the proper movement to start with.

Even though your youngster is a goalie, I think they should have a good grasp on all the basic movement patterns such as:

• Running
• Jumping
• Skipping
• Throwing
• Catching
• Shuffling
• Tumbling

Take advantage of that motor skill development window.

About The Author

Maria Mountain M.Sc.

Hockey strength and conditioning coach Maria Mountain, MSc specializes in off-ice training for hockey goalies. As the founder of and the owner of Revolution Sport Conditioning in London, Ontario, Maria has trained Olympic Gold medalists, a Stanley Cup Champ and athletes from MLB, NHL, AHL, CHL, CIS and more. Try Maria's Goalie Stretch Solution today.


  1. Paul Ipolito

    I agree 100%. The Finns and the Swedes train athletes first, goalies second.

  2. Richard Coard

    My son is a very athletic, birth year 2000, goalie. We live in North Carolina. Due to his natural ability, he gets away with a lot(inefficient movement) and stops a lot of pucks. When we play teams from up north, the fast pace doesn’t allow much room for error. What can he do own his own to enhance his speed, agility and strength so that his movements are more efficient.

    • Maria Mountain

      Hi Richard,

      I think the number one thing is to work with a good goaltending instructor to learn proper movement patterns on the ice and then for your son to really focus on using those patterns (even though they may feel awkward for the first while) during practice and games. He needs to re-learn patterns to replace ‘his way’.

      At 13/14, your son can start working on his agility and strength training, by just working on the basics, here are some videos that may help:
      Hope that helps.

  3. Paul Ipolito

    I would consider buying or making a slide board.