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The Role Of Tennis Balls In Goaltender Development

photo by Yersinia

The use of tennis balls for training ice hockey goaltenders has been known and used for decades.

Former Russian goaltender and legend Valdislav Tretiak has gone on record remarking how important Anatoli Tarasov (Former Russian Olympic Coach) considered tennis ball training in goaltender development. Fans of the recent movie Miracle also saw how, in part, Team USA goalie Jim Craig used tennis balls in reflex training.

Tennis balls are a wonderful training aid which can help make someone a better goaltender. They can be used both on and off the ice. They can be used in many ways including:

  • development of basic eye-hand coordination
  • basic juggling skills of three, four or more balls for eye-hand coordination and developing better focus and concentration
  • reflex training (reaction time) especially for all of those “quick release” shots in close and deflections (turn a net towards the boards, have your goalie hug a post and take slap shots at the boards and have him/her react)
  • used in combination with a balance board (combining balance, muscle control, eye-hand coordination and mental focus all together)
  • mirroring drills between goalie partners with or without gloves on ,and possibly while performing basic dryland footwork
  • have shooters take basic shots on young goaltenders. It ‘s fun, they do not get hurt and it gives them a different visual stimulus (and perspective) on which to focus

The creative use of bungee balls on rubber strings allows more advanced goalies to throw the ball some distance from themselves and practice tracking a small object recoiling back at them at various trajectories and at a self-determined velocity.

Another training adjunct is the tennis ball machine. This is primarily used for training isolation movements.

I define an isolation movement as follows: A pre-determined repetitive movement of an isolated limb ,or limbs in combination, for the proper execution of goalie-specific save techniques and the appropriate resultant muscle memory.

For example, if the goalie needs to learn how to trap a puck on his/her blocker this can be repeated dozens or hundreds of times in isolation. The objective of isolation training is therefore to work on mechanics and not to trick the trainee.

The coach simply turns the machine off when instruction/ demonstration is required. As the trainee improves, velocities can be increased and the oscillating feature of the machine can be used.

I would recommend that young trainees wear a jock, chest protector, gloves and a road hockey helmet. As tennis balls get old their trajectory becomes somewhat unpredictable. Getting hit on the arm or face with a ball shot at over 60 miles-per-hour hurts (trust me on that one !!!) The Boni Goalie Trainer (puck machine) is the ultimate tool in isolation movement training. However, the tennis ball machine has the advantages of initially being less intimidating and dangerous with young goalies. The little guys can develop good technique and confidence.

Remember that a young goalie who develops early “puck fear” and flinches has lost their effectiveness and competitive edge. The tennis ball machine can be used all summer and on the ice if desired.

The use of tennis balls is a simple and cheap way to develop certain aspects of a goaltender’s game. It takes longer for goalies to develop excellent eye-hand coordination than too learn to cover the lower portion of the net. However, with practice, encouragement and physical growth (ie, filling in the net more) their ability to save the “high ones” will improve. Tennis balls help goaltenders get better !

“Tarasov trained me to always carry a tennis ball with me and never to leave it, even for a moment. Wherever I went I had to throw and catch it all the time. I remember once we were swimming in the sea and Tarasov asked ‘Where is your tennis ball, young fellow? You have to carry it in the water too.’ And he wasn’t kidding ! Not al all, Nikolai Tolstikov and I were forced to make pockets in our swim trunks for our tennis balls. Now you might get the impression that that was too much. But , who knows what would have happened to my life without that tennis ball, which undoubtedly sharpened my reaction speed and my hands-eye coordination.” – Valdislav Tretiak

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 Comment

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