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Composure Keys Goalie Success in Playoffs

By Justin Johnson, USA Hockey’s Minnesota District Associate Goalie Coach-in-Chief, 03/06/13, 9:45PM CST

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Justin Johnson working with a goalie at Minnesota Hockey's Dave Peterson Reebok High Performance Goalie Camp

Playoffs are here and with them come a great amount of anticipation, excitement, and pressure. Great events, like playoff hockey, always seem to come with emotional swings, momentum shifts and defining moments. For goalies, being prepared and at your best in pressure performances like these – hinges on your ability to manage difficult emotions throughout the game.

For years, coaches and parents alike have pleaded with goaltenders to refrain from showing emotions by slamming sticks, pointing fingers, or yelling at teammates after being scored on.

Of course, there is no room for this type of behavior they insist, but instructing goaltenders to not display their emotions is only treating a symptom of a deeper issue.

What has to occur within the goaltenders’ mindset that helps them manage difficult situations so they don’t feel the need to display their emotions?

The answer to that question starts with each goaltender’s expectations. Every goaltender has expectations going into a game. Expectations are what you believe is going to happen as well as how you believe you should play. Your expectations can either set you up to be emotionally stable during the game or they can set you up for volatility.

The difference is keeping expectations realistic as opposed to unrealistic. What you need to master here is creating realistic expectations for yourself and your team. When going into a game, expecting to get a shutout isn’t very realistic. This expectation and others like it – set you up for frustration and puts you in an emotional state that hurts your ability to maintain composure and ultimately be at your best.

Adjusting your expectations to keeping the other team from scoring two goals or more is a more realistic expectation. It allows you to maintain your composure during the game. 

Keeping your expectations realistic sets the stage to stay poised and can eliminate the toxic frustration and negativity that results from believing you are letting yourself, and your teammates down. Eventually, both positive and negative events that were unexpected will occur in competition.

Being composed is the ability to maintain an inner state of calm when unexpected events surround you. Hockey is filled with emotionally charged events that either steal momentum or give it. Because of this, the ability to master your composure gives you a significant edge on your opponents.

As a goaltender, there are moments in the game where the other team may be carrying the play for a part of a period. You may start to feel yourself getting stressed, or fearful.  Studies show that bringing these types of emotions to the next rush, shot, or period will most likely alter your decision making, thus making an impact on the quality of your positioning or save selection during an important moment in the game.

Mastering your composure requires that you keep your thinking fixated on the here and now, which means fighting to make sure that you do not allow your mind to time travel into the past or future. It becomes very easy to start thinking about the past or the future when the events around you are out of control. When this is happening being intentional about here and now thinking helps you to maintain your inner peace and keep your emotions from negatively impacting your performance.

One phrase I would like to have you memorize is; “never too high, never too low.” Keeping your thinking on the events in the present moment will help you to master your composure.

Here are a couple quick tips to help you master your composure.

Keys to mastering your expectations:

  1. Determine the quality of your emotions: There is an easy way to determine if your expectations are out of line. Ask yourself, “Am I easily and often frustrated? If so, your expectations are most likely unrealistic.
  2. Take what events you know will most likely happen and build your expectations around those events. Doing this will help you to stabilize your emotions and not become so easily frustrated when events do not line up. Maintaining this perspective helps to keep you emotionally stable.

Keys to mastering your composure:

  1. Accepting that part of competition is some events go your way and some events do not.
  2. Train yourself to keep your thinking focused on the here and now. This will help you to be: never too high, never too low and not allow outside events to disrupt your inner calm.

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