Having A Child Between The Pipes

There is a familiar conversation that occurs on youth hockey teams when players reach a certain age. It is one sure to strike fear into the hearts of parents. 

“Well…we need a goalie.” 

It’s an inevitable part of growing with the game as kids graduate beyond the introductory levels. A common solution is having each player take a turn strapping on a set of communal goalie pads until it finally sticks.

Having a child between the pipes requires a whole new level of investment, as well as extreme mental, perhaps intestinal, fortitude. 

Goaltending can be an incredibly rewarding journey to teach some of life’s most important lessons—dealing with stress, bouncing back from mistakes and mental strength. 

If your kids are determined to be a netminder, take comfort in knowing these techniques can help through the best and worst of times. 

Dan Jones, Central New York goalie coach and mental performance trainer, and Steve Thompson, manager of goaltending development for USA Hockey, share these strategies to reset after a goal or bad start to a game. 


1. The ‘5 second rule’

“Allow a natural emotional response, but after those 5 seconds, reset by taking a drink of water or tapping the posts. Refocus on the only thing that really matters...the next save,” Jones said. 


2. ‘Chunking’

“Encourage goalies to break down periods and games into smaller more manageable segments,” Jones said. “For example, breaking a 15-minute period into three, 5-minute segments.”    


3. Have a mantra or short repeating phrase Goalies can improve their confidence and focus by controlling their thoughts through saying the same phrase over and over. 

“Something as simple as the words ‘In’ and ‘Out’, a song lyric or a favorite quote can help you focus on breathing,” Jones said. “Mine was, ‘I will stop the puck, and the puck will not go in.’ It’s something I still use whenever I feel stressed.”

Thompson encourages parents after a tough loss to let time heal the wounds. 

“I always try my best to give a day before going over a previous game,” Thompson said. “Often our emotions cloud our ability to be objective about our play when we are fresh out of the crease. Once you can have a conversation that isn’t so emotionally charged, then I’d recommend the GRIP method.”   

GRIP stands for Goals, Reflection, Input, and Plan. It’s a way to generate feedback from your goalie on their own play and development plan. Thompson advises to start off by asking what your kid’s goals were for the game. Encourage goals to be detailed, not too generic. Instead of setting a goal “to win” or “to have at least a .900 save percentage,” they should be process-oriented ones they have control over. Getting to their spots early or reading the release of the shooters better, are great examples.

Thompson then advises parents and coaches to reflect on the positives. Go over what your goalie could improve and give input on what went well.  Thompson says wrap it up with a plan on what they can do next game or next practice, based upon their reflection from their game. 


Goalie Parents Weigh In

“My goalie girl was offered this advice: ‘Once the puck slides past you, it’s in the past. Forget. Reset. Refocus. One stop at a time.”

–  Jen Berg (Neillsville, Wis.) 


“Offer peace if they need it, a hug if they want it and a chance to vent if it makes them feel better.”

– Linda Aitcheson (Belfast, Ireland) 


“Biggest ‘no-no’ is going over every single goal. They know they gave up the goal(s).” 

– Scott Reed (Liverpool, N.Y.)


“No matter what, she knows that she can look at me in the stands and I will be giving her two thumbs up.”

– Nicole Metro (Niagara Falls, N.Y.) 



“After the game I ask, ‘What is the one thing you thought was awesome and the one thing you want to work on?’ Done and done.”

– Danielle Hardesty Varner (Wasilla, Alaska)



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