Simplify your game and focus on the fundamentals.
I recently read Shawn Green’s book The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 MPH. In it, Green discusses, in great detail, his approach to hitting and how it evolved throughout his career. Through philosophical battles with manager Cito Gaston which eventually led to Green being banned from going to the batting cage without the batting, Green developed a routine of practicing hitting off a tee, which shaped his mental approach, which he describes as wanting “…to approach pitches with stillness, patience, and no thought, just waiting, watching, and seeing.” After a number of swings Green would enter a zen like state, where his mind would clear. This idea of emptying your mind and performing, commonly known as “the zone”, flow or zen, is the mental holy grail that all athletes and performers are searching for, especially in a mentally demanding position like goaltending. Most treat the mental side of the position and the physical side of the position as separate entities, but I have learned in my playing and coaching experience that both sides speak to each other and that it's important to try and create that “stillness” in your physical game, to complement and encourage it in the mental side of the position.
Practice makes perfect. It’s what every well meaning parent tells their children when they are learning a new skill. It stands to reason that more practice makes more perfect. In general terms, yes, practicing more will make a person better at a given pursuit, but the people who become the very best don’t become that way merely because they practiced more than others. Quality of practice is much more important than quantity of practice. In the book “Talent is Overrated,” Geoff Colvin talks a lot about one thing in particular which separates the elite from the average in almost every endeavour; music, sports, business. That magic ingredient that separated Mozart and Tiger Woods from the rest of the pack is “deliberate practice.”
One of my favourite drills to do when I run a team practice is a drill I call the “dots skate.” It’s meant to be done at full speed with lots of crossovers and direction changes. Usually, the first time we run through it most of the players stay in their comfort zones to make sure they don’t lose an edge and fall. After going through it once, I tell them I want them to fall. To push themselves outside of their comfort zone. The pace of the drill picks up after that and as we move through the season, players’ feet get quicker and their balance improves. Without that willingness to fall, the players don’t get much out of the drill.
Rob Gherson is a former NHL draft pick of the Washington Capitals. He played 5 years of professional hockey, winning an AHL championship with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. He represented Ontario in the 2000 World Hockey Championship, winning a silver medal. Since finishing his playing career he has worked with hundreds of goalies from age 5-25. Along with running his own goalie school with former NHLer Chris Beckford-Tseu, he is the goalie coach for the prestigious private school Upper Canada College. He also coaches in the GTHL having coached AAA, AA and A, as well as Sterling Hall School’s under-12 and Under-14 team who has won 2 silver medals and a gold in the 3 years he has coached there.