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How to Make the Most of Practice

by Tom Sablak Introduction Practice time should be productive and fun. However, not all teams have goalie coaches who understand this unique position and who can design good drills for goalies. As a result, goalies may be neglected during practice drills that may be okay for forwards and defensemen, but not for goalies. Goalies need to be proactive when it comes to their approach to practice time, which often calls for self-instruction and self-motivation. This article provides several suggestions and tips on what to think about before, during, and after practices so that these workouts can be more productive for you. Before Practice How productive a practice is not only depends upon what you do on the ice but also what you do before you even get on the ice. Here are some things to think about before you put on the pads: (1)   Rest – Getting enough sleep prior to your practice is crucial to maintaining a high intensity level during the workout. If you’re tired during practice, you’re more likely to develop “lazy” or bad habits. You’ll also need to take more breaks, which means less time stopping pucks. Plus, it will be more difficult to concentrate and maintain focus. With plenty of rest, you won’t feel as if you’re fighting an uphill battle during practice, and you’ll have more fun. (2)   Diet – While you cannot control how many sprints your coach will ask you to skate during practice, you can certainly help yourself immensely with good eating habits before you get to the rink. A smart diet not only involves what you eat but also when you eat. Eating carbohydrates (e.g., pasta) on the day before your practice (or game) will give you energy on the ice. Try to avoid lots of sugar right before practice – sugar can provide a deceptive energy “buzz” but will also deliver a “lull” soon after. (Eating anything immediately before a practice or game is usually a bad idea.) Drinking plenty of water before your workout – not just during it – is one of the best moves you can make. (3)   Plan – Practice should be more than just putting on your equipment and stopping pucks. You should have an idea about what you’d like to work on, what you’d like to get out of practice. What are some areas in your game in which you’d like to improve? What didn’t go so well last practice? How did the pucks go in last game? How is your stickhandling and shooting? Are there any drills that you’d like to suggest to your coach? To get the most out of practice, you need to be less “reactive” (only doing what the coach asks you to work on) and more “proactive” (stepping on the ice with a plan about what you want to work on). A proactive approach to practice (and your whole game for that matter) is especially important when your team doesn’t have a goalie coach. Also important is having a plan for the “downtime” that arises during practice – the time during which goalies aren’t included in drills or in the instruction (e.g., when the forwards are practicing face-offs). If you get an extra ten minutes during or at the end of practice, how will you use that time? In the Locker Room Although it’s not always feasible, it’s a good idea to give yourself a little extra time in the locker room before practice, whenever you can. Here’s why: (1)   Stretch – Knowing that you’re going to stretch when you get on the ice, why should you stretch in the locker room? There are several reasons. For one thing, you really can’t stretch too much. This is especially true as you get older and you lose a little of your flexibility. Stretching in the locker room with or without your equipment on will also allow you to target certain muscles that you may not be able to hit when you’re on the ice.  Another reason to stretch before practice is because you never know if you’ll get a chance to stretch on the ice: what happens if, for example, you discover an equipment problem right before you step on the ice and by the time you fix it the practice is already underway? Bottom line is that it never hurts to stretch before practice. (2)   Equipment check – Extra time before practice will allow you to check your equipment and take care of the little things that often make a big difference. For example, you can use this time to tape your sticks, tighten the screws on your mask, sharpen your skates, and put bandages on your blisters. Plus, you never know when it’s time for your skate lace to snap! Warm-up The warm-up is one of the most underrated parts of practice, but one of the most important. It is also a time that you don’t want to get caught “going through the motions.” During the warm-up, you’ll want to focus on three things: stretching (again), breaking a sweat, and breaking in your equipment. (1)   Stretch (again) – Most teams gather at the start of practice to stretch as a group. Ideally, you will have skated a couple of laps so that your muscles are warmed up before this stretch. By all means, do not treat the stretching time as “resting” time. At every session at our camps, we observe many goalies taking this part of the practice seriously, but we see just as many goalies that don’t. Even if you’re tired, force yourself to stretch well. Hold each stretch for at least a six-count, and do not “bounce” or make any sudden movements. You’ll never know when you’re going to push your muscles to the limit during practice (or try-outs, or games). (2)   Break a sweat – You’ll be more effective in the net once you warm up and get the blood working. And, the best way to avoid cooling off (and catching a chill) during practice is to keep moving! (3)   Break in your equipment – Not only do you want to take the stiffness out of your equipment, but you also want to use your warm-up to make sure that your equipment is on properly: no straps dragging on the ice, gloves tightened, etc. During Practice The structure of practice depends upon coaching styles, strategy, schedule, and talent levels, among other things. Generalizations are difficult to make. Nevertheless, no matter how your coach designs the practice, here are some suggested things to work on during practice: (1)   Have a good attitude – Be willing to work on your weak areas and make mistakes. This is often easier said than done as goalies are often judged by the number of pucks that go in the net rather than by technique and effort. There is often a lot of pressure on the goalie to stop everything sent towards the net, which leaves little time for working on skills and experimenting. This is why goalie coaches can be so important to your development. Take criticism and suggestions with an open mind and an eye towards improvement. (2)   Maintain a high energy level – Show your coach and, most importantly, your teammates that you’re working as hard as they are. Be a leader by setting a good example for your teammates. (3)   Communicate – Practice time is a great opportunity to work on your communication with your defensemen and even your forwards. Communication is extremely important, and to avoid getting “crossed-up” with your teammates during games, you want to make sure that you aren’t communicating with them for the first time in game-situations. Some important things to communicate with your teammates: how to handle two-on-one situations, what to do with pucks that you stop behind the net, when to cover the puck and take a whistle, how much pressure the other team is putting on you during their fore checks, etc. (4)   Recognize drills that aren’t designed for goalies – It’s a fact of life that not all drills are good for goalies. And even if the intention is good, drills that aren’t designed properly can be counterproductive to your development.  It goes without saying that you should always try to do your best even when the drill is lousy. However, it is during these lousy drills that you need to focus more on your technique and less on the number of pucks that go in the net. (5)   Use “downtime” effectively – As mentioned before, “downtime” often pops-up up over the course of a practice. For example, coaches often exclude goalies from forward-only or defenseman-only drills. You essentially have three options during downtime (at the Goalie Academy, we highly recommend the second and third options.) The first option is to “relax” by sitting unproductively on the ice or talking to someone. The second option (always preferred to the first option!) is to pay close attention to the instruction in order to learn as much as possible about breakouts, fore-checks, power plays, etc. At first glance, it might seem silly for a goalie to learn about different fore-checking strategies (how many times during your career are you really going to “dump and chase”?), but your ability to play the puck and make smart decisions behind the net will improve when you have an idea of what the other team may throw at you. The third option is to stay warm by working on something on your own, if possible. You will go a long way towards showing your teammates that you have a good attitude by turning downtime into productive time. While it is not necessary to skate sprints during downtime, it can be a good opportunity to practice your shots (forehand and backhand), to work on your skate saves, to practice trapping pucks against your blocker, to stop pucks without your stick, or to work on any number of other skills. For almost all of these suggestions, you can work with the other goalie on your team (your buddy). Furthermore, these ideas are much more fun than sitting around on the ice. We would make one suggestion to you during downtime: make as little disruption as possible as you practice your skills so that your coach doesn’t feel as if your noise is competing with his instruction. (For instance, instead of shooting pucks against the boards, “playing catch” with a buddy will give a quieter landing to your shots.) (6)   At the end of practice (before you leave the ice) – Often, there is some extra time when practice ends but the Zamboni driver hasn’t kicked you off the ice yet. This is a great opportunity to get together with some shooters and take extra shots, and is also one of the best parts of practice. Make sure your form stays solid if your teammates want to have “contests” (e.g., showdowns, best-of-ten shots, etc.) Use a little caution, too. Make sure you are stretched out well enough (especially if your coach has just put you through sprints) so that you don’t succumb to a groin injury if you are participating in “high-stakes” showdowns. After practice Now is the time to relax – usually. However, as you are putting your equipment away, take note of any equipment problems (dull skates, broken straps, etc.) so that you can take care of them before your next practice or game. Also, pay attention to any bumps and bruises you may have gotten during practice and take care of them if possible. Things to Remember Practice time is precious and often expensive, so don't waste it.  Be proactive at practice – challenge yourself to work on weak areas, and make suggestions about drills to your coach. Maintain a high energy level and work hard. Develop good habits both on and off the ice. And, have fun! Remember the old saying (that we also believe at the Goalie Academy): Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. If you have any questions about this article, feel free to e-mail us at the Goalie Academy. Tom Sablak is a Goalie Academy Instructor.  He is a graduate of Bowdoin College, where he was a key member of the school’s 1993 ECAC Championship team.  Tom played his Prep School Hockey at the prestigious Choate Rosemary Hall School.  

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