John Russo

The super tool in goalie coaching


We are all at times challenged as players, coaches and parents as to how we can help our goalie. Too often the stigma of “better left alone” has been applied. The result can be years of false assumptions and lost opportunity for growth.


Each year about this time (for 26 years), I have turned my column over to a guest writer to provide you with a different view from an exceptional coach. It’s like having great assistant coaches on the team! This year, it’s Peter Samargia, head goalie instructor at Attitude Goaltending LLC of Minnesota.

Peter was a second team all-state goaltender on the 1998 Eveleth/Gilbert Minnesota State High School Champion before playing with the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Augsburg College. He also had a short stint in the minors league before settling into goaltender coaching in the Armstrong/Cooper youth association. He was back with the Gophers coaching the women in 2007 and at Augsburg coaching the men since 2009. He has also been the goalie coach for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL) for several years. He currently spends most of his long days coaching young goalies with his own company, Attitude Goaltending LLC.

I turn the next three weeks over to Peter Samargia. -- John Russo, Let's Play Hockey Columnist

The Super Tool in Goalie Coaching

By Peter Samargia

We are all at times challenged as players, coaches and parents as to how we can help our goalie. Too often the stigma of “better left alone” has been applied. The result can be years of false assumptions and lost opportunity for growth. My experience both from playing goalie for 27 years and teaching for 15, has led me to a simple and understated truth that can lead to a more fulfilling experience for all involved in hockey but specifically for goalies. What is it, you ask? “Communicate!”

Without question, all can learn from the coaches and teachers whom we hold so dear. Take a moment and allow yourself to think back to the coach who inspired you to do more, give freely and be your best. My guess is your interactions with this type of coach were unique and made you feel excited and willing to work towards improvement.

These conversations typically start with the coach showing true intent and desire to understand what the problem is. By listening first, you set the stage for the goalie to direct the area for improvement. Allowing the goalie to articulate what the problem is allows us as “coach, parent and teammate” to offer our assistance no matter what level of our expertise.

As a teacher of goalies, I can assure you that the biggest issue a goalie faces is not technical. It is without a doubt finding their way to being calm and assertive in the face of a hard vulcanized rubber bullet!

This brings us directly to eliminating the first trap of the current coaching conundrum. “I didn’t play (goalie), so I don’t want to screw him up.” Let’s first agree that this is about as self-defeating as saying, “I can’t enjoy a sunrise because I don’t know how to paint! Simply take the time to be aware that goaltending is simple, but complicated by anxiety and doubt.

You as a “coach, parent and teammate” can offer words of encouragement as a good starting point to open a line of communication. We can choose to take it a step further in becoming ‘goalie literate’ by understanding the three skills that will never change and can be seen by any active observer. I will put these in my personal order of importance!

1. Track the puck fully – From stick blade through the shot and into the body or deflection to the boards. A goalie’s eyes and head should be noticeably following the puck. Words of encouragement could be “relax and track” or “one puck at a time.” You will notice a goalie is doing this when they appear calm and ready.

2. Be on your angle – Being on your angle is visible and easy to talk about. When a goalie is off angle a simple reminder to be aware of it can do wonders! It gives the goalie a clear skill to work on instead of guessing what the problem could be!

3. Be assertive – This is last of the three for a reason. Depth is an option that is valuable, but cannot replace puck and angle awareness! Reminding a goalie to be assertive allows them to take the space that is available without disregarding the threats.

Of course one could drone on with other skills and debate about which is more important but that would defeat the purpose of our intent. Our intent is to help our goalie instead of avoiding communication and giving power to fear and confusion. Your “goalie, son or teammate” wants to be part of the team and does not want to be viewed as the outsider or different.

Here are some ideas on how to communicate with your goalie:

Start off by taking time with your goalies before practice and clearly stating the intent for the day’s practice. It should be simple and fall around the current ability level. It is important to make the goal for the day’s practice challenging but manageable. For example, a poor choice for a goal would be to ask a Squirt to make outlet passes when the puck is dumped into the zone. This would lead to frustration as this would be near impossible to do on a consistent basis, not to mention core skills have still not been fully developed at this time.

A different approach would be to look at something simple like deflecting pucks into the corner when the pucks are shot on the ice. This involves some skill and can happen several times throughout the practice. Then, while watching the goalies deflect the puck you can simply skate up and communicate to them that you are paying attention to their effort and encourage them to keep working on it. This may be a very simple message but remember, it’s not always what is said. Most often development happens when coaches put forth the effort to consistently communicate! It proves to the goalies that they matter and that their effort is noted.

Communication leads to confident young boys and girls. As coaches, one could say communication is the most important tool in our tool box. Let’s agree that sometimes we are afraid of saying the wrong thing, but we all make mistakes! Great coaches take those mistakes and use their communication skills to turn those mistakes into teachable lessons.

So in theory the only thing to fear is allowing ourselves to not take advantage of telling the truth when the opportunity presents itself! We all have seen the goalie come out of the locker room after a tough loss 6-0. The lobby grows quiet and some parents avoid eye contact. Consider the message a goalie would get from parents that are unafraid to walk up and say, “Tough game kiddo, we will do better next time!”

No harm can come from this type of communication when the intent of the communication is to give encouragement to never quit and that they have a chance to try again! Of course the kid has the potential to react negatively but again, I would encourage everyone to not be afraid of conversation. If a topic comes up that you feel is too difficult to tackle or you’re just not comfortable taking on, there are many resources to help us.

One resource that I highly recommend in regards to difficult topics that might come up when communicating is the Center for Sports and Mind. The staff there is experienced, knowledgeable and aware of the pressures and needs of today’s athletes. They provide a unique perspective and can assist in facilitating the process of personal and athletic development. Armed with the knowledge of help if you need it, there is no reason not to reach out to communicate with your goalie!
John Russo, Ph.D., is founder and director of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. He was a captain at the University of Wisconsin, and his Coaches’ Corner columns have appeared in LPH since 1986.