I'm copying this from something I wrote in reply to a new goalie a couple of years ago. He was asking about how to keep head up, play better, even when on the end of big losses, or feel like you're playing badly. Particularly if you struggle a bit with mental health to start with. It's a bit stream-of-consciousness & long-winded. What do people think of it? What have I left out, and where can I improve it?
There are a couple of different skills involved.
1. Learn to not judge yourself purely on the scoreboard. There have been games where I came off after being on the wrong end of an 8-1 loss, and very happy with how I played. There have been times where I've had a clean sheet but been cranky with how I played. And all sorts in between. There is, of course, a fair bit of correlation between how I play and how many go in. But it's not strictly won = played well, lost = played badly, let in 7 = had a crap game.
Well meaning people will try and placate you with 'but it got through 10 people to get to you', (it happens to me more when I've actually not played well, I think mostly because I look crankier and more in need of placating when that's happened) in the assumption this mindset will help you feel better. They are wrong. Doesn't matter how many other people it went past, the fact is it is your job to have it not go past you, and it went past you. You are 100% entitled to view this as a bad thing. You are also entitled to view 'don't feel so bad, it went through 10 others before you' as being pointless and not constructive, in exactly the same way as 'don't feel so good about your game, the team still lost' is pointless, not constructive, and something hardly anybody would say to a newer player. But plenty will say the first to a new player.
BUT, and it is a big but, see skill 1. A goal going in is a bad result, and so you can feel bad about it. But a bad result does not mean you played badly. A goal going in does not automatically mean you did something wrong. 'I failed to save that' is not the same as 'It's my fault they scored'.
Which leads to skill 2, for during a game. It is really important to maintain your focus. Opposition just scored a great goal. OK, let it go, remind yourself to refocus, remind your team of same, keep doing your job to best of your ability. You just stuffed up, opposition scored a soft goal. Same deal. Let it go, remind yourself to refocus, remind your team of same, keep doing your job to best of your ability. You just made a fantastic save, everyone will be talking about it post game. Exactly the same deal. Let it go, remind yourself to refocus, remind your team of same, keep doing your job to best of your ability. Team scored up the other end. Let it go, remind yourself to refocus, remind your team of same, keep doing your job to best of your ability. The ability to maintain your focus, to not let what happened 1 minute, 5 minutes, 3 weeks ago distract you from your job, makes a huge difference. You can be constructive, whatever just happened in game may be a reminder to do something better, or to keep doing something well, e.g. position yourself, talk, make it save & clear, not just save. Or to reminder your players about marking, or the difference between left & right, listening to you, etc. That's constructive, that's fine, reminding yourself of key points during a game is a good thing. But getting caught up in what has happened is not. You can't change it, your job is to save the next one. Then the one after that. And so on.
Put some strapping tape on the back of your glove, write yourself a couple of messages. It may just be 'file it, REFOCUS'.
Then we have skill 3, for the half time, post game analysis. This can be harder as a new keeper, because you may genuinely not know some of the good things you did, nor some of the bad things. It helps, a lot, if there is someone watching who you trust to analyse your play. Or if there's someone taking some video to look through later. But at its most basic level, every time a goal goes in, think to yourself 'why did that go in?' Then file the answer away for later, let it go, remind yourself to refocus, remind your team of same, keep doing your job to best of your ability.
Afterwards, open up the file, have a look at it. Was it an open shot that was well taken and simply beat you? Was it a shot from close range where they passed it around you and you simply couldn't get into position to save it? Was it a poor shot that you misread? Was it a flick and you struggle to make saves with hands? Was it a rebound where you made first save but kicked it back to a forward? Were you too aggressive, charged out but got beaten and they more or less dribbled it in? Were you not aggressive enough, stayed in your goal on a breakaway, gave them enough time to pick their spot and whack it past you? Did you simply stand in the wrong spot because you lost track? And so on, and so on. the more you play, the more you learn, the more you'll notice with stuff like this.
As I said, as a new keeper, start doing it at a basic level. After every goal, ask yourself a simple question. Was it a good goal or a bad goal? i.e. Did they score because they passed/shot well, or did they score because you made a mistake? If there was one, what was my mistake? Then again, let it go, refocus, return to doing your job. Again, as you play more, your answers to that will change, or get more subtle. You'll start to analyse attacking chances, not just goals. Player had free shot from top, I made great top corner save. Awesome. But did I do something wrong that allowed them to have a free shot from the top? If I was in better position, would it have been an easy save instead of needing awesome save? You'll start to analyse your saves. did I just put something in the way? Did I try and put the rebound somewhere? Did the rebound go where I aimed it? Start doing this, and it'll help you develop a constructive mindset, it'll help you get ideas for things you want to work on (if they hit it hard in the air, I'm basically just sticking hand out and hoping. If they aim for the corners, I can't reach. If they go pass-pass-shoot, I always seem to be out of position. If there's a breakaway, I get indecisive and stuck in no-man's land. Whenever I dive, I kind of end up stuck on the ground and out of the play. I usually make the first save, but they always get a 2nd or 3rd shot. etc, etc).
Incidentally, the more you do this, I think the more likely your view of how you played can differ from your teammates' view of how you played. I get more credit for some of the spectacular but easy saves I make (Ball hit from top in general direction of left ear, easy but impressive glove save) than some of the really good ones (Ball hit from top left, headed for bottom right corner, barely grazes my toe and goes out for long corner).
I think it (being hard on yourself, saying I should've done better, shouldn't have stuffed up) is a trait shared by most keepers. I also think it's a good thing. Provided the second half is constructive.
Constructive self-analysis is great. Destructive self-criticism is not. Exactly the same when analysing others, coaching others, directing others. I think that, coupled with keepers needing to read the game, direct their defence, etc, is a reason so many keepers seem to make ok coaches.
I've got mental health issues too. But generally, I'm pretty decent at this stuff. There is the odd game where my brain overloads and the focus won't return, where I'm thinking about how I don't want to be here, or the frustration is growing steadily higher and I'm fantasising about how I might vent while also trying hard not to explode. But I think for me, those cases have more to do with being in a bad place before the game even starts. The biggest carryover of mental health stuff into playing hockey is that I struggle to be objective about myself, I'm too black & white when looking at myself, something that doesn't happen at all when analysing others, especially anyone I coach. I'm too critical of self post-game, too, I've never met a goal I shouldn't have saved, and so don't always follow my own advice as written here. I generally mark myself as minus several million for any mistakes but only plus 10 for good things. Means I'm really not worth talking to straight after a game, lasts about 5-20 minutes depending on how it's gone. But overall, hockey is very much a net positive for my brain.
Well that was certainly a thorough review of your thoughts on gk mental game. Thanks so much for sharing. Some great tips in there and plenty for all of us gas to ponder.
Having missed out on two olympics due to the pressure I put on myself and the fear I felt for making a mistake to letting a goal in, I have now learnt to be very clear and objective when it comes to reviewing my play. Like you I prefer to quickly check in with the decision I made and the skill execution and then move on to the next thing. Mental game for keepers is so important and we must keep ourselves in control all the time. By training hard you can relax and trust yourself to make the right decision and the right save at the time. This is why I put so much emphasis on basics with Stomp. Solid basics means less chance of error.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insight 🙂