Practice…one word that has never had so many different meanings. Practice can mean getting your tail worked off through skating drills because of your team’s terrible performance, or a light scrimmage with the boys (or girls) as you prepare for a big game. Everyone talks about how you have to work hard in practice. You’ve heard it from your parents, teammates and coaches. The truth is “work hard” is not the secret ingredient to ensuring that you continue to develop in practice.

I recently worked with a goaltender who said, “I work harder than anyone out there on my game, yet I still can’t compete in games.” I am sure you have probably at times felt this same frustration, or maybe you’re currently feeling this way. You can complete six thousand t-pushes until you’re red in the face and you feel like you may become a part of the bowling team, but if you’re not creating the same environment, you’re wasting your time.

Games are played at a high intensity, with pressure from varying sources placed firmly on the goalie’s shoulders to not let his team down. You can have the most high intensity practice in the world, but without the pressure your muscles will freeze up or be unsure what to do. Why does this happen? Many people have asked me this question along the way and the simple answer is that we fail to recall our skills in game situations because we remember our skills best when we’re in the same situations as when we learnt them. If you are relaxed and free from pressure in practice yet under pressure and tense during a game you are literally playing two different sports in essence. For us to be able to play well under pressure we need to train under the same circumstances as we will be faced with during a game. Here are a few tips to ensure that you are not wasting your time in your next practice:

QUALITY NOT QUANTITY - Stop facing hundreds of shots or completing hundreds of backside pushes. Instead take fewer shots or work on the technical aspects of the backside push. Create good habits and follow your rebounds to where they are going or focus on bringing your push skate close to your pad to ensure a good push. Completing ten solid repetitions of any given drill will make a much bigger difference then completing a hundred repetitions where you do not focus on where the puck went once it hit you for example. Remember in competition you will be called upon to stop two, three and maybe four shots at one time, so when practicing focus on creating those game situations.

SET GOALS FOR EACH PRACTICE - Before each practice you should set two to three key goals of skills which you are going to work on. Setting goals during practice can create game-like pressure on the goaltender and ensure that he will be able to complete the skill during the next game. Set goals like I want to stop nine out of ten pucks at any given point during practice or I want to work on reacting to getting scored on better.

GIVE YOURSELF FEEDBACK - I was talking with a goalie dad the other day who made mention of his son’s goalie coaching saying that his son had a great practice when in truth the goalie was awful. If we take the word of other people all the time we may be fooling ourselves into believing that we are better than we actually are. Give yourself honest feedback. If you over play a puck in practice be honest. Ask yourself what did I do wrong and what can I do differently next time. The feedback you need to take away from this is what you are going to do in the future not what you did wrong.

CREATE CONSEQUENCES DURING PRACTICE - Every training sessions needs a consequence. The ultimate consequence of course is that a poor practice will often lead to a bad performance in an upcoming game but give yourself consequences within the practice. Maybe it is that if you don’t stop nine out ten shots on the next drill you will have to do extra movement after the drill. If you create consequences in practices which are productive you will add more pressure to your practice, making your practice more like a game. Remember though that practicing should be fun. So when you have a good practice remember to reward yourself afterwards.

Give yourself a fighting chance in your upcoming game. Work on the above tips in your next practice and if you are diligent and honest with yourself you will be on your way to becoming a much better goaltender. Don’t kill yourself by facing hundreds of shots each practice, be realistic to what is going to help you and work on the areas where you need improvement.

Shaun Smith is the founder of Absolute Mental Training. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email him at ssmith@absolutementaltraining.com.