April 18, 2012

The Goalie Guru: What goalie camps will and won't do for you

By Brion O’Connor

Full disclosure. I often feel uncomfortable lobbying for summer hockey camps. It appears self-serving, since I spend a good chunk of my summer working for them. I understand that. However, that fact also keeps me honest, and I always make every effort to give every child my full attention. I’ve never mailed But my allegiance to summer camps goes beyond that.

The reality is, I’m a fan of good sports camps of any kind, and my daughters are proof. My eldest, Maddi, attended an overnight volleyball camp in my wife’s home state, Kansas, and came home with the tools to jump-start a terrific freshman season. My youngest, Brynne, is a 13-year-old hockey player, and she’s benefited greatly by the “immersion” that a weeklong summer camp provides, and she’ll be going back to a skating and stickhandling camp this summer. That’s when she’s not at soccer camp.

So, while I work for camps, as a parent I can appreciate the positive impact they can have. As long as kids also get a break. Booking your young goalie for eight weeks of camps over the summer is begging for burnout. On the other hand, the “concentrated dose” that a weeklong camp offers is invaluable, because it provides essential building blocks. Just like a good diet — you need to establish a solid foundation, which supports future development.

Here’s another reason I’m a fan of summer goaltending camps. They are all about goalies. Period. Not shooters, not defensive schemes, power plays or penalty kills (though those topics are covered extensively, from a goalie’s perspective). This is just the opposite of almost every youth hockey program I’ve seen, where goalies are treated like some sort of mildly intriguing appendage.

Campers will get plenty of work, likely more than they bargained for. But the workload is designed to make the goalies stronger, quicker, smarter, instead of simply running them into the ground (which, as best I can tell, is the end-product of roughly three-quarters of the shooting drills I see in youth hockey these days).

Still, don’t be fooled into thinking all camps are equal. There’s a well-known shooting and stickhandling camp (which will remain unnamed, to protect the guilty) that offers free spots for goaltenders. When I inquired, I learned there was no instruction. Absolutely none. Zero. They wouldn’t even consider having a goalie coach on the ice. These camps simply wanted targets (and, in reality, should have been paying those poor kids). The lesson? Be sure to ask beforehand.

So, here are seven persistent myths about camps I’d like to dispel:

1. You’ll get better by just showing up

OK, there’s some truth to this. We will make you a better goaltender. But if you think the ability of Mom and Dad to pay for a camp miraculously will make you an NHL All-Star, you’re misinformed. Playing goal takes work. Sweat and exertion. There are no shortcuts.

2. Nice gear makes a better goaltender

There’s an old saying, which I repeat often during my goalie sessions: “A good craftsmen doesn’t blame his tools.” Mommy and Daddy might be able to afford this camp, and all the really expensive gear that the position requires, but if you don’t bring the requisite effort, it will all go for naught. Bank on it.

3. Camps are to get in shape

Wrong. Anyone showing up to camp “to get in shape” is going to miss half the benefit, because they’ll be spending half the time trying to keep lunch down, or trying not to huck a lung. The kids who benefit most from camps are the ones who show up ready to roll on Day One. You are reading this in April (or at least the April issue). You have no excuses. Get in shape now.

4. We will hold your hand

Hockey is a great game because it not only teaches self-sufficiency but it also treats that concept as one of its bedrock principles. We — your counselors and instructors — are not getting between the pipes. You are. So it’s our job to make sure you’re ready to do your job. If you think you’re going to get pampered, think again. That would be a disservice to your folks, your team, and ultimately, to you. Our job is to make sure you get in the pool without drowning. And we’ll show you how to get faster. But whether you actually get any better or not is really, at the end of the day, up to you.

5. We will tie your skates, and put on your pads

See the previous paragraph. Throughout the week at camp, we’ll offer advice, particularly when it comes to ill-fitting or inadequate gear. My colleague Kevin Morrison loves to remind youngsters to cut the boot straps on their pads to an appropriate length, to avoid tripping on them if they come loose. We talk about proper gear care (don’t leave it in your bag; hang it in front of a dehumidifier), and gear fit. But we’re not nannies.

6. We are your parents

Not even close. But we understand that Mom and Dad are laying out a pretty penny for you to attend, and we’re going to make sure they get their money’s worth. But if you talk back or throw temper tantrums at home, and expect to get away with the same behavior at camp, you’re in for a shock. There are, at a minimum, 14 or 15 other campers sharing the ice with you. My experience has been that about 75-80 percent of them will dig deep and work hard. If you don’t, simply because you can’t adjust your attitude, you’ll get left behind.

7. It’s all about competition

The objective of these camps is to improve. But far too many kids treat it like a competition, and as a result default to old, comfortable habits, even if those habits prevent them from getting better (the classic example is a kid who stays on the goal line because he’s a afraid of getting caught out of position, even though he’s giving up half the goal. The solution is becoming a better skater, not staying deep). I remind my campers that I’m not the one picking their teams, or their team’s starting goalie. They don’t have to worry about impressing me. I only want them to get better. That means getting out of their comfort zone, and push their limits. To quote Brian Daccord of Stop It Goaltending: “In season, it’s about results. In the summer, you’re working on improving technique, improving quickness, working on your strategies and your technical game, so you know how you want to play every situation. You want to work on your weaknesses, try new things, try to implement new facets to your game, new techniques.”

So bring it, but have fun with it.

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Brion O’Connor is a Boston-based writer and owner of Inspired Ink Communications. He is also a long-time hockey coach and player, specializing in goaltending instruction. Learn more at TheGoalieGuru.com. He can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com