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Boost a Goalie's Self-Confidence With This Advice

By Sudarshan Maharaj, Anaheim Ducks Goaltending Coach, 01/09/23, 11:00AM EST


How to develop a good mental game plan

Photo Credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images

Many goaltenders spend countless hours on the ice refining their skills, however, during the stress of competition, uncertainty and negative thoughts can undermine all of the confidence that has been attained over the previous days, weeks or months of practices and games. It is at these critical moments that negative self-talk can erode all that has been achieved and initiate the negative cycle that may play out each time an obstacle presents itself during competition. Yet, the steps involved in breaking this downward process often eludes goaltenders of all levels. So, how can goaltenders counter this demoralizing mental trap?

In order to establish a good mental game plan, we must first understand what constitutes, “Negative Self Talk”. It is defined as the expression of thoughts or feelings, which are counter- productive and have the effect of demotivating oneself.  Research has shown many times over that when confidence is manipulated either up or down, there is a significant effect on sports performance.

To achieve a greater sense of stability with our levels of confidence, it is essential that we first identify what exactly causes it to falter. One simple exercise that can help us readily identify the situations/issues is the formation of a simple list.

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In column one, list all of the situations in which you feel completely confident. In the second column, list the situations or circumstances that sometimes cause your confidence to diminish. Clearly identifying the situations that make you feel uneasy is the first step towards building greater self-confidence.

Now that the source of the negativity have been isolated, the athlete can begin to restructure how they view these situations. Simply put, the goaltender can begin to change how they respond to that situation in the future by addressing all of the factors that are within their control. Those strategies may range from mentally attacking the situation through visualization to physically practicing similar scenarios or increasing the amount of rest leading up to games. The solution may require several steps but the key is the confidence that will be gained in the preparation leading up to competition.

Photo Credit: Tim Bates/OJHL Images

After identifying these confidence eroding circumstances and restructuring how the issue(s) are to be attacked, it is then important to formulate a strategy to help stem the flow of negative and deflating thoughts that can invade the internal dialogue that goes through the minds of goaltenders during games. This conversion of Negative to Positive Self Talk may be achieved through a variety of methods. Some examples include:

  • Refocus the message: Halting the negative internal messages by “changing the channel”. As soon as the negative idea enters, cancel it by changing what you are thinking about and refocus on something else. Refocusing on the puck or reminding yourself about a game situation or tactic that the other team likes to employ keeps your mind busy in a constructive, game oriented manner.
  • Repeating a positive statement or word about yourself. Words such as “Big” or “Impenetrable,” reinforce good goaltending traits. Self-affirming statements such as, “I will stop the puck”, keep the goaltender on task and focused.
  • Utilizing visualization during stoppages in play can lessen those down periods that allow the mind to stray and again allow for the positive images to take hold.

These are just a few ideas but like anything in goaltending, each athlete has to find what works best for them individually. By experimenting with various strategies and techniques each goaltender will eventually piece together their own mental shield. But remember, goaltending is a marathon and not a sprint and that means that things will appear and reappear at different times and so new ideas and strategies will need to be examined over time. But with a positive mind set, good things always have a greater chance of happening.


Sudarshan "Sudsie" Maharaj is the current Goaltending Coach for the Anaheim Ducks and has spent time working with the AHL's San Diego Gulls, the New York Islanders, Hockey Canada and the Korean national hockey team. He was a member of the 1984-85 National Hockey Championship York University team and played six professional seasons in Sweden.

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