Q: When should a goalie become a full-time goalie?
A: Coaches and parents should be aware of a few things when asking this question about their son or daughter.
First, players should not go to the rink and be a backup goalie ever before the age of 13. There is nothing fun about sitting on the bench for an entire game and then going home. Coaches should either allow one goalie to play another position for the game or split the crease-time between two goaltenders. Goalies can split the game in half, split each period in half or switch every three to four minutes. Remember that the goalie’s experience each day is more important than the appearance of a goaltending pattern similar to what is seen in the NHL. Let them play. Let them develop. Let them be kids.
Secondly, if a goalie at the age of 8 or 9 has decided that all he or she wants to do for now is play goalie, that’s OK, as long as other players who want to try goaltending are still allowed the opportunity. Teams in these situations should still allow multiple players to play goalie during practice (utilize the QuickChange pads) and have players share time with the full-time goalie during games. Additionally, it’s important that even the full-time goalie continues developing his or her skating skills, so be sure to include them in skating drills.
And finally, for technical and cognitive development purposes, the optimal age for players to become full-time goaltenders is at 12 or 13 years old and above, in the USA Hockey American Development Model train-to-train stage (see chart at right).
The author, Phil Osaer, played 12 seasons of pro hockey after earning All-CCHA honors at Ferris State. In 2014-15, he was Michigan State's director of hockey operations. Prior to that, Osaer served as an assistant coach and goaltending coach in the USHL.
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