François Allaire – goalie coach and instructor - École de hockey Co-Jean
For more than 25 years, François has helped goalies discover their style and learn techniques both at the professional level and at the minor levels. During the summer, he travels to hockey schools in Canada, Europe and Asia to teach goalies. He has published four books on goaltending, pre-season physical preparation and sports psychology. He is often invited to speak on goaltending by various sports federations in Canada and throughout the world. François greeted The Hockey Source in his cozy home for a chat, one Saturday afternoon, accompanied by the friendly chirping of the family parrot.
THS: Can anybody be a goalie?
FA: In the beginning, anybody can be a goalie. Eventually, it thins out and the best remain. But for sure, to start, everyone can take on this position.
THS: If a 10-year old decides that he wants to be a goalie, what sort of mindset or attitude should he have?
FA: At a very young age, there should never be “a certain mentality” - it’s more important to be open to this new position and to have fun. The biggest quality of a goalie is to like the position. You have to like this type of action because it is very different from the other positions. In minor hockey, when you first start, everyone touches the puck and tries to score whereas for a goalie, sometimes, there is no shot and sometimes there are several in a row. Being a goalie is a bit of an individual position.
THS: At what age can you tell if someone has the capability of becoming a good goalie?
FA: At around 12 years old (Pee-Wee), you can really spot a talent. You can see good technique. He’s either a little bigger than the norm or has a smaller build but is very quick and precise.
THS: Is there one particular technique or ability that is most important?
FA: Hand-eye coordination. Even at the pro level, not all of them have a good catching glove. If the trapper is good, then the rest is probably very smooth. That type of coordination is usually reflected throughout all of his body movements.
THS: What is the toughest thing for a goalie to learn?
FA: I would have to say that it is consistency. Be consistent in your thoughts and in your movements. Don’t change your focus throughout the game. Even at the pro level, someone could be very good at the physical movements but the mental capacity does not necessarily follow. It is very difficult to have a consistent focus. Only the very good goalies are consistent.
THS: Is there something a young player can do to improve on his mental capacity?
FA: For the young goalies, there are some easy things that they can do. When they have success – a good game or a good practice - find out what made it successful. Everyone is different. How are they prepared mentally at that time? What are the clues? What’s the difference between those times when they have a good game and when they don’t? Recognize the signs that put you in that winning mentality. You need to be intelligent. Dissect what is causing your success. What happened prior to the game? For some it might be what they eat. For others it might be when they go to sleep. Everyone is different but you must recognize what works for you and do it and what doesn’t work, avoid it. You need to be smart and find out this information.
THS: Can the coach help them overcome this?
FA: The coach can help and with the players, they have to work together to fix the problem. As a coach you have to repeat and be patient. As a player you have to be smart and persistent.
THS: Is there a style that is best for a goalie?
FA: Rather than a particular style, I think that certain movements are more effective than others. There are movements that I use for particular situations that I find very good. Some goalies can do those movements and others cannot but that doesn’t mean that the goalie is not good or that the movements are not good. Sometimes the movements and the goalie are not compatible. It’s important to understand the fundamental movements. As a coach, I work to fit with the type of goalie I am training. I focus on fundamentals
THS: What is most frustrating when working with a goalie?
FA: I always have objectives for each player . When he underachieves and I know he could do better but we can’t get there for whatever reason, that’s really frustrating for me.
THS: What keeps a goalie sharp?
FA: First and foremost is his personal preparation. What does he eat? When does he sleep? What are his own goals? What’s his motivation? How does he get ready in the room?
The second thing is the coach. He must be stimulating for the goalie. He must provide challenges and offer interesting situations. The best seasons happen when the player gives a little more, causing the coach to offer a little more, stimulating the player to give a little more, inspiring the coach to teach a little more and so on… it becomes a winning circle for both of them.
THS: What is the one thing you want all goalies to know before taking on this position?
FA: When you take on this position, you have a responsibility for the team. You are a somebody inside the team. Don’t take this position for the cool mask and the pretty pads. You cannot be casual.
THS: What about the goalie who loves the games but not the practices?
FA: This will only last so long. At some point, the goalie will no longer progress. You will eventually get to a calibre that will become too intense. Some goalies like to practice. Some continue during the summer. Sooner or later, if you don’t practice, you will be at a level where it will be too strong for you.
THS: Why did you get into goalie coaching?
FA: When I was a goalie, I either had no coaching or bad coaching. That was inspiring for me and I said, “one day I will coach goalies.” I believed it was possible to teach goalies the right way. At 16, I decided I was going to coach goalies. I didn’t know how but I knew I was going to do it.
THS: Where do you get your knowledge from?
FA: Since the age of 15, I have always taken notes from watching games on TV. I would read all the books I could. In university, any papers I had to write were always on goalies. I researched every book written on goalies. I went to the library and had 200-300 books sent in. Now it’s been 25 years that I’ve been doing this full time - I think I’ve put in quite a few hours. Even the little ones teach me because it forces me to explain things in a simple way. I’ve done a lot of ice time and a lot of video watching. I would watch a game and re-watch that game again so in a season of 80 games, I would watch at least 160 games.
THS: Are you still learning?
FA: Always - the game evolves. In the last 5 years, I’ve changed my training because of changes. Every 2 years, I will put in something new in my system or exercises. New principles develop. It’s a great time to be coaching - very interesting things are happening. During the summer, I always try out my new exercises during hockey schools or with the pros to see what will happen.
THS: Is there a difference in goalie styles and abilities around the world? It seems like the best come from Quebec?
FA: The styles have changed greatly from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. Afterwards, from 1985 to 1995, there was a dominance of Quebec goalies. It was very strong during that period. We got to see very different styles - so distinct in fact that when watching someone on the ice, I could tell exactly which country he was from. In Europe, you could see 10 goalies on the ice and you would be able to pick out the one who’s Finnish, Swiss, Czech, etc. without hearing him talk. But since 2000, everyone seems to have more uniformity - there is less and less difference between people from western Canada, the US or Europe to the Quebec goalies.
THS: Is it the style that changed or the way they stop the puck?
FA: Well now with the wider reach of television, it is possible to see more games from all over the world and observe different techniques. There are also more goalie coaches now, even in minor hockey. Coaching has now improved and has spread over the countries. The goalies from Quebec have been copied greatly. You can’t tell much anymore who is from where. The one exception though is the Swedes who are still quite distinct and can be recognized.
THS: At what age should a goalie get a private instructor for one-on-one training?
FA: At 15-16 years old, you can start to mold and shape a goalie. If a goalie pays attention and does the work, then it’s worth it.
THS: What can a coach do if he doesn’t have a goalie coach? How should he plan for his goalies? FA: During practice, there should be an assistant who does a warm-up with the goalies. Coaches should design a practice so that the tempo of the practice respects the speed of the goalie. During shooting drills, he should try to simulate situations that are closer to game reality instead of lining up in a semi-circle and shooting pucks at the goalie which end up being more of physical conditioning than hockey training.
THS: What should a goalie do if his team does not have a goalie coach?
FA: If there is a goalie in the NHL you like and feel you can identify with, then tape one of his games and watch what he does. In any game, there are 15 situations that will occur on a regular basis - a break-away, a 2-on-1, a shot from the point, etc. Understand and analyse what the goalie does in reference to these situations. If you find that a goalie skates quickly and you can’t, then you know that, that is a point you must practice.
THS: Should a goalie have a coach outside of the team?
FA: He can but that person must know the team and the league. That coach will have to coach what the player lives. He must understand what kind of situations the player faces. You must go see what’s going on to have this success.
THS: Is the number of practices important?
FA: In Europe, there are more practices than games. In Canada, there are more games. In the last 5 years, there has been a lot more European goaltenders who reach the NHL. We will be able to evaluate this tendency better over the next 5 years. Of course, if you don’t have any quality in your practices or in your games, your progression will be slower.
THS: How different is your teaching to a younger vs. an older goalie?
FA: The teaching is the same. It is the intensity that will change as the player grows. It’s like walking - you walk the same way at 2 that you do at 50 years old but you’ll walk better, you’ll walk faster, you’ll walk longer. So I teach the same things…the intensity is what changes.
THS: What is the single most important skill that a goalie must have?
FA: The skating - balance, strength, starts, stops. My system is all based on skating. It’s important to work the skating to be able to have lateral movement.
THS: How important is it that a goalie buys the same brand of equipment for the gloves and pads?
FA: The position of goalie is attractive because it has become a fashion statement. The young ones like the different looks and since Montreal is a fashion city, that’s why a lot of Quebec kids want to be goalies. That’s also why a lot of the manufacturers are from Quebec. Sometimes the trapper, blocker and pads match but they do not fit the child. A lot of times, parents get the wrong equipment based on their lack of knowledge when buying the equipment. Not a lot of people understand the goalie equipment. That’s why there are now stores specializing in equipment with sales people who have been goalies and understand the equipment and how it should fit. Even older kids or semi-pros wear bad or ill-fitting equipment.
THS: Will kids be better with better equipment?
FA: It helps kids to wear equipment that fits properly - it gives the goalies confidence. Good leg pads will be the right weight and right length and width for the goalie.
THS: I often see goalies with pads that go up to their groin. Isn’t that too long?
FA: Length can affect you if it bothers you. If you can handle your equipment, you can wear whatever you want. You need to be able to follow the play during a game. Don’t let your equipment rule you - you are in charge of your equipment.
THS : François, thank you for your time today.
FA : My pleasure.