Give Your Goalies Wings
Exploring Autonomous Supportive Coaching
One of my goals for this new SubStack is to share emerging ideas from different realms of coaching education and skill acquisition. By doing this, I hope to inspire goalie coaches everywhere to keep innovating, exploring, and growing.
A key phase in my own growth as an educator took place in 2019 when I joined the MindSpark foundation. MindSpark is an education nonprofit that upskills schools and teachers by offering them cutting-edge professional development.
For nearly two years, my role as an MSL director was focused on developing better coaches. The program I co-created (CAPITA) was unfortunately grounded in 2021 due to the pandemic, but my time working there was beyond fruitful.
I even got to beta test a VR sports training program with Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz. From there, he actually became the first NHL goalie to use Sense Arena on a regular basis due to an injury that was keeping him off the ice.
One area of coaching that I really enjoyed researching at MSL was focused on empathy design, and more specifically, Autonomous-Supportive Coaching.
My aim with this post is to quickly introduce you to ASC and then offer an example of how you can begin to explore it with your own goalies.
Before I dive in, let’s first get familiar with one of ASC’s main theories.
Self-Determination Theory can be simply defined as the understanding of an athlete’s intrinsic motivations. The theory considers the impact of coaching on an athlete’s various behaviors, including how to help them develop a growth mindset, and how to empower them to become more self-aware and sufficient.
This article from Sport New Zealand provides a fantastic breakdown for coaches, so I highly recommend giving it a read.
In the context of coaching, Self-Determination Theory can guide us on what makes great sporting experiences, and how we can create environments in which participants are self-motivated to learn. -Balance is Better
For the sake of simplicity, we can break down the main concepts into a few smaller parts. Within all people, scientists believe three main psychological needs exist: Relatedness, Competence, and Autonomy.
If you want to support a goalie’s most basic psychological needs, then you want to become skilled at creating environments where the athlete can find a sense of fulfillment within a self-endorsed and authentically chosen surrounding.
One way you can accomplish this is through — you guessed it — Autonomous-Supportive Coaching.
ASC is vital to a goalie’s development for many reasons.
For one — and I think all of us can point to personal experience here — the position is already severely lacking in autonomy. As a goalie, way more things happen to you than because of you. Just a few examples:
The puck is shot AT you. You GET scored on. The puck suddenly CHANGES directions. A coach PULLS you from the game. The play breaks down IN FRONT of you. Your teammates LOSE the puck. Another player falls INTO you.
With so many things happening in a game that goalies can’t control, it’s easy for them to feel like victims of circumstance and bad luck. That hopeless feeling is part of the game, but it can also become overwhelming and seep into daily life.
“Let the game come to you,” is a common phrase we use as goalie coaches to preach a patient approach. But we know this is so much easier said than done.
By putting some autonomy and agency back into your goalie’s hands, ASC can do wonders for their psychological growth, general wellbeing, and confidence.
On a very basic level, ASC believes that a goalie can perform better when they act on autonomous motives. As a coach, you can support and cultivate that self-determination in many ways, which is what I try to promote with other coaches.
In fact, ASC was a key topic during the 2022 and 2023 Global Goaltending Retreats thanks to the excellent research done by Dr. Nate Speidel. If you’re not familiar with his work, you can check out his terrific thesis presentation below.
I won’t wade deep into the waters here, as there are an infinite number of ways to apply ASC successfully in a goalie-specific manner. Furthermore, Nate’s research reinforces why I believe the best coaches are also great designers.
As a coach, I want to become really good at designing training experiences (using constraints) that guide a goalie towards certain outcomes, while still allowing for them to try new things and explore solutions in their own way.
To cap it off with an analogy, I like to think of it rather mythopoetically:
If you’re building a Pyramid, you design it with the intention that others will want to build an even bigger and better one. Similarly, if you’re building Goalies, design a program so good, so rich with autonomy, that they are inspired to build themselves into something even greater than you ever imagined.
As coaches, let’s try to build more goalie Pyramids and less goalie Factories.
The Red Bull Wingfinder
One way I’ve been helping goalies build a sense of autonomy is through a fun and illuminating activity known as the Red Bull Wingfinder. This science-based personality test is free and easily accessible, so it’s an awesome tool for coaches.
Wingfinder is based on 30 years of psychological research, carried out across thousands of scientific studies and analyses that clearly point to four areas, more influential than any others, as components of employability and career success for knowledge-based jobs.
Again, I won’t wade deep into the Wingfinder waters here, but rather share a design blueprint that you can use if you’d like. I think personality tests like these are pretty common, especially in the world of sports performance. In fact, psychometrics has been trending in sports and business for many years now.
I’m also sharing this example because I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from goalies and coaches that have used it before. The Wingfinder isn’t seen as a gimmick, and it’s actually pretty interesting to assess your personality through a performer-specific lens. Take the time and try it out for yourself!
I’ve used the Wingfinder in many different ways, but I almost always start by asking the goalie if they’re interested in doing a simple “ice breaker” exercise. You don’t want it to come off like some kind of mandatory test. If they aren’t interested, there’s no point in forcing it. Don’t demand, but rather explore.
In my experience, however, once I’ve shown a goalie the website and explained why I like it, the willingness to try is almost always there. I don’t think I’ve come across more than one or two competitive goalies that weren’t interested in trying it. Plus it only takes about 20 minutes to complete.
Once the assessment is done, the goalie will get a report like the one posted below. And no, this isn’t Roberto Luongo’s results.
As a coach, I’m fairly interested in what the report (called a Talent Passport) has to say.
But in regards to ASC, I show way more interest in the goalie’s personal experience taking it. To me, that’s where the real insights are found.
More specifically, I want to know what they thought of it, how they felt, and what they think it all means. Was it enjoyable to them at all? Did they learn anything new about themselves? Were the questions even relatable or relevant? Or was it all just psypop fluff?
Regardless of their answers, I’m focusing my attention on them as human beings. I’m genuinely curious if they think the results accurately represent their top skills and strengths. I’m naturally asking follow-up questions about their unique approaches, what makes them who they are, and what they truly value.
Furthermore, the Wingfinder can open the door for coaches to discuss different ways to motivate, inspire, and hold their goalies accountable. You can use it to discuss specific drills and ways of teaching, how they like to be coached, and a whole lot more. You can also use it as a way to give your goalies a voice and a stronger sense of agency in their development.
No matter how you choose to do it, be creative and have fun. If the goalie actively chooses to participate in the Wingfinder, congrats. You’re automatically going to improve your personalized approach to working with that individual.
Simply put, I think the Wingfinder is an easy way to get to know your goalies a little better. Some of you may find it useful, some of you may not.
But whether you do or don’t, I hope this brief intro to Autonomous-Supportive Coaching sparks you to learn more. At the very least, your goalies will appreciate the fact that you want to meet their needs on a higher level, and that should make everyone’s hockey experience a little more enjoyable.
Who knows, you may even learn something new about yourself as a coach, too.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with a few questions:
Have you ever offered your goalies an assessment like the Wingfinder before? If so, what was it and how did it work?
If you’ve never done something like this before, how can you create the time and space needed for it to happen?
When do you feel like this type of activity would be best utilized with your goalies, and what age range do you feel is most appropriate?
I have my thoughts, but I’d also love to hear yours. So feel free to share your answers with me or reach out to discuss these topics at any time.