Somebody once told me that if you knew the secret to how magicians do their tricks, you could never see magic the same way again. It’s that boring. For instance, when a girl turns into a tiger, it’s just a simple switch with a trap door. See? Boring.
The same is true with goaltending in the National Hockey League. People ask how Devils goalie Martin Brodeur can exist in a world where even the slightest mistake can cost everything.
They wonder how Brodeur or Kings goalie Jonathan Quick can deal not only with the skill of the opponent but also with the possibility of bad bounces, deflections, or shots that they never even see.
Simple. It’s fundamentals, lot of experience and relaxation. See? Boring.
Goalies are like surgeons, airline pilots, firefighters, anybody. They do what they are trained to do. From an early age they learn how to play the angles, keep their focus on the puck, and stay square to the shooter.
Later they learn what all great performers must learn: stay in the present. They don’t worry about what happened in the past, or what the final score may be. This is what sports psychologists call “process vs. product.”
When Captain Sully Sullenberger safely landed an airliner in the Hudson River three years ago, he wasn’t thinking about the lives of all the people on board (the product). He was thinking about his options and the mechanics of a water landing (process).
Whether it’s Brodeur or Sullenberger, something happens to a performer when training and intensity meet relaxation. They go into what is known as “The Zone.” That’s when your mastery is so complete that things seem to slow down, and your senses are heightened. Baseball hitters who are in “The Zone” say that the ball looks as big as a beachball. Later, they go into a slump and it looks like a pea.
When goalies play the way Brodeur and Quick have, they seem unconscious. Maybe you’ve even heard an announcer say that -- “He’s unconscious!” In that state, there is no thought whatsoever about the product. All the brainpower is on the process, the present, the puck.
None of this is meant to downplay what Brodeur or other goalies do. Just the opposite. They have mastered a difficult craft. Just because the road to peak performance is simple doesn't mean that it is easy. Along the way you need feedback, motivation, toughness.
Here’s what all this means to you. No one gets to “The Zone” easily. It starts with fundamentals and lots of practice. When you learn to focus on the process and not the product, you have a chance to be unconscious. And then, people will ask, “How do you do it?”