As the Goaltending Consultant for Hockey Canada, I am asked my opinion quite often as to what age should children become fulltime goaltenders. This question can be somewhat debatable as, to me, there is no definite line in the sand. A strong majority of minor hockey organizations go by a protocol of 8-9 years of age, and there are some strong arguments both for and against this.
When I was a kid, I played no other position than goal from the time I was six years old. This is what I wanted to do and there was no question in my mind, or my parents’ minds, even though I think my Father had some reservations about it. That was 29 years ago, which is hard for me to believe, and things have changed in minor hockey. With most children I do not believe that the answer is as cut and dry, and it is not correct to label them as goaltenders at such an early age. I also know a lot of goaltenders in the NHL that didn’t become goalies until they were 12-13 years of age. So, quite frankly, it is not true that you have to be a goaltender before or after a particular age. Minor hockey, however, has had to put a guideline in place to keep it fair for everyone and to try to develop all skills for everyone.
When taking a closer look at why a majority of minor hockey organizations do not allow a goaltender to become fulltime until the age of 8-9; you will find there are a lot of good reasons as to why it done this way. The best and the strongest argument for me is that in order to be a good goaltender one must be a strong skater. For myself personally, I had started skating at the age of two, and was probably ready to be a goalie at six years of age. However, the majority of kids need to improve their skating skills. The years between the ages of 5-8 are extremely important development years that help to improve a player’s skating ability. All the fundamentals of skating are taught in these years, and it is difficult to develop these if your child is stuck in the net.
When discussing skating ability I am not talking about straight out skating speed, I am talking about balance and agility, the necessary components to being a good goaltender. These are developed during those first few years of hockey. When your child can do these skills with comfort and ease, I say they are ready to try goaltending fulltime. Like any skill, these take time to develop and the first few years of hockey will allow them to do so. This does not mean they should not try their hand at goaltending before age 8; they should be able to have fun and try every position. It will also give the child a good feel if they like goaltending or not, and therefore, you can make a better decision when they get to the level where they can make the decision. I believe kids should have both the opportunity to know what it feels like to:
A. Score a goal
B. Stop a goal
One argument to this idea could be, ‘if a child knows from an early age that they want to be a goaltender, then they should be able to do so.’ While I respect this opinion, we have to remember there is only one net and only one kid at a time can play goal. We’ve been taught to share from an early age, so what’s fair is fair, and this must also be true for goaltending. If you happen to be in a situation where there is only one child on the team that wants to play goal, and all parents are in agreement, then so be it. Let the child who wants to play goal be in the net.
I think this would be a very unique situation, but my suggestion is that if this does happen, the child must participate in all team skating drills. Even as a goaltender, I participated in all skating drills with all my goalie gear. That is a one thing which helped me a lot in hockey. Most minor hockey organizations won’t even allow this to be the case anyways, but not all go by the same rules. I am also a believer in having a goaltender learn to stick handle and play the puck, so they should participate in all these drills as well.
It is important to know your child will not be behind in goaltending development if they do not start fulltime until later. The development of skating skills in the meantime will be very valuable in this situation. Remember that not all kids on each team even want to play goal. You may find a situation where the child does get a lot of net time, but don’t be discouraged if they don’t, as there are many ways around this if your child truly wants to be a goaltender. There are lots of people and organizations that offer extra lessons or hockey schools in goaltending. The problem here is that this will cost extra money and private lessons can become very expensive. You will have to weigh the pros and cons to determine if the cost is worthwhile at a young age.
In my opinion, most minor hockey organizations are doing the right thing by not having fulltime goaltenders until the age of eight. It gives the children time to develop all the necessary skills, which will make them better goalies. In the end, there is no definitive age as to when a child should become a fulltime goalie. The only thing that stands out to me is that they absolutely must have strong skating skills before they become fulltime goaltenders. When you see this and the child wants to play goal, then that is the right time, and there is no age to draw the line for that.