Billy Clarke is the Head Goalie Coach at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Anyone who is at all familiar with Notre Dame in regards to hockey knows that they have been home to some of the best players in the NHL. As a Lumberjack Alumni and Lunenburg County native, Billy is an inspiration for anyone looking to pursue a coaching role in the hockey world. Billy answered a few questions and provided his best anecdotes about coaching and goaltending. The Lumberjacks and Association are proud to call Billy one of our own.
Question: Let’s cut to the chase, when did you decide to be a goalie?
Answer: In novice, I always wanted to go in the net, but I wasn’t the best at it. In my last year of novice, my dad (the coach, Big Bill) told me if I let in 4 goals or less against Lunenburg I could be goalie the rest of the season. We lost 4-1, so here I am.
Q: What is your philosophy on coaching?
A: Hard work is the only way to improve. I believe that counts for me too. I’ve learned being a coach that always stands by his players and is willing to defend them is key. However, you also have to be able to see the bigger picture and know when your athletes are in the wrong. I’ve had to learn how to be stern.
Q: What basic values do you attempt to teach in your coaching?
A: Respect. It all starts and ends with respect. Respect players, your teammates, the coaching staff, and yourself. On and off the ice. Being a goalie can be an isolating position. I want all my players to understand that they are still a part of the team and see the bigger picture.
Q: How do you motivate your athletes?
A: Positive reinforcement. You have to tell them a good thing, and then what they are doing wrong and then round it out with a way to improve. The biggest part is getting them to understand the problems and make them excited about getting better.
Q: Do you think mental preparation in sports is important?
A: Yes. Very much so. Especially with (hockey) goalies. As a goaltender you have to be focused on everything surrounding you and always one step ahead, already moved on to the next play. Being able to focus and keep control of yourself and the situation is so important.
Q: How many clinics and seminars (pre Covid) have you provided in the last year?
A: That’s a big number. Even with Covid going on. I typically run three private sessions a week, run a goalie clinic one morning a week, at least 1 week long camp in the summer. At one point I was also working with all the goalies for 4 minor hockey associations. I keep myself pretty busy. All I think about is goaltending.
Q: What do you consider your biggest strength as a coach?
A: I’d like to say that I understand what they need to do to be a successful goalie. The opportunities and coaching that I’m able to provide wasn’t something that existed when I was growing up. I enjoy coaching, and I love goaltending.
Q: Who is your biggest role model in your life?
A: My first coach. My dad, Big Bill Clarke. He was the type of coach who instilled values in his players that went beyond hockey. His players respect him so much. I remember at Christmas players coming over from the teams he coached and thinking that was so cool. That my dad impacted them so much.
Q: What areas need improvement?
A: I need to talk more with my goaltenders. By that I mean understanding their points of view. Even if I know what they are doing is wrong I want to hear it from them. I want to learn as much from them as they can learn from me.