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3 Key Mental Skills to Teach Goalkeeper's

Updated: May 31, 2023

An account I follow on Twitter called 'The Academy Dad put a tweet out the other day highlighting the importance of mentality for goalkeepers. The tweet received a significant response and was viewed over 300,000 times, with many replying to the thread about how important mindset is for goalkeepers.

I agree with him...

Having played the position myself for a number of years and working with goalkeepers up and down the pyramid as a performance psychologist, I have no doubt in my mind that mindset is the most important factor when it comes to goalkeeping high-performance. I've also spoken to many Academy Goalkeeper coaches, who share this view.

The question is: Why don't Clubs, parents and coaches take mindset seriously? Everyone's happy to invest time to train their technical, tactical and physical abilities, but when it comes to the psychological corner, talking about confidence and throwing words around like 'mental toughness' seem to be adequate?

It's clear that a significant part of coaching and developing goalkeepers is psychologically driven, but theres an argument that coaching badges don't place enough emphasis on the psychological corner...

Goalkeeping in the most psychologically demanding position on the pitch, which is why goalkeepers need a toolkit of mental skills to get through the challenges they will face during their career.

So, to begin to address this gap and to empower coaches with knowledge they can pass on to their goalkeepers, here are 3 simple mental skills you can teach your goalkeeper to overcome the psychological challenges of the position:

1. Acceptance of mistakes

Teaching goalkeepers to accept mistakes is tough because mistakes for a goalkeeper usually end up in a goal. It’s one of the worst feelings you can experience on a football pitch: embarrassment, frustration, anger, I could go on. Young goalkeepers are particularly resistant to accepting mistakes because they have not yet learned to control their emotions and regulate their thoughts. It’s a really challenging skill to learn, but once mastered, goalkeeper’s play with more freedom and confidence which in turn allow them to get the best out of themselves. If you try and avoid/fight mistakes, you’ll always play the game with fear…So here’s how you train and build acceptance around mistakes:

Ask great questions and highlight the learning opportunities:

Naturally after mistakes, we focus on the weaknesses and threats of mistakes as opposed to focusing on the opportunities and strengths that can be learned. If your goalkeeper makes a mistake, after the game, ask them what they would do different next time that would reduce their chances of the mistake (opportunity to learn and reflect). Also highlight some of the great things they did in the match (focus on strengths). Reinforcing the strengths of performance and learning opportunities gives goalkeepers a clear focus going into their next session, and highlights positive memories associated with their previous performance despite a negative moment in the game.

You can also use examples from the football league - goalkeepers make mistakes all the time. It's an inevitability of the game, so why try and fight the idea of making a mistake in the first place?

Ask great questions, highlight the strengths and opportunities and watch them thrive. Building acceptance around mistakes is a critical skill for all goalkeepers.

2. Stop Caring about what others think: Build resilience against criticism

Excessive criticism is unfortunately a part of the job when it comes to goalkeeping because the consequences of small or big mistakes usually puts the team under pressure. However, if you constantly take criticism to heart all the time, it’ll create negative thoughts and strong negative emotions which will ultimately result in you underperforming and not reaching your best potential. In order to get the best out of your goalkeeper, they need to develop the ability to deal with constant and in the majority of cases, completely unwarranted criticism. You need to teach them that they are likley to be one of very few people on the pitch that truly understands the ins and outs of the position, and therefore need to let the criticism aimed at them go...It seems like a simple concept, but you'd be surprised how many goalkeepers allow other opinions to influence their actions on the pitch. Here’s a great way that you can teach them to overcome this:

It’s not Personal, it's Professional:

This was the best advice I received as a young academy goalkeeper - When I got criticised by other teammates and coaches, I would always take it to heart because naturally you want everyone to like you and everyone to praise you. Human beings loved to be praised, so when we get criticised, it can impact us significantly. Understand that criticism should and normally does just apply to the pitch. It’s not personal. It’s not an attack on your character! More to the point, the only opinions that truly matter are the one you have of yourself and the one the coach has of you as they are the one that picks the team! As a goalkeeper, you and the coaches are the experts. Not outfield players. So if they criticise you, take it with a pinch of salt. Ultimately, if they do their job correctly, you have less to do anyways. Everyones accountable on a football pitch, just understand that you’re likely to get criticised more because of the position you play. It’s part of our job, so the quicker you get comfortable and resilient towards criticism, the better off you will be for it.

3. Stop trying to play the perfect game

This is such an important point because when I listen to how goalkeepers evaluate their performances, they always highlight one small thing they do wrong in a game and then claim that they had a poor game! It’s mad because one small error is, more often than not, hardly ever match defining. Social media and pundits have completely skewed reality for goalkeepers. They’ve made us believe that small mistakes aren’t tolerable anymore…that we have to do everything perfect in every match otherwise we’ve had a poor game. I CAN'T STAND IT. If you aim for perfection every game, you’re likely to fall short every time because it’s so hard to play the perfect game in any position on the pitch. There are so many uncontrollable aspects of goalkeeping that mean trying to be perfect is just setting yourself up for failure. Here’s how you can create realistic expectations for your performances and deal with perfectionism:

Identify what your 6/10 performances look like:

When you ask goalkeeper's to think about what an average performance looks like, they quickly learn that they can still have a decent game with a few small errors in there. They might kick the ball out of play, they may drop a cross and get away with it, they might shank a kick. Despite all of this, they still say they played to a 6/10. If you then ask goalkeepers what their favourite goalkeeper is every week in the league they play in, they soon realise that pro’s are also normally a 6/7 out of 10 every week. This just shows you that having a great performance just means that you need to be a 6-7/10 in every game! I’ve asked guys who have played in the Premier League and Championship about this and they’ve all said that the goalkeepers at the top of the game are always a 6-7/10 every game…so why do academy and non-league goalkeepers try and be perfect? Create realistic expectations for your performances and you’ll reduce the pressure you put on yourself. You’ll see your confidence improve which in the long-run, will make you a much more consistent and high-performance goalkeeper!

My Final Thoughts:

I’ve been a goalkeeper for over 17 years now and I can say from experience that the mental side of the game is the most challenging aspect of the game for goalkeepers. You have to contend with so many additional factors that other players on the pitch do not have to deal with….Yet from my experience, goalkeeper’s don’t invest enough time to train the mental side of the game. They’ll go into matches worried about mistakes, gripped with fear and expecting themselves to be perfect in every match. They only ever get 60% out of themselves, when really they have so much more they could be giving…the thing that’s preventing them from being their best? Their mind. The mind controls the body, just as much as the body controls the mind. If the points above relate to you, or a goalkeeper you work with, what’s stopping you from investing the time to improve this part of your game/coaching? The psychological corner is the most overlooked aspect of performance in football, but it’s 100% the most important. So, what’s stopping you from taking action?

If you want to find out more about how mental skills and mindset training could benefit your goalkeeping performances, feel free to get in touch via the contact page. For more insight from the Pro's I've worked with, feel free to check out the testimonials page.

It really is a game changer.

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