Three Reasons Why Goalkeepers Struggle with their Confidence - And what they can do about it
Updated: Apr 10
“I just don’t feel confident right now”
The number of times I have worked with goalkeepers and heard that phrase is crazy. I get it – when we talk about mindset and psychology, confidence is the one thing that everyone seems to understand and refer to time and time again when things aren’t going the way they want them to. The question is, what is confidence? How does it impact performance? Why is everyone so obsessed with this word when it comes to performance?
Confidence: “the belief in your ability to execute a specific task or skill to a certain level of performance”
In short, it’s that feeling of being able to walk onto a football pitch and deliver the skills that you know you have in your toolkit. Its about walking onto a pitch and knowing that you’re going to catch crosses clean, make the right decisions when playing out from the back and trusting yourself to manage a back four through a game…
You know when you're confident because the feeling just corses through your body. Rather than fearing certain aspects of the game, you'll actively embrace them...For example, when a forward gets into a shooting position, you'll want them to shoot. You'll feel comfortable and prepared to deal with whatever they throw at you. You'll back yourself to make a save.
On the flip side, when you're not confident, you'll pray that the shot get's blocked. You'll hope that you can find a way to deal with the ball. You'll fear the situation rather than embrace it...
When things aren’t going well, goalkeeper’s will always refer to their confidence. Trust me, I know from experience – every time I went into a match and didn’t feel my best, I would convince myself that I just wasn’t at my most confident. My decision-making would completely change in a match as a result…
I would kick long rather than try to play out…
I would parry shots that I could normally catch…
I’d shout away on crosses before I had even assessed the flight of the ball…
I had convinced myself that I couldn’t execute skills which I was normally good out.
Having low confidence can really impact your performance and enjoyment of the game, so here are three reasons why you’re probably struggling with your confidence as a goalkeeper and what you can do about it:
REASON 1: YOU CARE WAY TOO MUCH ABOUT MISTAKES
Have you ever had that feeling when you’re walking out onto the pitch and all you can think about and visualise is you making a mistake?
It's one of the worst feelings in the world. You get nervous. You start to worry about the future. You try and avoid the ball as much as possible. You just become a different person.
But why? Why do we care so much about making mistakes? I’ll tell you why:
Fear of letting your teammates down
Fear of looking bad and being judged by other people
Fear of losing your place in the starting 11
Fear of being the reason you lost the game
But none of this stuff has happened yet, so why are we worrying about it?
Surely we are better off focusing on the present, as opposed to worrying about the events of the future?
Fear is a huge factor that causes goalkeepers to lose their confidence. Fear causes the brain to enter a threat state (seeing pressure as a threat) Vs a challenge state (seeing pressure as a challenge to be overcome).
All of a sudden, your actions change…You start playing deeper, you parry when you could catch, you go quiet on the pitch and stop talking, you start being reactive rather than proactive…the list goes on.
It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve personally experienced on a football pitch. The game becomes un-enjoyable. Time feels like an eternity. People start getting on your back and shouting at you. The opposition begin to smell blood and target you. The only thing you want is to get the hell off the football pitch.
But…when you’re experiencing these dark moments, there’s a solution…let me tell you how to deal with this:
SOLUTION 1: ACCEPT THAT FAILURE IS PART OF THE GAME
One of the reasons why goalkeepers lose the belief in themselves and play with fear is because they cant understand that failure is part of sport.
Goalkeeping isn’t a game of perfect, there are going to be matches where you make mistakes. Everything from kicking the ball out of play to letting the ball through your legs will happen at some stage in your career. It’s inevitable to an extent.
Rather than fighting this inevitability and arguing with reality, why not just accept it will happen at some stage? There are some key benefits to doing this:
1. You reduce the pressure you put on yourself because you no longer feel you need to be perfect
2. When mistakes do come along, they’re no longer a catastrophe
3. By preparing your mind for a potential mistake, you can play free of fear and do what you normally do, leading to high-performance
Get it in your head that you don’t need to be perfect. You are a human being, not a machine. Goalkeepers at all levels make mistakes, and you will too. The difference between the guys at the top and you is that they understand this. They accept that they will make mistakes, allowing them to play free of fear and do the things they know make them part of the 0.01%
ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE HUMAN AND MISTAKES ARE INEVITABLE
REASON 2: YOU LET YOUR PAST DICTATE YOUR PRESENT & FUTURE
When I was a scholar, we used to play Barnet FC twice a season. For the most part, I was a relatively consistent performer at U18 level. I was never a world class goalkeeper, but could normally execute the basics well. However, I can remember one game against Barnet where I had an absolute stinker in my first year. I made a string of mistakes in the match and nearly cost my team 3 points.
Fast forward a year and we were due to play Barnet twice in my second year as a scholar. I went into the matches in great form, only for my performances to completely breakdown.
It made no sense to me. How could I be training and playing well in the weeks leading up to the match only to get to the game and completely tank it?
It’s because I always associated the Barnet match as a ‘Bogey Game’. Everytime I played them, these emotions, thoughts images would pop into my head that made me feel anxious and nervous. I could still see the mistakes I had made previously when in the changing room before the match. Then, when I walked out onto the pitch, my body had the mechanics to make it happen all over again.
I was letting my past control my present, and inevitably my future.
Just by having those thoughts and images in my head, it was enough to completely de-rail all the confidence I had built up going into that match.
It made no sense. It still doesn’t…but it happened.
As goalkeepers, mistakes and bad matches live long in the memory because of the strong emotional association and connection we build to those moments and situations. These can often get triggered by specific situations…
The worst part is, it doesn’t have to be a specific team! It could be a specific ground, a specific situation in a match e.g. a long-distance cross…
Any situation where you have made a mistake or where something negative has happened could be attributed to the present or future.
This is a confidence killer, because by thinking back to our past failures, we believe that this may, could or will happen again in the future!
The reason for this is because what you have previously done has a huge impact on the evidence systems you build for the future…
For example, lets say you play a match where you take lots of great crosses and take the pressure off your team. Going into the next match, you will more than likely feel confident taking crosses because your brain has evidence from the previous game! Confidence loves to feed off of lived evidence!
So we need to build our evidence systems up…Here’s how:
SOLUTION 2: WHAT'S THE EVIDENCE?
Mental Evidence is your lived experience providing your brain with examples of how you can cope in specific situations. For example: if you have a bad warm-up before a match, you may have the belief that you’re going to have a bad game which is why I see a lot of goalkeepers become so obsessed with having the perfect warm-up.
In reality, a lot of us make mistakes in our warm-up’s and they aren’t ever perfect. In fact, there are a lot of occasions where we have a bad warm-up and still manage to play a great game.
This is evidence that a bad warm-up does not always result in a bad match. Therefore, you have evidence and a reason not to worry if your warm-up doesn’t go to plan…
This helps you overcome past failures, allowing you to focus on the present.
By asking yourself for the evidence, you’ll find that some of the stories your mind creates just aren’t true. Your head will tell you lots of things that could adversely impact your performance. In reality, you know how to cope!
YOU HAVE EVIDENCE TO OVERCOME MOST SITUATIONS. FIND IT.
REASON 3: YOU PLACE TOO MUCH IMPORTANCE ON WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK
During my scholar, I was a mess at times. I literally couldn’t handle criticism. It wasn’t because I was arrogant and didn’t want to listen to anyone, it was because when I was criticised, I felt like someone was attacking me personally and I couldn’t handle it.
Some might call me soft…Others might call me weak…I called me human.
Humans loved to be praised. We loved to be loved. We love to feel accepted by our peers and those around us! It’s just human nature!
The issue in football is that culturally, there is still a hardiness in the manner in which feedback is delivered. I can still remember it vividly – making mistakes and being told to f**k off by some of my teammates. Being told to F****ng sharpen up by my manager…
Did I mean to make a mistake? Of course not! Did I do it on purpose? No! I was just human! The issue in football is that this type of language and criticism is part of the culture, and by my prediction, will continue to be.
That means as goalkeepers, we need to be really good at processing and reframing criticism so that it doesn’t affect our performance.
One thing that I began to learn towards the end of my scholar was that: “its not personal, its professional”. When you think of things in a professional sense, someone is only coming after you for what you do on the pitch – that doesn’t mean they think you’re a bad person…
However, when you’re in the heat of battle, that criticism is the last think you need, because one of the largest sources of confidence as part of your mindset is your self-talk (the words you tell yourself, and others tell you) and verbal persuasion!
It’s like if I tell you not to think of a purple elephant…the first you think of is…a purple elephant. When your mind and attention becomes fixated on something, it becomes very hard to switch your focus onto anything else. So if you tell yourself to not think about the criticism being thrown at you, the chances are it becomes very hard to ignore.
Dealing with criticism and caring about what others think can be a challenging concept to overcome, but there are techniques to help you switch the focus…Let me show you how:
SOLUTION 3: CREATE YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES
Non-negotiables are actions that goalkeepers can return to when they have negative thoughts pass through their mind. The reason why non-negotiables are so effective is because they strengthen the behaviour – thought link; that the behaviours we show impact the way that we think and subsequently feel.
The best way to approach this technique is to reflect on 3 action words that describe you when you are at your best. Immerse yourself in your past – what are 3 controllable action words that someone would describe you as if they came to watch you?
When I played, I’d like to think that anyone would say that I’m confident, loud and aggressive. Confident in the way I look on the pitch, loud in the way I communicate and aggressive with my intensity and start position.
Every time I get criticised or make a mistake, I return to my non-negotiables. It doesn’t matter if someone called me names. It doesn’t matter what the crowd or manager things. I just go back to basics, with my basics being my non-negotiables…Can I be loud for the next 5 minutes and give constant chat and information. Can I be aggressive with my start position and intense with my tone of voice.
Now I’m not saying you should take my advice for no reason – I’ve done this technique with lots of goalkeepers at all different levels and it has worked for the majority of them. If you buy-in to the words and feel the meaning of them, you can become those non-negotiables on the pitch. They help you deal with criticism, and keep you focused on the process that help you be the best version of yourself.
BECOME YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES
My Final Thoughts
If you’ve come to this page looking for a ‘quick fix’, you’re in the wrong place. There are way too many people that tell you mindset can be fixed or enhanced with a few simple techniques and a bit of reading.
YOUR MINDSET IS A LONG-TERM PROJECT
If you wanted to get stronger and more powerful, you would go to the gym. You’d go to the gym with the expectation that it’s going to take time to get stronger and reach your goals.
TREAT MINDSET THE SAME
There are no shortcuts in life, because anything worth pursuing takes time and investment. Emphasise the importance of your mind in performance. Treat your mind the same way you treat your body. Champion factors like confidence as much as you would with handling, shot stopping and start positions.
REMEMBER: THE MIND CONTROLS THE BOYD JUST AS MUCH AS THE BODY CONTROLS THE MIND