As we all know, an enormous component of goalkeeping success is mental strength. I fired off some question to Gavin Wilson, an FA-qualified goalkeeper coach and Senior Sports Performance Coach at MINDSi Sports Performance. He and Tom Fawdry, another MINDSi coach, have delivered some truly insightful responses which can benefit goalkeepers playing at any level. Big thanks also to Jessica de la Souza, another MINDSi team member who facilitated this Q&A. You can keep up with MINDSi through their goalkeeping blog. MINDSi have also teamed up with KA Goalkeeping (you’ll recall my interview with KA proprietor Kenny Arthur a few weeks ago) to provide special deals on KA gloves for newsletter subscribers. It’s all happening at MINDSi (“mind’s eye”) so check it out – but read the Q&A first.
As Gavin says, “From a psychological perspective, the goalkeeper engages in arguably some of
the most demanding and difficult situations within modern-day football. The
psychological approach of the goalkeeper plays a significant factor in the success
of the team. Due to the specialist nature of the goalkeeping position, it is essential
for both goalkeeper, and goalkeeper coach to understand the psychological
requirements of the position.”
1. Many goalkeepers worry about pre-game nerves. Can you explain what’s going on when we feel nervous, and if there is a way to make sure nerves enhance rather than inhibit performance?
Pre-game nerves are a natural feeling prior to a game situation, and put simply,
demonstrates that the goalkeeper cares about their own personal performance
and outcome of the game. The goalkeeper coach must work tirelessly with the
goalkeeper to establish a state of psychological and physiological readiness, whilst
attempting to channel pre-game nerves into a positive mindset, utilising their
energy in a positive way. Common indicators of pre-game nerves can come in the
form of stress and anxiety, however, can also be apparent in physical indicators,
such as trembling, sweating, or even tunnel vision. Some goalkeepers at the top
level work through a pre-game psychological checklist, enabling them to delve
deeper into their own understanding of how they feel when they are mentally
prepared for game situations.
Ultimately, pre-game nerves can be channelled into positive thoughts, reminders,
and affirmations, which will allow the goalkeeper to perform above and beyond
their capabilities. A little bit of nerves can be a good thing! Contrastingly,
it is essential that the goalkeeper does not allow pre-game nerves to hinder
performance, and get the better of him or her; the goalkeeper should take
ownership of the situation, and not let the situation take ownership of them.
Furthermore, it is important to establish that every goalkeeper is different, and
have different approaches to the psychological elements of goalkeeping. For
example, the differing perceived psychological approaches of top level goalkeepers
ranges from the enthusiasm and enjoyment of Joe Hart, to the calmness and
relaxed state of mind of Edwin Van Der Saar, to the seriousness and apparent focus
of Oliver Kahn.
2. Confidence seems to play a huge role in successful goalkeeping, but some keepers are trapped in a Catch-22: they can’t play well unless they feel confident, and they can’t feel confident unless they play well. Any strategies to break this thought pattern?
Confidence, or ‘self-confidence’ is largely perceived to be an absolute statement,
either the goalkeeper is confident or completely lacks confidence. However, it
is essential to perceive confidence as situation-specific, not as an entirety. For
example, the goalkeeper may consider themselves to be a fantastic shot-stopper,
however, struggle when dealing with crosses. Contrastingly, if the goalkeeper
is very confident in an increasing number of situations and scenarios, it will
positively influence the goalkeeper in all other scenarios, as the goalkeeper can
draw confidence from previous experience. The most influential source of self-
confidence is for the goalkeeper to gain as much experience in deliberate practice
and game situations, as the best way of improving is to work tirelessly in the
When the goalkeeper is training it is essential to approach any area of
development systematically, determining that before the goalkeeper can
master high diving saves from an angled approach, they must first be technically
proficient in their correct starting positions, line and angle of approach,
coordination of handling and footwork, setting off on the correct foot, etc.
The goalkeeper must master the basics before incorporating advanced training
methods, and then work systematically through the process, steadily increasing
the level of complexity. Positively, the goalkeeper will draw confidence from
performance accomplishments, and will endeavour to achieve a higher level of
confidence, if the mastery of the skill has been achieved with hard work and
dedication. Success at difficult tasks will affect confidence to a greater extent.
Furthermore, the goalkeeper has to acknowledge that confidence can be attained
from various sources, for example, a coaching demonstration may allow the
goalkeeper to understand that the task in hand can be achieved, or through
watching and analysing other goalkeepers to draw information through the
experience of others. Additionally, the goalkeeper can analyse their own game,
as watching themselves perform skills through video analysis will give them
gentle reminders that they have what it takes to succeed. Additionally, the use of
imagery and visualisation can be incorporated into the pre-game preparation of
the goalkeeper, as processing positive images helps the goalkeeper to experience
the situation before he or she has encountered it. This method is only successful
when the images that are constructed are positive, as the brain cannot distinguish
the difference between events that are processed, and events that have actually
happened. When the goalkeeper has reached an advanced level of imagery/
visualisation, the goalkeeper may even process images of themselves making a
mistake in a game situation, and then reacting positively to it.
3. When the worst does happen and we make a mistake, what does a goalkeeper need to do to recover?
It is inevitable that each and every goalkeeper will make a mistake throughout
their career; however, it is essential for every goalkeeper to have a positive
mindset, enabling them to believe that they can save everything thrown their
way. In reality, this is unrealistic, as it is the unavoidable task of the goalkeeper
to concede the occasional goal! The dilemma is, that any mistake made by the
goalkeeper will be highly publicised, and can often be detrimental to the outcome
of the game (re: Wojciech Szczesny vs. Birmingham City – Carling Cup Final
2011). Subsequently, it is essential that the goalkeeper must not be defined by
their mistakes, however, react positively to them, as dwelling on a mistake WILL
be detrimental to the performance of the goalkeeper. It is important for the
goalkeeper to attempt to erase the mistake which has just occurred (at least for
the duration of the game), and re-establish their focus to the task in hand. The
mistake has occurred, it cannot be rectified, although, the goalkeeper can still
have a positive influence on the remainder of the game. Positive affirmations,
reminders, and reinforcements will allow the goalkeeper to rediscover their focus,
and the goalkeeper can draw positives from the experience through evaluation,
analysis and training. Never make the same mistake twice!
4. What can goalkeepers do between games, or in training, to work on their concentration and mental strength?
Concentration is a necessary pre-requisite for any modern-day goalkeeper to
have. Previous analysis suggests that the goalkeeper will touch the ball, on
average, approximately 27 times per game, further emphasising the goalkeeper’s
apparent need for enhanced concentration, and complete focus throughout a
90-minute match. Maintaining focus throughout a 90-minute match is a difficult
task, particularly for younger players with limited attention spans. Numerous
external factors that can potentially cause disturbance or disruption to the
goalkeeper during game situations include: the crowd, the weather, a mistake by
a teammate, and lengthy periods of time without seeing the ball. It is essential
for the goalkeeper not to allow external factors to have detrimental implications
on their performance, especially when these factors are out of the goalkeeper’s
The goalkeeper can incorporate intervention strategies that may enable
themselves to recognise when their concentration is diminishing, consisting
of reminders that will instantly reinstate their concentration. For example,
the goalkeeper can immediately take a deep breath, tell themselves a word
like ‘concentrate!’ combined with a physical reminder, for instance, a single clap,
or a tap of their boot. However, the action should take place at a time where it
does not hinder the performance of the goalkeeper, potentially when the ball
is far away from the defending goal, and the goalkeeper has a few seconds to
perform the reminders, not allowing the action to become detrimental to the
performance, or obsessively performed by the goalkeeper. At this stage, and only
on completion of the reminder (physical or psychological), the goalkeeper’s focus
should be reinstated, without any disturbance or disruption to their performance.
Furthermore, goalkeepers within the professional game have been known to
separate a 90-minute game into different periods, for example, 3 X 30-minute
periods, with the aim of achieving a clean sheet within the individual period.
Several key ingredients can be drawn upon to provide the goalkeeper with ‘mental
toughness’, for example, mental toughness can be a measure of the goalkeeper’s
concentration, self-confidence, use of imagery/visualisation, ability to deal
with pressure or setbacks, motivation, and positive and negative energy control.
As previously mentioned, the use of analysis, imagery/visualisation, positive
reminders/reinforcements, and the assistance of a goalkeeper coach will all
contribute to enhancing ‘mental toughness’. Additionally, basing your game on
a goalkeeper or performer you admire may also have a positive influence on
performance. For example, whenever former Estonian international goalkeeper
Mart Poom felt as though he lacked self-confidence, he would model his game on
his hero, Peter Schmeichel, placing himself in the shoes (or gloves) of the great
Dane to enhance his self-confidence.
5. What are some common self-defeating mindsets you encounter and how can goalkeepers conquer them?
Largely, the most negative mindset of the goalkeeper can be associated with
their personal attitude or approach to goalkeeping. Negative thoughts, disbelief
in ability, poor preparation and mindset, are all detrimental to performance.
The key method in conquering these negative associations is for the goalkeeper
to take ownership of their own development, and to change their mindset and
approach into positive outcomes. The potential of the individual goalkeeper
cannot be measured, so the goalkeeper must do everything in their power to train
relentlessly, think positively, and evaluate/analyse their performance in training
and game situations.
It is essential for the goalkeeper to discover their ‘winning formula’, and
approach to goalkeeping. If the goalkeeper was to work on every possible facet
of goalkeeping, the result or outcome could be limitless. For example, regular
technical/tactical training (shot-stopping, distribution, dealing with crosses,
etc), physiological development (flexibility, power output, agility, reaction
time, hydration/nutrition, etc), psychological development (pre-game routines,
imagery/visualisation, positive reminders/reinforcements, etc), combined with
regular evaluation and analysis of performance.
If the goalkeeper applies a holistic approach to their own development, they will
experience positive outcomes, leading to enhanced performance, however, it is
essential not to over-analyse or get caught up in the details, as despite the endless
potential for the goalkeeper to develop, it is still essential for the goalkeeper to
establish their love for the position, and approach every game and training session
with the enthusiasm and enjoyment they had when they donned their first pair of
Reush or Sondico goalkeeper gloves.