Psychologically, goalkeeping is by far the most demanding position on the football field. It requires immense mental strength and a unique mentality that most other footballers do not have. Only determined players are suited to become goalkeepers.
So exactly what psychological traits do the best goalkeepers have or what mentality do goalkeepers need to adopt to be successful?
1. HUMILITY (BEING MODEST)
In many ways, a good goalkeeper is one who is steady, one who does his job consistently, week-in-week-out, with very few mistakes.
Success in goalkeeping is not defined by technical ability, showing off or stealing the show. It is more about keeping the spotlight off you!
As a goalkeeper you are not like the striker who can miss 10 open goal chances and still be the match winner. With that in mind, goalkeepers must remain humble and fully accept that glory can only come in the form of clean sheets, rare penalty saves, or those spectacular match-winning blocks. These are moments you certainly won’t see every week, but they are what goalkeepers strive for, patiently wait for, and build their careers around.
It is because they have so little opportunity to be in the spotlight that goalkeeping is a role that requires so much humility that only a small minority are fully committed to it for the long term.
2. THE ABILITY TO ACCEPT YOUR MISTAKES
Making mistakes is part of being a goalkeeper. Perfection is impossible. Even the best goalkeepers in the world, with the best defence in front of them, don’t keep a zero every game.
As a goalkeeper you can only learn from your experiences, both the good and the bad. To maximise your chances of keeping the ball out of the net in the future.
What makes a good goalkeeper is someone who can live with their mistakes and find ways to improve on them. Only those with the determination to persevere will prove that they are made to be goalkeepers.
If you are struggling, keep going. If you get hurt too easily by mistakes, you will never become a successful goalkeeper. More than anyone else on the field, you have to be mentally resilient.
3. DEAL WITH PRESSURE AND CRITICISM
As a goalkeeper, you receive far more criticism for your mistakes than you do praise for the good work you do. One negative point cancels out a string of positive points. That is the harsh reality of the goalkeeping profession.
You can expect criticism from your teammates, coach and the sideline in many cases, such as:
- Weak goal kicks or defending out of bounds
- Letting a shot/pass slip through your hands
- Being lobbed from distance
- Shots that go through your legs
- Slow reactions / hesitations
- Making poor decisions
- A weak hand on a saveable shot
Sometimes you take the blame for situations that were not entirely your fault. Poor weather conditions, unreliable passing back and other defensive mistakes can lead to joint errors, and yet the goalkeeper will often get the blame.
In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, believe us goalkeeping is tough because you are the last man in the defence and there are important goals at stake. As a goalkeeper, it is your responsibility to avoid them as much as possible, so you are also expected to perform constantly during matches. This can weigh heavily on your psychological resilience.
Goalkeepers must be able to function under high pressure by eliminating all negativity and pessimism. Self-confidence is crucial.
4. FOCUS / CONCENTRATION / STAYING ALERT
Unlike other positions on the field, the goalkeeper cannot get ‘into’ a game and find his form as the game progresses. A goalkeeper must be fully focused and mentally prepared from kick-off to the final whistle.
Ironically, it is often easier to stay focused in crowded matches. Quiet matches, where there is not much action, are harder to keep alert. But one moment’s lack of concentration can have major consequences: it can determine the outcome of your match. For professionals, unfortunately, it can determine a career. When we talk about the Champions League final with Loris Karius, many of us will have the stages burned into our retinas.
Alertness (or lack thereof) can be attributed to many notable goalkeeping mistakes. Some of the best goalkeepers who have ever been on the field have made big mistakes in big games. Every goalkeeper, young or old, whatever their level, will make mistakes. Nevertheless, as a goalkeeper you cannot afford to be complacent or distracted at any time. Every match requires your full attention.
5. ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE DIFFERENT
Goalkeepers think differently from other footballers; there is no doubt about that.
It takes a single-minded footballer to embrace the extra responsibilities, the specialised training exercises and the unique equipment. It takes a rare kind of courage to take on a role that requires such totally different skills from all the other players on the pitch.
As a goalkeeper, you will never feel the same as the others. But always wear that No. 1 jersey with pride, because a vital, game-changing role is only given to someone with the ability to think for themselves; someone who is responsible. You are the one who has the task that your 10 fellow players instinctively shied away from.