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Confronting Adversity

One of the more common deficits in a goalkeeper’s skillset is self-confidence. Younger goalkeepers especially have a difficult time accepting the various responsibilities that come with the job. It is all well and good to enjoy the big saves in the big moments. It is every goalkeeper’s dream to make a decisive save when it matters most. With your whole team erupting in sudden ecstasy and the cheers of the crowd filling the air, a game winning save is everything.

How a goalkeeper deals with adversity proves to be much more salient in the moment. A crippling mistake at any level can (and usually does) handicap a goalkeeper for the rest of the match. A ball slipping through the hands or sneaking through the legs is a keeper’s worst nightmare. Yet, every goalkeeper will be faced with this nightmare at one point in their career or another. Big mistakes in big moments are unavoidable. Juxtaposed to the big game winning saves, then, it becomes clearer why goalkeeping is such a unique position in sports.

Mental toughness is required of every keeper at every level. Preparing for times of adversity is just as crucial as imagining the big saves. How will you respond to the big mistakes? Will you stop communicating? Will you begin playing with hesitation and uncertainty? Will you count the minutes until the final whistle? The success of your team wholly relies on your ability to answer each question with a definite ‘no.’

One of my earliest coaching mentors, Catherine Gordon, often referred to something called a ‘mistake ritual’. This concept describes how goalkeepers can specifically and individually address adversity in their game. After suffering from a critical mistake, every goalkeeper needs a physical and mental process that allows them to recover and refocus on the remainder of the match. For example, you might tap the post twice, brush the grass, or touch the crossbar, after which you have psychologically moved on. Your mistake ritual should be unique to you.

Watch professional goalkeepers closely after they make a mistake and you will almost always see their mistake ritual, sometimes in the most subtle of shapes. You should practice this ritual in training, as mistakes will occur there as well. This is the best tool that every goalkeeper should have at the ready, and you will see the impact instantly. Preparing for adversity in all forms will help shape a positive, confident mindset. This preparation, however, is the biggest hurdle that you must clear before achieving that mindset. It won’t be easy, but the results will stay with you for your entire playing career.

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