Psychologically, goalkeeping is by far the most demanding position on the football pitch. It requires immense mental strength and a unique mindset that the vast majority of other footballers don’t have. Only the most resolute players are cut-out to be goalkeepers.
So exactly what psychological traits do the best goalkeepers have? What mentality must goalkeepers adopt in order to be successful?
1. Humility (Being Modest)
In many ways, a great goalkeeper is one that’s steady; one that does their job consistently, week-in-week-out, with very few mistakes.
Success in goalkeeping is not defined by silky skills, showboating or stealing the show. If anything, it’s more about keeping the limelight off you!
With that in mind, keepers have to remain humble and fully accepting of the fact that glory may only come in the form of clean sheets, rare penalty saves, or those spectacular match-winning blocks. These are the moments that keepers strive for, patiently wait for, and build their careers around.
Goalkeeping is a role that requires so much humility that only a small minority will fully commit to it for the long-haul.
Learn more about the uniqueness of goalkeepers.
2. The Ability to Accept Your Mistakes
Making mistakes is part of being a goalkeeper. Perfection is impossible. Even the greatest keepers in the world, with the best defence in front of them, do not keep clean sheets every game.
As a keeper you can only learn from your experiences — both good and bad — in order to maximise your chances of keeping the ball out of the net going forward.
What makes a great goalkeeper is one that’s able to live with their mistakes and find ways to improve. Redemption takes time and persistence. Only those with the the determination to keep plugging away will prove what they’re really made of.
So if you’re having a tough time — keep on pushing. If you’re too easily wounded by mistakes, you’ll never become a successful goalkeeper. More than anyone else on the pitch, you have to be mentally resilient.
3. Handling Pressure & Criticism
As a goalkeeper you’ll be criticised for your mistakes far more than you’re praised for the good work you do. One negative undoes a series of positives. That’s the harsh reality of being a keeper.
You can expect to face criticisms from your teammates, manager, and the touchlines in many instances, such as:
- Weak distribution / goal kicks
- Fumbling a shot/cross at your body
- Being lobbed from distance
- Shots going through your legs
- Slow reactions / hesitation
- Poor decision making
- A weak hand to a savable shot
Harshly, you’ll sometimes take the blame for situations that weren’t entirely your fault. Poor weather conditions, dodgy back-passes, and other defensive errors can lead to joint mistakes — yet the goalkeeper takes the slack.
It’s tough. But being the last man in the line of defence, where vital goals are at stake, means that keepers influence results. With that level of responsibility comes the expectation for you to consistently perform in games.
Goalkeepers need to thrive under high levels of pressure by blocking out all negativity and pessimism. Self-belief is crucial.
4. Focus / Concentration / Staying Alert
Unlike other positions on the pitch the goalkeeper can’t “get into” a game and start to find form as it goes on. A keeper has to be fully focused and mentally prepared from the kick off right up until the final whistle.
Ironically it’s often easier to maintain focus in busy games. Quiet games, where there’s not much action, are difficult to stay alert in. But one lapse in concentration can have huge repercussions: it can define the result of your match. For professionals it can, unfortunately, define a career.
Alertness (or lack of) can be attributed to many high profile goalkeeping mistakes. Some of the greatest goalkeepers to ever grace the pitch have made huge errors in big games. Here’s a video compilation of mistakes made from (otherwise excellent) England goalkeepers from over the years.
As a goalkeeper you can’t afford to be complacent or distracted at any point. Every game requires your full attention.
5. Accepting That You’re Different
Keepers think differently to other footballers; no doubt about it.
It requires a single-minded footballer to embrace the additional responsibilities, the specialist training drills, and unique equipment. It requires a rare kind of bravery to take on a role that demands such vastly different skills to all other on-pitch players.
As a goalkeeper you’ll never quite feel the same as the others. But always wear that #1 jersey with pride — because a vital, game-changing role is only given to someone with the ability to think for themselves; someone that’s responsible. You’re the one that has the job that 10/11 others instinctively shied away from.
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