Mental Toughness

What is it? And how do you get it?

When I work with goalkeepers no matter how talented they are, or how much work they put in or how much experience they have they will make mistakes.

Unfortunately more often than not the goalkeeper mistakes are high profile as they usually result in a goal. I can think of a particularly high profile international game this season between France and Sweden where Hugo Lloris made a mess of a clearance and the mistake cost France the game.

You can see it here for yourself –

It was a calamitous error that someone that has practiced and played as much as he has should never have made, but he did. The error happened right at the end of the game so there was no time left to be able to rectify the mistake or for France to get a goal and tie the game. What do you think the effect on Hugo Lloris was? Do you think that he spent a lot of time thinking about the mistake and what it had cost his team. That it had been seen by millions of people around the world and with the advent of YouTube is still being viewed. Do you think that he felt he was not a good goalkeeper and that he should quit the team?

This is just one example of a mistake that is made by a human being that plays the position of goalkeeper on the soccer field and there are loads of them that happen every weekend. So as a young goalkeeper how do you handle the pressures that come with mistakes?

Here are 5 ways to help you deal with them and try them into a positive.

  1. Acknowledge that they happened and that you made a mistake.

Learning only occurs through mistakes and through the acknowledgement of them, realizing that we have to do something different to change the outcome. Hugo Lloris knows that he can’t play the ball into the middle of the field, he knew that before he played the ball there, he was likely trying to pass to a team mate and got it wrong, but because of what happened he will evaluate his decision making strategy and decide that when in the same position again he will play to a team mate on the side of the field or play the ball out as far up the field as he can. He will make a correction and learn from the experience he will not pretend it did not happen or that he can’t learn from it because he knows he can.

When I am working with goalkeepers I look at their technique and where I see issues I keep testing it until it breaks down (and it always does) and then I use it as a learning opportunity for them to understand why the technique has to change. I don’t highlight the error simply that we need to change it so that it doesn’t happen when it matters in games.

  1. During the game instantly forget about it

This may seem like a contradiction to point one but during games is NOT the time to evaluate a mistake during a game. You are still involved in the game and have to stay focused on what is happening right now, not what has already happened. You can’t change what has already past, but more often than not what happens is the player will be stuck thinking and processing the mistake, distracted by it and allowing it to affect the rest of their performance. As the player you have to decide to use the error as an opportunity to raise your performance level and work harder in the game to make sure you don’t allow your concentration or focus to be disrupted.

Once the game finishes you can evaluate the performance as a whole with your coach, and decide on the course of action that will help you to reduce the risk of the same error occurring again by doing this you have identified the error, the cause of the error and put in place the corrective action, now you must follow through with that.

  1. Ignore the doubts

As I mentioned in part one, mistakes happen, during games in practice or in what you believe to be the right training method or practices. They are everywhere. You have got to be resolute in your believe that you are good enough as you are and can make the change and improvement necessary and in fact are 1000% committed to doing it whatever your coach tells you to do you will do it.

You must see the error as just a one off occurrence that will not happen again, and that you know you will not make that same mistake again, you must believe that to be true. You will likely be your own worst critic and unfortunately that doesn’t help you to achieve great performance.

  1. Find a coach you trust and work with them continually

As a goalkeeper you must find a goalkeeper coach, someone who has experience of making mistakes and dealing with them, experience of playing in games that have high importance to them, and that has exceptional coaching skills to be able to help you to deal with the difficulties of playing as a goalkeeper especially as the stakes increase and you get older and expectations are heightened.

You will need to work with your coach as often as you can so that you know you are learning from an expert in their coaching field and that you are able to work with someone that has identified your weaknesses and has a plan for turning them into strengths as quickly as possible. At Just 4 Keepers we offer weekly clinics for goalkeepers to take advantage of at low rates so that you can get the expertise you need without breaking the bank.


  1. Play as much as you can

The more opportunities you give yourself to make mistakes the quicker you learn, never shy away from playing or practicing, do it as much as you can, even on your own there are lots of training drills you can do in very little space and on your own that will improve your game. You go to school for 7 hours a day 5 days a week for 9 months a year more or less to get an education, if you play club soccer and work on your skills for 3 hours a week in training and maybe 60-90 minutes on the weekend for 6-9 months of the year you will never get as good as you could be if you only dedicated 60 minutes more a week for 52 weeks a year. Think about it that is 52 hours of dedicated training with goalkeepers that are all learning the same skills as you, you aren’t working on tackling or midfield positioning or shooting you are focused and dedicated to improving the skills needed to perform between the sticks.

Take every opportunity you can to get to play and practice it is no coincidence that the more you play and practice the better you get, add to that quality instruction and a willingness to get better and you can achieve your goals of playing at the college, high school or premier club level, who knows perhaps you have the wild idea of making it to the pro game, if that is the case and you are not working with a dedicated coach and you aren’t devoting every hour you have to improving your physical attributes and your technique it is highly unlikely you will do it alone.

Written by Mark Phillips – State Director – Idaho

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