Staying mentally strong

The mental game is often ignored by goalkeepers and coaches alike. However, it is essential in order to succeed. The best goalkeepers are those who believe in themselves; nothing can ‘get them down’. To play well, you need to play with confidence and it’s worthwhile working out for yourself how to encourage this!

You train twice as hard as everyone else, are expected to stop all of the 100+ shots blasted at you in training, get bruised black and blue, then go and be told you’re still not ready skill wise. If you make a mistake it can cost your team the game. When it comes to game time, you’re expected to pull off amazing dramatic saves at the drop of a button. You have to take bull in the form of pointless advice from team mates and comments from the opposition trying to get under your skin. Once you’ve done all that, you have to go back and do it all again.

Your role forces you to take on the responsibility of the team (something that can kill your ‘mojo’ if you let it get to you): if they are playing poorly, you have to ‘pick them up and carry them, making the big saves to keep them in it, and if you are down on the scoreboard a screw up can cost you the game. At the decisive development stage where you are a young keeper looking to develop into a no 1 at top domestic level, it’s back breaking work training hard twice a week and then playing at weekends. If you look at pro sport (and any other type), you’ll find out that the best players are those who have stuck with it and worked their way through to be the best in the world.

Despite the smiles, it's not always this easy! If you want to be the best in your club, or even the world, then you need to persevere, as it will be a long time until you peak.
Despite the smiles, it's not always this easy! If you want to be the best in your club, or even the world, then you need to persevere, as it will be a long time until you peak.

Mental strength

A goalkeeper stands against a tough mental battle, given the role of the task to ensure the team wins. In comparison to the other players, you can easily be everybody’s mug of the month. If a defender makes a mistake, you’re supposed to mop up after them, and if it isn’t a striker’s ‘week’, then it’s just put down to not being given the right scoring chances by their team mates. Being mentally strong is essential to any chance of achieving success. As you start to go up the ladder of hockey, you will come under intense pressure not only to succeed, but dominate, in a game where you won’t seem many shots in a defence orientated game. There are some keepers that will fail to take their game to the next level and progress in their development because of their inability to develop a mental ‘game’: don’t let that be you.

During a game, how you feel and how you look to the other team can affect the final outcome. If you start to show emotion and look beatable (getting wound up, which can cause you to make rash decisions like bad tackles), then the team will really start to test you and get as many shots as possible on goal to find your weak spots. Learning to grow a backbone to resist nasty comments and shake off mistakes will set you up for the ‘professional’ game, mentally able to beat off anything that comes your way.

Developing strength

As they always say, sport is 99% mental and 1% skill, not to mention the hard work needed to beat out your peers. In order to succeed at a high level, you need to have a solid mental ‘game’ as well, otherwise you won’t be able to play to your best. In the face of allowing costly goals that can affect your team’s chances (letting the lead slip), you need to be able to stand up and carry your team. If not, then you will crumble and end up giving away a defeat because of it; losing confidence as you get shelled by the opposition, and consequently your team losing faith in you. How you develop a strong mental character is more of a personal skill, as it is something that cannot necessarily be ‘taught’, you need to work out what works for you, and build up a system to resist negative thoughts.

Self belief

Goalkeeping is all about confidence, which relates to how you play; if you are playing confidently, then you will be able to compete at your best (regularly, week in week out), but if you aren’t happy with your game or the situation, the chances are you will play poorly; rethinking situations that would normally be easy to deal with and doubting yourself. If you are nervous, then you cannot perform at your best, and therefore let your team down. A confident keeper will make those unbelievable, amazing saves that deny the opposition’s best chances, whereas a shaky keeper will let in soft goals. It’s all about confidence: if you play confident, then you will succeed, but if you get upset with yourself, you will sink, costing your team.

Examples of encouraging yourself:

  • Wear the no.1 shirt: if you believe you’re the best, then you’re likely to go out and prove it

  • Build a video of ‘Hollywood’ saves and then watch it before the game to really psych yourself up

  • ‘Roar like a tiger!’: it may sound stupid, but doing the clichéd trick of looking into a mirror and putting on your ‘game face’ can really help

  • Work out phrases to say in your head when training or playing (encouraging your self to perform)

  • Take pride in your ability; acknowledge something if it’s done well (i.e. making a timely save to keep the score even, or getting a clean sheet)


Learning to become mentally unbeatable, is a personal thing that varies for everyone, but in order to succeed, you do need to establish a strong mental game. Positive mentality will define whether or not your team succeeds; if you have a ‘mental collapse’ and get shell shocked, making yourself beatable as a result, then you have made the opposition’s job all too easy. Don’t: never give up and always fight no matter what; don’t make it easy for them to score on you . Leaning to shrug off goals and people’s comments will help you maintain consistency in your game, always being unbeatable.

Here are some ideas staying mentally strong in practice:

  • Focus on your game; don’t get phased by what’s going on around you – only you can , so concentrate on your

  • Don’t show emotion: don’t get harassed by players getting in your face or your own team stabbing your in the back – learn to ignore and use it as a motivational driving force – look weak and the opposition will think you are easy to beat

  • Never give up on your team; stay in the game no matter what to keep them in it, showing commitment and will help make the big saves when they really matter

  • Develop a thick skin; learn to ignore people’s comments and let mistakes wash off you like water off a duck’s back (make them the reason to perform better rather than having a negative impact); that way, you can really prove them wrong

Ultimately, you need to be strong in yourself and your own ability; it is your game and essentially your problem (if you’re having a bad spell), so you have to work out methods to help yourself.You truly have to believe in yourself: no-one else matters. If you can’t go onto the pitch thinking your God’s gift or the best around, then you will struggle to play to your best, doubting your own ability and letting your confidence slip.

8 thoughts on “Staying mentally strong”

  1. Nice article =)
    Reminds me of the times when I wasn’t able to stay focused during training or when my coach told me that I’d only be playing in the second half of a match. I performed horrible back then…
    But then I decided that I wanted to become the goalkeeper of my team and started to work on my self. It wasn’t that much about the skills but it was about my mentality. I started to try to save the second shot too and I developed some kind of pre-game rituals, like doing some warmup laps round the pitch, stretching and getting dressed then even if my teammates were still doing tricks or fooling around. And I started to give myself some time to settle down and get concentrated. Most coaches don’t get it why you’re leaving the pitch minutes before the game’s going to start and just sit on a bench or something, but they get used to it after a few games…;)

  2. Another great article!

    Something I was struggling with earlier this season. We, as a team, had a couple of poor games at the start of this hockey year and it was affecting my confidence and my performance in turn. I had one training session where I focused on myself and my thoughts, by the end of it I could hardly let the ball in. Now, even though we aren’t running away with games, I’m performing consistantly well and forcing the opposition to work really hard to score.

    All I need now are the forwards to put away a chance every now and then 😉

  3. Great article. So true about mental strenght and confidence. I lost mine end of last season – just couldn’t get my mind on the game and sat out three games (had a knee injury anyway which didn’t help) but re-focused, moved clubs and now back on form.

    It’s a shame keepers are not coached correctly by specialists too – people who know what you think, how you think and when you think. Trouble is, if you think about keeping you’re never quite as good. It’s a natural reaction to make a save, not a thought process. I said that to someone (my left back) the other day – he had no idea what I meant.

    I say this to a couple of young keepers I coach – be mentally strong, be the boss of your team and shut out everyone else – you are number 1!

    Keep up the great work OBOites!

  4. this article has actually really helped me….last week i had a terrible week in both of my matches i got sent off for shoutin at the ref and at my own teamates….i have learned from this article a lot

  5. Awesome article, after having a bit of a rough start to the season, this has helped a lot, getting my confidence up and belief in myself, 2 wins out of 2, and 2 man of the matches…
    Belief in your own ability is definately the way forward!

  6. Spot on with this article.
    Just one thing I would like to emphasise: Never, ever give up and don’t care how many goals you’ve succeeded as long as you win!
    What would you rather do: Lose 0-1 or win 6-5?
    I’ve seen matches where a team was down 0-3, but got back it’s spirit because the GK made some amazing saves to win 4-3.

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