The high flying acrobatics and jaw dropping athleticism exhibited in goalkeeping give it the illusion that it is a primarily physical position. Certainly, it is crucial to train your body and keep yourself in top physical condition, but that is only a portion of what it takes to be a successful goalkeeper. Anyone who has played the position can tell you how much of it is mental. Whether it is organizing teammates, processing vast amounts of information in a split second, or dealing with the pressure and isolation that can come with the position, goalkeeping is largely a mental game. Most of us are familiar with Yogi Berra’s famous quote: “90 percent of the game is half mental”, and while the exact percentage of mental versus physical is up for debate, nearly everyone acknowledges the importance of the “mental side” of the game. Yet how much time do we spend training our minds? For many, the answer to that question is not much. Since the mind plays such an important role in our success as goalkeepers we have to treat it as such, and devote time and energy to training and taking care of it. One effective way to train your mind is through visualization.
Visualization is a great tool for enhancing your preparation and conquering any nerves you might feel. Most of the time when we are nervous it is because we are getting ready to do something we have not done before, or something that has been very challenging in the past. A great way to overcome that fear of the unknown or the difficult is to visualize yourself succeeding in those daunting scenarios. If you can see yourself succeeding in your mind then when you get to the actual situation it won’t seem so uncomfortable since you’ve already been there before in your head. So how do you do this? Well, first try and picture yourself in the location where you will be training or playing. Think about all the details of that place. What the field is like, whether the grass is long, short or artificial, what the bleachers or stands look like. Try and conjure up as many details as you can. Next start to imagine the other senses you might be experiencing: how your feet fell inside of your cleats, the sound of the Velcro on the wrist strap of your gloves, the smell of the rubber in the turf as the sun starts to heat it up. The more details you can think of, the realer this visualization becomes and the more benefit it has. Once you have established the setting, start to picture yourself doing things. Some people like to visualize from their own viewpoint and others find it helpful to see themselves performing from the perspective of someone standing on the side of the field watching. Find what works for you.
Now comes the part that many people find challenging, how do you decide what to visualize yourself doing? I think it is best to think of specific scenarios and then play those through in your head. This is easier when visualizing before training because you often have a sense of what type of actions you might be making in a given session. Try imagining yourself executing specific movements with perfect technique, or pushing through fatigue to get the absolute maximum out of the session. Maybe there has been a certain technical aspect you have been struggling with. If that is the case spend some extra time visualizing yourself flawlessly performing that technique. Visualizing like this before training not only helps you prepare mentally it also allows you to maximize the physical training session.
Unlike training, you never know what scenarios you will experience in a match, so it is not always possible to visualize exactly what will happen beforehand. Start with going through your warmup. See yourself with clean handling and sharp distribution. Visualize the flight of the ball on crosses and then coming to catch at the perfect moment. Whatever you normally do for your warm up, picture yourself doing it well and enjoying the experience. Now try and be creative and think of ways you can help the team during the course of a match. Making an important save, starting the counter with a precise side volley, or coming to punch away a cross at a crucial moment. Who knows, you might find yourself in this exact situation during the game. Ultimately, visualization is a highly individualistic process. I have known some goalkeepers who like to imagine themselves in a special room watching themselves perform on a giant TV, and others who like to picture themselves on the field in a packed stadium. The important thing is that you find what works for you, and then consistently practice it.