Pregame for Goalkeepers: Calm and Collected or Amped Up?

 

     I was always told, as a young goalkeeper at age 15-16, that keepers had to be crazy. Anyone who willingly stood in front of the goal, while opposing players kicked balls as hard as possible at them, had to be a little insane right? Sure, maybe a little. I would argue that any rugby player is crazier than any goalkeeper. That ‘crazy factor’ is really describing goalkeepers’ attitudes towards dealing with their own teammates defending and how they deal with conceding goals. I was pretty quiet in this sense until my sophomore season of high school. During that season, my hatred of getting scored on boiled over to where I found it really difficult to keep quiet. To be clear, I hated getting scored on when I felt like it could’ve been avoided. As a goalkeeper, you really can’t get mad at someone putting a free kick in the top corner, but you can absolutely be furious when your last defender attempts a lackluster tackle leading to a 1v1 and eventual goal.

     At 15, I completely stepped into what was, to me, the ‘crazy goalkeeper’ persona. Anytime a goal was conceded, and I felt like the opportunity shouldn’t even have been allowed, I was up and ready to rip someone’s head off. It may sound a bit extreme, but it was also around this time that I realized that soccer was it for me. In 10th grade, I knew I wanted to play soccer in college. I wanted more and I demanded more from everyone else around me.

     It was also around this time where I developed my pregame ritual of listening to really heavy music. The thing about this type of music, which you’d never understand unless you really tried to listen, is that lyrically they always had kind of a ‘me vs. you’ theme. For example, ‘2nd Sucks’ by A Day to Remember has been a long-time staple for me during pregame. The song is literally about being better than someone else at something. I looked at games like I was going to battle. It was us vs. them.

     So, I carried this approach with me through the years. I had always played my best when I was able to get into this headspace of just being a little bit angry. It was almost personal, like how I played was directly linked to who I was as a person (this can have a pretty negative effect on you mentally).  At Pitt, I didn’t play a ton. I got some time in a few spring games over the years and then 12 minutes against West Virginia after we were up 7-0. Still, even though I knew I wasn’t starting, I stuck to that pregame ritual of listening to my music and going back into that zone. To be clear, I’m strictly referring to game days here. I calmed down a lot in the sense of ripping into my teammates when things went wrong. That’s not to say it wasn’t necessary from time to time, but at that level, 99.9% of the time, everyone is trying their absolute best to play good soccer and do their job, I could never get mad at a mistake when this was the case. It was always better just to help players move on. “Hey, all good, next action, move on.” There’s no time to dig into things, you just have to get on with it.

     Fast forward to my year at West Chester. In preseason, I was competing for the starting spot, something I hadn’t done for a while. Going into our exhibition games, I returned to the only thing I knew to do in those moments and that was to get myself as amped up as possible before game time. This meant loud, heavy music, caffeine, maybe even a crazed look in my eye. It was around then that I started to become aware of how exhausting this was. I would already be tired just from hyping myself up on the bus before I even got my gloves on. Nevertheless, I stuck with it, until our 8th game of the season (my 5th as the starter, another story) against Bloomsburg University.

     The trip to Bloomsburg felt like forever. It was 2 and a half hours away. At West Chester, most of our games were scheduled as double headers with our women’s team so we traveled together. For whatever reason, I felt kind of off that day. I was a little tense, so what could be better than a giant coffee and some heavy music to get myself ready to go and play? Bloomsburg was not a threatening team. So far, they were having an average season and we were having a really good season early on. I don’t think anyone thought that they would be a problem. This type of attitude can definitely get you into trouble. The first half was mostly uneventful on my end, but the whole time I remember feeling pretty nervy. We had so many chances to score and their defense was barely hanging on. We could’ve and should’ve put the game away before halftime, but the whistle blew at 0-0. Later in the second half, the ball was crossed in from my right side and made its way towards the back post. Off the bounce, a Bloomsburg player left his feet (every player dreams of this opportunity) and attempted a scissor/bicycle kick that went back across goal and into the net. In that moment, I dove but later when I watched the video, I was so rooted to the ground that I looked like I was moving in slow-motion. Then, I lost it. I was furious that we had just allowed that to happen. My eyes had to be bulging out of my skull and my voice was echoing off of the hills surrounding Bloomsburg’s field. We had just allowed this mediocre Bloomsburg team to record a season highlight against us?

     No more than 10 minutes later, Bloomsburg gets a freekick at the top of the 18. It was on the left side of the arc. I set a four-man wall off of the near post and positioned myself on the right shoulder of the furthest man in the wall to the right. The whistle blew and the ball came over the wall, bending away from me, between the two guys in the middle. It wasn’t hit with pace. All he tried to do was put it on frame. I dove and I’m not sure what I happened, I lost focus, but the ball went under me and into the net. 2-0. At this point, the game was over with both goals being my fault. No one ever blamed me for it though because they knew that I knew. To make things worse: 1. My parents and my sister had surprised me and made the trip to Bloomsburg that day and 2. We had to stay and watch the girl’s game. I thought for sure I was losing my starting sport after that game. Something had to change.

     It was after this game that I adjusted everything about my approach to games. No more caffeine, unless it was in the morning and hours before kickoff. I stopped listening to the heavy music and listened to lighter, more calming stuff instead. Meditation became extremely important before each game. I’ve used Headspace for about 3 years now and I would meditate before every game. I even stopped yelling as much and as loud because it just took too much out of me. Coaches all over tell keepers they need to be so loud, that everyone in a 3-mile radius can hear them. I understand the sentiment here, but your goalkeeper really only needs to be so loud that the teammates they are addressing can hear them.

     I noticed a huge difference in this adjustment. I was so much more fluid in my movement because I just wasn’t as tense anymore. My decision-making was better because I was calm. I could go as far to say that it made the rest of the team calmer too because body language (vibes) do radiate and they do affect the people around you.

     All in all, everyone has a different approach to games. The point here isn’t to say that one works better than the other. Getting really amped up worked for me for a long time, then it didn’t. Ultimately, it all comes down to preference. I would recommend experimenting to find what works best for you. The most important thing is that YOU feel prepared and ready to play. If you prefer the calmer approach, I would highly recommend some visualization techniques. Videos for these can be found on YouTube. If you prefer the ‘get hype’ approach, one of my favorites things to do was watch compilation videos of the best saves of all time, also found on YouTube. Whatever it may be, figure out your routine and stick to it.

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