As a teenager and young adult, I was frequently called out for looking at myself in almost every reflection possible. People would often criticize me in mid conversation for not paying them the appropriate eye contact and most would assume I was just staring to admire myself. Although at times this could be the case, I was really looking at myself for the wrong reasons: trying to find flaws. I would see what my hair, skin, clothes looked like. I would wrongly judge myself before others could say a word. I noticed this trend but never thought anything of it until I became a little bit older, and some might even say wiser.
As a goalkeeper (or really anyone with a passion), it is important to look at yourself in terms of getting better. It is important to self-reflect and self-critique in order to move on and improve. However, the danger comes when one judges themselves too harshly for mistakes without giving enough credit when they do the right things. Too many times in my career I have become a victim of this destructive thinking. I would blame myself for losses and goals, human mistakes and common errors. I never understood that I was preparing myself for more failure with this way of thinking and not success.
It was all too simple. I was punishing myself before anyone had a chance to. Like the young man in the mirror seeing flaws in himself and not realizing the things which I had going for me. I was blaming myself for everything before my coaches and teammates could. In time, I've learned that sometimes you need to turn off the self-judgement and become your own biggest cheerleader. If you don't believe that you can turn it around, then why should anyone else??
I really wish I would have come to this conclusion at a younger age. I cannot tell you how many times I suffered a lack of confidence for being overly self-critical. So many games and goals were lost because I wasn't able to deal with situations correctly and confidently. Even today, I wage war against who I naturally want to be at times. Blaming others, depression, time lost with loved ones, fights started because of my bad mood are all symptoms of being too much of a perfectionist.
Enough about me, and onto the future.....
For younger soccer players, it is very important to assess your game. Depending on your goals, you have to do this properly. Be objective. Take time to really figure out what went wrong and what you can do better. I certainly feel that the off season is where a lot of players make their careers. The work put in away from the crowds and coaches can take players careers farther and higher than they ever thought possible.
After games, I sit and think about every goal scored. What could have I done differently? Communication? Footwork? Concentration? Positioning? It all pours into my head. There are times I sat up all night blaming myself for so many things. However, the difference now is that I refuse to take these mistakes into my next game. I realize that life is a series of ups and downs. That success can be defined simply as getting up just one more time than you've fallen.
It's my hope that you as a reader will not fall into the pitfalls that have haunted me. To look at your game in a more scholarly and healthy approach. What follows is merely my advice for how to assess and evaluate your game.
The pursuit of greatness starts with looking at everything. I can promise that your game or the game of your goalkeeper will improve if you can look at every game with these things in mind:
Analyze the game as a whole- So many times we tend to focus on what went wrong. This is OK as long as you can acknowledge what went right. Be open and brutally honest with yourself. Talk yourself through every situation. Were you in the right spot to prevent the goal? Did you decide to distribute a little too hastily? Could I have punched the ball there instead of trying to catch??
These are all questions I ask myself after a game. I think about all my mistakes and make a note of whether it was a simple human error or something that I can control in the future.
Start with perfection- It will not do you any good to sit there and say "well there wasn't anything I could have done" or "it wasn't my fault". As a youth player, I took the attitude that there was always something I could have done. "Did I guess?" "Can I come out to take the angle more?" "Could I have used my other hand to tip the ball?" These scenarios all run through my head. I then go through the game and think about every goal and play where I felt I might have been able to do something differently.
Visualize the right outcome- So maybe you lost by 4 goals and your team gave up a few breakaways and they scored on a penalty kick. Maybe you come to the conclusion that there was nothing you could have done. STOP!! This will do you no good as you move on. The better play is to visualize yourself making the save utilizing a different process. Maybe you visualize doing the footwork before you tip the ball around the top corner. Maybe you see yourself yelling at your defenders about the open forward who scored the easy tap in. Do everything in your power to turn this negative thought (the goal) into a more positive one, and a learning experience for the future.
Talk to your coaches and your teammates (even your opponents)- Many times talking to coaches and your teammates helps you figure out how everything went down. Most people do not have the benefit of playing on TV every week and will not be able to get different angles of each play. Talk to your defenders, head coach, gk coach if you have one and get to the bottom of each scenario. This will help you figure out what you parts of your game you might need to work on. Also, take time to seek out the other teams goal scorers and try to figure out what they saw and how they came to the conclusion. Many of us play games against people we know, go to school with or live in the community. Ask your forwards what they saw when they were shooting on you in training. Are you giving them too much near post? Were you too far off your line? Were you leaning a certain way? These little tidbits could be the difference between letting in a goal the following week or making that big save.
Practice and put it to rest- All you can do is all you can do. Figure out what you need to work on, and do just that: work on it. If it's kicking the ball, kick the ball. If it's shot-stopping, then practice taking shots. If you need to work on crosses, take crosses. There are drills for every skill. If you need some, there are great videos out there for free. If you want a personal touch, get a coach to train you. Figure out what exactly you need to work on and put in the work. Practice each skill until you are comfortable with it. Even then, keep working on it. As you approach the next game, rely on the knowledge that you have trained hard and deserve the best from your next appearance.
Learn from your mistakes- I've posted about this before, so I will keep this brief. Every mistake is a game or a practice is an opportunity to figure out what you need to work on. Be grateful and passionate about this opportunity. If you approach it the right way, you can take your game to a whole new level.
Give yourself credit- I recently read that holding a low opinion of yourself is not a virtue but a vice. It's okay to feel good about....well...doing a good job. One of the best things about coaching young kids is watching their esteem improve through working hard. They get better at goalkeeping and see how hard work pays off. This give them the confidence to apply this well known lesson to other things in their life. Don't be afraid to say, "YES, I'm AWESOME". The fact of the matter is: YOU ARE AWESOME. Let this new found love for yourself and your goalkeeping skills flourish and flow through your veins when you play. Goalkeeping is an art, and you are the painter, sculptor, or whatever you prefer!
Forgive and Forget- So of course you want to save everything. Now that you've visualized the right play and gave yourself the right amount of credit for things done right, it's time to move on. Forgive yourself for being human and just like every goalkeeper who's played the game. From Peter Schmeichel to Iker Casillas to your favorite goalkeeper, just know they've all experienced what you are going through.
Forget the errors and mistakes. Using the visualization noted earlier, these mistakes are now great plays. Move on to your next game. When you walk places, you don't recall all the times you've slipped in the past. You don't think about slipping or falling down because of the slippery patch or uneven ground you walked on yesterday. Do the same with your goalkeeping. Forgiving and forgetting means starting anew and being excited to take on the challenge of your next game.
Quantify your game play- So how should one look at their own game? Here is a list of things to analyze after your games to help you get started:
1) Distribution- starting the attack is the goalkeeper's job here. Are your clearances high enough? Are you getting enough distance with your throws? Goal kicks? Punts? Are you accurate enough? As a young goalkeeper, I was allowed to pick up the ball during any point in the game. My coach forced me to pass the ball sideways on goal kicks to defenders so that they could pass the ball right back. I would pick up the ball and punt it away - you can see how they would make that illegal by today's rules. As a result, my kicks from the ground have been the most inconsistent part in my game. Even now I constantly work on my technique.
2) Shot stopping- are you in the right position? Are you aggressive enough cutting down the angles? Did you catch everything you could? Did you give away corners? Run down the situations in your head. Could footwork help you make a save? Did you give up a bad rebound? For me, this is a very important part in your game. Players score goals from shots. It's your job to stop them. Figure out the best ways to do this for your game. If you're shorter, come off your line a bit more. If you're taller, then stay back a bit. Are you diving backwards or to the side? Did you guess the wrong way? All these things I have done wrong in the past, and even today, still do them.
3) Communication- Can you prevent goals from happening by just opening your mouth? Can you tell your defenders where to take the forward? Where they are running to? Can we let them know which foot to push the forward on to? Who to mark during set pieces? Breaking up plays before they develop is a great way to help you and your team.
4) Reading the game- Can you cut out that cross? That through ball? Can you start higher up the field to prevent certain situations? Did you come out for things that weren't yours? Did you come out when the forward had a defender with them? You can get better in your game by asking yourself "what happened?"and then addressing that with what should happen.
This is a great place to start for all goalkeepers after their games. However it is not only a good thing to look at your own game, but use this criteria to assess every game you watch. Critically watch every goalkeeper (even me) to this high standard of perfection. You can learn so much from other goalkeepers if you just know what to look for. Become a student of the game and taking a more philosophical approach will help you in your quest to become better.
Smile- I once read a proverb that said, "Smile, it's later than you think". What it's trying to say is enjoy the process, the journey, the challenge, life. Becoming better at anything requires failure and persistence. Enjoy trying to improve your game. Wherever you are in your career, there is always room for improvement. Mistakes, great games, criticism, praise, take it all in stride and remember, "it's later than you think".
Thanks for reading
May the posts be with you!!