The Psychology of Goalkeepers

A goalkeeper is a different kind of soccer player. They spend a significant amount of time on the field isolated from the rest of their team. Yet, games so often hedge on their performance. Because of this, even if they’re not the most active player on the field, they’ve got to stay keyed into all of the action. 

How do they do it? How do they stay focused enough to make plays that quite literally alter the course of games? Do they just possess insane mental strength? From an outside perspective, it can sometimes look like only a crazy person could handle the pressure of being a goalkeeper. Is that true? What is the psychology of goalkeepers, really? 

Let’s take a look at Hope Solo. As polarizing as she is, she is without a doubt, one of the best goalkeepers women’s soccer has ever seen. It was imminently clear while watching her with the USWNT that her mere presence was enough to throw off even the best opponents. Remember the 2015 World Cup, when Celia Sasic, one of Germany’s best forwards, got her penalty kick all wrong? A mistake like that was not normal for her. But when facing a goalkeeper like Solo, whose persona is almost mythical at this point, even the best forwards can be knocked off kilter. 

On the other end of the spectrum we have Alyssa Naeher, the USWNT’s current number one. Whereas Solo’s larger than life personality made the mere thought of facing her in goal intimidating, Naeher’s presence is much quieter – though not any less fearsome. She is seemingly quiet off the pitch and a bit on the reserved side. But the moment she steps on the field it’s like a flip is switched inside her brain.

Think back to the steely confidence she exhibited in the 2019 World Cup semi-final against England. Naeher secured the USA’s trip to the finals with a penalty kick save of her own. Amidst the frantic team celebrations and near desperation to secure their lead, Naeher was as cool as ever. It’s hard to fathom an explanation for her calmness in such a high stakes moment. The only thing we can say for certain is Naeher’s sheer focus could hardly be accomplished without at least a little bit of crazy. 

What else would you expect from people who willingly sign up to have soccer balls shot directly at their face? While talented forwards can intimidate opposing defenses in their own right, there’s something about coming face to face with a goalkeeper staring you down that is insurmountably intimidating. Perhaps it all boils down to the fact they seem to have zero fear themselves.

Feature photo via Adobe Stock @matimix


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