It is often said that goalkeepers are a “different breed” from field players. And it is true. At all levels of football, players and coaches involved in the game will agree.
But what exactly makes goalkeepers so different? Why are goalkeepers unique?
Goalkeepers play a very different sport from their teammates.
It is practically a different sport
Firstly, and most obviously, football players on the field can only use their feet (except when throwing in), while goalkeepers in the penalty area can also use their hands. This means that goalkeepers have more tools to sharpen than their other ten teammates.
Of course there are also overlaps between goalkeepers and field players. The insight they need to pass and pick out a team-mate, as well as the need for fitness & strength, and a high level of concentration applies to everyone on the pitch.
But the rules, responsibilities, training regimes, physical attributes, even the mentality of goalkeepers is vastly different. Goalkeeping is almost a sport in itself.
If you think about it, many goalkeeping skills such as catching the ball and diving for the feet in 1-on-1 situations overlap with other sports such as basketball, handball, rugby and American football. In terms of the speed and agility required, goalkeeping is similar to some racket sports, such as table tennis.
In essence, goalkeeping requires a very broad skill set. It is football… plus a lot more. That is exactly why it is the most difficult position to learn.
You are an outsider in your team
During training sessions, you are isolated from your team, working with specialised coaches or competing against your teammates in attacking drills. You practice your own game.
The isolation from your team has an effect on the pitch in matches where you are physically isolated on one side of the pitch. You often have longer periods in a match without touching the ball or being involved in the action. When your team scores, you also rarely get a chance to celebrate in the group.
Busy matches do not change the dynamic much. You can make a few excellent saves, even set up attacks through good distribution, and yet you often don’t get the recognition you deserve. Make one mistake, and guess what? The attention is completely focused on you, for all the wrong reasons.
Off the field, you are still not fully aware. Your teammates are bonding over the dramas that happened on the other side of the field – the goals, the penalties, the clumsy free kicks – even their diabolical attempts on goal. Unlike the goalkeeper, they can afford the luxury of laughing off their mistakes and shortcomings.
Goalkeepers must be independent and goal-oriented. But at the same time, they must also avoid becoming too aloof or introverted to remain fully integrated in their team. That is a challenge in itself.
A different mindset
The role of the goalkeeper attracts certain ‘types’.
Goalkeepers are not there for their personal glory, they are there for the team! It’s not about how many goals they can score, or how many assists they can provide to make themselves better. Success for a goalkeeper is measured by how many goals he can prevent.
The reality is that there are not many people who would choose to just make saves for their team without the opportunity to score goals. Goalkeeping is an unselfish position that attracts noble, articulate sportsmen.
My coach used to say that goalkeepers were the best behaved, most dedicated, least arrogant players he had ever coached. And that has never surprised me. The attention span, strength of character, dedication and drive it takes to be a goalkeeper dispels any figure with airs and graces.
For more on the “goalkeeper mentality“, read our post on the psychology and mental strength of successful goalkeepers.
Being a goalkeeper means accepting and embracing that you are different. No wonder goalkeepers stick together and have such a strong mutual respect for each other.
How many times have you been told that you should never take part in the running training? Undoubtedly quite a few times. Personally, we once knew a goalkeeper trainer who would invite these players to come and do goalkeeper training with him. So goalkeepers know how difficult it is to be the odd man out.