The Curious Psychology of Goalkeepers

Ruben Hill
December 1, 2020



Football may be a team sport, but there’s always one member who is slightly distanced from the other ten players on the pitch – the goalkeeper.

They might traditionally have the number 1 on their backs but in no other position can you go from being hero to zero so very quickly. Yes, strikers can miss open goals and defenders can be outwitted and outmaneuvered, but nothing can quite compete with the humiliation of having to pick up the ball from the back of the net and carry on with the game.

The appreciation of the goalkeeper’s lot is something that has inspired a poem by the British Poet Laureate Simon Armitage as well as the plot for the German director Wim Wenders’ first film, The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty.

It’s also what makes the personality and psychology of goalkeepers so interesting to study, and why so many go on to have high profile careers long after they have hung up their gloves for the very last time.

The fact that the modern goalkeeper is an undoubtedly imposing physical presence helps in this respect. For example, when STS picked ex-Manchester United and Denmark keeper Peter Schmeichel as a brand ambassador it was because he represented all that the online gaming site aspires to be – resolute, reliable and straightforward. Schmeichel also shares many of the personality traits that go to create a successful keeper and which also surely helped to make him a natural choice for the brand.


When a keeper lets in a goal in the first ten minutes of the match, there are another 80 minutes to get through, plus stoppage time. So they must be able to pick themselves up, put the goal behind them and battle on. Of all the players on the pitch, the keeper’s the one who’s not going to be substituted, barring injury or being sent off for foul play, so they’d better get over it – and fast.


Very rarely is the keeper also captain of the team. But during corners and free kicks it’s up to them to organize the defense in what can be quite chaotic situations. So they need to have a natural authority and not be afraid to use it when required. They also need to have the presence and respect to be able to give wayward defenders a good telling off when needed.

Mind control

We’ve already mentioned the need for a big personality, and the problems presented by penalties. Nowhere is this more needed than in a tense shoot-out to decide the result. The fate of the team really does rest in the keeper’s hands. So it’s their role to get inside the head of the player taking the penalty and will them to miss. How the best keepers manage to do this is a mystery, but some are certainly better than others.

Last, but not least, a keeper needs to keep control of their emotions. In the tense situations in which they often find themselves, perhaps this is their most valuable psychological ability of all.


Other reports by Click Lancashire

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