Do your young goalkeepers have a mind like a goldfish?
By Greg Bach
Forgetting birthdays and anniversaries can land one in a heap of trouble.
But when it comes to goalkeeping, the ability to forget is a fabulous skill to possess, says Haley Kopmeyer, the super-talented goalkeeper for Seattle Reign FC of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).
“We always say that as a goalkeeper you kind of have to have a mind like a goldfish in the sense that you have to forget things quickly,” says Kopmeyer, who starred at the University of Michigan. “It’s having that focus and that ability to forget that last play that is so key in goalkeeping.”
That forgetfulness factor works both ways, too.
“If you make an incredible save you can’t just sit there thinking how awesome that was,” Kopmeyer says. “You have to have that short goldfish memory to stay level and stay focused and keep your emotions in check no matter what they are.”
DISCOVERING A PASSION FOR A POSITION
Soccer is the ultimate team game. There are a lot of moving parts; and when they’re in sync good things typically happen on the field.
It’s up to coaches to expose their young players to a variety of positions to uncover which they are best suited to excel in and help the team perform.
“I was not the best runner in the world and I think because of that when I did play on the field I ended up playing defensive positions,” Kopmeyer says of her youth soccer days. “I didn’t quite have the speed to cover the ground like a midfielder or forward when I got to a higher level.”
But what she did have was the ability to deny opposing players the goals they craved to score.
A MESSAGE WORTH LISTENING TO
A gifted athlete – volleyball and swimming were among the many sports she played – she discovered that goalkeeping was the perfect fit for her. She credits all those experiences playing other sports with helping her climb to the professional ranks – a message she wants young players to embrace as well.
“When I train kids now I tell them to play other sports for as long as they can, and it’s not just for the cross-training benefits,” says Kopmeyer, who was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year as a senior. “There’s so many positives to doing different things and meeting different people. It just makes you a better, more well-rounded athlete. Because you’re not doing the same movements and motions all the time, you’re making yourself an athlete.”
Some of that athleticism was honed on the volleyball court, where she played on a travel team in which her mom was one of the coaches.
“I loved playing and I loved being a part of that team,” she says. “I think with volleyball and the jumping and the timing and the blocking and all those different aspects ultimately really helped me with soccer, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.”
MANAGING THE MENTAL SIDE
The mental side of the game is a huge factor in being a great goalkeeper.
“When the ball is at the other end I’m always looking at my defense and organizing my back line and looking for possible areas that the other team could attack,” Kopmeyer says. “Or watching the game and trying to pick up on player habits. My job as a goalie is to say, ‘OK, what could happen? And what could I prevent before it even happens?’
And when goals are scored – and young goalies will certainly give up lots of them as they learn the position – it’s up to coaches to help them use those experiences to grow and develop.
“It goes back to having that mind of a goldfish and it’s not necessarily about the mistake – it’s how you respond to the mistake,” she says. “Did you go out and work on that skill in practice to make sure that goal doesn’t happen again? It’s not the end of the world. It’s a learning moment and you’re going to get better because of it. Goals happen and they happen to everybody – so it’s the response.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance