I wasn't feeling great about the prospects of the game earlier in the day. Though I'd kept a clean sheet in my last game, a 0-0 draw, that had been nearly three weeks ago, and in the interim I had played a couple of indifferent 7-a-side games. But I got a boost in the late afternoon, when a new pair of 3/4 trousers and a padded undershirt arrived from Storelli Sports. I liked the look and feel right away, and this changed my mindset immediately. Now I was looking forward to playing, because I had new gear to try out.
I must have played well in spite of my pregame warmup, because as usual, I didn't get much of one. We had only a few minutes after the previous game ended before ours started, so I spent twenty or so minutes along the touchline doing active stretching, getting my body ready, and taking a few shots from close range right at me, just to get the hands warmed up. Once in goal, I took as many shots from as many different ranges and angles as possible, but from only one player (there's only one person on my team I trust to give me a proper warmup; everyone else just tries to bash it past me).
We had a discussion on The Glove Bag about stance/ready position, and someone posted a video of Hugo Lloris in training. I have always known that I set my feet too wide and with my hands too low. It's a lifelong bad habit that was never really a problem when I was young, but has become one now that I'm 45. I was struck by how narrow and upright Lloris keeps himself, and having that image in my head made it easier for me to keep from slipping into old habits. One save I made, from close range to my left, I can attribute directly to this, because when I slip into a wide stance, my weight gets back on my heels, and it's hard to react well to low shots.
Another piece of recent inspiration came from watching the peerless Gigi Buffon during the Euros. I noticed that at set plays, he comes far off his line to instruct/encourage his defenders, mixing in with both sets of players well outside the six yard box. I'm not sure exactly why he does it, but I like the way it enhances his presence. He's not hiding back there on his line, he's reminding the other side that he is there and they have to deal with him. I did that on every corner (making sure to retreat to proper position before the kick was taken), and it seemed to give me a more aggressive approach. I came for and claimed four of the eight corners we faced.
I've written extensively about confidence, about how we have 'core' confidence (our deep-seated, relatively stable belief in our ability) and 'surface' confidence (how we feel at any given moment in a game - fluctuates with events). I claimed a corner in heavy traffic, handled a straightforward shot cleanly, and kicked well in the opening exchanges, so my surface confidence grew. After another save or two, I had that great feeling of slipping into the zone: my feet felt light as air and my nerves tingled in a good way, with restrained adrenalin. The dark thoughts that sometimes creep into my head during games, the scary "what ifs?", slipped far away. You can't control everything during a game, but when you feel like this, you believe you can handle whatever comes your way.
Midway through the first half, a shot came in through a forest of bodies. I never saw it, and it smacked off the joint of crossbar and post. I was lucky; no other word for it.
In the bigger picture, since we can't control what kind of shots come at us, I was lucky that it turned out that they were ones I could handle. I made nine saves total, five of which were fairly straightforward. Four were difficult, two especially so - low, hard shots that came through bodies and that I saw late. I was able to turn them both around the post with a good left hand. Good saves, very good even, but had they been hit a little better or taken even the tiniest of deflections, I would have been helpless.
The problem with being in the zone is knowing that you're in the zone. It's best when it just happens without your knowledge, but when you start thinking "I'm having a blinder" and there are still thirty minutes to go, you can get in trouble. It's why golfers trying to shoot a personal best often cock it up in the closing holes: they stop thinking about the process (hitting good golf shots) and instead focus on the desired outcome (personal low score). During the game is no time for reflection on your performance, whether it's good or bad. I caught myself having self-congratulatory thoughts as the saves mounted in the second half, but willed them away and tried to stay focused when the ball was in the other end with a little trick I learned from an older keeper a long time ago - by saying aloud (though quietly) the name of whichever of my teammates was playing or closest to the ball. If your mind has a tendency to wander in games, try it. It works. Just make sure you keep talking loudly to your team as needed.
The ref keeps time and there is no visible clock in our games, so I have no way of knowing how much time is left. This is good, I think. We had scored a suckerpunch counter-attack goal with our only shot on target of the game, and shortly after that, some of our players kept asking the ref how much time was left. I don't like knowing that, because it by necessity gets you thinking about the wrong thing again (the result). I understand outfield players need to know, in the event they are fatigued and need to come off. But I tried to put it out of mind, and in fact when the final whistle came, I was surprised by it.
First, the Storelli gear is just spectacular. I won't play with any other protective gear again. It's not the cheapest, but as these are one-time expenses and the quality is excellent, I highly recommend them. Some keepers, of course, don't like padded gear, but my age is well-documented and I still enjoy the high-flying acrobatics of my youth (proof here), but I don't heal as quickly. Padding is a must for me.
The great thing about the 3/4 pants is they solve the problem of incorporating knee padding without looking silly. The knees have a snug elastic cuff that keeps the padding in place, but what I can best describe as a fabric 'sleeve' hangs over the padding and the cuff, and gives them a more casual look.
I don't advocate spending a lot of money in order to play well. But you have to be comfortable with your equipment, be it gloves, boots, or jersey. Find what works for you and keep using it - but not because of superstition! Use it because it actually enhances your performance.
Finally, when you play a blinder, don't gloat or brag, but do enjoy it. Use it to feed your core confidence. We can never be sure when the next one is coming.
Anyone also played a blinder lately?