Football: David James – The Zen Of Goal-Keeping

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It’s the final of the Asia Trophy and David James is in prime form. Penalty saves from Yossi Benayoun and Fernando Torres give Portsmouth the trophy. And James the plaudits. So why, after losing his England place to Paul Robinson, is James showing his best ever form? England form.

Well attitude certainly comes into it. As does motivation – motivation to prove people wrong. Make a point. These provide the foundation of excellence. There is, however, another level top professionals can attain. A place beyond excellence. But it’s for the few, not the many. The level of mastership.

Mastership is achieved when an individual totally dedicates themselves to their craft. Every single aspect of it. They live it; breath it; drink it; they know their craft inside out.

But, they are still hungry to learn; get better; test themselves. Mastership is not the end of the journey. It’s simply the beginning of another level of development.

In James’ case, the dedication to goal-keeping would involve studying the history and evolution of goal-keeping; knowing the ins and outs of your opponents; having personal goals in each aspect of your craft. Goals to push you to get better each year by a tiny fraction.

And developing your mental skills. Like mentally visualising plucking crosses out of the air, whilst waiting in a traffic jam. Using idle moments to hone your mind. Build the mental muscle.

All of this dedication then comes together in special moments. Like James’s penalty save from Benayoun. A moment when time probably slowed down for the keeper. He saw Benayoun’s kick in slow motion. Slowed down time. Not obvious to the crowd or players. Only to himself.

A moment of grace. It’s called deep play. When the game plays the player. In the state of deep play, the keeper reads situations almost before they happen. They are totally honed in to the rhythm of the game. It’s movements and patterns. Nothing surprises them. They are ready for everything.

Not for the many. But the special few who dedicate themselves to their craft.