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Interviews

INTERVIEW: It's 80% mentality

Keeper Tomas Holy on mental strength and continually learning lessons

8 March 2023

They say you have to be crazy to be a goalkeeper, and United’s current number one Tomas Holy may well agree with it, but he took some time to talk to us this week about the mental strength that particular position needs due to the unique pressures a stint between the posts brings.

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And he revealed that he wasn’t always as calm as he is now about mistakes made and match situations he’d been involved in.

“I think the mental strength and approach I have now probably started when I went to see my mental coach when I was younger,” he explained. “She turned my head around completely.

“I can’t remember the exact moment before I started seeing her, but it was a friendly game with Sparta Prague, a simple strike of the ball from outside the box, and it went through my hands.

“I literally wanted everybody to feel sorry for me. All I got was the exact opposite reaction, like what’s wrong with him? That was the moment I realised I need to change.

“I reached out this woman, and she showed me a different angle, how to look at the situation, how to look at the world. She spoke about body language, she taught me loads of stuff.

“Also I’ve met other people, coaches, in my career. Put all these things together, and I also grew up a bit. Sometimes I try to look at myself from someone else’s perspective.

“Your body language gives signals, and we have to remember it’s a psychological game. When you go down 1-0 and you send signals to your opponents.

“If you can look positive, even if you’re a goal down, perhaps indications that the opposition are screwed because we’re coming for you, even though we’re behind, now you should look over your shoulders. It makes a big difference. You get into their heads.”

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“As they say, football is about 80 per cent mentality and 20 per cent skill,” he continued. “I think it was two weeks ago when Mark Francis, the performance coach, we were talking about this exact statement.

“Your mind is the key in every sport. I think your mindset is the difference between being successful and unsuccessful, especially for goalkeepers.

“I always say we’ve got a slightly different role on the pitch. If goalkeepers are not strong enough in the head it can’t go well. I’m not saying I’m as strong as hell in my head, sometimes I get myself slightly off, but we all learn, nobody’s perfect.

“I try to stay focused, and to help myself. A former goalkeeper coach of Manchester United, who brought David de Gea into United, Eric Steele, during maybe September, he’s a friend of the gaffer, he came for a training session.

“I had no clue who he was and when the session was over, I was taking my time, sitting on the hill by the training pitch, he introduced himself, and for me it was like wow. I don’t meet people like this every day.

“He asked me simple question – what is the main thing for a goalkeeper, number one, in the team. I was looking for a simple answer. He says for a goalkeeper, number one, is always set the highest standards.

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“It stuck in my head, I printed it out and it’s hanging up on my door in my apartment, to see every day when I walk out for training. These kind of things help me keep my mind in place. I’m not saying for example yesterday I had the best training session personally. But all that matters is I’m ready for Saturday. Mindset is the key in this business.”

But when something does go wrong, how much is that positive mindset affected?

“Well, if there’s a mistake, I can say I could have done better, but the damage is done already,” he said. “All you can do is move forward and keep trying as best you can.

“The Walsall thing - it was 88 minutes, nothing really else you can do, there’s not much time left. When it happens, all you can do is the reaction.

“I used to be like this, head down, body language horrible, people would say what’s wrong with that keeper. That was when I was 19, 20.

“Now it’s about the reaction to say, that’s fine, you need to get back, turn it around and then it will be even better. You can talk about it after the game, not during the game. Even at the highest level it happens. Players are human beings.

“And this group is magnificent, we’re all here for each other. Event the gaffer, I think he’s got lots of experience with psychology as well, and the players talk to each other, lift each other.

“We try to encourage Gabe, I was where he is now, third choice in the first team, it wasn’t sometimes easy, but I wish I had someone around me like Gabe’s got us, because we try to get the best out of him, talk to him every day. If we see something, we tell him.”

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And he also revealed that a Thursday morning chat with the manager had sparked a change of approach as he took on board the messages he’d been given.

“Coming out for crosses and high balls, first of all it should be absolutely natural for me,” he told us. “I have to admit it wasn’t before in every game – that’s not embarrassing, but bit of shame I didn’t use the size of me in these situations.

“What happened was, in the Mansfield game the first two goals we conceded from crosses. So, on the Thursday morning after that game, when I walked in the building,  the gaffer called me in his office, and I’d say he spoke to me with positive criticism.

“If you saw Michael Jordan’s documentary, well, I was the same. I took it personally. He wasn’t negative, he was all positive, but positive criticism and, if I’m honest, this is the guy I don’t want to let down.

“I just don’t. Not just him, but my guys in the changing room and people in stadium as well. But if I’m honest, the gaffer, this is not the guy I want to let down.

“I’ve tried to change it, I’m still working on it, and I will get way better in this part of my game.”

“This shows that I’m still learning,” he continued. “I always will. This process never ends. When you look at the highest level, at Premier League, Champions League, mistakes happen.

“When we have meetings, and gaffer talks, sometimes he says yeah, I make mistakes, I have to learn. With all his experience, he admits he makes mistakes. We all do it. 

“And together, as a group, it’s so important we react properly. It’s different now from the beginning of the season. We are where we are and not just because of some luck.

“Now we feel like yeah, we can do it. We are trying to stay calm. We’ve got it in our head, but we just want to go game by game, step by step, and leave 100 per cent of us on the pitch every game.

“When we do this the result will take care of itself in every game. We don’t put ourselves under unnecessary big pressure, it wouldn’t work. And we are enjoying the position we are in.

“When you walk around the changing room there’s loads of jokes, loads of fun. Andy and Amy do some gifs with the boys, you can hear the laughing and jokes coming out of the room.

“Everyone is enjoying the position we are in but we have to keep being focused, and encourage ourselves, we have to talk to each other, gaffer talks to us, Gez talks to us, about the fact we need to keep or heads in place. We have to enjoy it because that’s what football is about.” 


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