“If you want to get to the top, get used to the new normal.” – Liam Kelly
The “new normal” created by the coronavirus lockdown has shut down the physical game of football for the time being, but QPR goalkeeper Liam Kelly explains how “getting used to the new normal” is a mental strategy he has used throughout his career to keep pushing himself to the top of his game.
Liam grew up playing football in the garden with his big brother. He was the one that got stuck in goal, but before long, he was invited to join his brother at the Rangers Academy
“Looking back, I realise the benefit of growing up playing with my big brother and his pals who were all that bit older than me. Without realising it, I was already pushing myself to be better.”
At the age of just eight, Liam was playing in goal for the club, and it was the beginning of a 14-year stay at Rangers. He remembers not being too keen to join the club when he was first asked, but by the age of 13, he was gaining confidence in his abilities:
“It was after the U-13s season at Rangers that I had meetings with Celtic. They tried to take me away from Rangers, so this made me think that maybe I was alright at this – that maybe I might have a wee chance of making a career of it.”
From the age of eight to 22, Liam had the input of a lot of different goalkeeping coaches at the Rangers academy. He believes the coach he had from the age of 13 to 16 (Alan Maine) was particularly influential and really brought the best out of him, however, he’s aware of the accumulation of skills he developed at every stage in his career under every coach.
He says, “I can’t thank every one of the coaches that ever worked with me enough. After a spell at Livingston, I came back to Rangers and had a really strong season, and this is no doubt due to the coaching I received there, but being ready to benefit from that coaching at that particular time was the result of every single coach that had taken time with me along the way and everything that had gone before.”
This is an important point that Liam highlights with his understanding of the learning process. He benefited from the input of every coach. Only one coach can be there on the day of the “big win” but the input of every coach along the way led to that day and that success.
Stepping Up to the New Normal
From the age of 13, Liam began to understand that he could make a career out of football, but he still hadn’t envisaged a long career, choosing to just take each game as it came. After moving from Rangers to Livingston, his goalkeeping stepped up a notch. He says,
“My first game at Livingston was in front of a crowd of 55 000 spectators, a far bigger crowd than I’d ever experienced before. I remember sitting on the bus on the way to Parkhead and being able to see the huge stadium from quite a long way off. I said to myself, ‘This is the new normal; you need to get used to this if you want to get to the top.’ I knew I needed to arrive at that game and be ready to go – there was no point in getting uptight or nervous about it. I had to trust in all the work I’d done with all the goalkeeping coaches to get to this point.”
Advice for Young Goalkeepers
From his early beginnings at the age of eight, Liam has seen the role of the goalkeeper change over the years. He feels fortunate to have started out in a club environment where scouts were often watching, and the pressure was always on to play at your best in every game. He believes that many young players struggle to cope with the intensity of the game, not only in matches but also in training, saying,
“Players need to give it their all in every training session. Anyone that really wants to get to the top needs to realise that staying totally focused for the duration of the hour and a half of training in a day is not a lot to ask.”
Being able to stay focused is crucial if you’re going to get the maximum benefit out of training sessions but, as Liam points out, so is understanding your strengths and recognising your weaknesses. He says,
“You need to demonstrate your strengths, but you also need to remain willing to work on areas where there’s room for improvement. This means recognising and accepting what you could get better at and being open to learning and making improvements.”
A message that Liam has taken on board from his coaches is that the overall performance of the team is what to focus on and this will drive result. In essence, the message is that if you lose, you lose playing an agreed system. What this means is that every player in the team must be playing their role in the team to the best of their ability to allow the team to get the best result. He says,
“If you win a game by a fluke, it’s not likely to happen again, whereas if you lose with a style and the team played well, it’s something that can be worked on going forward.”
The bottom line is that to get to the top of your game, you need to keep working at taking the next step and being the best you can be at every stage. The input of every coach in Liam’s career accumulated at every stage, building the skills and confidence he needed to step up a notch. Making improvements is a process, but it’s a process that never stops if you want to get all the way to the top… you need to keep pushing and keep getting used to the new normal.
Don MacNaughton has worked for the last 17 years helping professionals in Sport and Business get the most out of their talent.
To listen to Don’s full interview with Liam click here