The Secret to Tim Howard's Success

December 10, 2013 | Featured in the Holiday 2013 Issue

Must See Soccer Videos

By the time he steps onto the field, Tim Howard is already sweating. A thick droplet drips from his angled brow and falls to the turf at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. Not that a lot of people notice—the seats are mostly vacant, and with good reason. There’s still plenty of time before tonight’s friendly against Belgium kicks off. But the beads of moisture lining Howard’s forehead reveal that his work ahead of the match has been underway for awhile now.

“Preparation is a total body thing,” Howard says. “It’s not enough to be prepared mentally or physically. Your emotions have to be ready as well. Everything has to come together.”

For the 34-year-old Howard to have been so successful (in a recent match against Scotland, he recorded his 34th shutout for the U.S. Men’s National Team) for so long (in 2001 he became the youngest player ever to win Major League Soccer’s Goalkeeper of the Year Award; he was playing for Manchester United by age 24; and he’s been the man between the posts for the U.S. team since 2007), he had to find a method that works for “keeping everything together.” Now that he’s found it, he sticks to it with near-religious devotion.

“My pregame routine is just that: It’s a ritual. I do the same things all the time,” Howard says.

Step one: visualization. “It’s not a sit-down, meditation-style visualization,” Howard says. “But it is about always thinking good thoughts: Thinking about making a big save. Thinking about winning the game. Going back over the game plan.”

The ritual that begins in Howard’s head extends to the locker room and onto the field. “From the time I put my shin pads on, I do everything the same,” Howard says. He laces up his cleats the same. Puts on his jersey the same way. Performs the same dynamic warm-up in the dressing room. “I like to be sweating before I hit the field,” he adds.

Out on the grass, he runs short strides, does some High Knees, and moves through a quick segment of static stretching. Then goalkeeper coach Chris Woods joins Howard to help him work on volleys. Woods kicks the ball toward the goal and Howard practices jumping and catching or deflecting it.

“I catch eight balls, then another eight balls, then six balls,” Howard says. “It’s very specific, numbers-wise, because that allows me to get into the mental groove I need to be in, knowing that I’ve done this over and over hundreds of times.”

The hardest part of the warm-up? Groundwork, Howard says. “[Stopping low shots] is the thing you want to do the least, especially when it’s cold and wet.” After progressing through each type of save, Woods takes harder, faster, less-predictable shots toward Howard. The process takes a long time. When it’s over, the stands are much more occupied. It’s nearly time for the opening whistle.

“When you finish the warm-up,” Howard says, “it allows you to have that feel-good sensation that you’ve done all of your homework. Now it’s game time.”

If his preparation for soccer matches seems meticulous and intentional, his entry into the sport was anything but. A self-described “hyperactive kid,” Howard grew up with a love of sports, listing basketball (which is still his favorite), street hockey and soccer among those he liked best.

“I just loved to score, and win,” Howard says. “No matter what it is, if they’re keeping score, I want to win.”

Howard says he took to soccer because the game never stopped. He enjoyed the running, the chasing, the kicking. He wound up in goal only because, at a young age, he was taller than his peers.

“I just loved it,” Howard says. “For whatever reason, it just stuck. I loved diving around, I liked making saves. It became fun for me.”

Success happened gradually from there. Howard says, “I don’t think there was a single moment where I felt I was going to be a great goalkeeper, that I was head and shoulders above everybody else. It slowly manifested itself over time. You play a good game. Then you get selected for a club team. Then you get selected for your state ODP [Olympic Development Program] team. The ball just keeps rolling, and then all of the sudden you’re thinking, well, not everyone’s doing this. This is something special.”

Listening to him speak, one gets the sense that Howard, who’s modest and affable in his delivery, may not be giving himself enough credit. He was still a teenager when he made his MLS debut, was voted Goalkeeper of the Year in the prestigious English Premier League during his first season with Manchester, and may wind up, when his career is over, as the U.S. team’s winningest goalkeeper of all time.

“I’ve always said that I wanted to be remembered as a guy who, every single time he put the shirt on, gave you a 110 percent,” Howard says. “That doesn’t always mean you play great, you know, because I’m human. If you have longevity, it means you’ve played a lot of great games. But every now and then you have a bad game. I think that my intensity, desire and passion to compete have never been lost on anybody. When I put on the shirt and crossed the line, I was going to give you everything.

Tim Howard Workout

Tim Howard's Quick Tips

Outspoken on the field and off, Howard doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind on...

Leadership

“The easiest way as a goalkeeper to set a strong tempo is use your body language and words to encourage guys. It can be just a thumbs-up, a wink or a ‘well done.’ You want to reaffirm that feeling, that positive vibe, as the game goes on.”

Nutrition

“I look after what I put into my body. I eat lots of lean proteins and good fats—avocados, nuts, peanut butter. Fruit gives you fiber and a burst of energy. In games, I refuel with Gatorade.”

Exercise

“The one I hate the most—but is the most effective—is Bench Press directly into Pull-Ups or Chin-Ups. By the time you reach your fourth set you feel weak, because you can’t pull yourself up.”

Topics: SOCCER | TIM HOWARD
Brian Sabin
- Executive Editor Brian Sabin is a Webby Award-winning writer, editor and producer covering all things health, fitness and sports. He previously worked as a Senior...
Brian Sabin
- Executive Editor Brian Sabin is a Webby Award-winning writer, editor and producer covering all things health, fitness and sports. He previously worked as a Senior...
Must See
Michael Jordan: Mind of a Champion Michael Jordan: Mind of a Champion
Views: 548,329
Why NFL Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson Counts His Blessings Why NFL Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson Counts His Blessings
Views: 7,571,150
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 41,595,842

Featured Videos

Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Kevin Love's In-Season Basketball Workout Views: 1,018,026
A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce A Day in the Life With Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce Views: 15,983
Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Path to the Pros 2015: Shaq Thompson Views: 70,834
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall Two-Ball Dribbling Drill With John Wall
Views: 3,362,770
Paul Rabil's Box Jumps Paul Rabil's Box Jumps
Views: 851,480
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,577,083
Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles Dribbling Drills for Tighter Handles
Views: 4,333,163
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,499,164

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
Featured STACKlete: Brandon Petty

Featured STACKlete: Brandon Petty

Colin Kaepernick: A Determined Man

Colin Kaepernick: A Determined Man

James Harden's Journey From Sixth Man to Franchise Player

James Harden's Journey From Sixth Man to Franchise Player

What the World Cup Means to Abby Wambach

What the World Cup Means to Abby Wambach

Patrick Willis Announces His Retirement, Fulfills His Legacy

Patrick Willis Announces His Retirement, Fulfills His Legacy

4 Stories of Baseball Perseverance With New Balance Unlaced

4 Stories of Baseball Perseverance With New Balance Unlaced

How Marcus Mariota Got Ready for the NFL Draft

How Marcus Mariota Got Ready for the NFL Draft

How Skylar Diggins Became the Future of the WNBA

How Skylar Diggins Became the Future of the WNBA

Get Pumped: Aaron Bradley Is Running Down His Dream

Get Pumped: Aaron Bradley Is Running Down His Dream

13 Things to Love About Steph Curry

13 Things to Love About Steph Curry

Meet Tomorrows U.S. Womens National Soccer Team Goalies

Meet Tomorrow

Amazing 6-Year-Old Surfer Girl Will Brighten Your Day

Amazing 6-Year-Old Surfer Girl Will Brighten Your Day

WATCH: The Toughest 5 Days In High School Girls Soccer

WATCH: The Toughest 5 Days In High School Girls

Get Pumped: Cam McDaniel Is Poised to Become an Impact Player

Get Pumped: Cam McDaniel Is Poised to Become an Impact Player

Athletes Join the Cause for National Bullying Prevention Month

Athletes Join the Cause for National Bullying Prevention Month

15 Things You Need to Know About Antonio Brown

15 Things You Need to Know About Antonio Brown

SURVIVING SEALFIT: Meet 3 Guys Who Might Kill Me

SURVIVING SEALFIT: Meet 3 Guys Who Might Kill Me

Dellin Betances Leads a New Era of Bronx Bullpen Dominance

Dellin Betances Leads a New Era of Bronx Bullpen Dominance

NFL Draft Prospects Get Pumped With the Reebok ZPUMP Fusion

NFL Draft Prospects Get Pumped With the Reebok ZPUMP Fusion

Featured STACKlete: Keyla Oliveras

Featured STACKlete: Keyla Oliveras

Defending Matthew Dellavedova: 7 Reasons Why Delly Isn't Dirty

Defending Matthew Dellavedova: 7 Reasons Why Delly Isn't Dirty

Labor of Love: Kevin Love's Lifelong Drive for a Championship

Labor of Love: Kevin Love's Lifelong Drive for a Championship

SURVIVING SEALFIT: The Question That Tells You If You'll Succeed

SURVIVING SEALFIT: The Question That Tells You If You'll Succeed

YardBarker