Why can’t I see? How could I breathe? What are you feeling?
For Patrick Falb, these questions are answers.
The 24-year-old Vienna-native is the national team goalie for Austria in field and box lacrosse. He will be in net in Israel when his country competes against 47 other nations in the 2018 FIL Men’s World Lacrosse Championships, and patrolled the goal line for the Austrians in the 2016 European Field Championships and 2017 European Box Championships.
It will be the largest stage he has ever competed on, and as he says himself, goalie is a big responsibility. But what might stress others calms Falb, in large part because of those simple questions.
Those three questions are the opening lyrics to “Honesty,” a smooth electronic track from Vienna’s own Camo & Krooked. It’s one of Falb’s favorite songs to bump while he tests his reflexes his reaction ball, suits up and prepares for battle.
Falb has 86 songs on his pregame playlist and 71 on his postgame playlist. They’re designed to hype him up before games and calm him down after, all centered around maintaining his focus.
Falb’s uncle, Daniel Falb, introduced him to the technique. His uncle is a mental coach for American football players in Austria, specializing in helping athletes improve their mental strength before, after and during competition. It doesn’t end at music.
“When I was spending so long in my box goalie gear, I would get claustrophobic,” Falb said. “My uncle showed me some breathing techniques to get the hot air out of me and from my gear so I stay alive and don’t freak out.”
Falb said he started the mental coaching last year, and the difference is night and day. He’s able to compartmentalize mistakes and focus intently when necessary, conserving his energy for when his team needs him most.
“It changed everything,” he explained. “It’s very important to give 150 percent when somebody is shooting on you, but you need to calm down because you can’t be at 150 percent the whole game. When I was not that experienced in box, when the offense was on the other end of the field, I was not calm. I was jumping around, thinking about the last goals, what I did wrong there. When he showed me to use the time to calm down, it helped me so much because I was able to focus more and for a longer time in the game.”
Adrian Balasch, an Austrian midfielder who has known Falb for eight years, said his friend’s mindset has changed.
“He started doing more thinking about what he needs from the game and what he wants,” Balasch said. “I’ve been recognizing that he’s been trying different strategies.”
The merits of mental coaching have shown outside of the sidelines and boards. Falb said he is better equipped to handle the regular stress from working as an engineer and other aspects of life, which he also contributed to playing lacrosse as whole.
“It’s changed how I treat other people, how I could stay calm in a very dangerous situation or in a stressful situation,” Falb said. “When you have a boss, he’s angry at you and hitting you with stuff, it helped me stay calm, take a breath and go myself together. Also, in life situation when you have stupid people on the street who are trying to argue with you, I’m able to stay calm and see the whole situation and not overreact.”
Balasch has seen a shift in Falb’s overall demeanor, too. At the 2017 European Box Championships, Austria’s two other goalies dropped from the team at the last minute, leaving Falb as the only option with no support. He embraced the role.
“I think he matured on the field and off the field within the past two years, especially with preparations for the European Box Lacrosse Championships in 2017,” Balasch said. “He was basically left on his own. He had to figure it out from scratch. That was a lot of pressure, and I think he grew on it.”
Now, Falb feeds on that pressure. He understands the weight on the goalie’s shoulders, and that’s why he loves the position.
“As goalie, you’re usually the team’s last chance,” Falb said. “When you make a save, you get a thank you from your defense for bailing them out, and that’s something that motivates me a lot.”