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Goalkeeper In Soccer: A Complete Guide

Goalkeepers are some of the most important players on the field in a soccer match. They have to have quick reaction times, stay cool under pressure, and serve as the last line of defense for their team.

What is a goalkeeper in soccer? A goalkeeper is the player who is responsible for preventing the ball from going into the goal area in order to prevent the opposing team from scoring.

An Introduction To The Goalkeeper Position

In 1871, the Football Association (FA) amended its rules to include the designated position of the goalkeeper, thus securing the continued presence of a player whose primary responsibility is to guard the goal.

Since the goalkeeper is a member of the team that holds a unique role and also unique permissions when it comes to handling the ball, they also wear distinctive uniforms. The goalie wears both a different colored uniform than the rest of their team members, and they also wear gloves to aid them in catching the ball.

Since 1871, several other rules have been made surrounding what it is that goalies can and can’t do, mostly related to how long they can interact with the ball and where they can and can’t pick up the ball with their hands.

The goalkeeper is also the only position that is mandated by the Laws of the Game. Each team must have a goalie that is dedicated to acting as the goalie for the entirety of the game. If the starting goalie is removed from the game due to injury or a red card (which does happen), a substitute goalie is required.

Since playing goalkeeper is an intensely skilled position, most teams keep a dedicated backup goalie, but if the sub is also injured or sent off, another player from the team must don the goalie jersey. This would, of course, leave that team at a player disadvantage, so it’s advised to just have one or two goalies who can play if needed.

Handling the Ball

The goalkeeper is unique on the field because they are the only member of the team who can use their hands to interact with the ball. This is referred to in the rulebooks as “handling,” which can be a bit confusing.

For instance, since a 1992 rule, goalkeepers are no longer able to handle the ball when receiving a deliberate backwards pass from a teammate. This doesn’t mean the pass itself is outlawed, but rather that the goalkeeper can’t pick the ball up after it is passed to them, but rather that they must kick it away.

This was a general rule to prevent time-wasting from goalies, and it was combined with a rule that prevented goalies from dribbling for a few moments, picking it up and handling it, and then dropping it again to dribble it. Instead, the goalie is prevented from picking the ball up after they’ve dropped it.

Penalty Box

The markings on the field are key to game play, and this is especially true for the goalkeeper. The penalty box marks the area in which the goalkeeper is allowed to handle the ball.

When they’re outside of the penalty box, they are just like any other player on the field.

Roles and Responsibilities

1. Prevent The Other Team From Scoring

This is the primary objective of a goalkeeper. They’re keeping their goal safe from opposing players attempting to infiltrate and score. The space between the posts is eight yards across, and the crossbar is eight feet high, so they have a pretty large area to cover.

Of course, the other defensive players on the field assist the goalie as much as possible, but it is ultimately up to the goalkeeper. This is why goalkeepers need to have the ability to handle high-pressure situations and react and move quickly.

Goalies frequently stretch their bodies out, sometimes making jumping dives to get their hands on the ball. This means that the goalie has to be able to commit to those movements while protecting themselves, and they need to be able to get up quickly in order to prevent follow-up scoring.

2. Be a Leader on Defense

Although the goalkeeper is unique, he or she is still part of the team, and as such, has a key role. Since the goalkeeper has a good vantage point of the rest of the field, they frequently direct the defensive players.

Usually, the goalkeeper is also responsible for telling the players where to be on the set pieces, such as the free kicks and corner kicks.

Since these are key opportunities for teams to score, the goalie may have preferences as to where the players need to stand or how to organize them based on the person taking the kick.

3. Handle The Ball Within The Penalty Area

During the course of play, the goalie is responsible for picking the ball up and redistributing it to his or her defensive players.

They are, of course, free to kick the ball, as well, but after an attempt is made on goal, it’s up to the goalie to reset the game and decide on the pace.

Occasional Responsibilities

  • Sweeper-Keeper

Some goalkeepers, such as Manuel Neuer and Rene Higuita, frequently come out of their usual goalie area to act as an on-field defender. This leaves the goal unattended, and this can be incredibly risky. It can, however, be incredibly effective.

Coming out of the goal is not a decision that should be made in the middle of the game out of desperation. It is rather a strategic style of play that needs to be practiced and agreed upon with the manager and the other defenders, who can compensate for the open goal.

  • Goal Scoring

There’s no rule against the goalie scoring. They’re not allowed to throw the ball into the opponent’s net, but they can kick it from as far back as they’re able. If it goes in, it’s a legal goal.

Due to the physical difficulty of kicking the ball that far and avoiding the other players on the field, this isn’t the most common type of scoring that a goalie does. Instead, goalies can come forward to participate in set pieces, but they must abide by the rules of a normal player on the field.

Again, this is risky. Such a play is usually only done at the end of a high-stakes game when the team absolutely needs the goal to advance.

A somewhat less risky scenario is when a goalkeeper is selected to take a penalty kick. This can happen in the course of the game, but again, the other players need to be ready to kick the ball out of bounds or control it long enough for the goalkeeper to get back to the goal in the event that the penalty kick doesn’t result in a score.

If a game goes to a penalty shoot-out, the goalie is responsible for staying in the goal and hopefully thwarting the other players. However, they are eligible to line up to take a penalty kick, as well, and if they do, they won’t have to sprint back down the field.

Tips for Becoming a Better Goalkeeper

1. Practice Getting Up

This may sound strange, but if you spend any time watching soccer, you will see the goalies frequently end up sprawled out on the ground.

Practicing how to effectively protect the body while falling is key, but developing muscle memory to facilitate recovering quickly will help you save any follow up goals.

2. Develop Footwork In The Penalty Box

Goalies move side to side and backwards and forwards in the box. Practicing how to move quickly and efficiently in your area is a key skill that will lead to move saves.

Practicing quick turns and catches within the goal area will also create the muscle memory of shifting around as needed in a dynamic game situation.

3. Catch and Fall on The Ball

While sometimes it is enough to deflect the ball away from the goal, it is the safer option to hold onto the ball. This is safer not only from a game perspective, since it eliminates the chance at a follow-up goal, but it also protects the goalkeeper.

The goalkeeper is protected from other players while in control of the ball, who cannot attempt to kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession.

4. Communicate

Since the goalkeeper is the leader of the defensive unit, it’s crucial to practice the ways in which you will instruct your defenders during the game. This helps eliminate confusion and ensures that everyone will be on the same page at the critical time.

Goalies also have a unique position to see the rest of the action, so remaining focused and being able to read your opponent’s patterns, which you can then relay to your team, is crucial.

5. Hand Eye Coordination Drills

There are any number of drills that goalkeepers can do to improve their hand-eye coordination, and practicing them regularly will increase your overall skill at the goalie position.

These drills can be things like bouncing and catching small balls against the wall, catching tennis balls in the goal area while standing on one foot, and catching soccer balls at close range as they come out of a ball launcher.

6. Be Skilled As a Regular Player

Goalies don’t have the impunity to run all over the field with the ball in their hands. It’s critical that goalies have the technical skills to run, pass, and evade opponents if they need to come out of the penalty area and act as a regular player. 

Goalies should also know how to use their feet and legs to deflect or stop an attempt at scoring. It’s about much more than having quick hands.

Here are 20 more tips to become a better goalkeeper.

Famous Goalkeepers You Can Learn From

Ray Clemence

He holds the record for the most clean sheets of any goalie in the recorded history of football. In 460 games, Clemence denied the other team from getting any points, which is a staggering achievement. 

This was due in part to his incredible ability to read the field and anticipate shots coming his way. Those hoping to improve their goalkeeping abilities should study the game and their opponents as Clemence did.

Kepa Arrizabalaga

Kepa holds the record for highest transfer fee for a goalkeeper at $72 million in 2018, and for that price, he must have some skills to emulate. Indeed, Kepa is quick on his feet and moves well close to the net and further out, giving him a role that is similar to a sweeper-keeper. 

He is also strong and accurate catching the ball after jumping for it, which allows him to control the pace of the game and protect himself.

Hope Solo

This record-breaking goalkeeper for the US Women’s National Team was a dominant figure in the goal. Solo exemplifies the focus required to perform at the top of her game and orchestrate her defensive players. This, plus her reflexes and agility, made her the first female goalkeeper to have 100 clean sheets in international competitions.

Playing the goalkeeping position is an incredibly difficult one that comes with a lot of pressure. They have to have field and self-awareness, keep their eyes on the ball and the rest of the field, and act as one of the leading forces for their team. 

Improving at this position requires dedication and intense work, but since each team is required to have a goalie, there are always going to be opportunities to fling yourself in front of a ball that’s headed for the net.

I listed the greatest goalkeepers of all time in this post.

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