The goalkeeper can be the most important position in any soccer team, the last line of defense, the difference between success and failure.
An at times lonely position that requires self-belief, consistency, and focus, the skills needed to be a top-level goalkeeper are varied and complex. And through understanding your role within the team, and training yourself accordingly, you too could be the next No. 1 for your team.
Read on to see the top 25 tips to becoming a better soccer goalkeeper.
1. Practice Agility
Cat-like reflexes are a must to be a good goalkeeper, and thankfully it is a skill that can be learned through repetition and muscle memory.
A goal line and the 18-yard-box can feel like the largest space around, so having the agility to both move around it with ease, and the reflexes to be in the right place is vital.
The agility to be able to get down to a low ball, and then spring back up immediately means you are in position for the next save. Constant practice will improve your agility in and around the box.
2. Jumping Reach Is More Important Then You Think
Finding that extra reach, be it jumping for a high ball from a corner or getting across for a shot, can turn games on their head. Regardless of a goalkeeper’s height, practicing jumping is a key ingredient to being the best.
Learning how to gain that extra reach through jumping, keeping on the balls of your feet in order to spring into action, keeping knees bent while moving allows you to quickly leap for a cross or at an attacker’s feet.
3. Using Your Feet
There will be times when saving a ball with your feet is quicker and safer than trying to get down with your hands.
Being able to move around your goal quickly, using your legs and feet to clock the ball, having the confidence to use your feet is a real strength for a goalie.
Manchester City has in recent years re-evaluated the role of a goalkeeper, and expects that theirs to be as much a part of the team as the other ten players, ball control and passing skills are a must.
4. Strength Training
Having the strength to fight for the ball in a crowded box, and the physicality that is required for 90 minutes of intense sports makes all the difference.
Gym work to build muscle mass will allow you to get to the ball and keep hold of it. Upper body for catching and keeping players at bay, and lower body because you need the leg muscles to be able to jump, sprint, and block with your legs.
Strength is vital for a top goalkeeper, without it you will be bullied off the ball as much as on it.
5. Command of Area
The best teams work together, and as such, the goalkeeper that dominates his area dominates the game. With soccer becoming faster and more technical every season, goalkeepers need to use their defense well in order to survive.
Be vocal in where you want your players on set pieces, be loud in demanding the best. Ensuring everyone knows where you are, and where they need to be, commanding your area as if your life depended on it.
6. Managing The Offside Trap
As well as being vocal about your area, be demanding with your players about how they handle the offside trap. Being at the back allows you to see the whole field, use that vision to monitor and tweak the back-line on offsides.
If a player isn’t stepping up with the rest of the players, you will rapidly become exposed to danger. Be in charge, and manage your players’ positions, and reap the rewards.
The best goalkeepers are never wrong, even when they are wrong. Be decisive and stick to your decisions. If you are rushing out towards an oncoming opponent, be decisive.
Once you have decided to move or stay, stick with it, your defenders will take confidence from knowing you are committed, you will make fewer mistakes as you fully commit to a decision, for better or for worse.
Being decisive is as much about confidence as it is about making the right decision, committing to your next move regardless of it being the correct choice can turn a bad decision into a good one.
Lightning-fast reflexes are the difference between a decent keeper and a world-class one.
There are numerous ways to increase reflexes through reflex training drills, and the more practice you have, the more instinctive your saves will become.
Having to stop point-blank shots in a game will become instinctive, having trained your body to move without thought saves you the valuable milliseconds needed to make the stop look like a great one.
9. Hand-Eye Coordination
This tip is similar to having great reflexes and comes with practice and time. Many situations a goalkeeper finds themselves in involve periods of inactivity, followed by short bursts of rapid movement.
Having superb hand-eye coordination allows you to minimize your reaction times.
Practice rapid catching exercises without looking at your hands, build up the confidence that your eyes and hands are working as one, and be able to focus on the ball and opponent, which allows you to judge where your body needs to be.
Concentration may be number 16 on our list, but ignore it at your peril. You can be great at every other tip on our list, but without the concentration to be able to bring it into practice at exactly the right time, you cannot succeed.
Many minutes can go by without the ball going near your 18-yard box, and a loss of concentration can mean when you are called into action, your positioning is wrong, your angles are not covered, in short, you’re in trouble.
Follow the game completely, assume at all times you are needed within seconds, and be prepared for anything. Remember the old adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail”?
11. Narrowing of Angles
Why make life easy for your opponent? And why make life hard for yourself? An appreciation of angles, the standard lines of an attack made against your goal, allows you to make life even harder for the striker bearing down on you.
Simply by moving yourself into a better position, you can force the attacker out wide, making the goal look smaller, the target harder to hit, and yourself look imposing and hard to beat.
12. Intimidating The Opponent
It is always nice to have a chat, so why not have a word with your opponent when they come near? Make them unwelcome near your area, intimidate and irritate them into making mistakes. After all, you aren’t there to make friends, you are there to win games.
Use your size and strength to pressurize anyone who enters your domain. Go into tackles hard, but fair, be combative, and difficult to handle.
13. Calm Under Pressure
If you can intimidate and annoy your opponent, they will surely try to do the same to you. A great way to win a soccer game is to get the goalkeeper sent off.
With that in mind, expect elbows to the ribs, insults, players crowding you in the area.
Expect it, but do not respond to it, keep calm and focussed, your best chance of saving a shot or winning a game comes from you remaining calm and doing your job.
14. Anticipating Danger
Bringing several tips together, anticipating danger while you watch the game is vital. Concentration and an understanding of the game as it unfolds in front of you help you to prepare for every eventuality.
When you feel an attack is coming, ensure you are talking to your defenders. Ensure everyone is in place, your positioning is solid, and you are ready to repel attacks before they materialize.
Being in the best position to repel that oncoming attack means that your opponent has to adjust to you, and not you to them.
Being in the right place is half the battle, your reaction time is increased because you are already prepared, your angles are covered, your mind is calm as you are already prepared.
Proper positioning will allow you the time to cover every base as you prepare for the next attack.
16. Set-Play Master
Flapping at an incoming corner is a goalkeeper’s worst nightmare, so make sure your team has practiced defending them. Free kicks into your area can cause havoc if players are not in their correct positions.
Covering both posts is often a wise choice, having the confidence to rush out to jump for an inswinging corner is key.
At lower levels especially, set-pieces are a vital way of scoring goals, from long throws to direct free-kicks, learn from them all.
There is always an element or reaction to a set-piece, but having the foundations laid beforehand allows you to defend them with self-belief.
17. Practice Makes Perfect
Every player makes mistakes, the best players learn from them. The more you practice in goal, the better you become.
Each new experience gives more understanding of the role you play, get as much practice as possible to be able to build that understanding. It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and that is over 111 ninety-minute matches before you can consider yourself a pro.
Without practice, you could lose most of those games as you learn your position, so make mistakes where they don’t matter, in training.
18. Watch The Best Goalkeepers
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of quality outfield players you can learn from, but with goalkeepers, there are probably dozens. Watch how they play, where they stand, how they dominate their areas.
From Allison Becker at Liverpool to Manuel Neuer at Bayern Munich, the best teams have the best keepers, and that is no coincidence. Watching recordings of the best can raise your game to a new level.
19. Warming The Bench
Nobody likes being a substitute, and as most goalkeepers are not subbed off unless injured, warming the bench can be a hard and lonely job.
The key to this tip is to ensure you are always ready to step in. Practice harder, train better, make it impossible for the manager to drop you.
Until then, confidence and concentration are vital, you could be watching game after game, but when called upon, you must hit the ground running, this is your big chance.
20. Ball Distribution
Practicing ball distribution is not only about goal kicks, or long throws, it is about choosing the right tool for the right job.
Getting the ball as far upfield as possible from a goal kick is great, so practice them as often as possible, a long throw to the wing to set up a counter-attack is applauded, and you need to be able to do all of them.
Not only do they pick the right method of distribution, every time. Modern goalkeepers are expected to be as comfortable on the ball as an outfield player, and as such you will be required to pass the ball with your feet with the same accuracy as your star midfielder.
21. Studying Your Opponents
It may be easier to study an opponent when you are a Premier League goalkeeper, you can watch where players like to place their shots, their movement, and runs. The lower down the leagues you go, the harder it is to come by this information.
Assuming, for now, you are not at a Premier League club, try to watch any games with your future opponents in that you can. If you are in a youth tournament, go and watch the games.
Speak to other players if you have to, the key to this tip is information, the more you have, the stronger you become.
At the elite level, players are given dossiers on opponents, goalkeepers know where players like to angle in from, do they shoot with power or try to place a ball?
It’s hero time, some goalies love penalties, some hate them. This is where your thousands of practice hours come into play, you’ve studied your opponents, you know where they place their kicks.
Watch the player as they run up, don’t watch the ball, check body positioning, where the player is looking, and once you have made your decision which way to dive, stick with it.
Commit to a direction and go, penalties are a lottery, but don’t guess right only to be half-hearted and still not get there.
The entire game hangs in the balance, and having the skills, luck, and ability to be able to save penalties reliably is what makes you the hero of the hour. Or the villain, so keep practicing.
23. Handling Pressure
Being in a lonely position, pressure can mount on a player in goal, expectations are high, and the consequences of failure are dire.
One mistake from you, and a goal is scored, there is no other position in soccer that is so critical of a mistake.
Understanding that, and handling it, are two separate things. Many quality goalkeepers have seen their careers crumble from one simple mistake.
They didn’t become bad players overnight, they were simply unable to deal with the pressure of being in the spotlight after making an error.
The best way to deal with pressure is to accept and thrive under it, you may be the last line of defense, but as part of a team, you must ensure others also shoulder responsibility, win as a team and lose as a team.
24. Shot Stopping
The reason you are on the pitch, and the reason you became a goalkeeper.
Shot stopping, oddly, is your last line of defense; you marshal your players to avoid having to stop a shot, you cover the angles to make sure players can’t see the goal to have a shot, but when all else fails, you need to make a save.
Because you practice religiously, your reaction times, body strength, and your hand-eye coordination are all excellent.
Pity the attacker that tries to score past you, because as far as you are concerned, you’re the best goalie on the planet.
Number one on our list, and for good reason, is confidence.
Unlike your teammates in defense, who have each other to rely on, or your midfielders or strikers, who can cover each other further up the field, the goalkeeper is given the number 1. Shirt for a reason.
Being part of a team, while being ultimately alone, you must have the confidence and self-belief to succeed. Some call it arrogance, and others eccentricity, you call it an ironclad belief in your own abilities.
Without confidence, you can guarantee failure, so as the last line of defense, exude belief, make your team feel invincible as you cover the net with your air of invincibility, and watch the trophies come rolling in.
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