Q: How do I start goalkeeping? Are there any drills for beginners?
A: Great question! When learning any new skill the first step is always to get the basics down before moving on to the next milestone. For goalkeepers, this means a couple of different things, but for those who have never stepped into goal before the four main areas are: foundation, shuffling, diving, and catching. So let’s break them down and talk about what we can do to practice them.
The first thing new keepers should be working on is their foundation. This means learning how to be in a keeper ready position. Now, there are actually many different keeper ready positions available to you and how appropriate they are to use will depend on many things, like where the ball is coming from or what type of shot it is. But for those just starting out, it’s best to keep it simple and build with time. So, for new keepers, the first step to a keeper ready position is squatting down with a slight bend at your knees while making sure you’re standing on your toes. To practice this try shuffling on your toes while you’re in the position so your body can slowly start getting used to the foot placement. Next, you want to keep the palms of your hands facing outward towards the player.
Once you’ve gotten your foundation down you want to practice running and getting into position as quickly as possible. To work on this, set up two cones on the field. Run from one cone to the other using one as your starting point, the other as your cue to get in keeper ready position. Here, you also want to focus on making sure your body is centered with the ball and that you’re down low on your toes. Hands should also be down low at about thigh area as it will be much easier to pick them up then it would be to drop them down if they were held up high.
The next skill you want to focus on as a new keeper is shuffling, which is how we’re going to be getting to the ball. When you’re shuffling you’re actually moving your keeper ready position to where it needs to be. Doing this gives you the chance to get your body behind the ball and allows you to get in a set keeper ready position while you and the ball are moving. To pull off a good shuffle, make sure you’re taking one step quickly followed by another parallel step but absolutely never cross your feet. If you cross your feet while you’re shuffling you simply won’t be able to dive with any power. So practice shuffling quickly, but never cross your feet. During the shuffle make sure your butt is low to the ground (read: keeper ready position). Not only is this going to make your legs strong, but it’ll also help you reach the ball whenever you need to.
After you’ve learned how to add movement to your keeper ready position, the next thing new keepers need to be aware of is proper diving. I wrote a far more detailed description on how to dive not too long ago, but one of the most important pieces of advice I want to impart to new keepers who are just starting to get used to the motions is to never dive backwards. Diving backwards isn’t going to get your body in the angle most beneficial to you. You want your body to cover the widest breadth of space that you can in order to be able to push the forward or around the post. Diving backward towards the goal will increase the likelihood of the ball bouncing off of your hand and into the goal. So to prevent this, make sure you’re always stepping forward and into the save.
Once you’ve come to learn and understand proper diving technique, you want to practice getting used to stepping forward into the ball. To work on this movement, quickly shuffle your feet and legs and step forward as if you were going to do a full fledged dive. You want to create muscle memory so that this action becomes second nature.
Now that we’ve covered what I feel are the most important aspects of beginner goalkeeping, we turn our attention to learning how to catch the soccer ball. There are two ways you can catch a soccer ball, the first is the ‘W’ position in which you simply make W shape with your hand with your thumbs touching. The second, and my preferred catching method, is the diamond position. Here, you just make a diamond shape with your hands with your index fingers and thumbs touching. With either method you always want to make sure you’re getting your hands on top of the soccer ball as this will allow you to have the control that you need. This way, even if you do end up missing the ball or if you’re not able to maintain the hold, you can throw it straight back down and catch it back on the rebound. When you are catching a high ball you also want to make sure that you’re catching when it is at it’s highest point in the air, again, with your hands on top of the ball. A good way to practice catching the ball correctly is to bounce the ball onto the ground and catch it as it’s on its way up using either your ’W’ or your diamond formation.
After you’ve developed your catching technique, the next step is to make sure that when you are catching the ball that your hands and arms are stretched out with a small bend on your elbows. Your hands should be outstretched so that you’re really getting a strong hold on that soccer ball. Placing your hands too close to your chest can result in what we refer to as ‘T-Rex' hands, which you desperately want to avoid. This is because when you do ‘T-Rex' hands it’s a lot easier to boggle the ball and turn a simple shot into an easy goal.
There are a great many things you will come to learn as you continue your keeper training, but think of these as the ground on which you’re going to build all other aspects of your skill. Remember that technical ball keeping is the best form of goalkeeping and those reflexes and big saves will come with practice. Make sure you’re putting in the hours on the field and I guarantee you’ll see results.