Being a goalkeeper in soccer is possibly one of the hardest positions to play, as it is a position that requires a different skill set. It can be tough mentally as goalkeepers because they come under a lot of criticism, especially when goals are conceded. However, goalkeepers are a crucial pillar in a successful soccer team. This post will give you everything you need to know about how to be a better goalkeeper in soccer.
Where does the goalkeeper play?
The goalkeeper is the furthest player back on the soccer team and they play between the goal.
They are the last line of defense to stop the opposing team from scoring a goal.
The goalkeepers are the only players on the team that can use their hands (only in the goalkeepers’ area). However they can come out of this area, the goalkeeper just can’t pick up the ball when they do so.
6 roles that all the best goalkeepers do
The goalkeepers’ role in the team is to save the shots from the opposition team to stop them from scoring.
The goalkeeper needs to help organize the defenders because you are the only player that can see everything.
As well as stopping goals, goalkeepers play a huge role in helping start attacks.
Keepers can be involved by helping the team play out from the back or by starting a quick counter-attack with a pinpoint goal kick or throw.
Goalkeepers can also help your team retain possession of the ball, as they are the ultimate sweeper.
They should always be an option if a player is in a tough situation.
The roles of the keeper will change depending on whether or not your team has possession of the ball.
Here are the 6 roles you need to become a better goalkeeper in soccer.
Roles of the goalkeeper when you are in possession of the ball
To help your team start attacks
As a goalkeeper there are 2 ways to help your team start an attack in soccer:
- Playing out of the back
This is done by keeping possession of the ball deep in your half.
By playing out from the back it will draw the opposition in. The opposition will leave a larger space behind them for your attackers to exploit.
To help your team successfully play out the back you must be comfortable receiving and passing the ball under pressure.
The players around you need to be comfortable in these situations too. Otherwise, this can result in losing possession of the ball in a dangerous part of the pitch.
The other option is that the ball gets booted long as the last resort to relieve the pressure the team has put itself under by trying to play out from the back.
- Setting up a counterattacker
A goalkeeper can set up a counter-attack by collecting the ball either from a shot, cross, or wayward pass when their team has been under pressure.
They will then look to throw the ball or kick the ball to a teammate who is high up the pitch.
This will be in hope of trying to create an opportunity to score while the opposition team is unorganized.
As soon as the ball is in the keeper’s hands, their first thought should be to get the ball forward as quickly as possible.
Although this can be effective when it works, there is also a high chance that you hand possession back to the other team.
Bear in mind that this can be quite frustrating if your team is under a lot of pressure and possession is given away so cheaply.
Support players on the ball
A goalkeeper needs to be able to stop shots and play with the ball at their feet.
They can do this by supporting teammates when they have no options to go sideways or forward.
When a team has the ball in the opposition half or around the halfway line the goalkeeper should be placed just in front of the edge of the ‘D’.
The goalkeeper should also move from side to side depending on where the ball is on the pitch. For example, if the ball is on the left-hand side the keeper should still be slightly over to the left.
The role of the goalkeeper here is to help the team maintain possession by being an option to pass back to. The keeper can then recycle the ball and switch the play to a teammate who is in space.
Talk to your defenders about the strikers’ movements to stop counterattacks
When your team has the ball defenders can get tunnel vision on retaining possession and creating chances.
This means that strikers can move into defenders’ blind spots a lot easier.
The strikers could start a counter-attack if the opposing team wins the ball back and transitions quickly.
By making your defenders aware of what’s going on around them they know where the immediate danger is if a turn-over in possession happens.
This situation is most likely to occur from your team’s set piece in the opponent’s half.
As a goalkeeper, you will want to make sure that you always have a one-man-over when you are defending. (Always have more man defending than the opponents have to attack)
For example, if the opponents have left 2 players up from the set piece, you will want to have 3 players defending.
Roles of the goalkeeper when you are out of possession of the ball
Organize the defenders
Strikers and attacking players like to play in defenders’ blind spots which means that they find pockets of space out of view of the defender’s line of sight.
As a keeper, you must highlight these movements to whichever player is responsible for marking them.
This is because sometimes the defenders get caught ‘ball watching’ and lose track of the player they should be marking.
When defending set-pieces as well it is the keepers’ role to help organize your team.
Make sure that there are no free opposition players who can challenge for the ball unopposed.
When communicating with your teammates make sure the language you are using is concise so that they can quickly react to your instructions.
Be a sweeper-keeper
A Sweeper Keeper is a term given to a goalkeeper that pushes up a little bit further off their line in anticipation of ‘sweeping up’ any threat that manages to get through the defenders.
Pushing up a little bit further reduces the gap between yourself and the defenders.
This will give the attackers less space to exploit.
If they do receive the ball in this space it puts them under pressure as they will have less time on the ball.
Nothing fills defenders with more confidence than a loud keeper, who will come out and collect crosses, loose balls played through or long balls played over the top.
Not only will this give your defenders a huge confidence boost but this will also intimidate strikers or attackers who are looking to get on the end of those passes and crosses.
However, when you commit to collecting a ball make sure you do it with 100% confidence. Mistakes are often made when you second guess yourself.
Stop shots on goal
Arguably the most important role within the team is to stop the opposition from scoring goals.
In soccer goals can be scored from anywhere, so you must always be prepared to make a save.
To be a good shot-stopper in soccer you need to:
- Be aware of where you are in the goal and in relation to where the ball is on the pitch. (there’s no point in you standing on the right-hand side of your goal if the ball is on the left)
- Always be a couple of yards off the goal line. This gives you a head start to close down the attackers and makes the area for scoring a goal a lot smaller
- Make yourself big. The bigger you make yourself the harder it is for an attacker to try and score.
- When you make a save try to push the ball out to the sides. If you save the ball and it goes into the middle an attacker could have an easy tap in to score.
Qualities you need to become a better goalkeeper
Quick decision making
One of the biggest qualities that separate a good goalkeeper and a great goalkeeper is the quality and speed of their decision-making.
This is something you need to have if you want to be a better goalkeeper in soccer.
Best goalkeepers make the best decisions.
This can vary from coming out to collect a cross, deciding to kick the ball long to start a counter-attack, or sprinting off their line to close down an attacker.
As a keeper this is how you can improve your decision making:
- Scan the area
By scanning what’s going on around you, you can paint the best possible picture in your head of what is happening and what could potentially happen. By taking this information in you can make decisions quicker and react faster.
- Learn from mistakes
As a player whether you are aware of it or not you are constantly learning.
The same goes with your decision-making.
When you make a mistake you need to assess what happened, whether it be through a video reply or by talking with a coach or teammate so.
This will let you see the chain of events from a different perspective and you’ll get a better understanding of what happened.
You can then apply what you have learned to the next training session or match.
- Communicate with your teammates
This is something that you should be doing with your players anyway but clear communication can greatly increase the speed of the decision-making process.
Let your players know whether you are coming out for the ball or not, whether they have time on the ball to pass, or if they need to play a long ball to relieve pressure.
Common mistakes from goalkeepers usually come from a miscommunication between them and their defenders.
Goalkeepers’ mistakes are highlighted so much more than other players on the team.
This is because when a goalkeeper makes a mistake it usually leads to the team conceding a goal.
Keepers can be heavily criticized for making one mistake even if they made 3 match-winning saves before the goal was let in.
Mental toughness is being able to overcome these criticisms and not let them affect your future games.
It is the ability to not doubt yourself and having the confidence to back your ability even if you are in a poor run of games.
Mental toughness is a skill that is acquired over some time and something that some people may find easier than others.
Surround yourself with positive people who can help raise you when are going through one of these tough spells.
Having confidence as a goalkeeper is a key quality that will help get you to the top.
A confident keeper will fill your defenders with confidence too!
To help get your footing in the game it is important to have the first positive touch.
This may come in the form of collecting across, blocking a shot, or getting some touches while helping your team play out from the back.
This also comes back to believing in your ability you’re not having the best of games. Similar to having mental toughness, being confident will come with experience and how you react when mistakes are made.
A great example of this would be to watch how professional goalkeepers receive the ball while under pressure, communicate with their defenders, are loud when claiming crosses, and take calculated risks when they know it’ll give their team the advantage.
Good reflexes and reaction time
Keepers are renowned for their cat-like reflexes and incredibly quick reactions.
As a goalkeeper, you must be able to react quickly to shots and deflected shots. Especially in a crowded box when there are loads of things happening in front of you.
Remember your job isn’t done as soon as you save a shot you must be up, ready, and positioned to react to a follow-up shot or to pounce on a loose ball.
The best keepers can make instinctive saves from point-blank range. This may look like a complete fluke.
This is what can help keepers improve their reflexes and reaction times:
- Draw on past experiences
As a player, you are constantly building up a wealth of knowledge from past experiences, use these experiences to your advantage.
For example, look at how a player’s body shape changes when they go to take shot and where they are aiming.
Little clues like this can help you react quicker in the future.
By correctly positioning yourself in the goal you are putting yourself in the spot where you are most likely going to save a shot from point-blank range. Again, draw on your past experiences and anticipate where you think the ball is going to go.
This is a fundamental skill that is often ignored but getting your footwork sorted as a keeper is vital. By having your feet correctly placed you can explore and dive for shots that are aimed toward the corners.
- Body shape
Make yourself as big as possible as a keeper and try to smother the ball when making saves for close range.
If the player is a little bit further out make sure you have a stance where your knees are slightly bent, on your toes, and with your arms out to your side.
This allows you to make yourself as large as possible while maintaining an athletic position to stop an incoming shot.
4 Soccer skills you must improve to become a better goalkeeper in soccer
Passing and controlling the ball at your feet
Regardless of what team you go to, the majority of coaches will expect their team to play out of the back. This includes keepers too.
Having a goalkeeper who is confident with the ball at their feet and who is happy to step up a little higher to help retain possession is going to be a huge asset for any team.
When receiving the ball under pressure you need to make sure that you:
- Scan the area as frequently as possible for space, opposition players, and teammates. This will help you make better and faster decisions when you receive the ball
- Receive the ball in an open body position. This will keep as many options open to you as possible when you go to pass the ball
- Receive the ball on the back foot. Use the inside or outside of your back foot to take your first touch towards the space of play a first-time pass.
- Once you have made a pass you should be thinking about moving to create an angle to support the teammate on the ball.
However, it is important to remember that mentality shouldn’t be ‘be playing out of the back at all costs.
This can lead to careless goals given to the other team.
Use your best judgment in the scenario to decide whether or not you can play out of the back. If not play a long pass downfield to relieve the pressure.
As a keeper, you need to always be spacially aware of where you are in relation to your goal.
Being spacially aware of where you are in your goal, you to able to make scoring incredibly hard for your opponents. Especially in 1v1 scenarios.
This is because you can make the angles work in your favor and leave very little space for attackers to squeeze a shot past you.
Check where your posts are as frequently as possible and on every transition. When teams transition your roles will change, as will your positioning.
If the ball is on the left-hand side you’ll want to shift moreover to the left to make sure your front post is covered.
The same goes if the ball is on the right.
Keepers with poor spatial awareness will often get beaten at their front post and occasionally get chipped.
Having a first-class ability to distribute the ball effectively is what can separate you from the competition.
This means being able to throw, roll, punt, and play long balls with pinpoint accuracy to your teammates.
Being able to distribute the ball quickly means you can put your team on the front foot.
Counterattacks are a great way to catch the opponents off guard. Counter-attackers occur after a change of possession and when the opponents are transitioning from attack to defense.
This means their players are unorganized and provides a great opportunity for your team to capitalize on.
To help improve your distribution you need to improve your scanning ability. When you have collected the ball you’ll want to find your furthest player forward and decide in a split second whether you can pass to them.
If you can’t, work your way back to a closer player who you could pass to.
You must also improve the quality and consistency of your kicks and throws through lots of repetition.
Having good hand-eye coordination is an essential fundamental skill of being a goalkeeper in soccer.
Whether you are making saves, catching the ball, or throwing the ball all this requires hand-eye coordination.
Here are some fun games you can play to help improve your hand-eye coordination and be a better goalkeeper in soccer:
- Tennis ball catch
All you need for this game is a tennis ball and a wall.
Start by throwing the ball against the wall and catching the ball with both hands about 5 yards away from the wall.
As a progression throw and catch the ball with the same hand against the wall 5 yards away.
For the final progression throw the ball with one hand and catch the ball with the other hand.
To make this more difficult you can increase the distance between yourself and the wall.
Try and see how many throws and catches you can do in a row!
This is a great game for hand-eye coordination that is fun and competitive.
Spikeball is a game that is made up of 4 players divided into 2 teams.
The players must hit a ball onto a small circular trampoline with the goal of the other team not being able to hit back on the small trampoline.
Here is a video on spike ball
Professional keepers to watch that can help you be a better goalkeeper in soccer
Manuel Neuer plays his trade at German club Bayern Munich and is considered one of the best modern-day goalkeepers.
He is the keeper that truly defined the ‘sweeper-keeper role’.
He made this style his own with the high line that he held as keeper where he would cover any long balls that were played over the top of his defenders
Neuer was also a fantastic shot-stopper and would make crucial saves.
Alisson currently plays for Liverpool and represents the Brazilian national team. His style of play earned him the FIFA goalkeeper of the year in 2019.
Becker is most renowned for his positioning, distribution, and his consistency.
This earned him the title of ‘O Goleiro Gato’ which translates to cat-like goalkeeper in his native Portuguese tongue.
How to be a better goalkeeper in soccer conclusion
Being a goalkeeper is not for the faint-hearted. But with the right mindset and commitment to getting better, you can perfect your craft.
As a keeper, you are not only expected to make saves but to also help your team retain possession and set up attacks.
Make sure you surround yourself with good teammates who will help raise your spirits when you are going through a tough patch.
Accept that you will make mistakes but remember it is part of the learning process.
I hope this post helps you on your journey on how to be a better goalkeeper in soccer.
Also if you know any other tips on how to be a better goalkeeper in soccer then leave a comment below.
Have a look at my other player guides:
- How to be a number 9 (striker) in soccer
- Be a better fullback in soccer
- Become a world-class center back in soccer
- How to be a better winger in soccer
- The complete guide on how to be a number 10 in soccer
- How to be a better number 6 in soccer