Introduction to Goalkeeping



From the moment they are introduced to soccer, children and adults alike can see that the goalkeeper on a soccer team is a very special person. First, they are likely to notice that the goalkeeper wears a different color jersey from the rest of the team. In addition, they will see that goalkeepers are allowed to use their hands to touch the ball legally in a certain area of the field of play, while the rest of their teammates may not. These and many other aspects of the play of the goalkeeper are covered by a number of rules. Some of these rules include:

  • The goalkeeper must wear a jersey which is a different color from the other players and from the referees.
  • Whenever a substitution is made for the goalkeeper, the presence of the new goalkeeper must be specifically reported to the referee.
  • The goalkeeper may go anywhere on the field, but can only use the handling privilege within the goalkeeper’s own “penalty area.” (The penalty area is the larger of the two boxes outlined in front of the goal. On a regulation field, it extends 18 yard out toward the sidelines from each goalpost and 18 yards into the field.)
  • Once the goalkeeper has taken possession of the ball in their hands, they may take only six seconds to release it.
  • The goalkeeper may not pick up a ball which has been received as a pass kicked from a teammate’s foot.

The goalkeeper may go by other names, such as “goalie” or “keeper.” By any name, however, the goalkeeper is extremely important to the team because the goalie is the last line of defense and the first line of offense. As a result, the goalie must not only learn all of the regular skills of soccer, but must also learn a whole set of skills that is different from the rest of the team. On defense, the goalie must learn the techniques of stopping or “saving” the ball from going into the goal. After saving the ball, the goalie must learn the techniques of securing the ball and then passing or “releasing” the ball to a teammate to start the offense.


The goalkeeper’s main objective on defense is to use any legal means available to keep the other team from scoring. This is first done by directing the defensive players in front of the goalkeeper to try to help them get the ball away from the opponents before they can shoot. If this fails, the goalie must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to get some part of the goalie’s body between the ball and the goal in order to stop the ball from going completely “over the goalline, between the goal-posts and under the crossbar.” The basic skills associated with stopping the ball are the “ready position,” the “straight-leg save,” the “one-knee save,” the “below-the waist save,” the “above-the waist save” (including the “Goalkeeper’s ‘W'”), “punching” and “deflecting.”

In the ready position, the goalkeeper is poised, cat-like, to be able to move quickly forward or to either side. This is done by assuming a stance in which the feet are approximately shoulder-width apart, the ankles are flexed so that the goalkeeper is on the balls of the feet, weight is shifted slightly forward by bending at the waist, the elbows are flexed, and the forearms and hands are held slightly out in front of the body, ready to catch or deflect the ball. (This position is very similar to the ready positions of a.) a baseball infielder as the pitch is made, b.) a basketball guard just engaging a counterpart who has the ball, c.) a cornerback in American football defending a receiver just before the play starts, d.) a freestyle wrestler preparing to defeat a takedown, and e.) a tennis player waiting for the opponent’s serve.)

The ready position is assumed as the opponents start getting the ball closer to the goal which is being defended. The goalkeeper first centers themself between the uprights, approximately two feet in front of the goalline, then gets into the ready position. As the ball comes closer still, the goalkeeper moves slightly forward to the side of the field where the ball is being played. The goalkeeper must know where the ball is at all times and adjusts his position slightly to maintain a clear field of vision. As a shot is taken, the goalkeeper interposes as much of thei body as possible, depending on the direction and force of the shot, to keep the ball from going into the goal. Once the goalkeeper is certain that the ball is not going to go into the goal, the goalkeeper does everything possible to actually catch and hold onto it.


The straight leg save (or “scoop” pick-up) is used for relatively slow-paced, ground balls, To perform the straight leg save, the goalkeeper keeps his legs together and his knees locked and he bends from the waist to scoop the ball up from underneath with his hands and arms. The goalkeeper must have excellent flexibility in the back of his legs to get his hands and arms low enough to properly scoop up the ball without flexing his knees. This is important because both legs stay behind the ball to ensure that the goal continues to be protected, and because, if bent, the knees could hit the arms or elbows and jar the ball loose. In scooping up the ball, the hands are positioned with the palms up and the fingers of the hands are spread with the thumbs pointing away from the body. As the ball arrives, the arms are held slightly out in front of the body and the hands are down to the ground. When contact with the ball is made, flexing of the elbows is used to surround it for protection. Any pace on the ball is absorbed by the upper arms.

For slightly faster-paced ground balls, the goalkeeper may use the one-knee save. To perform the one-knee save, the goalkeeper turns so that the trunk of his body is facing the sideline of the side of the field from which the shot is coming. While doing this, he does not turn his head, because he must continue to maintain clear sight of the ball. As the ball arrives, the goalkeeper kneels, placing the knee of the leg closest to the ball on the ground and flexing the knee of the other leg so that the sole of the foot is in contact with the ground and the rest of the leg protects as much of the goal as possible. It is important at this point to ensure that the two legs are not spread so far apart as to create a gap through which the ball could escape.

At the moment the ball arrives, the goalkeeper scoops it up from underneath with his hands and arms, paying attention not to bang his elbows against the body. Similar to the straight-leg save, as the ball arrives, the arms are held slightly out in front of the body and the hands are down to the ground. When contact with the ball is made, flexing of the elbows is used to surround it for protection. The pace on the ball is absorbed by the upper arms.

Fast-paced balls are likely to arrive in the air. For those balls which arrive at the goalkeeper in the air at waist-height or below, the goalkeeper uses the same arm and hand positioning as for the straight-leg and one-knee saves to make a “basket” catch. For this save, however, the pace is taken off the ball by catching it in the stomach. As contact with the ball is made, the goalkeeper flexes at the waist to absorb the pace of the ball and surrounds it with his arms and hands for protection.

For those balls which arrive at the goalkeeper in the air above the waist (or to the side), and can be caught, the goalkeeper must utilize a hand and finger technique known as the “Goalkeeper’s ‘W’.” This technique has the goalkeeper move his hands up and out in front of his body, with the palms facing the ball and the fingers spread, such that the maximum surface area can be placed behind the ball as it arrives. The tips of the thumbs of adult hands are brought together to slightly touch and both the hands and fingers in combination are made to form a concave shape which will match the convex shape of the ball. Viewed from behind, the thumbs and index fingers of this position create the shape of the letter “W.” Young players with small hands may have to keep them farther apart in order to grasp the ball.

Goalkeeper's "W"

Goalkeeper’s “W”

The above-the-waist save is made by positioning the arms out in front of the body, elbows only slightly bent, with the hands in the Goalkeeper’s “W.” As the ball is caught, the elbows are flexed to absorb the pace. The catch itself is made by contacting the ball first with the fingertips. High balls may have to be caught by jumping and stretching the arms above the head. Balls at waist level can be handled by slightly bending the knees in order to get low enough to make the catch in front of the chest. After each catch, the ball is brought into the chest and protected by the arms and hands.

Many times, the pace, the flight, and the height of the ball, or the close proximity of attackers, will dictate that the ball can not be caught by the goalkeeper. In these instances, the ball must be punched or deflected away from the goal. Punching involves the goalkeeper making a fist with his hands and then using the flat surface created by the fingers, from the knuckle to the first joint, to jab the ball and send it arcing as far upfield and toward the nearest sideline as possible. Punching may be done with one hand or with both hands held together to create a larger surface area. Deflecting is done with the palm and fingertips of one hand and involves the goalkeeper contacting the ball in such a way as to alter its flight, making it go out of bounds, either outside of a goalpost or over the crossbar.


When the goalkeeper is able to catch the ball, he must ensure that it remains firmly in his possession. This is known as “securing” the ball. Immediately upon catching the ball, the goalkeeper uses as much of his body as necessary to cover up the ball to ensure that it does not escape. If he is on the ground, this may involve covering the ball with his torso, knees and legs retracted, to form a cocoon. Only after the attackers have left the area does he stand up. If he is already standing, securing involves using both hands and arms to wrap the ball and hold it tightly to the chest. Only after looking all around – in front, to both sides and behind – to ensure that no attackers are lurking or that he could be inadvertently bumped by one of his own defenders, does the goalkeeper proceed to determine how he is going to release the ball.


After obtaining possession of the ball, the goalkeeper’s main objective on offense is to pass it to his own teammates in such a way the he either maximizes their chances on attack or, failing that, minimizes the other team’s chances of getting the ball in dangerous territory. This pass on the part of the goalkeeper is known as the “release.” The basic skills of releasing the ball are “bowling,” “throwing,” and “punting.”

Bowling, as the name implies, is a strong, underhand release that usually sends the ball along the ground, directly to the feet of the teammate. Throwing is a strong, overhand release that is usually delivered in such a way as to have the ball hit the ground before reaching the teammate and then travel along the ground to his feet. Punting usually takes one of two basic forms. Both are performed with strong kicks off the instep of the foot. In the first form, the punt is low to the ground and directed at a specific teammate who is out of the throwing range of the goalkeeper. In the second form, the punt is high and directed as far upfield as possible. Except for the second type of punt, the goalkeeper’s teammates should set up for the release as near to the sideline and as far upfield as possible, without attracting a defender. If the teammate attracts a defender, the goalkeeper should reconsider the form of his release so that the ball has less likelihood of being intercepted. In all instances, the receiving player must move promptly to the ball.


Any player expecting to play goalkeeper for any length of time should start with a pair of inexpensive, properly-fitted, goalie gloves.  See Soccer Goalie Gloves Guide.

Any undefined soccer words, terms, or phrases may be found in The ULTIMATE SOCCER DICTIONARY of American Terms available at

© Copyright John C. Harves