With so much potentially riding on every kick of the ball, there is great pressure placed on goalkeepers. We all know that mishandling even one shot can cost our team a game and, with it, a whole lot more. In addition to requiring great psychological strength, goalkeeping demands what coaches call “soft hands” to avoid yielding needless game-costing rebounds.
As a youngster, I spent a tremendous amount of time working on my handling skills. The two catching techniques upon which you need to focus are the “W” or “diamond” and the “scoop.” The former is used for any ball that arrives outside of your torso and above waist height.
The scoop is appropriate for catching a shot within the plane of your body. For the “W” or “diamond” technique, your index fingers and thumbs surround the back of the ball. The fingertips extend farther forward than do your palms, so that your initial contact with the ball is “soft.” Slightly bend your elbows to serve as shock absorbers and slightly withdraw your hands upon contact with the ball.
If possible, immediately cradle the ball safely into your upper body. Position your hand and arm for the scoop as if someone were handing you a baby. Extend both arms forward with your palms facing upward. Your two small fingers should be close together and under the ball while your thumbs point outward toward eight and four o’clock. Your shoulders and head should be forward and your weight should be over your toes. As the ball arrives, smother it into your chest with the hands coming underneath the ball. With all catches, your eyes watch the ball until the last possible second.
As a boy, I spent countless hours bouncing, throwing and kicking balls off of a wall and then making the appropriate catch. Always vary the angles, speed and height of your serves.
When working with a partner, take turns serving balls for this great drill: Get in the push-up position while facing your partner. Lift one hand off the ground with your fingers pointed upward and outward and your palm facing the server. Have your partner gently toss 10 consecutive balls to that hand while the other hand supports your body. Withdraw your catching hand to receive and then return the ball. Switch hands and repeat the drill. Note: When you are the server, your objective is to provide your practice partner with the opportunity to repetitively catch shots. As such, your job is always to “serve” rather than to “shoot” in an attempt to score.
With the considerable speed at which shots arrive nowadays, reaction time is often quite limited. It is important that you condition your hand-eye coordination. Try the about-face drill: Stand with your back to the server. Just before throwing or kicking the ball, your partner yells, “About face!” Pivot quickly into the correct stance to make a reaction save.
Another reaction drill: Stand in the middle of the goal on the line with the server on the penalty spot. Perform a front somersault. As soon as you are getting to your feet, the server volleys the ball out of his or her hands. Once again, the emphasis is on cleanly handling a fast-moving ball coming from close range.
Avoid the temptation to parry shots. Practice is for challenging yourself to expand your technical horizons while knowing that yielding a rebound won’t have catastrophic consequences.