8 Goalkeeping Myths

Part 1 of a Guide to Coaching and Training Goalkeepers

Mark Caron
10 min readOct 1, 2021

For many youth coaches who have never been formerly trained as a goalkeeper, the idea of teaching a goalkeeper might seem foreign. It is, after all, unlike any other position in the game, and it requires a very special type of player.

Therefore, it’s understandable that many youth coaches—especially at the lower levels—rely on their assumptions and other common myths about the position.

The problem with teaching based on one’s assumptions is that this can:

  • Reinforce bad habits
  • Delay a goalkeeper’s development and potential
  • Lead to possible injury
  • Frustrate the player and/or the team due to lack of positive results

I’ve seen many of these moments observing other coaches throughout my coaching and playing career.

Myth #1: Goalkeepers don’t have to be athletic

There’s this belief that goalkeepers don’t really have to be all that athletic. Therefore goalie is the perfect position to stick the marginalized player—the overweight kid, the weird kid, or that player that’s a liability elsewhere on the field. Some coaches “hide” players by giving them a pair of gloves.

Don’t know what to do with poor Johnny?! Let’s just stick him in goal.

I’ve seen this in movies and in real life, and I’ve heard coaches joke about it.

It’s not a joke.

Reinforcing this myth is not only an inaccurate representation of the requirements of the position, but it’s insulting and damaging to the player being marginalized.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen making an incredible diving save just below the crossbar.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen making an incredible diving save. Photo source: DW

The reality is that goalkeeping is one of the most physically and mentally demanding positions in the game. It requires a high degree of intelligence and athletic ability.

Myth #2: Goalkeepers should drop to their knees for a save

Seeing coaches encourage goalkeepers drop down to their knees to make a save or to pick up a ball rolling to them is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s a really terrible idea.

A young goalkeeper in a yellow jersey, going down to one knee to pick up a ball. Never do this.
Never do this. This is really poor technique.

When scooping (also called a “basket catch”), there are two preferred approaches:

  1. Using traditional technique with one of your knees acting as a barrier, by bending it toward the ground behind your arms. Some have been trained to have it touch just as they’re catching the ball, but the preferred method is for your knee to not touch the ground (only coming close to touching).
  2. Using the modern scooping technique which doesn’t involve bending your knee, but rather lowering body further and relying on your arms being parallel and close together to act as a “barrier”.

In my opinion, goalkeepers should be taught both, so that they’re able to employ the best technique for any scenario. But in either approach, goalkeepers are always trying to stay on their feet as long as possible — going to ground is always last resort.

The first technique, I believe is the primary source of this myth, as it is possible to misunderstand the timing and utility of the knee in the technique. A goalkeeper dropping to his or her knees long before the ball has reached them is the problem.

Why?

  • When a goalkeeper goes to ground, he/she has committed to that move, save or position. Knees on the ground does not allow a goalkeeper to remain agile — it’s a premature commitment that a goalkeeper should not be making.
  • There are a number of things that can change during the ball’s trajectory. It can change direction by hitting a rut, skipping on wet grass, knuckling or even taking a deflection off a player. An opponent can even intercept the ball as it’s rolling.
Goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbé, in a bright green jersey bending low to catch the ball.
Canadian goalkeeper, Stephanie Labbé, demonstrating the proper scoop catching technique.

Watch professional goalkeepers.

On a low shot right at them, how many of them go to the ground before they have the ball? None.

Instead, they may touch a knee at the precise moment they catch the ball or go to ground after they have the ball in their hands (to secure it), but never before.

Edit note:
Thanks to _Ryan_ in the comments for the video links and bringing to my attention the need to discuss the difference between using your knee as a barrier (“body behind the ball”) as you’re catching versus going to ground well in advance of receiving the ball. Added more clarity above.

Myth #3: Goalkeepers don’t have to be good with their feet

This myth likely stems from the old days, where the goalkeeper could pick up a ball that was passed back to them. In the modern game of soccer, however, a goalkeeper must be as good with his or her feet as your average field player, especially since they cannot pick up a back pass.

Goalkeepers are also essential to a team’s ability in maintaining possession, recycling the ball, and building out of the back. And, the best goalkeepers, like Neuer, Ter Stegen, Alisson, Ederson, Schmeichel, and Pickford are all known for their excellent distribution. Alisson in particular was sought after by Jürgen Klopp because of his ability to make long, incredibly accurate passes.

Manuel Neuer passing the ball
Manuel Neuer passing the ball

Some goalkeepers even earn the title “sweeper-keeper” for their ability to judge the timing of a through ball and “sweep” it clear. Manuel Neuer, probably the most famous sweeper-keeper, has great ball control skills and is known to be a great striker as well.

With that, it’s important to ensure that youth goalkeepers develop equitable foot skills alongside field players. In fact, they should both train and play (rotating goalkeepers) as field players throughout their youth careers.

Myth #4: Goalkeepers have to be tall

While being tall as a goalkeeper does have its advantages, height is not necessarily a requirement for the position.

Jorge Campos of Mexico leaping off the ground in celebration, wearing his iconic, flamboyant goalkeeper uniform.
Jorge Campos of Mexico.

The truth is that there are advantages and disadvantages to being tall as well as being short. Height should never be the deciding factor.

Every player has strengths and weakness, so if a player likes playing goalkeeper, they should work hard on improving the weaknesses they have control over and utilizing their strengths to the best of their ability.

It is true, however, that the average height of professional goalkeepers is around 6 feet 3 inches for men and 5 feet 9 inches for women.

Historically, though, there have been many fantastic goalkeepers that were shorter than the average height. Probably the most notable of these was Mexico’s flamboyant goalkeeper of the 1990s, Jorge Campos.

Even though Campos was only 5 feet 7 inches, he had such incredible athleticism and leaping ability, that it seemed there was almost nothing he couldn’t save.

Other prominent, modern male keepers below the “average” goalkeeper height:

  • Iker Casillas, 6 feet
  • David Ospina, 6 feet
  • Claudio Bravo, 6 feet
  • Sergio Alvarez, 5 feet 10 inches
  • Nick Rimando, 5 feet 10 inches

In general, being tall—at least 5 foot 10 inches or taller—will be to your advantage as a goalkeeper. Which is why many of the professional goalkeepers are tall. But, it is not a requirement. The only requirement is “can you save the ball?” If you’re short and you’ve got “ups”, then you’re good.

Myth #5: Goalkeepers are crazy

Saying goalkeepers are crazy is just like any other generalization or stereotype—it doesn’t reflect reality. True, some crazy people do become goalies, but that doesn’t make all goalkeepers crazy nor does it make “crazy” a part of playing in goal.

However, there is no denying that goalkeepers are a special breed of player. It takes a very special person to decide to become a goalkeeper. As I mentioned earlier, playing goalie is one of the most—if not the most—mentally and physically demanding position on the field. Goalkeepers must be brave too. What other person would willingly choose to have soccer balls shot at them at high speeds, to jump into traffic to punch the ball, or to throw their body through the air to make a last second save?

Ederson colliding with Sadio Mané in a particularly scary clash.
This moment took a lot of bravery from Ederson

Goalkeepers must have a great deal of confidence and mental fortitude in order to shake off mistakes (and learn from them), as well as ignore the criticisms of teammates who have never (or could never) play their position.

There is immense pressure on a goalkeeper, carrying the weight of 10 other players’ mistakes too. So, if a goalkeeper seems “a little crazy”, maybe he or she is just showing bravery or handling stress to the best of his or her ability?

This is also why I—as a coach and goalkeeper—never let my team criticize our goalkeepers or call them crazy. Instead, be thankful you have a “servant leader” on your team who is willing to carry that burden, and give them praise for being brave enough to play goalkeeper.

Myth #6: Shouting for goalkeepers to “come off your line!”

While there are moments where a goalkeeper should come off his or her line to make a save, this particular myth stems from the belief that goalies should rush out to make a save or to always come out to cut off the angle.

The reality is that a well-trained and experienced goalkeeper will have learned the right moments to come out to make a save, and these moments often vary according to a goalkeeper’s physical limitations (i.e. height or speed), his or her confidence in that moment, or other factors he or she might have read (or seen) during that specific play.

Teaching a young player to simply “come off your line” is a myopic approach to the nuances of goalkeeping. Instead, work with your goalkeepers on general concepts of positioning (or cutting off angles) and timing, and practice these moments in training. There are risks in getting injured (or injuring another player) just like there are risks in getting scored on. Goalies must learn to make such judgments on their own.

And when mistakes do happen, discreetly talk with your goalkeeper about that moment—asking guided questions about what they saw, what they learned or what they might do differently next time. Never criticize or yell at your goalkeeper, especially during a game or in front of his or her teammates (see #5 above).

Read: How to Teach Goalkeeper Positioning

Myth #7: Punting the ball is safer

Many believe that the safest option or even proper distribution if for the goalkeeper to punt the ball as far up the field as possible (usually down the middle). This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I believe this is a byproduct of the general fear of losing the ball in front of your own goal, and is especially prevalent in the younger and lower levels.

As a result, we wrongly teach kids to “just get it up the field!” And, so we teach our goalies to just boot the ball (often to no one in particular).

Booting it up the field, whether from the goalkeeper or any player for that matter, is a potential loss of possession. It’s creating a 50/50 ball that may not be won, and in return creates additional pressure on your defense—building momentum for your opponent.

Alyssa Naeher, US Women’s goalkeeper, throwing the ball to a teammate
US Women’s National Team goalkeeper, Alyssa Naeher, throwing the ball to a teammate

Instead, punting or drop-kicking should be a last resort or a quick heads-up, direct play toward a forward making a run. The latter doesn’t come very often.

Throwing and rolling is quicker, far more accurate and far easier for players to control in-stride. Therefore, it should always be a goalkeeper’s first choice. This is why well-trained goalkeepers look first for a quick throw or roll to an open weak-side defender or midfielder to build an attack where there is less pressure.

If your team cannot “build out from the back,” then it’s probably time to teach them this very necessary skill rather than delaying it out of fear of losing a match.

Myth #8: Keepers shouldn’t get beat near post

We hear this from coaches and TV commentators all the time, and it’s just so very wrong. Why?

If a goalkeeper is continually worrying about not being beat near post, he or she will tend to cover more toward their near post, leaving the back post slightly more exposed — making it easier to get beat far post. They may also improperly anticipate a near post shot, rather than reading and reacting to what is in front of them.

The whole mission for a goalkeeper should be to not get scored on, whether that’s near post or far post. This requires proper positioning, not overcompensation due to fear of some coach or teammate yelling at them about getting “beat near post”.

Now, with experience, goalkeepers will learn to read their opponents — learning their tendencies and recognizing their favored shooting feet. And, they will use this knowledge to make slight adjustments in their positioning to accommodate. This may mean stepping slightly to the right of the center cover the near right post on a right-footed striker on a low angle. Or it may mean stepping slightly left of center for a left-footed striker on a low angle on the right post to cover an out-swinging shot to the back post.

So, please stop saying “don’t get beat near post,” because it creates poor positioning habits based on fear and assumptions.

Read more about how to teach goalkeeper positioning.

More myths?

What other goalkeeper myths have your heard about? Please share them in the comments below.

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