Do You Need To Be Athletic To Play As A Soccer Goalkeeper?

There’s always been this stigma regarding goalkeepers that essentially states that we were not athletic enough or good on the ball. That’s what landed us between the sticks. There’s in fact an even worst “unwritten rule” of street soccer for kids in many places that says the fat kid is going to be the one that ends up in goal. In my personal experience I can say I was never the fat kid, but I always gravitated towards playing in goal. I wouldn’t say I was the best athlete in my classes, but I was for sure not the worst at any moment. When you look at pro goalkeepers today you’re going to realize that they are at times some of the best athletes on the team. Saying all this really you have to find a style that works for you. 

If I had to give out a yes or no answer to the question of “Do you need to be athletic to play as a soccer goalkeeper”, the answer would be no. Over the years we’ve seen plenty of goalkeepers even in the professional ranks be rather unremarkable athletes. At the same time though, I do think that we may need to redefine what athletic. I know goalkeepers who have the body of an NFL offensive lineman, but they’re quick as a cat in goal. You have to believe though that if they were in better shape for the position they would have a lot more potential. With all of this in mind I’m going to try and tackle the question of “Do you need to be athletic to play a soccer goalkeeper?”.

happy soccer goalkeeper sitting inside his goal, bright natural smile

What Skills Do You Need To Develop To Be A Good Soccer Goalkeeper? 

I could talk about this for days, but I’m going to try and narrow it down to the most basic things that a soccer goalkeeper needs to have. Specifically talking about things that we would consider “athletic”. Certainly jumping, and reflexes are the two elements that stick out to me as skills that you need to have as a goalkeeper, and I would consider athletic. The footwork that goes into goalkeeping is another underrated element that’s hard to develop for those of us with two left feet. When it comes to catching and even diving I don’t think that these are skills that you need to be too “athletic” for. Kicking is another skill that many people who are not big time athletes have been known to develop. 

What I’m trying to get at here, is that you can develop into a pretty good goalkeeper without being naturally athletic. There’s no question that some guys or girls are going to have an advantage on you if certain things don’t come naturally. That’s not something though that should be discouraging. For example, if you’re a taller person you may be naturally “stiffer”. The height advantage though can be a positive handicap even if your movements are not as crisp. I’m just talking about the begging of the journey. If you really want to make it big you’re going to have to develop many of these skills that I’m talking about.  

Can You Develop These Skills Without Being “Athletic”

Let me give two perfect examples of big time goalkeepers that I feel perfectly encapsulate this. Manuel Neuer is going to be the first example that I’m going to talk about. This guy has some of the quickest feet that I’ve seen for a tall guy ever. I’m not just talking about the way that he played with the ball at his feet in his prime. If you just stick to that you can see he’s the best ball playing goalkeeper of all time. Sorry Campos, you just didn’t play at the highest levels of competition. Although it could be said that Neuer, developed more into a sweeper keeper at Bayern, and specifically under Pep Guardiola he was athletic at Schalke 04 even if he didn’t play that far off his line. 

Thibaut Courtois is another guy that we got to see at the top level from a very young age. He was in his teens when he broke out at Genk. From there, Atletico Madrid propelled him on a world stage. In those early years he was the typical tall kid that you’d find playing center on a basketball court. He’d just be taller than everyone else. Even today if you look at his movements a lot of them are not naturally athletic. He still looks kind of stiff, and that shows a lot more when he’s on the ball. He’s pretty bad on the ball all things considered. Yet, he’s arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. He proves you can not only develop the skills you need to play in goal you can do so rather quickly.     

Keylor Navas crouching down to save a shot

You’re Wrong To Think Goalkeeper Is The Easy Position On The Field

One of the reasons that led me to write this article in the first place is the common practice to put the nonathletic kid in goal consistently. A lot of times what happens is that the tall kid who is kind of awkward in his movements still winds up in goal. That’s actually not the worst thing in the world. In many of these cases that awkwardness in the movements that landed them in goal in the first place can be shaped out of this player through goalkeeper training. If you’re the tallest kid in the class and that landed you in goal I would argue that you should embrace it. Chances are you are in fact going to have a leg up on shorter goalkeepers

When you’re naturally bigger than other kids, and you stand in font of goal without a great sense of what you’re doing just because of your size you’ll likely be able to make a couple of saves. Like I said though, hopefully this can end being a kick-starter to a career in goal. If you want to take things a little more seriously you’ll realize that goalkeeping is not the easy position on the field. In a sense you have to develop all of the skills that a regular field player would have to be on top. Plus, all of the skills that are relevant to goalkeeping. If you are ever in a training ground for a pro team you’re going to realize that the goalkeepers typically have longer work out sessions than field players.      

Why You Don’t Want To Have Extra Weight On You Playing Goalkeeper

Like I just said a lot of times it’s the kid that’s looked at as non athletic that ends up in goal. I’m not looking to shame anyone in saying this. It’s actually the opposite because again as I mentioned if you’re bigger physically you can have an early advantage. Now if you’re going to get serious about goalkeeping at one point or another you’ll need to lose some of those extra pounds. Yes, I understand that there have been goalkeepers that have played in the pros that were truly overweight. If you think about it’s a true achievement that they had. Plus, it’s a testament to how fortunate they are as people in general. The thing is if you have extra pounds on you and you keep falling to the ground on your joints that’s not a good long term idea. 

The good thing is that you’re likely going to get all of the exercise that you could need if you do goalkeeper training around 3 times a week. If you feel though that it’s hurting your knees or your elbows too much to dive too many times in a row don’t keep quiet about it. Make sure to tell your coach so that they can maybe dial back the number of times that you dive per session. 

Also for coaches if you see that your goalkeepers are falling backwards that may be a weight issue as well. If their literal body weight is causing them to fall incorrectly they’re going to be at a greater risk of injury. I really hope what I’m saying is not taken as shaming. As a coach and as a player you have to be honest and try and find ways to help yourself or your players in every aspect that you can.     

What Can You Do If You Are A Bit Overweight & You Want To Start Playing Goalkeeper?

This happens to all of us old guys overweight or not. Also like I said with kids what I’ve seen that really concerns me is seeing them fall wrong because they just can’t control their bodies correctly. The solution depends on who you are. If you’re just an older guy like me you want to limit your reps. There’s really no way around that. Hitting the deck too many times is going to take its toll on the body. When you get to a certain age you want to be on a pitch count for the number of times that you dive. 

You don’t want to eliminate it completely from your training because you still need to keep that technique fresh. For me though, I now limit most of my diving in training to live ball drills. I’m not going to dive to a static ball on the ground. The movement isn’t as natural, especially from a standing position. 

For kids and particularly ones that are struggling with weight you also want to have them on a pitch count. Another thing that you can do is have them dive a lot more from their knees instead of a standing position. That’s a great way to still work on technique without putting the body through as much strain as you would when diving from a standing position. You need to make sure though the work-outs help develop the players technique. At the same time the need to me intense enough to the point where they can aid in weight loss. All of this while making sure that you’re not putting them in physical danger.  

Goalkeeping Is An Awesome Workout That’s Going To Make You Athletic    

Ok, I need to make sure that I’m being 100% honest about this. It’s not that you’re going to be super fit and athletic just by a couple of sessions of goalkeeper training. What is true though is that through goalkeeper training you can develop a lot of skills that are shared by people whom we consider athletic. For example, you’re going to need to do a lot of jumping. It’s not just jumping out of the building with no sense. Proper goalkeeper training should teach you the right footwork so that you can put your body in the best position to jump in different directions with different ends. In this process you’re going to be able to build up leg strength that you can use in other athletic activities. 

Hand eye coordination and helping you coordinate your feet to be able to get into the right position is another one of those things that you’re going to be developing through goalkeeper training. Again this is a skill that you can then go on to use in your athletic life outside the pitch. I’m not saying that all goalkeepers are going to be superior athletes in other spots. I do think though that it can provide a better base for other sports than some of the other positions in soccer. If you really stick with it the effort that you need to put in is going to serve as a big time workout. If you want to get in shape, but you want to exercise doing something fun goalkeeper training can be just that.     

Do You Need To Be Athletic To Play As A Soccer Goalkeeper? – Conclusion

Just to recap, I want to make it clear to start out your journey as a soccer goalkeeper you don’t need to be athletic. Does it help to have some God-given athletic ability? For sure, as it does in any sport that you want to play. The great thing about goalkeeping though is that a lot of the things that you need to be great can be developed. Also, many of the shortcomings that you could have are things that you can hide with some experience. For me goalkeeping is a formative way of life if you will. That’s why I love writing so much about it!