woman goalkeeper catching the ball

Goalkeeper Catching Technique – How To Train Your Hands

A good goalkeeper catching technique is potentially the basis of goalkeeping. You’d think that all of the goalkeepers that have made it to the top pro leagues have perfected their catching technique. That’s really not the case. In fact, I could make the argument that there are multiple goalkeepers who have played in top level leagues that have always had a poor catching technique. Usually when it comes to frontal shots that are coming in around the chest area virtually everyone can cradle the ball and make the catch. Even higher frontal shots are easier to control because you’re able to bounce it off the ground if you need to. Side shots that you have to dive to and crosses that you’d like to catch are the two main issues. 

I believe that the statement that I just uttered isn’t all based on what I feel. In my series of the worst goalkeeper errors both for LaLiga and the Premier League I’ve seen time and time again some of these same mistakes. I feel that it’s overly ironic because some of the common mistakes that we see in the pros are the exact same ones that we see at youth games as well as Sunday league matchups. In studying the phenomenon as I’ve never been labeled a sure handed keeper myself I’ve drawn up a couple of conclusions. First though let’s look at the different ways to make catches and what you can do to train and perfect your goalkeeper catching technique. 

Goalkeeper Catching Technique – Shots To The Abdominal Area or Below

Malmö FF – Östers IF 1-1, Svenska Cupen 2013

These types of shots are the ones that you’re typically taught to cradle into your body. What the coach is potentially going to tell you is that you need to get your body behind the shot. Put your arms out and try to get your chest inward. Ultimately in these cases you end up almost hugging the ball. There are some coaches that don’t love this technique because if you don’t get your chest right you’re going to be giving up a ton of rebounds. That’s the opposite of what you want. I actually like the technique because you’re arguably going to be able to deal with harder shots than you’ll be able to when you’re just clean catching.

This is one of those techniques that you should be working on, on a daily basis. The biggest problem for young goalkeepers when trying to make these catches is usually deciding when to go for one of these types of catches. Obviously when it’s right in your mid section the shot itself could be what bends you forward anyway. In that situation there’s not much to think about. With higher shots though if you try and make one of these catches you could see the ball bounce off your chest. Also if the ball is coming in too hot and you don’t feel comfortable catching it don’t hesitate to just punch the ball away. Even if it’s coming right into the middle area. You could try more of a volleyball type of pass when the ball is coming in too hot. That’s a good abort option.          

Goalkeeper Catching Technique – The Triangle

I couldn’t write anything about goalkeeper catching techniques without talking about the triangle. There are other names for it. Even people referencing different types of shapes that I don’t necessarily feel are entirely accurate. This is how I learned to call the technique so I’m sticking with the name. This is the common and most used technique to catch balls cleanly out of the air. It’s the same thing that American football players do. You ideally have to get your two index fingers to come as close together as possible with your thumbs touching at the bottom. That’s how you’re going to be able to effectively make clean catches.   

In American football they love to talk about having soft hands. That’s exactly the case. It seems sort of counterintuitive, but you have to make sure your hands are firm, but not stiff. Essentially what you’re doing is letting the ball into your thumbs and then you’re pressing down on it with the rest of your hands to keep it in place. The best way to get better at this is just throwing the ball up against a wall from up close. You want to get the technique down first and then just start putting more power behind the ball. When you get to training you need to try and catch as many balls cleanly as possible. That way when you get to the game it feels natural. 

My argument may not be against, but in regards to goalkeepers that don’t catch too many balls cleanly is that they just don’t feel comfortable with the motion. It’s not that they don’t know how to do it. It’s just not something that feels natural. This is a skill that can be developed. I would argue that you need to develop it very early on. Because the problem is, as you move up in your career it’s less likely that you’ll take chances in areas of your game where you’re not comfortable. That’s why we see goalkeepers that almost never cut a cross or catch a ball cleanly.    

Catching or Saving Shots That You Dive For 

In my opinion this is an underrated skill by goalkeepers. Which seems like one of the oddest things to say. Because when you’re able to make a clean catch from an incoming shot you’ve completely changed possession and you’re in a spot to be able to start an attack of your own. Yet, there are many goalkeepers on the world stage that struggle with this. Keylor Navas, Memo Ochoa, De Gea, and others have a really hard time holding onto the ball for the most part. What can you do to make these clean catches? The concept behind making a clean catch when you dive is to catch the ball with your hands. Essentially you’re going to have to apply the triangle technique to the incoming shot to pluck it out of the air. The challenge lies in knowing what to catch and what to block.  

For some goalkeepers just blocking the shot is enough. That’s not inherently wrong. If you don’t have the confidence to make a clean catch during a game by all means just make sure that you block the shot and have it drift to the side. You’re not going to be able to catch every ball that comes your way. That’s a true statement for sure. I would argue that in training you should try to catch every ball or have a part of training where you do that. This is certainly something that you should start when you’re doing non competitive football or in private training sessions.  

The problem that I think a lot of people face is that you get to a level in your career where you really don’t want to take too many risks in training. That could impact the amount of minutes that you get on the field. So what happens is that you try and go for the safe option even in training. That’s why you have cases like Memo Ochoa. Here’s a guy who made his first team debut at 18 with a lot of raw talent. From the start he was put in a position battle for his job. With a poor catching technique coming in this was ultimately something that he never developed. If you get a chance to do private training this should be an aspect of your game that you really want to work on.  

Different Ways To Save Shots 

This is one of the most difficult things to talk about in goalkeeping. The way I see is that in training what you want to do is work on proper technique as much as you can. In games though, you have to find a way to make the save no matter what. What happens then? Historically it’s been hard for goalkeeper coaches to try and teach some of these unorthodox techniques. A perfect example are low shots that are coming in right around your chest area. If the shot is coming in too hard and you’re not able to cradle it into your body and make the save there’s a good chance that you’re going to be giving up a very clear second chance opportunity on the rebound. What do you do then? 

In those particular cases I liked the volleyball technique a lot. What I try to do is get an arm or both arms out and literally hit the ball with my forearm in a direction away from goal. On the fly and everything went perfect it can be considered a great reaction save. In another type of context some people would view it as poor technique. Do you see why sometimes these types of actions are hard to teach? Goalkeeper coaches should certainly spend a ton of time teaching fundamentals. In fact, I would argue that not enough time is spent exclusively working on catching shots that you have to dive to. Just like I would argue that not enough time is spent on teaching goalkeepers to catch crosses. Of course, that’s a generalized statement based on my personal experience.      

How You Can Train Your Goalkeeper Catching Technique   

There are a couple of ways to do it. I’m saying this now a couple of years removed from my best years between the sticks. Don’t get bored with the simple exercises and keep with the fundamentals. Compliment the simple training techniques with game-like experiences. The best thing that you can do, is literally take a ball and hit it against a wall and catch it. Mimic the hand position that you want to have in your optimal catching technique. If you want to add a little extra spice into the mix use a small medicine ball. It can help you start dealing with the tougher shots. If you do this every single day even outside of training you’ll improve your technique no doubt. Make sure though that you’re hitting a tough enough wall. Interior drywall is not the type of wall that you want to mess with.  

The second thing is trying to make catches in training. In the different drills that you do in your regular training make an extra effort to catch the ball. As I mentioned before a lot of times the problem is you get to a point where training stops being recreational. In the sense that you may be competing for your spot on every training session. When that happens it can be hard to take risks even in training. If that’s the position you’re in talk to your coaches and let them know that literally you’re looking to test your limits. To see how hard of a shot you can really handle. It’s a trial and error process so don’t get discouraged and keep going! 

Goalkeeper Catching Technique Conclusion 

The key to great goalkeeper catching technique is to not get bored with some simple drills. Just hitting the ball against the wall and mimicking good hand positioning day in and day out is going to bring results. You really have to be disciplined about it and literally at least do that every single day. Make it part of your routine like some push ups, or whatever it is that you do to stay in shape. If you’re playing at a level where you feel uncomfortable taking chances in practice the best thing that you can do is put in time on your own to just work on different things that you think you’re lacking in. 

I know I talked about personal training. Without a doubt if you can get help from a real goalkeeping coach on your personal time you’re potentially going to be better off. If it’s just spending time with a friend who wants to shoot on goal more go ahead and do that. Everything adds up. Especially if you are trying to get better. At times we may joke around a bit when we’re with friends. That’s part of the game, don’t lose that. Also take some time to get serious and really work on aspects of your game that could make the difference. Improve your goalkeeper catching technique and you can drastically increase your overall value as a goalkeeper.