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Is Goalkeeper The Hardest Position To Play?

There are sports in which some positions are going to be easier to deal with than others. That’s just a fact. In football there’s a complete uniqueness to goalkeeping when compared to the other positions. It’s not just about the fact that the goalkeeper can use his hands to play when other positions can’t. Now, when you think of it that way, playing goalkeeper may seem like the easiest position to play, not the hardest. You don’t have restrictions on how you can play like you have with all of the other positions on the field. That lack of restrictions, though, does come with an added set of responsibilities and potential consequences. Really those consequences are arguably what makes goalkeeper the hardest position to play. We’ll get into that here in a bit though. 

There’s a mental aspect to goalkeeping that makes it different from other positions, and at the same time it makes the position that much harder. Just the idea of having to face a team game essentially on your own is something that goes against the nature of the game itself. Goalkeepers in all aspects of the position actually go against the nature of the game. You dress differently, you’re able to play differently, and you have to deal with issues in a different way than field players would handle them. Could we take all of these things that I’m saying and justify this idea that goalkeeper is the hardest position to play? Let’s find out! 

Manuel Neuer trying out catching techniques

How Can It Be Harder If You Can Use Your Hands To Play? 

There are a couple of things that make goalkeeping harder even when you use your hands to play or can use your hands. There are two elements that are key to making goalkeeping hard which I’ll get into more in depth later on. These are the facts that you’re usually going to have to react to every play that you’re involved in. Also, any mistake that you make, even small ones, can have drastic consequences in the outcome of a game. Something that won’t necessarily happen if you’re playing in any other position on the field. As I mentioned these are things that I’m going to get into in depth later on.  

One of the things that people don’t realize, at least the ones that don’t know anything about goalkeeping, is that you can only use your hands in specific situations. Essentially you’ll be able to use your hands when the other team is on the attack. Other than that you’re pretty much just another player. If you get a pass back from your teammate, you won’t be able to use your hands and if you mess up you’ll face the same dire consequences that we talked about! Also, you have to be more aware of where you are on the field than arguably any other player. Your position with regard to the goal will determine whether you’re actually in the right spot to block incoming shots. Also, if you’re out of the box using your hands is out of the question, so that’s another element to keep in mind.   

Which Goalkeepers Have Been Key To Their Team’s Success So Far In The World Cup?

Always Having To React To Plays 

This is something that I’ve already referenced. I don’t want to say that you’re on your heels the whole time as a goalkeeper, because that’s technically not how you want to stand between the sticks. You actually want to be on your toes most of the time. Figuratively speaking though you are going to be on your heels for most of the game. What you’re probably going to want to do is make sure that your reactions are usually forward and not backward. That means if you’re going to dive for a ball you’re diving forward to attack the ball trajectory. If you’re reacting late to the ball, and you end up diving backward you’re less likely to make the save.  

There’s an argument to be made that all defensive players in virtually any sport are going to be in this situation. When it comes to football though as a defender you do get a chance to possess the ball and start the attack sometimes. That’s not something that’s as common as a goalkeeper. Even when you get a pass back a lot of times your main priority in that situation is to clear the ball out of harm’s way. Essentially your entire thought process as a goalkeeper should revolve around, how do I minimize the damage? That’s the first thing that you want to think about on every play. If you find open field and can play a through ball that’s great, but that’s usually not going to be the case! 

Tor zum 2:0 durch Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig, 7); Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur, 1, Torwart, goalkeeper) kann den Ball nicht halten; Tor, goal, Torerfolg, Aktion

You Can’t Make Even A Simple Mistake 

Again this is something that I’ve referenced. I do want to make sure that I make it perfectly clear why I say this. When you’re unable to make a good reception on a ball in the middle of the field, that seemingly simple mistake can certainly lead to a goal the other way. That’s just a fact of life right there. However, if you make the same mistake in goal the negative reaction can be immediate. In the worst case scenario you’re unable to control a ball, and you have it go under your foot. If the pass was going towards goal, that pass back is going to end up in a goal for the other team. 

This means that goalkeepers need to be in the game at all times. Your level of concentration needs to be higher than anyone else’s on the field. Particularly because you have the chance to look at the whole game which is going on in front of you. Ideally you’ll be able to anticipate how things are going to play out. Particularly in a simple scenario of a pass back like the one that I just described. The first mistake would be to receive a pass right in front of the goal. You want to leave the goal to one side and make yourself available there to avoid a simple mistake ending up in a goal.  

Thibaut Courtois training with Real Madrid

Having To Disregard Your Own Safety

This is an element of goalkeeping that essentially disqualifies a lot of people from playing the position. I’ve said multiple times that there are obviously ways that you can minimize the damage so to speak. Proper technique for example when it comes to diving is going to allow you to do so safely for the most part. There are going to be moments particularly during games where you may be asked to literally put your body in between the opposing player, the ball, and the goal. In these situations you’re likely going to be leaving yourself open for a big hit. For example in 1v1 situations you want the ball to hit you! Sure you’d love to be able to make the save with your hands or with your feet. If it hits you in the face though, and it goes out you’ll take it. 

Any logical person is going to look out for themselves. Even skiers or people who take part in activities that we could argue are much more dangerous than goalkeeping will try and brace themselves if they know they’re going to fall. With goalkeeping there are also ways to protect yourself in certain plays. There are moments though where the play is going to force you to put yourself out there. This is something that you have to be able to accept and execute without hesitation. We’ve all been there taking that small step because you’re scared of the impact that can lead to a goal. Really what you have to do is come into the game and play itself ready to take the blow no matter what. As a striker you can choose to live to fight another day. As a goalkeeper that’s not an option.    

The Mental Aspect Of The Ordeal 

There are a couple of things about the mental aspect of goalkeeping that I’ve essentially referenced already. In situations for example where you’re going to be putting yourself in harm’s way you have to block out your instincts which are going to likely tell you to protect yourself. That’s not the only mental aspect though that you’re going to have to deal with. Goalkeeping is an activity that happens a lot between the ears as they say. You’re looking at the game, and you’re just thinking and reacting to the position of the ball at all times. Virtually out of the blue you have to make certain decisions that you don’t consult with anyone they’re just your own. 

From there what you have to do is then mentally deal with the consequences of your actions. The good ones and the bad ones. Of course one of the most challenging mental aspects of goalkeeping is getting back up after conceding a goal that came about because of a bad decision. At times even a play that didn’t end in a goal, but you know you messed up in, can haunt you. Essentially a big part of the game is learning how to deal with those plays that haunt you. On the other end of the spectrum you don’t want to get too overjoyed with a good play. This happens a lot on crosses. You come out and you catch one perfectly. From there you want to do that every time. That’s not necessarily a good thing!     

Pernille Harder (VfL Wolfsburg, 22)

What Other Position Could Be Harder? 

That depends on your definition of hard. I’ve expressed a couple of elements that I feel are unique to goalkeeping and therefore make it a hard position across the board. That’s not to say for example that a goalkeeper will require the same stamina levels and speed as a defensive midfielder for example. That position is the most thankless position on the field perhaps on  par with goalkeepers. Some of these guys even in the pros can play for years on end and never get an award or otherwise recognized. Sadly for professionals a lot of times that means that they don’t command the big salaries that other star players are getting.  

A center forward is also a complex position mentally. Ironically it shares a lot of the off ball movements that goalkeeping has. At times these players have to make runs off the ball to open space for teammates. When this happens, and they are not the ones that find the back of the net they can end up getting criticized a ton by the fan base. When really they played a great game doing all the dirty work. Going back to midfielders these days they are asked to do it all. The advantage of that spot is that it’s a very active one. So you don’t have a lot of time to get in your own head and play the mental game that goalkeepers play.     

Is Goalkeeper The Hardest Position To Play? – Conclusion

I had to step back a bit before writing this conclusion to see if I wasn’t being too biased and pro goalkeeper in this article. The final paragraph kind of sums up how I feel about this issue. Really the answer to “Is goalkeeper the hardest position to play” is going to come down to your definition of what hard is. In my eyes there are so many different elements to goalkeeping that are not necessarily native to other positions on the field. That being said, I can’t say it’s the most physically demanding position, (during a game, in training it probably is). 

Maybe the question should be, is goalkeeper the hardest position to play well? There’s a good chance that’s a yes. Depending on what level of football we’re talking about though. Right now I could probably name 10 goalkeepers that are some of the best in the world on almost equal footing. Finding a number 9 though that’s on Haaland’s level is virtually impossible. Whatever the case may be, goalkeeping is not easy! That’s a fact, and that’s something that I hopefully make clear in every article on the site. Since it’s not easy I try to help you guys out a bit from time to time.