Edwin Van der Sar playing a game in his later years

What’s The Perfect Height For A Goalkeeper?

A goalkeeper’s height is a topic that comes up constantly with up-and-coming goalies. You get to a certain age when you realize that you’re not going to grow that much. You realize quickly that you’re going to be a few inches short. I’ve talked about height on this site a couple of times. It’s one of the topics that I personally dealt with being under 6 feet tall. What I’ve always said is that you’re not necessarily toast if you’re under 6 feet tall. Ironically though it is a hurdle that you’re going to have to overcome. For men under 6 feet the problem is that you’re not going to pass the eye test right off the bat. That means that you’re going to have to show over the top skills to overcome this. 

For women goalkeepers the height requirement is a bit lower. That’s not to say it’s not important or that there isn’t a certain bias against shorter women goalkeepers. It’s just that if you’re 5 ’10 as a guy you may be on that fringe area. On the other hand 5 ’10 as a women’s goalkeeper is considered a very decent height. You will pass the eye test in the women’s game. In the male game though you may be second guessed at 5’10. Also, I do have to say that the perfect height for a goalkeeper according to scouts is going to vary depending on where the scouts are from. I don’t think that’s something that we can overlook. If you’re even at 6 feet it’s going to be hard to break through in the Premier League. Maybe in Spain, Mexico, Central and South America you’ll be fine.  

Is There A Height That You Just Can’t Play At?

I’m going to try and work my way from the bottom up to talk about the ideal height for a goalkeeper. So with that in mind is there a height that you just can’t play at? The shortest goalkeeper I’ve seen succeed is none other than the leader in all time appearances in Liga MX Oscar Perez. “El Conejo” or the rabbit as he was known in his playing days started for Mexico in two World Cups. You could say that he certainly crafted a very successful career for himself. I just checked, and he’s listed at 5’7. To be completely honest I think 5’7 is a gracious measurement for Oscar. I’m not saying he’s the shortest goalkeeper to ever play, but I love using him as an example.   

The reason why I love using him as an example is because he had an amazing vertical leap that allowed him to make up for his lack of height. Also, he used the leg strength to be able to get up really close to the shooters in 1v1 situations. The problem with a lack of height is not only that you’re putting in more effort to reach shots. It’s also that you’re likely going to have a smaller frame. Therefore, you need to get up closer to the shooter in short range shots. Since you’re shorter though, you can be chipped easier. All this being said I think 5’7 is a generous basement. If you’re going to go pro at this height you better be able to jump really high.      

Developing Your Leg Strength & Increasing Your Vertical

At any height being able to fly from post to post is going to be an advantage. One of the best things about goalkeeper training is that you can craft all sorts of exercises to be able to work on this very thing. My criticism of some of the taller goalkeepers in the pro game is that they seem to lack effort when working on this part of their game. You see that with their play on the field where they are just relying on how tall they are, but they are not necessarily athletic goalkeepers. You can develop your vertical and your leg strength with the exercise that I like to call the ring. What you need are four poles tied together with some type of rope or cord whatever it may be.

Basically what you’re going to be doing is diving over or under that rope on numerous occasions as you go through the exercise. Also, you can work on your footwork with exercises that force you to run across the entire goal to make saves at the top or bottom corners. The repetition of these exercises with the adequate amount of effort are really what can get you a better vertical. Obviously, if you want to complement that with gym work in the leg press you can. Swimming is also one of the activities that can help. If you’re a shorter goalkeeper your legs are the only thing that are going to give you a chance. So you need to work on these types of things more frequently than most other goalkeepers will.     

Is There A Height That Makes You Too Tall To Play Goalkeeper? 

We don’t have too many 7 footers playing goalkeeper. Thibaut Courtois comes to mind when thinking about some of the taller goalkeepers at the top of the sport. He’s listed at 6’7. If we’re really honest about it that’s an outlier. Gianluigi Donnarumma is listed at 6’5, and Édouard Mendy is apparently 6′ 4. Most of the top guys are within that range of 6’2 to 6’4. There’s I think a very good reason why we don’t see a lot of 7 footers in goal. In past generations there just weren’t too many 7 footers walking around on the planet. Of course, that made it less likely for them to play goalkeeper professionally. Now that we do have a bit more people at 7 foot or 6’8 and above the problem is you have to get them down! 

It can be really tough for a taller person to be able to get low enough to the ground to cover some of those low running shots. Even though we can think that these people would have a better reach, getting their body low enough can be the problem. Also, training as a goalkeeper takes a big toll on your body as it is. If you have to constantly dive to the ground from 7 feet I just don’t see that being too sustainable for anyone. Belgian Kristof Van Hout is currently considered the tallest active goalkeeper of the top leagues at 6 ’10. He doesn’t even play in a top league per se since he plays for a Belgian second tier side. With that in mind  we could say that 6’11 and above is too tall to play goalkeeper.     

Why 6’2 or 6’3 is Probably Ideal For A Goalkeeper

Although some of the top guys are playing at 6 ‘5 and above for the most part we see goalkeepers at 6’ 3 and 6’2. I kind of gave away the answer to why this is a “better” height. It’s going to be easier for goalkeepers at this height to be able to get their body low enough to save those shots to the bottom corner. If you are 6’3 or 6’2 you’re bound to have a longer natural reach than someone who is 5’10. That’s not necessarily a lock. As there are people with shorter or longer arms. We see that in boxing all the time where they do measure reach. You can have 2 fighters at the same height with a different reach. That can happen with goalkeepers as well. 

To be completely honest it would not be ideal for a goalkeeper to have short T-rex arms. The height situation could become a second thought when you look at the fact that he just doesn’t have enough natural reach. Anyway… even though 6’2 to maybe 6’4 is that ideal range that doesn’t mean that you can’t play at other heights. As I have been saying if you’re shorter it’s going to be more difficult for you to pass the scout’s eye test. Your best bet then is to make sure they see that you can jump out of a building. When you’re a shorter goalkeeper you’re forced to prove that you’re more athletic. Arguably more athletic short goalkeepers can be a lot better than tall stiff ones.    

Why 5’9 or 5’10 Can Be Great For The Women’s Game

Obviously the same measurements would apply to men and women in this case. What I mean by that is, women that are 6’3 or 6’2 are probably going to be at an advantage. It’s also true that there are not as many women at that height across the globe. This is evident for many countries who actually have trouble with some of their shorter goalkeepers. It was the case in the Mexican women’s league when it first got started. Some of the pro teams had goalkeepers that were not tall enough or couldn’t develop a vertical to reach the crossbar consistently. This is a huge issue in the women’s game, and it affects some countries more than others just due to a national average height for women.

In a lot of ways though this lack of height or this difference between men and women should help scouts realize that any goalkeeper at around 5’9 or 5′ 10 can make it in the pro game. I say 5’9 or 5’10 because I get the sense that at this height you’re not going to have too much trouble reaching the crossbar consistently. Like I mentioned, this is something that’s become a real problem in some countries. If you catch the goalkeeper playing a little off their line they’re just toast. For me that’s not just sustainable. You’re giving every opposing team that you face too many advantages when you’re playing at a height or in a situation where you can consistently reach the cross bar.  

Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Height

I’ve said it throughout the article multiple times already. Saying that you don’t have a handicap against you because of your height if you’re a short goalkeeper is a lie. At the end of the day though that’s not something that you can control. So you can’t worry about the way that people see you. You have to play big at all times though. What does that mean? That means that you need to have the legs to get up on the shooter in close range shots. Your 1v1’s need to be more effective because of this. Also, you need to do what you can do to make sure that you jump out of this world. I’ve talked about goalkeeper drills that I know help develop this.

If you really feel that you need some extra help though don’t be shy about trying things like gymnastics to help you jump more. At the end of the day we can’t think of goalkeeper training as the only type of exercise that you can do to help you on the field. In fact, looking into alternative things that you can do to improve on the field is one of the best ways that you’re going to stand out. When you have a body type that’s not the prototypical one for a goalkeeper or for whatever it is that you want to be, thinking outside the box is a must. Ultimately though, focus on what you can control, not on the things that you can’t.