Why Are Goalkeepers Tall? - Can You Be Short & Still Make it Big?

Why Are Goalkeepers Tall? – Can You Be Short & Still Make it Big?

This is essentially the second time that I’m going to be tackling this particular topic. I’ve talked about goalkeepers under 6 feet, and how effective they can be in the pro game. The fact of the matter is, most goalkeepers today are tall, and over 6 feet. There are still some outliers out there, but shorter goalkeepers seem to be going the way of the dodo. Why are goalkeepers tall though? The simple answer is reach. When you’re taller you’re going to be able to naturally reach that top drawer in the house where your parents used to hide your toys. With goalkeepers, you want them to be able to reach even the shots that are headed towards the top corner. Taller goalkeepers not only have more reach, but obviously are bigger overall. 

With a wider, longer body you’re able to take up more of the goal, and leave less space for a shooter to aim in a 1v1 situation or an instance where the shooter is closer towards the goal even if you’re not in a 1v1 spot. The good thing for shorter goalkeepers though is that the true art of goalkeeping is not in the hands, but in your footwork. Of course, you need to have a proper catching, and blocking technique, but you can learn that at any size. While tall goalkeepers have a natural advantage with a longer reach there are sometimes other challenges that are tougher on taller goalkeepers. Does that mean that there is an ideal size that goalkeepers should have? Not really, but to be honest there is a sense of discrimination against goalkeepers shorter than 6 feet.

Why Are Goalkeepers Tall – Benefits Of Tall Goalkeepers 

Tim Howard showing his jumping abilities

There are essentially two main benefits that you get just from being tall. Your natural reach is going to be greater than another person who is shorter. So that means in quick reaction plays you’re going to be more likely to get to a ball. Also, if you have a wider frame, as well, then you’re going to be able to cover up more of the goal in a 1v1 situation. Really though, that natural reach in shots that are coming close to your body is the main thing that a tall goalkeeper is going to have over a shorter goalkeeper.

The wider frame aspect is something that shorter goalkeepers can overcompensate for. As a shorter goalkeeper you’re going to need to be up on the shooter much closer in a 1v1 situation. If you’re taller you’ll essentially be able to cover the same area of the goal or feature the same frame even if you’re not as close to the shooter. Of course, if two goalkeepers are within the same distance of the shooter theoretically the taller goalkeeper is going to be able to make things harder on the shooter. Another benefit that has to do with reach is that technically it takes taller goalkeepers less effort to be able to reach balls further away from their position. This is a tricky one though because as a taller goalkeeper that doesn’t mean that footwork and proper diving technique isn’t necessary.    

What Taller Goalkeepers Are Going To Struggle With 

Ter Stegen Save

Traditionally taller goalkeepers are said to have trouble with low running shots. A lot of times it’s actually not those shots that are headed directly at the post. The main issue that taller goalkeepers struggle with are low running shots that are coming in close to their body, but not close enough to where you can just stretch your arm out and grab or deflect the ball. What can tall goalkeepers do to be able to improve in those situations? It starts with positioning. If you’re standing straight up when the shot is coming in you’re going to lose a step when you try and dive to one of these balls. Plus, the fall from a normal standing position onto the ground is going to hurt a lot more. 

As a taller goalkeeper you want to make sure that your starting position is low. We’ve seen Thibaut Courtois, who is 6 foot 7, perfect this in a way that perhaps other taller goalkeepers haven’t. You have to lower your hips, put your bottom down as well, and stretch your arms out to the side. If you want to be a tall goalkeeper with your hands always up by your chest you’re never going to be able to block those low incoming shots. Your arms have to fall down by your sides so that you can take your arm and try to in a sense scoop low running balls as you dive. Your starting position is what’s going to make you or break you in most cases as a tall goalkeeper.  

The Importance Of Footwork For Any Goalkeeper 

Cones for stakes for a goalkeeper drill

One of the things that taller goalkeepers can’t allow themselves to do is to disregard footwork and proper positioning. Maybe another one of the benefits that I forgot to point out is that taller goalkeepers are going to have a better chance to recover when a shot rebounds off another player. Even in situations where taller players are caught out of position regardless of the reason why that’s the case they have a better chance to recover. What’s going to increase those chances is footwork. Goalkeeper coaches really have to make an effort to ensure that footwork becomes second nature to goalkeepers regardless of their size. When you’re a goalkeeper, and you get to training to see a bunch of cones it gets frustrating real quickly.   

Ultimately though, those exercises are what should allow you to navigate the goal with a bit of a sixth sense in games. Coaches have to make sure that if they’re going to be using cones or plates they’re not just doing so aimlessly. Those cones have to mimic an actual trajectory that you want your goalkeeper to replicate in games. A lot of the drills that you should be doing also should force you to move into different positions within the goal as the shooting point changes. I call this knowing how to walk in goal. A lot of us learned it instinctively just through doing a lot of these drills. Before you know it you’re going to feel your position in regard to the shooter and the goal. By the way, that position can change depending on your height.  

Find Your Spots In Goal

Woman goalkeeper making a save in training

This what I was already talking about in the last paragraph it does relate to the question of why are goalkeeper tall. As the ball moves across the front of the box a goalkeeper has to be able to adjust his or her position on the fly to make sure that if a shot comes in from the current spot that the ball is in they are in the best spot to make a save. As a taller goalkeeper for example you’ll be able to cheat in some of these spots. For example if the ball is at the edge of the box the goalkeeper has to stand closer to the near post, which is the post that is nearest to the ball. If you’re a taller goalkeeper, or you’re confident in your footwork you can cheat a little bit more towards the far side. 

A lot of times what goalkeeper coaches maybe don’t do a great job at is trying to help each goalkeeper find his or her spot. It can be hard to do really if you have kids of all ages. Really the spot in goal that a 6-year-old should be in is not the same spot that a 12-year-old is going to feel comfortable in. In some of the drills that you go ahead and do without cones you want to help your goalkeepers explore what could be their spot. As I mentioned before this is something that you want to work on constantly whether you are tall or not. It’s going to help you understand where you need to be in goal at any given time.   

Making Yourself Big 

Thibaut Courtois training with Real Madrid

I just mentioned that you want to get low, so why do you want to make yourself big? That depends on the type of play that you’re dealing with. If you’re going to face a 1v1 situation you’re going to want to make yourself big. For taller goalkeepers though that still means having a low center of gravity and making sure that your arms are stretched out by your sides. If you’ve decided that this is a 1v1 situation what you also want to do is get as close to the shooter as you can. Of course while doing that you’re trying to cover as much of the goal as possible. A lot of times the key element of making yourself big is to reduce the distance between yourself and the shooter. 

Keep your legs under you as much as you can. If you come out and just kneel then you’re basically banking on the fact that the offensive player is going to take a shot at that moment. What if the play is still alive you want to keep your legs under you and stretch your arms out as much as you can. This is something that Manuel Neuer is able to do really well. What you want to avoid is kneeling too early, and you want to get as close to the shooter as possible. You want to do that regardless of whether you’re a short or tall goalkeeper. Without a doubt as a tall goalkeeper you’ll be able to make it tougher on the shooter. 

An Example of Great Tall Goalkeeper 

Edwin Van der Sar
edwinvandersar1/ Instagram

Thibaut Courtois is without a doubt the modern example of a tall goalkeeper that can do it all. One of the things that really separates him from the rest of the tall goalkeepers out there like Tim Krul’s of the world is the way that he’s able to lower his center of gravity, and play strikers down low on a 1v1. He’s tall enough to where he can get low to cover those tight windows down near their body that taller goalkeepers traditionally leave open when they come out for a 1v1. If we’re talking about tall goalkeepers that are great at 1v1 plays Manuel Neuer can’t be too far behind.

What he does really well is that he’s able to keep his feet under him at all times, so he’s always in the play even if the attacker wants to dribble by him. When it comes to using his length in shots to the top corner at this point in time there are few better than Courtois. The Belgian keeper reminds a lot of Edwin Van Der Sar. He was also one of those tall goalkeepers that really knew how to fly and use his length to reach shots that 99.9% of us won’t. That’s actually also a teaching point: understanding how to control your body in the air as you dive is key for anyone. For tall goalkeepers though it’s really going to allow you to use that natural length that you have.

Why Are Goalkeepers Tall – Conclusion 

Edwin Van der Sar playing a game in his later years
edwinvandersar1/ Instagram

I’ve established from the beginning that the main reason why goalkeepers are tall is because that natural length that you get with height is advantageous when you play in goal. It’s simple enough, just by standing there a tall goalkeeper is going to be able to cover up more of the goal than a shorter one. I don’t want to discourage any shorter goalkeepers, but the fact is height can end up being a determining factor when deciding who plays or who stays on a team or not. 

Whether you’re tall or not though, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels and not work on key aspects of your game. If you’re a bit on the shorter side you need to have masterful footwork, and you need to have hops! Building leg strength is key to being a competent goalkeeper. Also you need to realize that you want to be closer to the shooter at any given time. A goalkeeper at any height has to find his or her preferred spots in goal. That’s only achieved through hours, and hours of training, and also getting to those spots at game speed!