Quick reflexes are something good keepers are born with, but any
goalkeeper can improve their reactions. Keepers must learn to react to
subtle cues: visual, like the drop of a striker's head; auditory, like
the strike of a foot on the ball or a teammate's shout; and tactile,
like the feel of the ball on a toe or fingertip. There are many small
exercises here that can be moved through quickly if you want to.
These exercises are
not only fun, but develop a keeper's ability to focus, block out
distractions, and react quickly
to input rather than having to take extra time to think. When a keeper
can do this, they are in the zone!
- Warm Up (10 min)
Do some running, footwork and stretching. The Two-Ball Circle is a good exercise
to warm up with, as it really gets the concentration level of the
Make sure the keepers zero in on the ball and focus during the warm up.
- Head/Catch, Right/Left (5 min)
Now we move into some mental reaction drills, with players working
1) "Head/Catch". Players face each other, just
a couple of yards apart, and the server easily tosses the ball head high
to the other keeper and says "Head" or "Catch". The receiver must
either head the ball back or catch it, respectively. After a minute of
this, switch the commands -- if the thrower says "Head" they must catch
it, and if they say "Catch" they must head it. If it's easy, shorten
the amount of time the keeper has to react to the call of "Head" or
"Catch"; if it's too hard, give the keeper more time.
2) The second
exercise is "Right/Left". The server faces the keeper just a yard
apart, holding two balls, one in each hand, about shoulder high. The
server drops the balls simultaneously and says "Left" or "Right"; the
keeper must catch the ball specified (use the keeper's left and right).
After a minute or so, catch the opposite of the ball specified. Again,
the server can increase or decrease the amount of time the keeper has to
react to adjust the difficulty.
The trick with many of these sorts of exercises is to think, but not too
much. Let the words get processed almost subconciously and learn to
simply let yourself react.
- Tactile and Auditory Reaction (15 min)
1) Now we move to tactile input. Again in pairs, with the working
keeper facing away from the server, who stands 3-4 yards away. Without
saying anything, the server gently tosses the ball at the goalkeeper,
striking them anywhere in the back, rear, arms or legs. The keeper must
react, turn, and cover the ball as quickly as possible. The server can
move to one side or the other to vary the direction the ball is coming
from. With older keepers, the throws can be a bit harder to produce a
2) For an auditory input exercise, place two balls 6-8 yards
apart with the goalkeeper in between them. Coach or partner stands
behind the keeper and calls "Right" or "Left". The keeper must quickly
save the ball on their right or left. To increase the difficulty, then
have the keeper save the opposite ball from the one called out.
3) Same setup as 2, except now the coach or partner, who is
still standing behind the goalkeeper, moves to the right or left side
and slaps a ball they are holding in their hand. The keeper must react
to the sound and save the ball in the direction the sound came from.
Increase the difficulty by having the keeper save the ball opposite the
location of the sound.
The keeper should learn to use the tactile and auditory clues to figure
out where the ball is and where it's
going. Focus in on the feel of the ball striking the body and
use that to predict where the ball will end up: which side of the body,
landing nearby or bouncing away and in which direction. Concentrate on
the sound of the partner's voice or of the ball being struck. The keeper
needs to try to block out all other distractions. When the
goalkeeper covers the ball on the ground, make sure they use proper
- Visual Reaction (15 min)
Here are a few visual reaction exercises you can use.
1) Server holds a ball in
each hand, at shoulder height, a yard in front of the keeper. The
server will fake dropping one or both balls, but the keeper must not
move until the server actually drops one of the balls, and then must
attempt to catch that ball before it hits the ground.
2) Set two balls
about five yards apart, five yards in front of the keeper. A partner
stands on the opposite side of the balls, and attempts to fake the
keeper as to which ball he will attack. The keeper must not move until
the partner actually goes to attack a ball, and then must make a sliding
save on that ball, trying to beat his partner to the chosen ball.
Like 2, except the keeper must save the ball his partner does not
4) Have a keeper in goal, with two balls placed 12-16 yards out, one
even with each goalpost, and one shooter for each ball. Shooters agree
which one will actually take the shot, then both make as if to strike
the ball but only the one actually puts the ball on net. Keeper must
make the save. In this exercise, the shots ought to be savable -- we
are working on the goalkeeper's ability to process the visual cues to
react to the correct ball, not necessarily his ability to make the save.
The trick with all of these exercises is not to try to outguess the
server(s) and go too early. The goalkeeper must simply relax and wait
for the action, then just react to it.
- Numbers Games (20 min)
Similar to the Head/Catch and Right/Left exercises, these games work
on the keeper's ability to concentrate, process and trust their
instincts. The first few are variations on the theme of "Odd/Even",
then we add some simple math problems to try to occupy the brain while
the body is attempting to react to the ball.
1) Server holds
two balls at shoulder height, a yard in front of the keeper. Just
before dropping both balls, server calls "Odd" or "Even". If "Odd",
keeper must catch the ball on their left before it hits the ground; if
"Even", they must catch the right-hand ball.
2) Next, server says a
number between 1 and 9 just before dropping the ball. If the number is
even, the keeper must catch the ball on their right; if odd, they catch
the ball on their left.
3) Once they've gotten
that down, we make it harder. Just before dropping the balls, the
server states a simple addition or subtraction problem using single
digits (e.g. "2+3" or "7-4"). If the result is Odd, catch the ball on
the left; if Even catch the ball on the right. Leave a bit more time
between announcing the problem and dropping the balls.
4) Have one keeper
in goal, with two balls 12-16 yards out, one even with each post, and
one shooter for each ball. The shooters each aim for their half of the
goal (right or left) and shoot simultaneously. Just before the shots,
the coach or one of the shooters calls a number between 1 and 9. If the
number is even, the keeper saves the ball on their right; if odd, they
save the ball to their left.
5) Like number 4, except now call out a simple arithmetic
problem and save the correct ball based on whether the result is even or
Many keepers will have some difficulty with these exercises. Try not to
let the concious brain distract them from making the reaction. The
keeper should hear the number or problem, let it process, and then
simply react. Let them repeat these exercises a number of times in
succession quickly so they have a chance to get into a kind of rhythm.
- Dynamic Reaction Exercises (15 min)
These exercises get the keeper moving and force them to track
balls while the positions of the keeper's body and the ball are
1) Throw-Down-Up-Catch. Keeper stands with a ball in their
hands. They throw the ball straight up, lie down on the ground on their back
and put their arms straight out, then quickly get up and attempt to
catch the ball before the second bounce. For more difficulty, the
keeper must lie down on their stomach and put their arms out before
getting back up.
2) Throw-Tumble-Catch. From a standing position, keeper
throws the ball straight up, does a somersault, then gets to their feet
and catches the ball before the second bounce. A variation is to do a
backwards somersault, cartwheel, or other tumbling maneuver before the
3) Throw-Catch-Throw-Catch. This exercise requires a keeper
and a partner, each with a ball. To start, keeper stands a couple of
yards from their partner, facing away from them. The sequence looks
like this: 1. Keeper throws ball straight up; 2. Keeper turns 180
degrees to face partner; 3. Partner tosses ball to keepers hands;
keeper makes clean catch and throws it back; 4. Keeper turns 180
degress to starting position; 5. Keeper finds original ball and
catches it before it hits the ground. This one is lots of fun, but
younger keepers may find it difficult because they have trouble getting
their original throw consistent.
The key to all of these exercises is to worry about only one thing at a
time. Make a good original throw; if the first throw is off the keeper
will never complete the sequence. Then once the throw is made, forget
about it and focus on the next step; if the keeper tries to track the
original throw while turning or tumbling, they will likely not be very
successful. The sequence for exercise 3 is laid out in five very
specific steps, and for the best chance of success those steps must be
done in that order and separated. Another vital piece, especially for
the first two exercises, is to make sure the goalkeeper gets completely
to their feet and balanced before trying to track down the ball. Do not
let them lunge after it from their knees! This kind of training for focusing on
one piece is vital for a keeper -- think about the situation where a
ball slips throught the keeper's hands because they were already
thinking about the upcoming distribution, or because they were
distracted by the actions of a defender, or they were still trying to
regain their feet when the second shot came. Although simple-seeming,
these exercises mimic things that can trip up a goalkeeper in a real
- Shots on Goal with Arithmetic (10 min)
Finish with shots on goal from 14-16 yards out -- with a twist. Just
before each shot is taken, give the keeper a simple arithmetic problem
to solve. They have to save the shot and come up with the correct
answer as quickly as possible. If you have never heard a 15-year-old
come up with the wrong answer to "What is 2+2?", you just might while
doing this exercise!
The keeper needs to focus and trust their body reactions, and try to
separate out the part of their mind doing the arithmetic problem.
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