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The one thing I could always do, that I knew I could do, was catch the ball. I had that confidence in my hands.
    -- Frank Borghi, goalkeeper for the U.S. team that beat England in the 1950 World Cup
The Two Principles of Catching
The W or Contour Catch
The Inverted Contour
Rolling Ball Pickups
Protecting the Ball
Quick Summary/Mistakes to Watch For
Related Blog Entries
Catching Basics
Cushioning the Ball
High Balls

The only advantage a goalkeeper has over any other player on the soccer field is that they can use their hands. In this way, a goalkeeper can control the ball in a way no other player can, but to gain this control, they must catch the ball.

Catching technique is second only to footwork in making a safe, solid keeper. "Soft" goals that just slip into the net and rebound goals are tough for the keeper and the entire team to deal with. Proper training and practice can prevent these.

The Two Principles of Catching

The first thing to remember about catching a soccer ball is Coaching Pointalways get the hands to the ball first!. The occasional kick save may be necessary, but a goalkeeper's hands are their advantage and they should always try to exercise that advantage whenever possible. The "hands to the ball first" axiom applies to every single technique in goalkeeping.

The second thing is a keeper must have "soft hands". This means they must use their arms, back and legs to cushion the ball, absorbing its energy and allowing them to hang on to it. When reaching for a ball, the arms should be extended (but don't lock the elbows!), then the elbows bend as the catch is made, allowing the arms to absorb the speed of the ball. The keeper can also bend back a bit at the waist to help cushion the ball. Coaching PointA quiet catch is a good, soft catch. If the ball loudly slaps the hands, the keeper is not giving enough with the ball. MistakeDon't allow the keeper to take steps backwards to cushion the catch - remember, the keeper should always move forwards towards the ball.

There are several basic types of catches used by soccer goalkeepers.

  • The "W" or Contour Catch

    Fig. 1a (L), 1b (R): The "W" or contour catch

    The "W" or contour catch is used for any ball from about waist height up. The hands cradle the contour of the ball, with the thumbs and index fingers forming a "W" behind the ball (Fig. 1a). Coaching PointIt's critical that the hands, especially the thumbs, be behind the ball - Mistakeif a keeper tends to catch the sides of the ball, without the strong thumbs behind, they will let balls get through their grip and let in easy goals.

    The hand position can be varied somewhat. For younger keepers or those with small hands, bring the wrists closer together, thumbs almost parallel, to get the most stopping power behind the ball (Fig. 1b). More experienced keeper with more hand strength should rotate the wrists outward, getting more of the contour of the ball and thus better control.

    For balls high in the air, the hand position is the same. However, the goalkeeper must also take additional steps to ensure they can catch the ball cleanly:

    • Jump to catch the ball at the Coaching Point highest point possible. Mistake Keepers must not wait on a high ball in the air and make a basket catch at the waist! They must get to the ball above their heads. If the ball is not caught high, attackers can rush in and head the ball away before it gets to the keeper's hands. Watch carefully for this and insist they use proper technique.
    • Raise one knee, the one nearest any opposing pressure, as they jump. This provides extra boost for the jump, and also can provide some protection against onrushing forwards. Coaching PointHowever, a goalkeeper should never raise their knee with intent to injure or "send a message" to another player. The knee is primarily used to generate additional height on the jump, secondarily as a fender against collisions. It should be kept close in to the keeper's body.

    If the keeper gets their hands to a high overhead ball, but the ball Mistakerolls off their hands and down, they may need to Coaching Pointcock their wrist back more to get the hands in better catching position.

  • Fig. 2: Inverted contour catch
    The Inverted Contour
    For balls below the waist, the inverted contour or basket catch is used. The hands are again behind the ball, this time downwards with the pinkies together (Fig. 2). Here again Coaching Point it is critical for the hands to be behind the ball.

    For very hard, low shots, the goalkeeper needs to ensure their momentum is forward and their weight is over the ball. Older, more advanced goalkeepers should use the front smother technique for these shots (see the Advanced Diving page).

  • Ground or Rolling Ball Pickup
    There are several techniques for picking up a rolling ball. For all of them, the keeper Coaching Point must get their hands all the way down, fingertips brushing the ground to ensure a clean catch.

    The straight-leg pickup seems to be falling out of favor lately, and most goalkeepers use the knee-bent pickup and its moving variation. in fact, since basic footwork principles tell us we should move forwards to the ball, the moving pickup is probably used the most of any of these techniques.

    • Straight-leg pickup (Fig. 3) - the keeper bends from the waist, slightly bent at the knees, with feet behind the ball. Catch with the hands, then bring up to the chest. Use this save when there is no pressure. MistakeWatch out for young or not very flexible keepers who bend from the waist but cannot get their hands all the way to the ground. This is a recipe for missed balls. These keepers should probably use the following bent-knee pickup instead.

      MistakeAlso, a keeper should not use this type of save when under pressure from opposing forwards. It does not allow enough ability to move out of the way if necessary, and puts the head low and in a vulnerable position as well. Use a moving-ball pickup, below, to run through the ball or out of harm's way, or make a sliding save as for a breakaway.

    • Knee-bent pickup (Fig. 4) - keeper staggers their feet slightly, one just behind the other. Keeper bends at knees and waist, one foot beside the ball and the other behind the ball, catch with the hands and then bring up to the chest. MistakeAlthough the feet are staggered, they should be behind the ball and close enough together that a ball cannot slip between them.
    • 70K Movie70K Movie Moving pickup - similar to a knee-bent pickup, but used when the keeper is on the move towards the rolling ball. The foot on the goal side of the ball is placed beside the ball, the other foot behind the ball. Keeper is low as they approach the ball, scoop with hands behind the ball Mistake and not on the sides of the ball, and continue to move through the ball in one continuous motion.
    • Knee-down pickup (Fig. 5) - contrary to what many young goalkeepers seem to be taught, this save is actually one of the least used because it restricts mobility. Coaching Point This technique is only used in special situations, on long, low, hard shots on uneven fields or wet grass. It gives the keeper the largest "backstop" for low balls that may be difficult to corral. Keeper bends one knee; the other goes down almost to the ground and very close to the other heel. Mistake The down knee should not touch the ground and should not bear any weight, so that the keeper can easily get up and move if need be. Also, the gap between heel and knee should be less than a ball width, for obvious reasons.
    Fig. 3: Straight-Leg Pickup Fig. 4: Bent-Knee Pickup Fig. 5: Knee down pickup

    For any low balls, the legs must be kept more or less together and Coaching Point behind the ball. MistakeOpening the legs invites the "ole" goal right through the wickets - quite embarrassing for the keeper!

Protecting the ball after a catch

The proper position for protecting a ball after a catch is made is shown in Fig. 6. Both forearms vertical, with hands curled over the top of the soccer ball. In this position it is almost impossible to dislodge the ball. MistakeThe forearms should never be held horizontally like a running back receiving a handoff.

Fig. 6: Protecting the ball

Your keeper should not attempt to protect the ball too soon after a catch. Too often, Mistakekeepers attempt to bring the ball to the protected position before they have made a clean catch, and end up bobbling the ball, or attempt to make a "catch" in the protected position and end up having the ball ricochet away from their chest or forearms. I cannot stress enough that Coaching Pointcatch must always be made with the hands first. In fact, if there is no pressure on the goalkeeper, it may not be necessary to protect the ball at all. If the catch is secure, the keeper should be able to simply hold the ball in the catching position. Catch/protect should be two distinct actions - Coaching Pointin fact, they should be two distinct sounds as the goalkeeper makes the save - the first the sound of the ball hitting the hands, then the sound of the ball being protected against the chest.

MistakeAlso, do not allow the goalkeeper to bat the ball in front of them and then catch it. They should be able to "stick" the catch in good catching position right away, using arms, back and legs to cushion the ball as mentioned above.

Quick Summary - Catching:

Mistakes to Watch For:

Hands to the ball first
Soft, quiet, cushioning hands and arms
Good catching position - "W" with thumbs behind the ball or inverted contour with pinkies touching
High balls need to be caught at the highest point possible
On ground pickups, get fingertips all the way to the ground by bending at the waist and knees
Protect the ball properly, but only after the catch has been made securely
Trapping ball with body part other than hands (chest, forearms, etc.)
Hands on the sides of the ball
Waiting on high balls
Legs apart and not behind the ball
Attempting to protect the ball before the catch is secure
Knees on the ground at any time

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