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Angle play: This area alone separates the pretenders from the contenders. By simply taking up the right position you can make goalkeeping look very easy.
    -- Tony DiCicco, Goalkeeper Soccer Training Manual
Basic Positioning Principles
Positioning Around the Goal
Quick Summary/Mistakes to Watch For
Related Blog Entries
General Positioning

Along with footwork and good catching skills, positioning provides the foundation of good goalkeeping. A keeper who is always in position makes it look like every shot goes right to them, because the shooter has nowhere else to put the ball. Poor positioning leaves vast areas of net for a shooter, or even an empty net.

Basic Positioning Principles

Fig 1. The Center Line Position

Fig. 2 Covering the Angle

First, to position themselves accurately, the goalkeeper must know where the goal is! It sounds obvious, but during the scramble of a game a keeper can lose track. When the play starts moving towards the goal, Coaching Point the first thing the keeper must do is check the posts to make sure they are starting off with good position. Then, whenever they can divert their attention for a split second, they should check the posts again to make sure they've maintained that good position in the face of a moving ball.

Second, the goalkeeper must always try to position themselves on an imaginary line that runs from the center of the goal to the ball (Fig. 1). This puts them in position to get to either post equally well. The center line determines the side-to-side positioning.

Third, the goalkeeper must position themselves far enough off the goal line to cover the angle created by the ball and both posts. They should be able to cover either post with a couple of quick steps (footwork!) and a dive if necessary (Fig. 2). The angle and the keeper's ability determine the forward/backward positioning. MistakeMany young or timid goalkeepers tend to stay very close to the goal line - sometimes right on it. They must be taught to come off the line if they are to cover any shots near the posts.

How far out a keeper must come depends on their size and ability - smaller goalkeepers or keepers with a poor range will need to come farther out to be able to cover the entire angle.

But don't forget the third dimension not represented in these pictures: height. A keeper who is far off their line is more likely to be beaten by a chip over their head, so that must also be put into the equation. The keeper must adjust the forward/backward position so that they're confident they won't be beaten easily over the top.

Positioning Around the Goal

The goalkeeper must constantly adjust his or her position as they move around the goal. Let's look at what happens as the ball changes spots.

Fig. 3: The Goalkeeper's Arc

Fig. 4 Adjusted Arc

At a tight angle, with the ball near the end line, the angle the keeper needs to cover is very small, so they can stay near their goal. However, the keeper Coaching Point must stay outside the near post. This will prevent them from Mistakedeflecting a shot into their own net inside the near post. At sharp angles the goalkeeper should always position themselves so any ball they deflect at a right angle (they should already be square to the ball) will go outside the near post.

Here's a quick way for goalkeepers to tell if they are outside the near post: Coaching Pointif the goalkeeper, while square to the ball, points their arms straight out sideways, the arm nearest the goal should be pointing outside the near post. If it is pointing into the net, the keeper needs to take another step or two out from goal.

As the ball moves further out onto the soccer field, the near post is not as much of a concern any more, but the keeper must move further out to cover the angle.

Figure 3 shows conceptually where a keeper should be positioned (red dots) as the ball (black dots) moves around the edge of the penalty area. The blue line shows the shape this makes. The actual size of the arc will differ depending on the size and skill of a particular keeper, but the general shape will remain the same. (The angle lines are only drawn on the left side of the illustration to avoid clutter.)

If we look at the top of the arc, though, we notice that the keeper is very far off the line (sometimes 10-12 yards out!) and likely to get chipped, especially if they're not very tall. So we need to Coaching Point adjust the top of the arc to account for high balls. The top of the arc gets flattened, bringing the keeper back to a position where they have a chance to get to any ball over their head (Fig. 4). Again, the exact position will depend on the size and skill of the player. Shorter, less skilled keepers will be more comfortable closer to the goal line, others may be comfortable closer to the six.

Tony DiCicco calls this concept the "Arc Angle". Coaching Point It can easily be demonstrated on the soccer field with three ropes about 50 feet long, one attached to each post and one to a stake at the middle of the goal line. Place the ball at varying spots around the penalty area and have the keeper find their position, then place a cone there. When the exercise is finished, the cones will show that keeper's arc as in Figure 3. Adjust for chip shots and you'll end up with the keeper's arc as in Figure 4.

A keeper should learn this arc and use it as a general guideline for how they position themselves as the ball moves. Notice that this arc roughly follows the goal box. Coaching PointMake sure the keeper notes how their own arc matches or differs from the goal box, so they can use the goal box as a reference during practices and games. However, Mistake do not let a keeper, especially a young one, think they must move along this arc at all times. If the ball quickly changes position, they must move as quickly as possible to cover the new position, cutting across the box if necessary.

Also, remember a given keeper's arc will change as they gain size, strength and ability. You may want to run the exercise with the ropes once a season to see if their arc has changed.

Positioning Within the Penalty Area

Discussion of where the goalkeeper should be in the penalty area when the ball is elsewhere on the soccer field is in the tactics section.

Quick Summary - Positioning:

Mistakes to Watch For:

Know the location of the goalposts
Stay on line between the center of the goal and the ball
Move far enough off the line to cover the angle to each post
Be aware of balls over the head when way off the line
At sharp angles, always play outside the near post
Not checking the goalposts frequently
Staying planted on the goal line
Standing inside the near post on sharp-angled shots

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