Q: What fundamentals are essential to learn as a young goalkeeper?
A: Goalkeeping is all technique. Similar to the way a field player needs to learn how to properly receive, pass, shoot, volley, etc., a goalkeeper has a very specific set of fundamentals they must learn to be successful. A lot of times, naturally athletic players do not put a great deal of emphasis on their technique because they make consistent saves purely out of great strength and speed. However, correctly performing goalkeeping tasks will make you more efficient in your movements, increasing your success rate and speed.
The main things a goalkeeper should be working on are:
- collapse vs. extension diving
- high balls/crosses
I'll elaborate on three:
1. Catching. Holding the ball after a shot is the first step in taking your game to the next level. Your goal should be to give up as few rebounds as possible. As a goalkeeper, your team should have confidence in you as a player and a leader. By having secure hands you ensure this and will cut down on unnecessary, dangerous, close-proximity reaction saves. You should catch with a diamond/triangle shape (depending on the length/dexterity of your thumbs. I personally catch in a triangle because my hands are relatively small). I DO NOT recommend the "W" hand positioning. This is old school goalkeeping that is out dated and ineffectual. A "W" shape gives you less control of the ball and positions your hands under it, making it very likely for a hard struck ball to go over/through your hands. The "W" may work for younger ages, but at the higher levels it is a recipe for disaster (and embarrassing goals).
2. Diving. There are many different schools of thought on diving. But two rules of thumb are universal: dive at an angle FORWARD to meet the ball. This cuts down the angle and allows you to cover more of the goal. Also this prevents you from ever hitting your head or back on your post. Diving backwards largely hinders your range laterally and puts your body at unnecessary risk. The other universal truth applies only to collapse dives. You should catch the ball before you land in "finished position". A collapse dive is three simple steps: 1) step 2) lean/catch and 3) finished position. You should almost always hold a collapse dive save.
3) Crosses/ High balls. Almost all coaches will teach you to drive one knee upwards to "protect yourself". While it is true that a knee will protect your groin region, the true reason to drive a knee is actually for momentum to aid you in jumping higher. You should always drive your outside knee. So if a cross come from your left, your right knee should drive upwards. Additionally, you must call keeper the second you decide to come for the ball and you need to collect the ball at your highest point (I.e. Catch the ball above your head at the height of your jump).
Goalkeeping is incredibly technical. These are just a few fundamental points. Focus on these in particular as well as your footwork and your distribution. Goalkeeping is physically and mentally demanding. By perfecting your technique you build confidence, cut down on errors, and eliminate extraneous injuries.