Goalkeeping is not just about making saves. It’s also about using various methods of distribution to pick out players, start off an attack, or clear the ball from danger. Keepers need to be comfortable using both their feet and hands for distribution — even acting as an on-field player when necessary.
There’s four main goalkeeper distribution techniques that I’ve covered in this post:
- Back Pass
- Goal Kicks
- Drop Kicks
Mastering these four techniques will help turn you into a well-rounded goalkeeper.
1. Back Pass
The back pass intimidates a lot of goalkeepers because it highlights any weaknesses they have with the ball at feet. Forwards know to pressure keepers on a back pass; so building confidence through regular practice is vital.
Importantly, back passes aren’t always played perfectly to your strong side. So it’s imperative that you can maintain composure and control the ball using both feet.
- Keepers have to offer themselves as an option to their team mates. This gives the opposing attackers an extra player to consider, which creates more space for your team.
- There’s a crucial decision goalkeepers have to make with any back pass: should I control the ball, or get it away immediately?
First Time Clearance
You use a first time clearance when it’s too dangerous to take a touch. For example:
- A back pass was played short, so you have to sprint to the ball to beat the attacker. There’s no time for a touch.
- The opposition is close, so you expect to be pressured very quickly. It’s safer to clear the ball away.
- The back pass is played conveniently at a pace that can be struck first time.
Taking An Extra Touch
You take an extra touch when it’s safer than attempting to hit it first time. For example:
- The back pass is played with pace, spin or height. Hitting it first time is difficult, and likely to land the ball in a dangerous area.
- There’s no imminent threat from the opposition, meaning that you have time to set the ball up where you want it.
- The ball is played to your weaker foot, and you want to shift it over to your strong side.
Making The Best Decision
Once upon a time goalkeepers didn’t need to be all that good with the ball feet — because the back pass rule didn’t exist. So shortly after the back pass rule was introduced in 1992, keepers were like a fish out of water.
The goalkeeper in the video makes several mistakes with this back pass.
- He didn’t clear the ball out wide. He played it back into a dangerous spot which lead to his defender panicking (and almost scoring an own goal).
- An extra touch was on, and he could’ve set the ball up nicely for a composed ball out to safety.
- He purposely avoided using his weaker left foot. If he was comfortable using it, it would’ve given him another option: to control the ball with the foot it came to, and push it out wide for a clearance.
The header-save was impressive, though.
The point here is that the back pass should’ve removed the danger, but instead created it. Modern keepers have to be good with their feet, comfortable using both (to an extent), and well-practised at making the best back pass decision possible.
Aspire to be like Ederson — who’s practically an outfield player with gloves.
Goalkeepers have an advantage over everyone else on their team: their hands. So you’ll need to put them to good use in your distribution — by throwing the ball out to your players.
- There are two types of throws that keepers need to be familiar with: the underarm bowl, and overarm throw. It’s essential that these two basic distribution techniques are learnt.
- Throwing the ball enables keepers to pick out their players more accurately than they could manage from their feet.
- It’s often quicker for the keeper to throw the ball from their hands than to place the ball onto the ground and kick it out.
- The only real disadvantage of throwing is that you cannot get the same distance as a long kick… unless you’re Heurelho Gomes, or this Iranian guy…
The underarm bowl is pretty simple to learn:
- Step forward in a lunging motion:
- Left leg forward if you bowl with your right arm.
- Right leg forward if you bowl with your left arm.
- Lower your body to the ground and withdraw the ball back in your strong hand.
- Bowl the ball along the ground using your strong arm.
The following video demonstrates the underarm bowl technique perfectly.
The overarm throw is used to generate distance. With the correct technique you’ll achieve accuracy, which helps your team to maintain possession and build attacks.
- Stand side on with your weak foot forward.
- Keep your throwing arm (strong arm) straight and keep your hand spread around the ball, ready to sling.
- Point your weak arm in the direction you want the ball to travel. This also helps to maintain balance.
- Sling the ball overarm, and imagine you’re trying to lightly brush your ear with the top of your arm. Avoid throwing the ball with a sideways motion as you’ll lose power and accuracy.
- Release the ball slightly early to generate more height. Release late if you want it to hit the ground with pace.
Think about whether you want to sling the ball for your player to run onto, or if you want them to win it in the air. This tutorial shows how to throw the ball overarm with distance.
3. Goal Kicks
Goal kicks are very difficult to master, and require sound technique. A methodical, repetitive approach is best.
Keepers need to be able to use their goal kicks to execute neat short passes, as well as generate enough power, height an accuracy on long ball kicks.
- Keepers must make a decision on goal kicks: pick out a nearby player with a “short ball”, or someone further up the pitch with a “long ball”?
- Short ball: pass or chip the ball out to unmarked players in your own half.
- Long ball: pick out a players close to the half way mark, or beyond.
- The Long ball has the advantage of generating power and length — which is difficult to achieve from throwing the ball. It’s a tricky technique, though.
The Short Ball
If you’ve played football for a while then you should be able to make short passes with accuracy. But the key to good short distribution is being comfortable with the ball at both feet, and having a good first touch.
Personally I’ve found that casually playing five a side football as an outfield player has helped to improve my first touch, passing, dribbling and ability to handle pressure. But there are of course specific drills for keepers…
The Long Ball
No other player in a team is expected to kick the ball as far as the goalkeeper. So practising the optimal technique for striking goal kicks with power is vital.
In the following video the goalkeeper demonstrates a methodical approach to the long ball goal kick. Note how he tilts his body and shifts his weight as he strikes the ball, in order to achieve elevation and a clean hit.
Many amateur keepers focus on power over technique. I was the same. My big mistake was wasting my run-ups by striking the ball square, with my head down and my weight shifted slightly forward. I’d often fail to ‘lift’ the ball high enough. My poor technique would’ve been better suited to a striker taking shots from the edge of the box!
While strength and power comes with age, you can still vastly improve your long ball goal kicks by practising your run up and adjusting your body shape.
Weak goal kicks put your team under pressure. So make it a priority to correct your technique.
4. Drop Kicks
Drop kicks enable goalkeepers to get more height on the ball than any other method of distribution. Most keepers find drop kicks much easier to execute than standard goal kicks from the ground.
- Drop kicks are an alternative method of distribution to long throws (or placing the ball on the ground to kick).
- For short distances drop kicks are not advisable; throwing or bowling are the go-to options.
- Goalkeepers should distribute the ball with drop kicks when:
- They want to diffuse the danger by getting the ball as far up the pitch as possible.
- There’s a potential break on, and picking out attackers would be too far from a throw out.
- Your midfield/forward players are strong in the air, and likely to win headers. So it’s beneficial to play the high ball to them.
I always opted for a straight volley from my hands, and I recommend starting out with this technique.
There’s no point in doing something “fancier” if the straight volley feels natural and works perfectly well for you.
The half volley technique is similar to the standard volley drop kick — except you allow the ball to bounce on the ground before striking it. The timing is vital: misjudge it and the ball will travel higher or lower than you wanted.
Half volley drop kicks require a flat surface where you’re able to anticipate the bounce of the ball. For me it would’ve been suicidal to attempt half volley drop kicks given the uneven, sticky, muddy surfaces I played on.
The side volley is a technique used by some professional goalkeepers. It’s much the same as the standard volley — except you lean further to the side in order to strike the ball ‘flat on’ rather than on the underside.
It has the advantage of enabling keepers to kick the ball to their team mates without lofting the ball into the air. In other words, it can help catch out opponents on the counter-attack by keeping the ball low and fast. Think of it as having all the perks of an overarm throw, but with more distance.
It also looks pretty cool.
Personally I wouldn’t attempt the side volley technique in games unless it felt completely natural. There’s no point forcing it when there’s potential for it to go terribly wrong… or you could’ve just thrown it out overarm to begin with. Goalkeeper distribution isn’t about showboating!
Well, that’s goalkeeper distribution summarised. Remember that you often have a choice on what distribution technique you use. Making the best choice, and doing so with the right technique, can only be achieved with consistent practice and game time.