The Toughest Decisions Goalkeepers Must Make

As a Goalkeeper you’re frequently called upon to make difficult game-changing decisions. The ultimate aim is to “get it right” in as many scenarios as possible. Therefore it’s highly important to sharpen your decision making skills and learn from past experiences.

So what are the toughest decisions Goalkeepers must make in games?


Handling Technique

Goalkeepers must frequently decide, in an instant, what type of handling technique to use. The four main handling techniques or “hand shapes” are:

  1. Scoop (or “Ramp”): for low-driven shots
  2. Cup (or “Basket”): for shots around the mid-drift
  3. W’s (or “V’s”): for shots around head height
  4. Diving (or “Hands Leading”): for shots at a stretch

It’s expected for Keepers to consistently choose the appropriate technique for all shots and loose balls — because making a bad choice results in unnecessary pressure, or goals. That’s precisely why handling technique is the most widely practiced area of Goalkeeping; coaches want their Keepers to produce routine saves instinctively.

To find out more on how to apply the four techniques effectively, see my Goalkeeper Handling Guide.


The High Ball

Whether it’s a cross, corner, free kick, or shot — Keepers need to command their area and make the extremely difficult “high ball decision”. This decision causes more Goalkeeping errors than any other aspect of the game.

A Goalkeeper’s high ball decision can take different courses:

  • Stick: to not to challenge the ball at all
  • Catch: to gather the ball to safety
  • Deflect (Parry): to push the ball away, or get any touch on it
  • Punch: to punch the ball away

There is no “right” choice, per se. If your decision prevented a goal, then that’s job done. However, there’s often a clear-cut best decision for any given scenario: the one which reduces the threat on goal as much as possible. For instance, gathering the ball when unopposed by players rather than punching it out where it could land at a striker.

To help keepers learn more about this crucial decision, I’ve written an entire article on the subject: Stick, Catch, Deflect, Or Punch?



Making a penalty save can turn a game — or win it in the case of a penalty shootout. But for Keepers the chance of success is slim. Historically in the Premier League around 84% of penalties have been scored, 4% missed, and 12% saved.

So while Goalkeepers are by no means expected to save penalties, they are forced to make a one big decision: where to dive, if at all.

There are patterns in penalties, such as where the striker glances before striking the ball, and what his/her ‘natural’ side is. There’s also legal tactics to help improve your save rate by distracting the kicker, and enticing them to shoot in a particular spot.

To improve your strategy and approach I recommend reading my Penalty Saving Guide.


1v1 Duels

Diving at the feet of attackers requires bravery, strength, determination, excellent timing and, of course, sound decision making.

Before entering a 1v1 situation Keepers need to be sure that the attack really calls for a 1v1, or whether it is likely to be cleared by the defence. The last thing you want to do is needlessly commit forward out of position! It’s a fatal, yet very common, Goalkeeping mistake.

Once a Goalkeeper enters a 1v1 duel there’s other crucial decisions to make — most importantly, if/when to pounce on the ball. At times, holding off the striker long enough without diving for the ball can give time for teammates to arrive on the scene to clear the danger. In other cases, the Keeper must make the decision to dive at the ball in the first instance the attacker loses control.

However, many 1v1s are complicated and unpredictable, meaning other split-second decisions are required in order to adjust to the situation at hand. For instance you may see the striker about to unload a chip shot meaning that holding your run, getting set, and making yourself large is a better approach than continuing your downward trajectory down towards the ball.

Improving your decision making in 1v1 situations comes with a lot of practice. You can learn more on this subject from my article: Tips For Diving At Feet.


Building Walls

To an extent, building walls for free kicks can be rehearsed in training. However the final position of the wall on matchdays should always be dictated by the Goalkeeper. After all, the Keeper can see where the weakness lies in the wall, and is in the best position to rearrange it in order to protect the goal. No other player can provide the same insight as the Goalie.

Goalkeepers need to be be extremely assertive and quick to communicate instructions with their teammates. The moment a free kick is awarded, the Goalkeeper must make a decision as to how many people to put in the wall and where they need to stand — there’s no time to waste! If players do not assemble quickly enough, the Goalkeeper needs to delegate roles to specific members of the team in rapid fashion. Hence why Keepers bellow at their teammates to get the wall into order.


Ball At Feet

Other important Goalkeeping decisions involve using the ball at feet. Whether it’s a back pass, meeting a through ball, or challenging a loose ball at the edge of the penalty area — Keepers need to be decisive.

There are a few main options Goalkeepers have with the ball at feet:

  1. Clear it out of play: usually when there is an immediate threat from an attacker, and conceding a throw-in (or corner) is the safest course of action..
  2. Pass to a teammate: when there’s enough time to control the ball and the Goalkeeper can safely pick out a player to pass to (commonly the full backs)
  3. Hit it long: used to clear the danger immediately, with an attempt to launch a counter attack (without conceding a throw-in or corner).

A good Goalkeeper will consistently make a wise choice with the ball at their feet feet. Weaker goalkeepers, on the other hand, tend to panic on the ball — opting to hit it long or out of play when maintaining possession was clearly the best choice.


While no Goalkeeper can avoid making mistakes 100% of the time, it’s vitally important to make wise decisions as frequently as possible in order to prevent them. The very best Goalkeepers are the ones that manage to consistently reduce threats from the opposition through the choices they make. In many ways, a decisive Keeper’s work goes unnoticed — because they make the job look easier than it really is.

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