Jordan Willis

The Whole Twelve Yards.

Former Aston Villa Youth Goalkeeper Coach Jordan Willis talks through his experiences on the training pitch and in the locker room with a focus on how to get the best out of your training sessions.

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The cardinal sin of goalkeepers

October 9, 2012

Every keeper does it. The 8 year olds I coach do it. I did it for my university side here in the UK on Sunday, we drew 4-4 where we would have won if I hadn't. No one pointed the finger at me; not a single player said I was to blame, but I knew I had. Here is England 2nd choice goalkeeper John Ruddy doing it against Chelsea at the weekend (at around 3:30 - for further analysis on those highlights, I covered the game here.)


Every keeper dives backwards. And it costs every team goals.


And I get it, I truly do. To not dive backwards is to go against your body's natural intuition. As a goalkeeper turns his or her head towards their hand to watch the ball onto it, it naturally turns the rest of your body into a backwards arc. If you think about the amount of goals you see go in and the goalkeeper is looking at the ball in the net, you can begin to understand how universal the problem is.


But why is it a problem? As Fig 1. Shows, in the simplest of senses you cover less distance when diving backwards. In Fig 1, the red dot represents an attacker and the blue dot the goalkeeper. The lines coming from the goalkeeper are exactly the same length, and show one potential dive in a forward trajectory and one in a backwards one. The red lines from the striker show how far into the corner the shot would have to be to still beat the keeper. As can be seen, the goalkeeper, by just changing the angle of his or her dive the goalkeeper can cover roughly a quarter more of the goal than previously. In a full sized goal, that is two yards extra coverage.

Click to enlarge image.

To move beyond this rather obvious benefit, we need to go back (the only time we will be doing such a thing in this blog) at the example I provided earlier. There we see Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea turn and strike the ball past Norwich’s John Ruddy. Good turn, good hit, good goal – but it could have been stopped. As can be seen, John Ruddy gets two hands to the ball but doesn’t manage to keep it out because he is diving backwards. Because of his trajectory, he was only able to push it in the way that he is diving (into the net). When we compare this with the USA’s Tim Howard and his save against Canada (the first one), you notice a number of things. Firstly, his body ends up further forward than when his feet were planted – well done Tim. We can also see that his touch is much weaker than John Ruddy’s on the ball, only one hand being able to flick the ball away from goal. But, because of his positive movement forward, the ball was naturally deflected away from the goal rather than into it. If Tim Howard was diving backwards here, he may not have got to the ball at all – and even if he did, he would have likely pushed it into the net.

The Resolution

This entire blog would be pointless without offering some kind of resolution to the obvious issue. Luckily, because diving is such a transferable skill in your training sessions with a goalkeeper, briefly explaining the concept to him or her and then constantly reminding the keeper when they are diving backwards will eventually pay off. The skill really is one that has to be ingrained into the keeper’s brain more than naturally picked up. There are, however, certain drills that can be done to try and change the trajectory of a dive, one such is explained below.

The Drill (see Fig 2. for guidance):
place the goalkeeper on a distinguishing line on your field of play and make them get onto their knees, facing you (the server) with the ball. The server should be about five yards away from the keeper with a ball in their hands. Throwing the ball under arm, toss the ball so that the keeper has to dive to one side and catch it and return the ball to the server, who then throws the ball to the other side. Repeat these steps over and over. The trick is when the exercise stops. Instead of making ten saves each time, make the keeper travel a certain distance forward over the exercise. The only way to get from point A to point B is by diving (stop the keeper walking forward on their knees) in a forward directory. This means that the server will gradually be walking backwards to keep serving the ball to the goalkeeper. Because of the vast number of saves the keeper has to make and all of them having to be forward in direction, it quickly reinforces the idea in the goalkeeper’s mind that diving forwards is a positive thing (as theoretically the drill never ends if they don’t dive forwards). Because mastering this skill is about repetition, it helps to have the keeper on their knees as they are then making the most amount of saves they can in the set distance.


Click to enlarge image.

For any further questions, or to follow more soccer stories, news and opinions, please follow me on Twitter.

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