As a goalkeeper, you are expected to be able to act fast and be able to cover the entire face of your goal. An important and often overlooked skill is the ability of the keeper to read the game.
Basically it boils down to this:
If you can predict where the shot is going and at what speed and angle, you have a much better chance of making the save.
This is where experienced keepers excel above younger and less experienced keepers. The pros study their opponents and learn their shooting habits. They know how the striker likes to approach the goal and can read their movements. They understand the mental game of soccer - not just the physical.
As a goalkeeper, the vital question that you need to ask is: How can I make an educated guess or to anticipate the possible move of the attacker? To effectively play your role in the game, you have to be studying the moves of the members of the other team constantly. Learning to anticipate player movement and potential opportunities on goal is crucial to making those all important saves.
No time is this more important than if a striker attempts a shot from close range. They will likely have the better position on you and you probably won't have the chance to close the ball down. However, if you can predict where they will place the ball, you can be there to make the save.
Even when the odds are not in your favor, it doesn't mean that you can't do your job. A more experienced keeper knows that they can influence the player and draw the striker to shoot in a particular direction.
The easiest way to do this is by trying to goad a player into shooting in a particular direction. Show them a little more space on one side and they might be more likely to choose to place their shot there. Just make sure that you are ready to pounce once you are sure that's where the shot is headed.
One thing to remember is to be subtle with this technique and don't overuse this as the player will quickly grow wise to your tactic. This is something that is learned naturally over time with both training and match experience.
Try practicing this in training with your coach and your team. Try to manipulate how the player approaches the shot and try to read his or her movements. Here are a few tips:
- Which foot is the ball on?
- Which is the striker's strongest leg?
- Is that the foot they are going to shoot with?
- What angle are they approaching the goal from?
- Where is the shot going?
- Where are their eyes looking?
- Should you come out or stay on your line?
- Are they going to shoot or pass it across the face of the goal to an incoming team mate?
All this happens in a split-moment and is the very essence of good goalkeeping. This affects almost everything about the way the keeper sets themselves up for the save - their positioning, balance, etc.
It is imperative that all young goalkeepers learn to read the game and the players if they want to be good at what they do.
Perhaps the hardest job for a keeper is saving a penalty kick. This is where the keeper's intuition has to play the biggest role. Admittedly, there is always an element of luck involved with saving a penalty. On average, a penalty kick is travelling at around 70mph (112kmph) which gives the keeper around 0.7 seconds to react. Yeah...it's not easy (as you probably already know).
But reading the players throughout the game, watching how they shoot and which foot they prefer can all be of help to you when they place that ball down on the spot for a 1v1 situation.
Of course, these skills aren't learned overnight. You need to spend time learning how to predict shots. Ask your coach about how you can improve on these skills and talk with your team about how they can help you by being less-predictable.
Most importantly, actively practice this in a match. Just take the time to look at the positioning of the opposition, even when the ball isn't in your half - the game can turn very quickly. Try making a mental note of the strikers in the team and how they like to receive and pass the ball - and more importantly - which is their strongest foot. This should become obvious if you watch a player for long enough.
So, are keepers mind-readers?
Mmm well, in a way - yes! At the very least, part of your job is to study your opponents in order to give you a chance at predicting incoming shots. Also remember not to get frustrated with yourself if this is something you find difficult at first - you will naturally develop this skill over time.