Improving Lateral Footwork for Goalkeepers

There is a lot of emphasis these days put on speed, agility, and power, but how does this translate into becoming a better goalkeeper? The speed aspect is apparent in the forward direction as goalkeepers are often required to sprint off their lines to intercept through balls, win breakaways, and pick off crosses. Every second matters when racing to beat a forward to a ball. Agility is critical because there is so much change of direction required of the position. And power is vital for a strong vertical jump and explosion on extension dives.

Many more players in the game today have added agility training to their weekly repertoire. They are using the agility ladders, working on their first step, speed and running form, as well as doing plyometrics. The result is fitter, faster, and more athletic players than ever before. However, a disconnect still exists between the speed & agility work and the actual positional training. As coaches, we need to develop exercises that connect the footwork patterns learned on the ladder and in the various agility drills to the actual game/position.

Lateral footwork is one example of this in goalkeeping. It can separate a good goalkeeper from a great goalkeeper. As goalkeepers develop, they need to learn to incorporate more lateral footwork and lateral quickness into their game if they want to progress to playing at the highest levels. Most youth goalkeepers have the tendency to dive from their set position, thus relying on their power – not their speed or agility. And power can only get a goalkeeper so far. Even the most explosive goalkeeper can’t dive from the center of the goal to save a ball hit at the post. Therefore, improving lateral footwork is the solution to extending a goalkeeper’s saving range.

The advised footwork into a dive is to step with the foot closest to the ball, at an attacking angle to intersect the path of the ball, as the arms drive to catch the ball. The upper body stays forward over the front knee, as the knee bends (similar to a long lunge) to either ease the body to the ground for a collapse dive or explode up and out for an extension dive. Therefore, if the ball is on the right, the step is with the right leg, but the movement is actually initiated from the push off the back (left in this case) foot. Then, once the body is moving in the direction of the ball, the power and drive comes from the push off the lead plant leg (goalkeepers must have good quadriceps strength) and the drive of the arms to the ball and the drive of the back leg across the body.

When a shot is about to be taken, a goalkeeper should be set: balanced on both feet, weight forward on the balls of their feet, ready to respond. After it is struck, most goalkeepers only take the one step as described above into their dive, thus they are limiting the distance they can cover laterally. Ideally, if they can add a quick shuffle onto that step, they will be able to generate more lateral momentum which will translate into a much greater saving range. The shuffle does not have to cover a great distance, but it does need to be very quick since a goalkeeper has very limited reaction time after the ball is struck.

We start by training the player to derive their push off their back foot with an agility ladder pattern. The first pattern is a basic lateral sidestep putting 2 feet in each box as you progress down the ladder facing sideways. Be sure to train both directions. Then we progress to a diagonal pattern that zig-zags 2 in/1 out through the ladder facing forward. Once the pattern becomes ingrained, then quickness through the ladder is stressed. This pattern is the exact ‘step to shuffle’ pattern that the goalkeeper should use in goal.

Then we progress to adding a ball and diving. Set up 2 cones about 4 yards apart. The goalkeeper starts behind one cone and the server is about 5 yards from the other cone facing the goalkeeper. The server has a ball in their hands. On a verbal command from the server the goalkeeper takes a step, then a quick shuffle at a forward angle, ending with a collapse dive save in front of the other cone. The service should be a firm, direct underhand toss that will challenge the goalkeeper to footwork across quickly. Additionally, good arm drive is stressed. The server switches sides as the goalkeeper resets, so that both directions can be trained. Since the goalkeeper is getting a predictable ‘shot’ in this exercise, it is easier for them to focus on applying the appropriate footwork pattern. Over time, with repetition, this pattern will become second nature to the goalkeeper. It is about teaching muscle memory, so that when the goalkeeper returns to live play the response is instinctual.