Good reflexes make or break a goalkeeper, so much so that without the innate ability to respond quickly to shots, it’s hard to imagine a player even sticking with the goalie position. At the professional level, keepers such as Kasey Keller of the Seattle Sounders, who can make lightning-fast reaction saves, provide crucial value, bailing out the defense and keeping the team in games. Even at the recreational level, whatever your starting point of natural ability, you can hone your gifts with exercises to increase the speed of your reflexes.
The play catch drill, suggested by soccer author Deborah W. Crisfield in “Winning Soccer for Girls,” can be part of your daily effort to attain peak reflexes. Kneel about five feet away from your team’s other keeper. Each of you throw the ball as hard as you can at the other, varying the ball placement but keeping the balls catchable. Throw the ball in the air and on the ground. This deceptively challenging drill can help you work on endurance, too.
The rapid fire drill, also suggested by Crisfield, similarly develops endurance and basic skills. You line up in goal with your teammates in a row outside the top of the penalty area. Have the shooters kick the ball one after the other toward you as a warm-up, with rapid enough pacing so that you don’t have lots of recovery time but neither are you overwhelmed with balls arriving simultaneously. Once you're warmed up, have the shooters aim for the edges of the net and make more challenging saves that test your reflexes.
Abdominal Position and Throw
For a higher level of challenge, perform the abdominal position and throw drill suggested by former U.S. men’s national team captain Thomas Dooley in “Soccer Goalkeeper Training.” Lie in front of the goal as your coach or a teammate takes a position on the penalty box line in front of the goal. When your coach gives a signal and attempts a shot, jump up and stop the ball. Push up with one hand, with the other raised and ready for the catch. React by jumping to the appropriate side to block the ball. Repeat six to 10 times.
Shot on Goal with Player Obstructions
Dooley also suggests working on a drill with two players in front of you serving as obstructions. Have your coach or another teammate stand 10 to 16 yards in front of the goal and takes shots while the obstructors obscure your view of the ball without changing its direction. Try to stop approximately 20 shots; react to the ball even though you see it very late. Attempt to hold on to the ball and push the ball off to the side if you cannot, Dooley advises.