Common Injuries And Treatments

The problem with injuries, other than actually having to deal with the suffering of sitting out when you feel you should be playing, and then putting up with the pain involved, is that being sporting injuries, they are more of a specialist subject that are hard to deal with, and are not very well understood. We don’t all have access to sports therapists, so how can you tell what’s wrong? How many times have you gone to A & E only to be told that there isn’t anything really wrong with you, and there’s little you can do about it?

The misdiagnosis and waste of precious time in itself, is more than annoying. Therefore, I’ve put together a useful guide to injuries you’re likely to suffer during your careering, and their respective treatments, which you’ll hopefully be able to make use of, without having to rely on an ignorant doctor (that is, one who doesn’t have the sporting knowledge to be of any help!).

Treating swelling

Swelling is the most common form of punishment that your body will come across when enduring the vigour of the game. As it becomes a regularity, you will need to know the best means of dealing with it.

Icing the wound

Ice is the best way of dealing with swelling; holding an ice pack or a packet of frozen peas over the swelling, for a length of time, will reduce the actual swelling. If you’ve got the balls (no pun intended), then you can make use of an ice bath: simply fill your bath up with freezing cold water, and then slowly immerse yourself into it, spending enough time in the cold to help alleviate the pain and reduce the swelling bump. The cold temperature will help to alleviate the pressure on the muscle area.

Dealing with severe bruising

Severe bruising is obviously far worse than your average bruise, but is actually not as bad as it sounds; your skin will be tender than usual, and more vulnerable to further damage. If not treated properly, they can lead to a contusion, which is both painful and annoying; medication for the pain and rest will speed up the recovery, needing a few weeks off the game to let it heal properly.


Unlike bruises, contusions need time to rest and then reworked; the bunched muscle needs rehabilitation to remove the ‘lump’ that has formed in the cartilage. Physiotherapy can be found from a hospital appointment; the necessary stretches needed to help it.

Muscular injuries

Muscle injuries are easy to come across in any sport and any position; whilst you may bruise or batter yourself during the game, for whatever reason, it is so easy to forget how the rest of your body can be affected. By not stretching properly, you are begging for an injury, and that is not to mention the possibility of unfair and unfortunate time out of playing as a result.


It is easy enough to strain any muscle, especially if you have not stretched enough, let alone done any. If you are late to a game, or want to skip warm ups (so you don’t have to face any of those nasty stingers), you’re not doing yourself any favours by not properly warning, in fact you’re making the situation worse. By not stretching, you are putting yourself at easy risk of muscle injury.

In my experience the most common areas of strains are in the leg area (mainly your groin), which can be caused by over extending your body in a desperate attempt to make the save, where you are not used to doing the splits or do not have the flexibility to normally do so, or in the shoulder area. A lot of goalkeepers don’t even know how to work out their shoulder joints properly, despite how important they are for making saves.

You need strong shoulders to give you the articulation necessary to move your gloves to make the saves; without it, you are going to damage the rotator cuff. Working out with weights will help strengthen them.


A pulled muscle is essentially a strained one: once the muscle has been damaged, you should rest it and rehab it until it has repaired itself. A damaged muscle will result in a strengthened muscle; the body dealing with the problem by repairing itself. Give yourself a week or so to heal, depending on the severity; stretching out the muscle to help the process.


Torn muscles are much more serious, and worse than your general pull. The hamstring, like soccer players, is most vulnerable if you like to make use of your leg muscles to stretch on the play for splits saves. Muscle tears will need longer to repair themselves.

Lower body injuries

There are a number of areas vulnerable to injury below your hips. A lack of suitable equipment that does not meet the standard of play, or a degrading and beat up set of equipment, are the main cause of these problems. If you do not have a level of protection that can protect you from hard shots, you can only expect to end up battered and bruised.

The feet

You feet are the most susceptible part of your lower body to injury; if your feet are poorly protected, then you can seriously damage them. Your feet are an important part of your bodily structure; you need them to balance and grip the pitch, providing the movement you require to keep up with the speed of the game. You should make the effort to protect your feet; if you strap your kickers too loosely, you can expect nothing but trouble.


A direct shot to your kicker can result in a bruise if the kicker is not padded enough or on properly. The bruised toenail will take almost a month to heal and drop off. A shot to the side of your feet could lead to broken bones if it is that hard. If your foot does not fit the kicker, or slips loose, then you can expose yourself to being hit; getting caught there as you try to make a save.


If you face a powerful shot with full force against your foot, and the kickers you are wearing do not provide enough protection, then you are likely to suffer a fracture.

Soft tissue damage

Poorly kept shoes can leave your feet in pain. There are a number of types of damage to the soft tissue on your feet, and a number of causes. These are listed below:

  • Blisters – skin rubbing against the shoe causing the kin to irritate and separate; thicker socks are preventative

The blister should be prevented from popping, in case of further pain.

  • Calluses – the skin will thicken as it is continually irritated;

If it gets too thick or dries out, a blister will form under it; a gauze will prevent the pressure.

  • Corns – similar to calluses, toes tightly squeezed by the shoe

    Caused by too much pressure on the toes; pressure needs relieving with padding.

Leg injuries

Whilst your legs are generally more protected than the rest of your body, with new technology allowing you to save the majority of shots with your pads without any consequent pain, it is possible that unprotected areas will give you problems.

The knee

The knee area always seems to be overlooked by field hockey goalkeepers; although the arm area can be left unprotected, over personal preference issues, the knee is the only area uncovered and can be hit when shown to the shooter during movement.

The thigh

If you have short shorts, which do not cover the thigh area above your knees, or do not wear your shorts low enough to cover this space, you will leave yourself open to shots to these areas, which can lead to annoying contusions.


Unless you face are really hard shot, there is not much chance of a fracture, thankfully. Against a hockey ball, although it can reach excessive speeds, you are more likely to be bruised than broken. Your knee area is only open when in movement, or when dropping onto the knees to make a stop; you are more likely to be hit when moving into the shot, than when making saves to the lower area of the net when standing.


A direct and hard strike your shorts can result in a nasty and should be treated by regular icing to ease the swelling. Echinacea cream can also be useful in speeding up the healing process.

Torso injuries

Injuries to the body are also down to poorly maintained equipment or equipment that does not meet the standard of play. Hard shots to the body are more dangerous if you are not protected well enough; there are a lot of chest protectors out there that do not have rib padding, or well padded chest pieces.

The ribs

You can take shots to the ribs any time during a game; if the shot goes high, and your body is in the way, there is a chance you will get hit there, and if you go down against a shot, especially when logging. Down on the ground and with the play continuing, you are likely to take your fare share of whacks as players try to do anything to get the ball free or put the ball in the net; meaning you will get struck hard by flying sticks.

If you are a positional goalkeeper who likes to utilise their body unit to fill up space in the goal and make the save with your body, then you should be aware of the possible problems.

The stomach

Although the ribs are more vulnerable to well placed shots, if they are not properly protected, lack of padding to the stomach can result in ‘winding’ you, or giving you nice welts to show for your efforts.


Bruising to your abdominal wall should be treated in the same way as any other bruises you get; however, you should be aware of damage to the organs that lie underneath the abdominal muscles. Stretching should be avoided, unless cramp is experienced, and any painful movement should also be avoided.


If the bruising on the chest is more painful than normal, and abrasions are present, then you should get it checked out, and possibly x-rayed. If the bone has not separated, then six weeks of rest will heal the bone. Taping and bracing the rib may be required.

Upper body injuries

Injuries to the upper body are also down to poorly maintained equipment or equipment that does not meet the standard of play. Hard shots to the body are more dangerous if you are not protected well enough; if you choose not to wear any form of padding on your arms out of choice concerning discomfort and weight issues affect reaction speeds, than you are best to stay clear of shots around these areas, and try to avoid such dangers.

The arms

The arms are vulnerable to high shots where you have moved the arm into make the save, or have unwittingly positioned it, as a result of attempting a glove save; pushing the arm directly into the path of the ball.


Hard shots to your arms can result in breaks. Your arms are most vulnerable when going down against a shot on penalty corners where you choose to log; you are putting your arm in danger, especially if it is poorly protected. If you cannot move your arm and are in severe pain, then you should consider a trip down A & E.


Bruising can occur down any area of the arm; the harder the shot and the less protection, the worse the condition of the bruising. Not wearing any arm protection does encourage your reflexes to do the work as mentally your flinching turns into reaction saves, but you will pay the price sooner or later; just make sure you don’t get in the way of hard shots!

Dislocated shoulders

The shoulder is vulnerable to knocks when diving down onto the pitch to make saves. It is very easy to fall onto the arm when going down in a tackle or save, knocking the shoulder ‘out of joint’, or actually dislocating it if the fall is hard enough.


‘Winding’ is caused by a short-term injury to the abdomen, affecting the diaphragm, the main breathing muscle. To help you start breathing again, slowly get up from the hips, allowing the lungs to expel air, before expanding to take in air. Note that being hit in the groin area will have the same affect! You don’t always need to show you’re the ‘man’ when you’re hunched over.

Head injuries

The head area should not be overlooked when considering potential injuries and damage when playing games. The head is just as vulnerable as any other part of your body, if not more so. There are a number of shooters out there with a very powerful shot, but a poor helmet will put you in danger.

A poor use of your head to make the save, other than the shot going straight for you, or the ball redirecting into you, is another possible concern; if you want to use your head to make saves, practise your soccer heading, or something seriously bad could happen.


Taking a shot straight to the head will generally lead to (as you would expect it to) concussion symptoms. General ringing in the ears will be the start of your worries, other than the shock experienced; after such an event a nice cup of tea or alternative additive is a good idea to calm the nerves.

The source of the concussion will depend upon the area you were hit in; a shot central to your head could cause sight problems, whilst a shot to the sides or forehead area and above can be more concussion related (the cage absorbing the impact of a full frontal shot; if the cage is made out of suitably strong enough metal, the padding will absorb the shot, but the plastic could crack if the shot is hard enough).

After such a shot, you will probably need to replace the cage, if it is bent or cracked; there is no point wearing the same headgear if it is going to lead to serious safety problems.

Sprains and strains

The whiplash of the shot can cause your neck problems. The strong force of the shot snapping the neck backwards or forwards will sprain the muscles surrounding your neck. If the pain is that bad, then a neck collar or brace to limit the painful movement is advised, but the standard treatment for relief (raising your neck via pillows etc. to alleviate movement) is encouraged.

Compression of the vertebrae

Compression of the neck vertebrae and discs can be caused by a fall or blow where the force reaches the top of your head, especially if it is bent forward 20 or 30 degrees. Of course this is very rare, and may not happen at all, but when diving or falling with speed against a shot, you can put your body in danger, especially if going with great momentum. The blow can shatter a vertebrae, pushing it into the spinal cord; pain or tingling burning will be felt along the arm or hand as a result.

You may remember the tales of the soccer goalkeepers who fractured their collar bones and continued playing: just remember that proper technique will keep you safe from injury. This is not included to scare, but simply to keep you fully aware of the dangers. If the pain is that bad, you should get yourself x-rayed immediately.

Getting the wind knocked out of you

A short straight at your neck can obviously cause you significant pain. You will be in need of need immediate treatment due to the seriousness of the injury, possibly even having to spend the night in A & E.


If you are not wearing suitable neck protection, or choose not to wear any at all, then you are likely to end up causing yourself serious harm sooner or later in your career. While the decision is entirely personal, I would recommend you protect your knock before you end up with serious problems.

A shot to the neck can be potentially catastrophic. There are some body armours out there on the market , leaving the goalkeeper dangerously exposed if they do not wear a neck guard. Similarly, the clavicle (or throat), as well as the bones below your neck can be hit, causing swelling that can suppress your airway and breathing, or worse. Most of the professional goaltenders in the NHL (ice hockey) do not wear any neck protection, and there have been a few cases like this during this year’s season. Their excuses being that a dangler (plastic shell worn as a cover below their helmet) causes irritation or is distracting for them to fully concentrate on the game.
However, facing a 90 – 100 mph puck that strikes like a bullet is beyond insane. This is no different in field hockey: so protect your throat!

Other possible injuries

Whilst outfield players are more likely to suffer broken noses and shots to the head, it is possible to lose a tooth or two if facing a hard shot, if wearing inappropriate and unsuitable headgear, such as a cage not strong enough to face the level of shots you play against.

Obviously it would not be ideal to wear a mouth guard as it will limit your vocal abilities, but should be considered. It could happen, but I don’t want to completely scare you; as the boy scouts say, ‘be prepared for anything’.

Going ‘Dutch’

These days you will see a fair amount of goalkeepers in different leagues going without full arm protection. ‘Padding down’ with a goalkeeper removing their arm guards completely to gain extra movement (without the added weight or restriction of bulky arm padding) and speed in glove saves, is often referred to as ‘going Dutch’ because of the history of their goalkeepers going ‘armless’. In Holland, hockey coaches teach their goalkeepers a method of goalkeeping that encourages an active style of play; proactively reacting to every shot, rather than simply focusing on blocking the ball.

When goalkeepers started out in hockey, there was very little kit available. Even when ice hockey protection was introduced into the game, arm guards weren’t available or produced, leaving goalkeepers to stop shots unguarded. The ball still travelled at great speed, with shots travelling at speeds of 85kph. Back in the ’80s when Ian Taylor was playing and further back than that, keepers fearlessly logged against hits and charged down short corners wearing effectively basic and poor padding. Now that’s crazy!!



There are specific reasons for doing this; it isn’t just something taken lightly. With arm pads, goalkeepers find them bulky and restrictive. This both weighs down the goalkeeper’s arms and reduces the ability to fully move the arms, resulting in slower, restrained movements. Elbow pads can also be too tight, stopping that reflex save with the timing of reacting to an instant save on a drag flick or hard strike. With the elbow joint muscles limited by the tightness of the strapping, you cannot fully move into the save on instinct, stopped by the applied pressure.

At the higher levels of play, goalkeepers and players will make informed risks (knowing the benefits and fully aware of the potential consequences of their decision) in order to get an advantage, however great, against the opposition to get that edge in defending the goal. Assessing the risk, the chances of getting hit on the elbow are rare, but are still possible (especially when leaving it vulnerable going down on the play to block) – it is up to you to make a personal decision whether to take the risks or not.


The benefits of losing arm protection are significant in a modern game dominated by drag flicks and speedy hits and reverse shots, where you can really make use of increased reaction times. With your arms free and unrestricted, you gain full movement to stop shots. You can now react fully to the shot, getting yourself behind the save and pushing into block and power away the ball, with the ability to move into the save with all your effort; making sure you have full concentration.

Your body also has an integral fear of being hit by anything at speed. This automatic reflex allows you to speed up your reaction to an incoming shot, literally zipping out to stop the ball. With increased speeds and flexibility to move for the save, you can react ever quicker to the ball.

Style changes

Reducing your available protection will obviously have a direct impact on the way you play, given self preservation and the option of saves open to you. The Dutch style itself is a more upright, patient style of play, staying up to challenge the shooter and cover space. Without the arms padded, it is easier to concentrate on splitting the two different levels of hit: shots below your hips and shots above them. With your leg pads dealing with low shots, it is the arms that are more active against raised shots.

You will have to be more careful being aggressive; charging out to cut down the shooter’s angle. In-close action is especially dangerous with the shot so near you and little time to react; extremely vulnerable against a mid-height shot (if you have dropped your arms to reinforce coverage around the pads). It is also important to note the related psychology. If you fear the shot, then you shouldn’t attempt blocking, as you are more likely to flinch, with your muscles tightening up and making any impact worse.

If you like to log on short corners, then you should have a spare arm pad (placed behind your goal during play), which you can put on in the interlude before the corner. This way, your extended arm is fully protected against a shot off the arm when extending out to your right. Your left arm is ok and can be brought into your body or behind the body and pads, with the glove facing out, to protect you from a direct hit.

Adapted stance

Adapting your stance allows you to take care of protecting yourself from being hit. If a shot was to undercut you and hit you square on a bare elbow there’s not much you can do for damage control!

To protect your elbows, you need to bring your gloves out in front of you to cover your elbows; have your palms facing out, blocking your elbow and arm, covering if a shot was headed there. This feels weird at first, but you will get used to it, and it’s for the best. From your stance, you can then move into the save, reacting with the shot.



You will also find that goalkeepers ‘padding down’ keep their arms tighter into the body; drawing their elbows in close to their chest/stomach. This allows them to protect the elbow by keeping it out of harm’s way – not exposed on the play to be hit.

Save making

Making saves without, you have to focus on making every save as it comes, and getting behind it to protect from being hit. You can no longer play a blocking style, since your arms are now exposed to the play: unlike before, you can’t use your arms for save or go out standing in front of a shot to block.

You should be more active with your saves, getting a glove on every raised shot and actively pushing away the rebound, driving the ball to safety on the save.

Going down against the play needs to be reconsidered as you are leaving your arms open to being hit, as is slide tackling or blocking, where you. When diving, you are just as vulnerable.


At training, keepers will go back to protecting their arms: wearing their arm pads during drills to protect themselves from the odd knock. The shots you will face in a game are isolated and separated, so it is easier to protect yourself, prepared against each single shot, whereas in training balls are pelted at you non-stop, without pause.

Outfielders aren’t so nice and will often treat the goalkeeper like a human pin cushion – trying to take off your head, or carelessly smashing it at you. It is therefore an obvious decision to pad ‘back up’ again to look after yourself. Even Guus Vogels (recently retired internationally, but the established Dutch no 1 keeper for a long time until recently, and considered the world’s best) wears elbow pads at training to protect his bones.


If you are in serious pain, and cannot move your arm at all, then you should get about consulting medical advice. A shot straight off the bare arm has obvious dangers; a crack off the elbow is especially bad. Severe bruising is the result in most cases, but a bullet of a shot could break it, leaving with a hair line fracture or full on break (putting you out for six weeks). Soft tissue damaging can result from getting hit; nerve damage can lead to eventual numbness. You can also get the equivalent of tennis elbow by landing regularly on your elbow after diving saves. Serious injuries can even require surgery.


Getting hit on the elbow is the biggest as it is the worst place to get hit (and difficult to heal). Learning to get your glove across and out in front to cover is essential. If you do go down against shots, you can bring your glove in front of the right elbow and forearm to protect against the straight strike aimed at your stick side.

Protecting skin

With sliding on bare arms for tackles or diving on the pitch surface, you can get some really nice burns. A lot of goalkeepers wear their ‘skins’ (water absorbent tops) under their chest pad to cover their elbows from shedding flesh. Some goalkeepers even wear inline/roller skating elbow pads simply to look out after their skin.

Disclaimer’s note: Going Dutch is a personal choice and is up to you to decide whether or not you want to take the risk; don’t be influenced by other keepers and the professionals or feel the need to conform if it’s not your ‘thing’ and doesn’t suit your style. It is best to give it a go once you have enough experience behind your belt and are old enough as a senior keeper to decided; too many junior keepers have been ‘welcomed’ into the bigger leagues with merciless shooters looking to hurt them so they can’t stop further shots.

Remember that you are responsible for your actions; it wasn’t the shooter’s fault they hit you (unless it was maliciously intended), you are just as much to blame. A break could put you out of the game, and you may not have a reserve keeper – costing your team the game.

Short Corners: Getting Caught Out On The Drag Flick

When facing a drag flick from the top of the D on a short corner the biggest problem for the goalkeeper is to know how long to stand up (or remain standing) to deal with the incoming shot. If the destination is not given away, with the ability of the shooter to disguise it, you can only react to it. The timing affects your chance to save – you have to match exactly the ball’s arrival time to be successful.

This is a problem that even the world’s best suffer from, as they face the top drag flickers who like to have a few tricks up their sleeve to disguise their intentions and more importantly the destination of the ball. Just like on a penalty flick the shooter can ‘throw the shoulder’ with the keeper expecting a shot up and over them (or a low shot) exposing the open space to the side and slotting the ball away.

At the Olympics, this technique was shown at its best (unfortunately for the goalkeepers there). Germany’s gold winning goal was down to a successful high and looping drag flick on a short corner opportunity, where Fransisco Cortes left his feet early, whilst Vogels was beaten in the bronze medal game by a flick that similarly went up and over him.


When a lot of keepers make the transition to higher levels of play, they can often struggle to combat it, getting beaten by a well executed drag flick. I can personally admit to this in my younger days and other than the humiliation, it’s something you’ll want to eliminate from your game. But obviously the only way you can get better is to make mistakes and learn from them: in a lot of cases, like mine, you may be playing a lower standard but be facing a ringer.

There are not many county (lower division) teams where players can flick that well, but regional and onwards they are part of the game and it is therefore essential that, if that is a considered potential target, it needs to be learnt. You need to be aware that if you are ‘climbing up the ladder’, it is something you will meet and need to work on to beat.

Committing wrongly

The problem with going against the flick is knowing when to time the jump or dive; go down too early and you’ll have the ball roofed over you, but stay up too long and you will lack extension to reach the shot (in this case you will have to jump into the save). Similarly, making the wrong choice of save will hamper your efforts.

It is also difficult to read the direction of the ball: normally the ball will go to the corners or straight; in the path of the stick’s position, but low balls wide of the pad, which are difficult to reach standing up, can also be played by the striker.

Leaving your feet too early

With a drag flick, the goalkeeper in question can easily be caught out (by misjudgement and second guessing on their part) by a high ball that loops upwards onto goal, looking to beat the standing goalkeeper by getting it to a height and position that is impossible to stop. Unlike a strike, which is easier to read, the drag flick can be faster and curves with the flight of the stick; it can sweep into the corner or around you.

A lot of goalkeepers are taken back by the type of shot; confused about how to react and therefore act indecisively and misjudge it, or are tricked by the stick positioning; going down incredibly easy (and fast), leaving a whole area of net above them for the ball to go into. In this situation, the goalkeeper is effectively lobbed, with the ball going straight up over them without the ability to even get a touch on it, since they are too far gone (with downward momentum) to reach into any potential save.


Learning to stay on your feet

In order to prevent the ball zooming past you by aggressively committing too quickly against the flick for the attempted save, you need to work on timing your response to meet the ball. Timing the saving move with the actual shot, rather than going before the ball is released, gives you a better chance of reaction, instead of being beaten so easily.

The trick to saving the drag flick is to react with it: don’t be too early, or too late, as you won’t be able to stop it. React as the ball comes in – ready to stop it on its release, given the speed of the flick. Stay up as long as you need to and outwait the urge to move into a save immediately; be patient and react to the shot as it comes at you.

  • Stay up for the stop by the waiting ‘stopper’ (with their stick down to halt the ball to ensure the best shot on release); the ball will often be stopped dead before the flick to make it easier to drag flick (rather than having to drag a moving ball!)
  • Stay aware of potential corner routines involving players, but do NOT get caught up in their efforts to disguise the shot
  • Keep your concentration – react to it as the flick is released – only moving on the flick itself
  • Watch the ball all the way into the save to make sure you get as much behind it as possible

Making the wrong choice

Another point to take note of is the bad choice of save – going down with a long barrier, when the only means of a save is to stay up. There are still a lot of keepers, despite the rule changes and responding changes in the format and style of the game, that seem to log no matter what (as a first choice move rather than playing the ‘read and react style’), despite the threat of a well executed flick. These are the most vulnerable to a flick given the obvious height and speed of the ball: being lobbed by the ball as they obviously ‘down and out’ on the play.

This is an easy mistake to make that will have disastrous results – giving away a goal for free. Even internationals have managed it; Argentina’s keepers inabilities at short corners were exposed in recent world cups. Indecision will lead to problems as you cannot react with the shot, wasting time and not being fully prepared for a save. Work out how to make the save properly and stick to it: don’t mess around and have a clear plan.

Try to go down only when necessary. Or prepare to get embarassed!
Try to go down only when necessary. Or prepare to get embarassed!

Rule of thumb

The easiest thing is to learn how to read a straight strike versus a flick: working out the shooter’s intentions by their stick positioning. Reading their body language, posture, and looking at their eyes, will help you work out where they are looking to shoot.

A shooter going for a straight strike will grip the stick at the top to gain power and hold the stick nearer their body to control the shot

A shooter drag flicking the ball will have their hands further down the stick to get more control over the flick and hold the stick further back from their body; gaining more upward movement on the flick

The Second Save

Consequent rebound shots after the initial save are one of the hardest jobs for a goalkeeper to deal with. Unable to clear the ball and with going straight back out into play, further shots are guaranteed, with the shooter having more and more chances to bury it. The longer the ball stays in the D, the more chances the opposition has to shot in on goal, so you want to do all in your power to get rid of it. These are the types of situations that can either be a goalkeeper’s recurring nightmare, or their team’s saving hour!

What to do

If you do have to face multiple shots, then you want to be able to react to each one – concentrating on the single save each time to maximise your ability to stop the ball. ‘Keeping your head on’ and staying confident will make the save much easier to complete as you are comfortable in dealing with the pressure of the situation. Don’t ‘lose your head’, diving around all over the place and putting yourself in danger.

If you have to run back or across into cover open space, then be calm about it; using speed, but concentrating on the related angles and appropriate positioning to the shooter. The sooner you get there, the more area you can block if the shot comes in (if the shooter takes their time, then you have even more of an advantage!).

With the shot coming from the other side of you, as a pass is made, or the ball was redirected there, you will have to race back to cover the changed angle. If the shot is closer in (i.e. it went to outside of you on the save), then you can step and shuffle across to move into the space and shot.

Getting into the ‘zone’ really helps. As soon as you get going, you’ll feel unstoppable. But don’t forget to clear if you can, otherwise all your attempts will be fruitless.

After the first save, you need to react instantly to be able to cover open ground.

After the first save, you need to react instantly to be able to cover open ground.


  • Stay back and react to the shot as it comes in, giving you more reaction time for the save
  • If the shot is raised, try to stay on your feet as the ball could end up going over you; unless it is not possible to do so.
  • If you have to dive across, as you are likely to be forced into extending on side shots, then get up as soon as possible, otherwise you will be ‘down and out’, giving away a goal to the shooter
  • The sequence of potential saves is all dependent on the speed of recovery: the sooner you get back up, the more time you have to make that split-second difference in reacting to the next save
  • Never surrender: don’t give up and keep battling to keep the ball out of the net

The longer the ball stays in the D, the more time and opportunity the opposition has to score. Get rid of the ball as soon as possible.

Closing down the attacker

If you are alone with against the attacker (i.e. you have no defence and are left to deal with the play), then you can run out to meet them. By reacting quickly and instantly running out to meet them in-tight, you immediately close down the available shooting space and force them to move around you, or shoot straight into you. If the shot is released then you are in a capable position to stop it – being on the ‘doorstep’ to cover the strike.


Come out and close down the attacker to limit their shooting space.


  • Square up to the shooter, covering the angle close, so that they have little to shoot at (unable to see much of the goal) – forcing the shot into you for an easy save
  • Channel them; going out on the angle, to reach the top of the triangle, to cover the sides
  • Be ready to block as you are so close; dropping your hands to face the shooter to provide more coverage
  • Also be aware of a shot between the legs (with a gap there) and be ready to close them together
  • Remember to react – if an acute angle shot to the edges of goal is attempted, you need to stop it
  • Make sure you have lightning fast reflexes (sharpen them if needs be) to be able to react, as the shot will be so close , giving you little time to react

Rule of thumb:

If the shooter is alone then come out and challenge to make their life harder; only a good shot should beat you.

If there are multiple shooters then ‘hang back’ and react to it, as there are more options to deal with and more space to shoot at.

If the shooter does move, instead of shooting, be ready to move with them and tackle of stop a shot.

Eliminating the second save

When making the save, you want to be able to clear it away as soon and as safely as possible, so that further opportunities can’t develop. By getting rid of the ball, you are effectively stopping any further chance of scoring – shutting down the opposition.

The best place to put the ball is out to the sides or the back line, where attackers cannot get hold of it, as it is now out of play (try to clear the rebound on the save, but you can use a kick if needed after the initial save). If not, then kick it as far as you can away from danger, preferably outside the D, so that you have time to recover, reposition and get set for the next shot. Otherwise, try to get it to a defender who can then clear it away with their stick, or pass to another team mate to keep hold of possession.

If the ball has gone out on the save, depending on the rebound quality of your kickers and pads, you will have to chase it down to get in reach of clearing it. Don’t be static or laid back; actively come out to get to the ball and make a strong clearance out of harm’s way. That way you will be able to respond better and get more behind it, as you have more time to think and see the space available.

Be decisive: take charge of the game.

Remember: you can’t intentionally kick the ball back line after the shot is stopped. If you do, then you will be penalised with a short corner (the sidelines are still okay though). On making the save to push away, it needs to be a fluid single movement; angling the kicker or pad to turn away the ball in the correct direction.

First save mindset

You should focus on each save as it presents itself – concentrating on that shot singularly each time. Your priority is the first save: make the save and eliminate the rebound, and you prevent any further scoring chances. No more chances means no goals.

Lots of coaches teach the maxim (saying) of ‘one shot only’. They want professionals at the top of their game to make that one save on that one shot – they don’t want them messing things up by giving the opposition more opportunities than they should have.

If you watch football/soccer and look at the way rebound goals occur, then you should learn for your own game; say if a keeper ‘spills’ the shot; dropping the ball or failing to smother it, it is all too easy for the shooter to come in again and put it past the downed keeper.

Focus on the first save – prioritise the save and the controlled clearance of the rebound. Don’t give away further chances.

Not Getting Into Your Stance In Time

Getting into the stance, when the action is not specifically close, is something that troubles a whole range of keepers with saving and decision making ability, which can cost them in the game. It is so important to get into your ready stance before the stance – the better prepared you are, the more chance you have of stopping the shot.

You can never not bother with getting into your stance before a shot. Even when the ball is under one of your player’s control, you don’t know if they are going to have it taken from them and go onto have a scoring chance. I’ve recently been watching a number of keepers who are incredibly lazy in their efforts.

Other than not being ready for action and not making the save, you are not mentally prepared for game action. If you are not capable of being alert and watchful all game long (along with the need to pull off big saves when called upon in the last few minutes of the game), then you shouldn’t be getting selected to play.

Getting beaten

By not being in your ready stance and being ‘behind the play’ (i.e. not watching it properly and keeping a back seat), you leave yourself vulnerable. If you are unbalanced in your stance, then you will not be capable of making the save; tilting too far backwards, unable to reach the ball. A great example of this was Des Abbott’s goal that Vogels allowed in the bronze medal match at the Olympics; allowing a goal through the legs as he wasn’t set, falling back and letting it through him. If he had however been ready, he could have closed the gaps by bringing his legs in.

There are a few British national league keepers who still regularly fail to get set in time; a goal on a broken play within the D at a national conference league game I watched over the weekend is such an example. Expecting the umpire to call the other way (as the team had got most of their decisions their way), the goalkeeper was standing at the post, not in a suitable stance, the ball got loose and was then smashed in. By not being set for the shot, he was easily beaten, unaware of the impending danger.

In contrast, by being in your ready stance when the play is around you (and your defence; getting sucked into the idea of your role as shot stopper, is not the right idea), you are ready and raring for the save; your gloves up for the incoming shot.

It is no good just getting into your stance when the play gets in close; if you are caught off guard when a change occurs, like a deflection, then you are responsible for your lack of attention that led to that goal, by simply not being ready to make a save. By getting set before a play develops, you also help reduce the mental stress of waiting to see a shot in a tight game, since you are ‘switched on’.

Rule of thumb

The best way to judge the play is to watch and stay with it the entire game. As the ball gets closer, you need to ‘switch on’ and get to where it is on the pitch; moving with the ball as it moves and staying in your stance, ready for anything to happen.

By point of rule, if the play is in your half, you should be within your ready stance, ready for shots outside the D: you never know what’s going to happen next and should therefore always be alert and ready for anything (i.e. a pro technique is to put in a ball for a runner to get on the end of for a deflection, or a two on one that develops after a defensive mishap).

By getting ready in your stance, with your hands up and body forward, before a play is even made, you WILL be ready for an unprepared save, compared to other keepers who will get caught short by their inactive laziness.

Just watch the pros and see how they do it, like recent games in the Olympics (Vogels is a great example, except vs Australia) and you’ll understand. As the play gets closer you are nearer and nearer to, you are ever more likely to face a shot.

Look at this keeper: he is not even in his stance and just watching the play - if a shot came in, he would not be ready for it.
Look at this keeper:
he is not even in his stance and is just
watching the play – if a shot came in, he
would not be ready for it.

However, this keeper is ready - his hands are up and his legs are apart, ready for action.
However, this keeper is ready – his hands are up
and his legs are apart in his stance, ready for action.

Key points:

  • When the ball is past the half way line, you should be in your ready stance
  • Always move with the play; adjusting your angles to suit where the ball is
  • Be active not a ‘ball watcher’ – be ready to take control of the situation, instead of just being an observer to what’s going on in front of you

Watch and learn

This is not just a problem that plagues our sport: if you watch (on Match of the Day [British TV] or anything similar), you’ll notice how the keepers that don’t bother to get set lag behind the play and allow goals out of failed ability to prepare for the shot.

In national league games I’ve watched keepers stand there stock still not even bothering to get into a ready stance, on free hits and plays around the D, when they should honestly be set in their stance, ready for a shot. Just because a team is weaker than you are and you are winning, it doesn’t mean there is any reason for you to switch off and sit back; for all you know the next play may go against you and you are beaten, when you aren’t mentally or bodily (position) set.

Self awareness

You have to be aware of your own attitude to the game to really succeed. If you don’t look ready, then shooters will pick up on this; rather than taking a ‘back seat’ during games, concentrate on being there all the time to deal with whatever comes your way.

As always, practise is key to success: train yourself to ALWAYS be in your stance and on the angle of where the ball is, to be set. At training, focus on getting yourself in your stance immediately and in line for the shot, allowing you to maximise your chances.