Keepers are expected to catch everything. In reality some balls are not catchable – at least safely.

In this post we look at the dilemma keepers often face with a high ball – punch it away or to try to catch it.

Couldn’t catch a cold.

Goalkeepers of all ages are expected to catch as many shots and crosses as possible. This makes sense. In their hands, safe in possession, the ball is secure and defenders can breathe a sigh of relief. The whole team can begin to think about transition from defense to attack.

The coach can open their eyes.

But it’s not as simple as that. The keeper is the one who has to make the choice – punch or catch – and make that choice quickly. Once made it’s usually a mistake to change one’s mind. A mistake, and it’s often a goal. Let’s look at some examples, and see what lessons we can learn.

Mistakes are costly – especially in the 94th minute.

This example, in the recent Wolves v Newcastle game, gives us so much to learn from.

The game is almost dead – with 4 mins of added time, the clock already shows 94:20, and Wolves are desperate for an equalizer. Newcastle need all three points in their relegation fight. The stakes are high.

The ball is frantically looped high into the area, 2 yards out, with the box “loaded” with attackers and defenders.

Take a look at the video

The commentators (and his teammates) clearly blamed the Newcastle keeper.

But a closer look shows his sight is impeded at the crucial moment before the ball reaches his hands. In the picture, the yellow blur is the ball dropping, which we’ve ringed in red.


The opponents wrist waves across the keepers face just as the ball drops, clearly putting him off.

Take another look at the video, especially the close-up slow-motion, with this in mind.

Having missed the ball, the keeper has no options, and the ball hits the opponent and goes in.

Some referees would call that as a foul on the keeper, but it would be harsh on the team that scored. The Wolves player jumps fairly and does not mean to impede the keeper. He also didn’t mean to bundle the ball in with his arm.

Punch or catch ?

This is clearly an example where the keeper should have decided early that a punch was best, been big and strong and attacked the ball with his fists. The ball might have gone back into danger, but there were plenty of defenders to help out.

Note, you can’t attack the ball with any aggression whilst catching. It’s a delicate, gentle action, if done properly.

A punch on the other hand, has aggression and power and opponents had better get out of the way, or at lest mind their own safety!.

Many coaches feel keepers are protected too much. They haven’t played in goal. The keeper deserves protection, and while it has its boundaries, it’s part of the game. Once upon a time you could bundle the ball and the goalkeeper holding it into the net, completely legally. Times have changed.

If in doubt, punch it out

The simple lesson from this example, is, if in doubt, opt for the punch.

Get distance, be strong and firm, protecting yourself from the inevitable impact from other players, but make sure you get distance, and if possible, direction, away from the danger zone. Even a corner is preferable.

Sure, your coach and some teammates will wonder if you could “hang onto a cold”, but the fact that you were in doubt means you’ve already made the catch hard for yourself.

This keeper was very nervous, and those nerves made the difference to his judgement.

If any of these apply, then opt for the punch.

  • The ball is high and obscured by floodlighting
  • It’s windy, and the ball is swinging in the air.
  • The goalmouth is crowded with players – even defenders.
  • The ball is dropping close to goal
  • You’re uncertain, perhaps you’ve already dropped one today.
  • it’s the 94th minute and you’re 1-0 up.

Never be afraid to punch.

Tips for Coaches – Confidence – Cohesion – technique

  • Firstly, encourage your keepers to practice punching AND catching equally. Build their confidence. 
  • Give them full authority to make that decision in the moment.
  • Never criticize them. Leave it to the keeper coach to work with them on technique.
  • In training sessions, work on set-pieces with crowded goalmouth.
  • Get the keeper to work on cohesion with his defenders – be vocal and commanding. Make sure they know what they can expect from their keeper, and vice versa.
  • Swamp the keeper, with at least 2 players standing on top of the keeper.
  • Scale up the interference – start with NO movement, allowing the keeper to round the obstructions. Then tell your biggest and ugliest to give the keeper a (fair but) hard time.
  • Make your keeper sit down for a corner-kick, un-impeded, only allowing them to get up when the ball is kicked. This will help with agility and mental strength. Having first, to get up makes the brain work faster and takes the mind off the obstructions.
  • Tell the keeper to punch and catch often – ideally equally – during the practice.