Handling Technique for Soccer Goalkeepers

An ultimate guide on goalkeeping handling technique from U.S. soccer legend, Ashlyn Harris

Nothing is more important than handling skills for a soccer goalkeeper.

You can be in the right position. Have lightning fast reflexes. And make the correct decision to stop the ball. But if your handling technique is poor—you will give up unnecessary goals. And yes, that commonly comes as a result of a spilled rebound. 

When it comes to handling technique, it’s not the fact of conceding a goal that's the problem. Even the best goalkeepers in the world let one pass from time to time.

The problem with sub-par handling technique, is that whatever way you look at it, it’s an unforced error. And that’s a nightmare scenario for a goalkeeper in soccer.

But it happens.

The ball that slips through the keeper’s legs. The rebound that gives the striker a perfect shot at goal. Or the high ball fumble that drops over the line. Anyone who’s been playing for a while has seen it happen. And potentially, been the keeper who’s let one of those goals through.

If you want to avoid embarrassing errors as a soccer goalkeeper—the best line of defense is sharpening your handling technique. But to do so, you’ll need a proven system for improving this fundamental set of skills.

There is more to handling technique than just quick reflexes and stopping the ball. You must keep your eyes, head, and body in the right position. You need to know what to do with a high, mid, or low ball. Plus, understand how to absorb the energy of speed.

Only an experienced goalkeeper can teach these skills. Someone who’s put in the reps and made the mistakes—so that they can teach from experience, not just theory.

Luckily, we’ve got just the person for the job.

Two Decades at the Highest Level

U.S. soccer icon, Ashlyn Harris, has been competing at the highest level of women’s soccer for over two decades now.

The accomplished goalkeeper has been a standout performer since high school. At just 16 years of age, she was the youngest member of the U-19 national team. Harris finished her U-19 career with an impressive 39 caps—more than any other U.S. player.

Ashlyn played college soccer for the North Carolina Tar Heels, helping the team win three NCAA Division 1 Women’s Soccer Championships. She made her debut for the senior national team in 2013, and was a member of the championship winning teams for the 2015 & 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

 

Much of Harris’ professional career has been spent with the Orlando Pride, where she was named the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Goalkeeper of the year in 2016. In 2021, Ashlyn racked up her 469th career save, setting a new NWSL all-time record. Harris currently plays for Gotham FC.

To say that Ashlyn knows a thing or two about handling technique for goalkeeping is a vast understatement. She has been refining her skills for over 20 years. And when it comes to making saves in the toughest conditions—she knows what works and what doesn’t. 

What we appreciate about Harris, is her gift for breaking down the more complex aspects of being a goalkeeper, into information that can be easily understood and applied by soccer players at any level. We’ve been producing a series of exclusive video training sessions with Ashlyn, and are constantly impressed with how clear and practical her instructions are.

In this article, we’re going to share an overview of Harris’ session on handling technique for goalkeepers. And while we’ll cover the most important points from the video in a moment—if you’re serious about getting better—you’ll want to watch the entire video.

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We have a full library of exclusive training videos from some of the biggest names in soccer. In addition to Harris, a Versus subscription gives you access to U.S. soccer legends like Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, and renowned technical coach, David Copeland-Smith.

But Versus includes much more than only videos and lessons

Through our conversational AI-based technology—you can ask questions to our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches. They cover every aspect of training, mindset, and skill development for several different sports. 

In fact, just our soccer roster alone, boasts of answers to over 800 questions, across more than 30 topics.

Versus has everything you need to get better at soccer. All at an affordable price, on an easy to use digital platform that’s accessible anywhere. 

We’re committed to making our game changing information available to everyone. So now, let’s dive into Ashlyn Harris’ guide to improving handling technique for soccer goalkeepers.

Goalkeeper Drills Overview

In the video, Ashlyn breaks down handling technique for the three situations goalkeepers will face in game:

  • High Ball
  • Mid Range Basket Catching; and
  • Low Catching

In each scenario, we’ll go through every aspect of correct body positioning, including head, hands, arms, torso, and legs.

Harris covers any additional tips and techniques players need to be aware of, so you can ensure that the ball is safely secured and rebounds are avoided.

Finally, Ashlyn details a drill that can be used to practice the skills for all three situations.

Ok. Let’s start with the first technique—high ball.

Technique #1 - High Ball

According to Harris, high ball is the technique that you’ll use most often in your games. A high ball is anything around the head height range. 

To practice high ball technique, get a partner to start by throwing the ball to you at the correct height. Then, as you feel more confident, progress to kicks. If you don’t have a partner, you can do this same drill independently against a wall.

To begin, “Start with your hands in a set position with light feet—ready to move left or right to make a save,” instructs Ashlyn. 

“Eyes always stay on the ball,” she states, “then ensure that your hands come off the body to catch.” This reduces the chance of a rebound, which is a risk if the shot comes in at pace and your hands aren’t out front.

As you can see below, Ashlyn’s hands are in a solid triangle position.

The wrist is in a straight and strong line. “It’s the strongest position in my arm,” states Harris.

Take care not to let your elbows flare out or collapse in. The goal is to always maintain that strong triangle shape, with elbows at a 45-degree angle.

Body and chin position are the next things to be mindful of. While your chin obviously can move independently—it tends to follow your body.

Lean too far forward, lunging your weight too far forward.

And you’ll be off-balance while leading with your chin.

Leaning too far back because you’re flinching won't work.

The goal is a good set shape with the body and head in a neutral position.

As your hands come up to meet the ball, be ready to absorb, not resist force.

“Don’t meet hard with hard,” warns Ashlyn, “or you can give up bad rebounds in a game—which can cost you goals.”

Ok. Let’s move on to mid-range basket catching.

Technique #2 - Mid Range Basket Catching

Again, using a partner or a wall, practice catching the ball mid range. This will be anywhere between chest and hip height.

The goal of mid range basket catching is to safely and securely draw the ball into your body.

To do this, catch the ball with your hands out in front while creating a soft pocket for it to go into your body.

As soon as you receive the ball into the body,

“Make sure you’re closing and sealing it by tucking your chin down, so you don’t create a rebound,” states Harris.

Finally, on each rep of the drill, remember to fold your torso close to a 90-degree angle, like this.

It’s essential to ingrain this final step of mid range basket catching technique. It might seem excessive or exaggerated in the drill. But in a game situation—this step is often the difference between a successful save and giving up a rebound.

The last technique is low catching.

Technique # 3 - Low Catching

With a low catch, your aim is to stop the ball dead on the ground using your palms to secure it, as detailed below.

A common error with low catching is to stop the ball with flat palms, rather than angling them over the top of the ball to secure it. 

If your low catch looks anything like this.

There’s a much higher chance of a rebound.

With a low catch, perhaps the worst outcome is the ball going through your legs. Not only is this likely to result in you conceding a goal—it feels terrible as a keeper to know that something as simple as laying a knee down could have prevented your opponent from scoring.

To finish, similar to the final fold on a mid range basket catch—use your body to securely pin the ball.

Now, it’s time to go through a drill that incorporates all three techniques.

3 Technique Drill

With your partner, or a wall if training on your own, practice catching:

  • 5 low balls
  • 5 basket catches; and
  • 5 volleys (high ball)

“What you’re looking to do is be five for five in every segment,” explains Harris, “And focusing on technical abilities, so it carries you into the big game.”

You might want to run through this drill several times during a session. 

Whether you are working with a partner or alone, alternate throwing and kicking the ball to practice the saves. Focus on perfecting technique on the throws—then apply this at game speed when the ball is kicked with pace. 

The Most Important Skill for a Goalkeeper

“Never underestimate the importance of handling,” warns Harris. “Even though it’s the most basic technique, handling skills will carry you through in any situation.”

With all of the techniques Ashlyn covers in her videos, it’s essential to be meticulous about practicing the smaller, secondary steps to handling the ball.

It’s easy to relax on things like the last fold of a mid range basket catch. Pinning the ball with your palms on a low ball. Or body and chin position on a high catch. 

But unless these techniques are dialed in during practice until they are second nature—there’s no way you will apply them in the fast pace and pressure of a game.

And that will cost you, and your team, dearly.

So be sure to regularly revisit Ashlyn’s instructions for each of the three handling techniques for soccer goalkeepers. And whether you have a partner to work with or are on your own, utilize her 3 technique drill in practice often.

We’ve included everything you need to know about improving handling technique in this article—but it’s no substitute for seeing Harris go through these drills in person.     

To get access to the full video training session this article is based on. Plus tons more exclusive content from our team of elite athletes and world-class coaches. Choose a plan, download the app, and start learning. 

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