The position of goalkeeper in Field Hockey has unique requirements, from a technical, physical, psychological and tactical perspective. However, there is a scarcity of information available for athletes and teams interested in developing their athleticism for the position. This article aims to provide a short summary of the key areas in which Strength and Conditioning can support health and performance for goalkeepers.
Not only do goalkeepers need to be agile, reactive and explosive, they also need to be able to repeat these high intensity actions over the course of a game. The implications of a fatigued, non reactive goalkeeper are fairly obvious in a game dictated by the outcome of goals conceded.
One of the fundamental determinants of performance is the ability to quickly reposition following a save, to prevent rebound opportunities for attacking players. The ability to get onto and off the floor is a potential limitation to performance, yet the contributing physical qualities to this action are not abundantly available in the research world. With this in mind, it can be challenging to speak objectively about the specific demands, however we can make inferences from broader concepts.
The physical requirements of the position are remarkably different from those of an outfield player. Compared with the 5–7km typically run by their team mates in a match, a goalkeeper instead needs short distance explosive speed and reactivity. Accelerating from a standing start is more typical, and evidently they will never hit maximal sprint speed!
“Not only do goalkeepers need to be agile, reactive and explosive, they also need to be able to repeat these high intensity actions over the course of a game.”
Considerations and implications
Although there is limited research available in the area of goalkeeper performance, there are some interesting insights that we can take from existing work. This allows us to then make inferences around how Strength and Conditioning can impact a goalkeeper’s performance.
1. Penalty corner tactical decisions
Research into the tactical determinants of penalty corner outcomes has found that the strongest predictor of goal scoring success was when the penalty corner is taken from the goalkeeper's right hand side. Furthermore, in indoor hockey if the keeper decided to rush to the circle edge, the chances of the attacking team failing to score were 2 times higher than when they remained on their line.
Implications: the ability to accelerate off the line is both cognitively (reaction-based) and physically (force-based) determined. If we can increase the strength and power of a goalkeeper, we might be able to enhance their ability to accelerate quickly off the line, and minimise goal scoring opportunities. In the indoor game, this means that we may be able to reduce goal scoring opportunities from penalty corners specifically. This is particularly important as the additional load of the goalkeeping pads means we need a greater net force to accelerate at the same rate as an outfield player (in Newtonian terms). However, this is a tactical consideration which is beyond the scope of my experience or professional credentials!
2. Stance width
Minimising movement time is vital for a goalkeeper and stance width is considered important to agility. Research has found that a stance width of 1.1 m is optimal for reducing movement time for high, low, right and left hand side saves. There is some variability in this stance width owing to personal preference, but the majority of subjects in the study found this to be true. Lastly, where shots to the corner of the goal is likely, goalkeepers should adopt a wide stance. This provides a strong base from which to produce force and move quickly in multiple directions.
Implications: the strength needed in wide stance positions would suggest that exercises in which we can load through similar stances (such as squatting patterns) may enhance performance in similar joint positions. This in turn will hopefully transfer to more explosive actions on the field.
3. Reaction times
Goalkeepers can have less than 1 second to react to a shot from the edge of the D and move to stop it. This means that they need to be in effective positions to enhance movement speed, as well as possessing the cognitive abilities to respond as quickly as possible and block these shots. Interestingly, fewer touches and more direct shots have been noted in successful outcomes from penalty corner attempts. This would suggest that by once again reducing the goalkeeper’s reaction time, the chances of the attacking side scoring go up.
Implications: enhancing a goalkeeper’s ability to get into effective shot stopping positions may contribute to performance by allowing more time to react to opposition shots. A strength and conditioning programme for a goalkeeper should consider how we teach effective positions, working closely with the technical goalkeeping coach to complement and enhance overall performance.
4. Correlations with performance
There have not been many studies into correlates of goalkeeping performance, but one study found that agility, flexibility, height and arm length have significant and positive correlation with goalkeeping performance. This will likely not come as a surprise, as greater arm and leg span allows a greater coverage of the goal mouth, but it is also not something that we can do much about! Agility and flexibility however are significant areas for performance improvement, and key targets therefore for their strength and conditioning programme.
Implications: if we can improve the flexibility and agility of a goalkeeper, we can improve performance. Although the findings of the above study were correlations, not causations, there is still an important relationship between these physical qualities and performance outcomes. A strength and conditioning programme should incorporate plenty of work to enhance range of motion, and increase agility.
3 Ways S&C Can Impact Performance
Based on the considerations we’ve outlined above, there become 3 key ways in which Strength and Conditioning (S&C) can impact a goalkeeper’s performance:
1. Maximal outputs
An output is defined as ‘the amount of something produced’. In the case of physical performance what we typically refer to are the maximal intensities that an athlete is capable of achieving. This can be maximal strength, speed and power, for example.
The analogy we might think about in this instance is the idea of ‘raising the ceiling’. If we do this, then we have a greater amount in reserve whenever we complete a demanding physical task or exertion. If we can reduce the cost of every action completed, we minimise the fatigue that this will produce.
Increasing these outputs has a direct impact on performance for a number of reasons. Firstly, we need to understand the performance demands of the position. Goalkeeping actions take place in short high intensity bouts, so training should reflect this. Sprint intervals, heavy load strength and power training and speed work of around 5 seconds should reflect these demands rather than being generic in nature. By increasing maximal speed, a goalkeeper can accelerate faster, meaning space is closed quicker and attackers have less time to get a shot on goal. Strength in similar wide stance joint positions such as heavy load squats and deadlifts may also transfer to more explosiveness in relevant actions on the field.
“Goalkeeping actions take place in short high intensity bouts, so training should reflect this.”
Maximal outputs are best improved through high intensity training methods. Strength training should form the foundation of this, but be careful to ensure that any programme you do follow is age appropriate and based on individual screening or assessment. Moreover, there is always a need for low intensity training methods, to ensure adequate recovery and work capacity to recover between these efforts.
The ability to recover between high intensity actions such as a block is vital in order to get back into effective positions to make another save if a deflection occurs. On occasion a goalkeeper may need to make multiple saves in a short window of time.
Aerobic capacity is a key physical quality for goalkeepers for this reason. Here we are referring to the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles in order to recover quickly between high intensity bouts of work.
S&C programmes should seek to improve these qualities through a mixture of low and high intensity training methods. Interval training on a watt bike or assault bike can be a very effective way to address this.
Built on top of a well developed aerobic ‘engine’, we can begin adding in higher intensity anaerobic work, which is more aligned with the on field demands of the goalkeeper.
3. Injury reduction
“The mechanism of injury may differ, but the basic principles underlying reduction of risk is similar.”
Due to the unique physical characteristics needed for successful performance as a goalkeeper, this also means a different injury risk profile. Aside from contact based fractures and contusions, there are a number of musculoskeletal injuries that can be minimised through effective training.
The ankle, lower back, groin and shoulder are common injury sites for a goalkeeper. The mechanism of injury may differ, but the basic principles underlying reduction of risk is similar.
Exercises targeted specifically at strengthening these areas of the body are core components of an effective S&C plan for a goalkeeper. Examples include single leg hops for ankle stability, trunk exercises to prevent lower back issues and chin-ups for shoulder strength.
If you can address these three areas in your programme, you will be in a fantastic position to improve your performance on the pitch, remain injury free and increase your game impact as an effective shot stopper!
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Kalaiselvan, R., & Rajinikumar, P. (2019). Correlation of goalkeeping performance in relation to anthropometric and physical fitness variables in field hockey. International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education. 4(1): 1380-1381
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O’Neill BJ, Ryan K, Burke NG, et al (2014) Bilateral distal tibial stress fractures in a healthy field-hockey goalkeeper. BMJ Case Reports.
Vinson, D., Padley, S., Croad, A., Jeffreys, M., Brady, A., & James, D. (2013). Penalty corner routines in elite women's indoor field hockey: Prediction of outcomes based on tactical decisions. Journal of sports sciences, 31(8), 887-893.