How To Save Penalty Kicks
Saving penalties is one of the hardest tasks in all of soccer. Keepers need to focus on the kicker's body language and their eyes before they take the shot. This is a daunting task for goalkeepers, undoubtedly -- even keeping players from scoring during a soccer game is a difficult task in itself. But when you remove the defenders and give the attacker a free shot on net from twelve yards away, the job becomes even harder. Often, keepers will rely on guesswork and quick reactions to save a penalty kick. However, there are a few strategies that soccer goalkeepers can use to make penalty kicks a whole lot easier.
In the entirety of sports, you'd be hard pressed to find a more anxious, stressful moment than the penalty kick. Often, whole seasons can hang in the balance of a save or goal. In 2006, the World Cup Final between Italy and France came down to penalty kicks. Imagine the immense pressure of the entire world watching you try to save balls kicked by professionals unobstructed by defenders from just twelve yards away.
No big deal.
These tips created by the CoachUp experts will help you develop your skills as a keeper:
Remember that the penalty kick-taker is probably just as nervous as you are -- you can take advantage of this in various ways. Walking up to the kick-taker as they place the soccer ball down is a good idea for a few different reasons. Your presence in front of the kick-taker may be unnerving and intimidating to them. Also, the goal will appear smaller with you standing further in front of it. This strategy may cause them to lose focus and miss their shot.
Other soccer goalkeepers like to raise their arms or move across the line of the goal for a similar effect of appearing more frightening. If the intimidating factor isn't your cup of tea, try focusing on readying yourself. The key to saving penalty kicks is being in the right mindset. You have to conquer your nerves and remove any doubt from your mind the moment the referee points to the spot. A good tactic to overcome your nerves and eliminate doubt is to envision yourself saving the penalty kick before it happens.
Obviously, a penalty kick wouldn’t be nearly as challenging for the goalkeeper if he or she knew where the kick-taker was aiming. Fortunately for goalkeepers, there are a few ways to figure out where the might be leaning towards.
One of the best times to gauge body position is when the kick-taker places the ball on the spot. Focus particularly on the position of the planting foot, left foot for a right-footed player and vice versa for a lefty. The attacker may inadvertently point their toe of their planting foot towards where they're aiming -- betraying themselves by already focusing on it.
Don't pay attention to their planted foot as they're kicking-- any direction it's pointing will either prove to be inconsequential or a misdirection. The most important factors for keepers to look for pertain to the eyes and hips. Shakira was right about something, those hips don't lie! Seriously, though, it's incredibly hard to shoot in the opposite way a player's hip twists and a player of that skill is of the highest class. More often than not, if you can read which way the hips are turning in that split-second, you've got a decent chance of saving the kick.
The eyes are a trickier matter. A nervous kicker may inadvertently stare down the exact spot he plans to shoot at. A practiced, unnerved kicker may look and stare in one place, only to shoot at another -- the eyes making saving a kick particularly difficult.
Watching their eyes the moment they place the ball down is generally a better indicator of where they are aiming. The length of the kick-taker’s run-up is also a good thing to look at. If they have a shorter run up, they are more likely to place the ball the same side as their kicking foot. This is because it's harder for them to come across their body and aim to the other corner with a shorter run.
(Related: Read about shooting penalties here.)
In the end, the penalty kick, in a lot of ways, is the kicker's to miss. If he doesn't telegraph it obviously enough to get a good read on it and strikes it with any sort of pace, the keeper is hung out to dry. Remember not to be too hard on yourself for not saving a penalty kick as the opposing player holds all the cards.
If you're good enough to guess, dive and save the ball, with or without reading the player, well, then, that's a huge accomplishment. You may not save 50% of your penalty kicks-- in fact, you probably won't even save 25%, but that's not an indictment on your skill, it's an execution of the kick-taker's. But, with these tips and guides, you might be more likely to save one when it matters the most.
However, if you still don't feel very confident between the sticks, consider training with one of CoachUp's great athletes -- they'll have you diving and stopping shots like Tim Howard in no time! What are you waiting for?