Goalkeeper Distribution Fundamentals for Soccer

Written by VersusTue Nov 01 2022
Goalkeeper Distribution Fundamentals for Soccer

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A goalkeeper with great distribution skills can step up and become the 11th field player, giving their team a distinct competitive advantage.

Learn to become the invaluable 11th player on the field and help your team win games

In the modern game of soccer, making saves alone isn’t enough to reach the highest levels of soccer competition.

It’s a given that a goalkeeper will have quick reflexes, impeccable handling technique, plus speed and agility. That's the price of admission. It gets you a starting position on the club level.

But to reach the higher divisions of college soccer, the U.S. professional league, or gain any chance of playing internationally—goalkeepers are increasingly expected to have advanced distribution skills. 

And with good reason.

A goalkeeper with well developed distribution abilities can act as an extra outfield player, giving their team a distinct competitive advantage.

Such a keeper can clear the ball out of danger. They can help start an offensive attack. And even catch the opposition off guard, by swiftly feeding a teammate upfield to create a counterattack and deliver a shot on goal.

Where two goalkeepers are evenly matched with saving ability—the one who is better at distribution will always make the starting lineup. So it’s crucial not to neglect this fundamental skill.

There are five core distribution techniques that every soccer goalkeeper must learn. To take us through everything you need to know about them, we called on one of the most talented goalkeepers in U.S. women’s soccer, Ashlyn Harris.

In this article, we’ll summarize the main points from Ashlyn’s exclusive training video on goalkeeper distribution fundamentals. If you want to go deeper on this topic, getting access to the full video is easy. All you need to do is choose a plan, download the Versus app, and start learning.

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 training videos.

Through our conversational AI-based technology—you can ask questions from our roster of elite athletes and world-class coaches. They cover every aspect of training, mindset, and skill development for several different sports. Just our soccer team alone has answers to over 800 questions, across more than 30 topics.

A Complete Goalkeeper

Harris is an ideal role model for any player who wants to stretch themselves beyond the standard duties of a goalkeeper.

There’s no question that Ashlyn is a talented keeper. She holds the current National Women’s Soccer League (NSWL) all-time record for saves. Was part of the 2015 & 2019 National teams that won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. And was named NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in 2016.

But Harris’ contribution to her teams extends well beyond impressive saves.

Before joining Gotham FC in 2021, Ashlyn had been the team captain of the Orlando Pride since 2016. In an article celebrating her breaking the all-time saves record, Harris was described as a “defining presence” for the team. With Coach Becky Burleigh claiming she “sets the standard for the club as a captain.” 

Ashlyn explained her approach as a keeper in a recent video session with Versus about leadership. “I am like the conductor of an orchestra,” she explains. “I’m pulling the strings and making sure everything is moving the way it should—because I am their eyes.” 

On a practical level, advanced distribution skills are essential for any keeper who wants to maximize their contribution to their team’s success.

Keeper Distribution Drill

Ok. Let’s get back to distribution fundamentals for soccer goalkeepers. This drill includes the five essential distribution techniques for goalkeepers. Before we go any further, here are a few overarching points Harris makes in the video:

  • Accuracy and repetition are key. It takes time to learn these techniques. Your accuracy might not be great when you begin, but it will get better with repetition.
  • Figure out what works for you. “This is how I do it, but yours might look a little different,” explains Harris several times in the video.” She emphasizes that there is room for individual variation with most of these techniques.
  • Don’t forget to scale up the difficulty. As you get more accurate with each skill, scale up the difficulty by moving further and further back. This helps prepare you to distribute the ball to players far up field during a game.

Now, let’s take a look at the setup for the drill.


Ashlyn uses a goal, mini net, and cones during the video. But she explains that a wall can also work just as well, providing that you have some way to gauge accuracy.

Here is the setup from the video (note the yellow cones up high in the net).

Technique #1 - Underarm Bowl

In a game, you’ll be using the underarm bowl to distribute the ball 10 - 15 yards to a right, center, or left back.

Get low and bring the ball back in your dominant hand.

Then roll the ball to your target.

Try not to bounce an underarm bowl, as this is less accurate than keeping it on the ground.

Technique #2 - Overhand Throw

“This is more like a baseball throw,” instructs Harris. “I like to sling it sidearm so it has a good bend into my outside backs, but everyone has a different texture.”

“The key here is accuracy and pace,” states Ashlyn. Explaining that the goal of an overhand throw is to quickly deliver the ball to your teammate’s feet.

Practice overhand throws at lower targets.

Then to make it a little more difficult, use the higher ones (aiming for the yellow cones).

Technique #3 - Use Both Feet

Like all other players on the field—a goalkeeper must be able to use both feet to distribute the ball.

“Make sure you’re training both the right foot and left foot on distance and accuracy,” urges Harris. “Once you hit your target with one foot, switch to the other. Still focus on accuracy, but don’t get too caught up if you don’t hit your target. It takes practice.”

Cycle through different targets for this technique.

Technique #4 - Drop Kick

To execute a drop kick, you will drop the ball, let it bounce once, then kick. 

This technique is for when you need to distribute the ball with, “Power, distance, and most importantly, accuracy,” states Ashlyn.

This is what it looks like on the drop.

And the kick.

Individual techniques may vary. But here are Harris’ main tips for a good drop kick:

  • Eyes stay on the ball
  • Arms out slightly to the side
  • Drop the ball with no spin
  • Let it bounce before kicking 

Technique #5 - Side Volley

The final technique Ashlyn covers is the side volley. 

“It’s not as used in the women’s game as the men,” she explains. “But it’s something I love to see young goalkeepers working on. Because the accuracy and trajectory of the ball can make all the difference in a game.”

With a side volley, you can distribute the ball “40-45 yards low on a rope, where a forward is able to get into pockets to just attack,” states Harris.

There are two main differences between a side volley and a drop kick. First, the ball is kicked before it hits the ground on a side volley. Second, the ball is kicked from the side on a side volley (as opposed to underneath for a drop kick) to keep the trajectory low.

Here is Ashlyn dropping the ball on a side volley.

And kicking before the bounce.

Thinking Beyond Saves

The top priority for a goalkeeper in soccer will always be to make saves. But stopping shots at goal alone won’t get you to the elite level.

The keepers who really stand out. Who set new standards for how the position is played. And reach the highest levels of competition. Always contribute well beyond the standard duties of a goalkeeper.

To have a career like Ashlyn Harris’—you must expand your understanding of the goalkeeper’s role in soccer—and start thinking beyond saves

One of the best places to begin this journey is working on the fundamentals of distribution.

A goalkeeper with great distribution skills can step up and become the 11th field player, giving their team a distinct competitive advantage. 

Well rounded skills like this will help you stand out amongst the competition and make the starting lineup.

To watch Ashlyn Harris’s full training video on goalkeeper distribution skills—simply select a plan, download the Versus app, and start learning.

If you want to learn more about improving distribution fundamentals, how to develop your leadership skills, and cultivating a mindset of greatness, head over to Versus and check out our Game Plans. Any of our packages will get you access to our lessons, plus tons of other training sessions, interactive content, and more.

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