How Soccer Goalkeepers Can Build Quicker Reactions and Faster Reflexes
In soccer, there is perhaps no position whose success is more closely tied to quick reflexes than the goalkeeper. Ashlyn Harris breaks down three soccer goalie drills you can do to improve your reaction time and reflexes.
Ashlyn Harris outlines three drills that any keeper can use to improve their reaction time
Reaction time is a crucial aspect of sports performance that is often overlooked by athletes and coaches. Convincing evidence exists from studies across a range of sports that reaction training can improve performance. Interestingly, it can also be a powerful way to reduce injury risk.
Yet knowing how to incorporate reaction training into practice can remain a challenge.
Many presume that their standard training regimes are sufficient to optimize reflexes and reaction times. But that’s often not the case—leading to serious performance gains being left on the table.
For best results, experts suggest that reaction training should include similar movements to those used in a game, with a specific focus on visual processing (reacting quickly to a visual cue).
In soccer, there is perhaps no position whose success is more closely tied to quick reflexes as the goalkeeper.
Having great handling technique, distribution skills, diving ability, and footwork are important. Yet to a large degree, these fundamentals all rely on the keeper having good reaction times.
To give you some proven strategies to get better, we asked U.S. women's soccer icon, Ashlyn Harris, to give an exclusive training session on how goalkeepers can build faster reflexes and quick reactions.
Results Tested on the Field
Ashlyn Harris has competed at the highest level of women’s soccer since high school. She finished her U-19 career with a record 39 international caps—more than any other U.S. player.
In 2013, a few years into her club career, Harris made her debut for the United States Women’s National Team. And she was subsequently a member of the championship-winning teams at the 2015 & 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Ashlyn broke the National Women’s Soccer League all-time saves record in 2021 while playing for Orlando Price. She is currently the goalkeeper for Gotham FC.
Harris is well known for her technical skills, tenacity, and leadership ability. But perhaps her most distinguishing asset is her sheer determination in the face of adversity.
Despite experiencing numerous potentially career ending injuries, Ashlyn returns in competition shape time and time again. She attributes this remarkable ability to her “never give up” mentality. Which gives her the drive to put the work into training to rebuild her skills and capacity after each setback.
To share this immense amount of knowledge, Harris has been hard at work developing a complete soccer training program with Versus.
Alongside other U.S. soccer legends, like Kelley O’Hara, Ali Krieger, and renowned technical coach, David Copeland-Smith, Ashlyn has produced a range of exclusive training videos and digital content to help you get better.
If you would like to access Ashlyn’s training videos. Plus, the ability to directly ask questions from our entire roster through advanced AI-based technology. All you have to do is choose a plan, download the Versus app, and start learning.
To give you an idea of what’s available, we’re going to run through the three drills Harris covers in her exclusive training video on how soccer goalkeepers can build quick reactions and fast reflexes.
Anyone Can Get Better
Ashlyn starts the session by reminding us that,
“Anyone can train to be quicker and pick up the ball as fast as you want to.”
This is a simple but essential point.
While genetics might play a role in an athlete’s baseline reaction times—any soccer player can improve reflexes and reaction time with appropriate training.
The key is, it must include some form of visual processing (seeing something, then reacting). And for best results, it should simulate relevant skills for soccer.
Here are the drills Ashlyn suggests for goalkeepers.
Drill #1 - Looking Down
“We’re going to start with a very simple drill, where I’m not looking at the ball so I don’t know it’s coming,” explains Harris.
To set up, grab a partner and two soccer balls.
Hold one ball about chest height and ask your partner to stand about 10 feet away.
The drill starts with you looking down at the ball you are holding, like this.
Your partner will then give you a heads up, by saying “yep,” and then kick or throw you the ball.
As soon as you hear “yep,” drop the ball you are holding and look up to catch the ball from your partner.
“This is just training the mind to think a bit faster than normal,” states Harris.
“In a game, if a ball is coming in and I move last minute, I have to be able to pick it up [visualize the ball] so quickly”, she states. “And the faster I can pick up the striker’s ball—the faster I can get in position behind it to make the save.”
- Change from your partner throwing to kicking the ball
- Decrease the time between reps
- Ask your partner to stop giving you a “yep”
Once you’ve warmed up with the first drill, take things further and try catching the ball from facing away.
Drill #2 - Facing Away
Get your partner and two soccer balls again.
This time, your partner will hold both balls with you facing away from them, like this.
When your partner gives you a “yep,” they will throw one of the balls over your shoulder (you won’t know which one). And you need to turn around and catch it.
Building on from the first exercise, this drill adds some uncertainty to your reaction time training.
“The best thing you can do to help your reaction time is make sure your training is not predictable,” instructs Harris. “Put yourself in positions that are uncomfortable. That makes you pick up the ball faster and in different positions that you might see in a game.
- Switch up where the ball is thrown (down low, above the head, etc)
- Speed it up by asking your partner to kick instead of throw the ball
- Do 2 reps in short succession (catch, turn, catch again)
Drill # 3 - Tennis Ball
You might have heard of soccer goalkeepers training with tennis balls or ping pong balls. If you are wondering how they do it, Ashlyn runs through a drill with a tennis ball in the video.
Kneel down and get in a good catching shape, like you would be in a game.
Ask your partner to stand behind you with some tennis balls. Then, they are going to drop balls over your head and shoulder.
This is what it looks like.
As the ball comes down,
“I’m trying to see how fast my eyes can connect to the ball to swat it away before it hits the ground,” explains Ashlyn.
Ensure that you alternate hands and maintain good body positioning throughout the drill. You want to swat the ball away firmly, to replicate game conditions as much as possible.
- Increase the speed at which the balls are dropped
- Change the position of the drop (anywhere between the left and right shoulder)
- Experiment with different types of balls (ping pong balls are another common choice)
Break Through Limits
Reaction times and reflexes occupy an interesting space in sports performance.
They don’t clearly fit into the category of mindset or physical skills. And as a result—training them requires a unique approach.
Unlike building mental toughness or developing an elite mindset, there are no cognitive concepts or big ideas to grasp about improving reaction time.
And in contrast to passing and receiving, and juggling fundamentals, the technical skills involved in training reflexes are quite simple.
The key ingredients for any soccer player to build quick reactions and fast reflexes, are recognition of the fact that these skills can actually be improved, coupled with solid training drills to ensure that gains in practice carry over to the game.
Especially for goalkeepers in soccer, when these two ingredients are combined, an athlete will quickly break through any artificial limits around reaction times they had set for themselves.
As Ashlyn states in closing out the video, “Training my reactions puts me in the right position to make the big time saves. The quicker I can pick the ball up—the better I’m going to be able to make the game changing save.”
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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