How to Catch a Soccer Ball

Believe it or not, there is a defined way in which players should catch a soccer ball!

You would think it’s just as simple as raising one or both of your hands and letting the ball land gently onto them.

However, there are a lot of moving parts that go in to the successful execution of catching a soccer ball.

In this article I’m going to explain – through the use of text and visuals – exactly how this action should be performed.

Ultimately, this post should leave you fully equipped with all the necessary bits of information needed to replicate this technique and use it as part of your own game.

But before I get on to that, I want to start by detailing the specific soccer players that this move is solely reserved for.

So, let’s begin.


Who can catch a soccer ball?

In this sport, outfield players are not allowed to just use any part of their body to control the ball.

You should already be aware of this if you’ve watched soccer matches on television as you will have seen how the matches are played out.

The game ebbs and flows with the soccer ball moving from one player’s feet to another.

More so, Law 12 of the International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) Laws of the Game specifically prohibits defenders, midfielders and forwards from deliberately touching the ball with any part of their hands or arms.

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Only goalkeepers are allowed to catch soccer balls, provided that:

  • They are in their own 18-yard penalty area
  • They don’t foul an opponent before, during or after doing so (e.g. through impeding, infringing, holding, etc.)

It would otherwise be quite difficult for goalkeepers to keep soccer balls from finding the back of the net, as shots struck with power are very tricky to contain with only the thighs, legs and feet.

The men and women between the sticks have a responsibility to consistently undergo catching practice.

For them to improve on this aspect of their game, a lot of hard work is required.

More particularly, goalkeepers need to repetitively perform the act of catching a soccer ball in their training sessions, especially until they are comfortable and confident enough to replicate the technique though a whole different range of challenging match situations.

With all that said, you’re now probably itching to find out how catching a soccer ball is done!

So, I’ll get right to it…


What are the steps needed to catch a soccer ball effectively?

As with any guide that I publish on this blog, there are a series of steps that a player must navigate in order to master a certain aspect of the game.

This post is no different.

I’ll now documenting the sequence that a goalkeeper should follow in order to learn how to catch soccer balls in a way that doesn’t give rise to any undesirable long-term injury effects.

Here goes…


Step 1 – Adopt a set body position

The first part of the catching procedure involves ensuring that the body is ready for the incoming ball.

One way of doing this is by keeping the elbows in a slightly bent position.

Soccer balls carry a lot of energy when they are struck with power, which is why you’ll also want to make sure that your arms, legs and back muscles are in the right posture.

This is because setting yourself correctly will provide you with the cushioning that you need to easily absorb the strong force of shot attempts, all without straining or injuring different parts of your body in the process.

And if you can do this well enough, you’ll also increase your chances of holding onto the soccer ball after you catch it, which is vital if you’re a goalkeeper trying to preserve a slender lead for your team.

Here’s a great quote from a full-time goalkeeper coach called Erik Eisenhut, who confirms the importance of having a set position in preparation for the strike:

“Remember to lean forward, not backwards, and keep your eyes on the ball. Your hands should be positioned in front of your body in a neutral position, with your palms facing each other.”

He also emphasises the significance of shifting weight from your upper body to your lower body by keeping the knees in a bent state, because doing so will give you the stable platform that’s needed to catch soccer balls with greater effectiveness.


Step 2 – Shuffle both of your feet

Most goalkeepers that I’ve seen playing at an amateur level don’t move their feet before committing to a catch, and that is something that they should work on.

Shuffling your feet before catching a soccer ball helps a goalkeeper get themselves into the correct position to be able to make a simple save.

By having solid footwork, you eliminate the need for regular diving which has a higher chance of you needlessly spilling the ball into the path of an opposition striker.

So, the keys to good feet shuffling include:

  • Remaining alert to the whereabouts of the ball
  • Keeping the toes moving
  • Staying square to the ball from a body perspective


Step 3 – Utilise the contour catch and other catching variations

Next up is the most crucial step.

You can have near perfect body posture and overall balance, but if you stumble at the vital moment when your hands connect with the oncoming soccer ball, then you’ll fail to catch it properly.

Let me start with an explanation on the contour catch.

This is an approach for catching soccer balls that are travelling above your waist area.

What you need to do is make a “W shape” with both of your hands and also making sure that your index fingers and thumbs are close together.

Your hand setup here should look similar to this:

how to catch a soccer ball - contour technique

Can you take a closer look at the positioning of fingers in that image?

Notice how both of the thumbs meet behind the soccer ball’s centre, with each hand securing it from each side.

That’s how the contour catch should be done.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to catch a soccer ball that is moving at a level that’s below your own waist, the contour catch will not work well.

Instead, you’ll want to go with the inverted contour catch.


Master the inverted contour catch for shots below the waist

This type of catch is quite similar to the standard contour catch, but the difference lies in how the fingers are positioned behind the ball.

Where the familiarity lies is in the fact that the goalkeeper’s hands should be firmly behind the ball once it’s caught.

But outside of that, the fingers should be located on the bottom half of the ball, with the two smallest index fingers from each hand (i.e. the “pinkies”) almost connecting with each other.

In essence, the “W shape” morphs in to a slightly different “U shape”.


Rolling ball pickups for ground strikes

In other situations, a goalkeeper may be forced to deal with a soccer ball that’s rolling quickly along the grass.

Again, in this case, the contour catch can not be suitably employed in such a scenario.

This means that the men between the sticks have to catch the soccer ball by using either:

  • A bent-knee pickup; or
  • A knee-down pickup

With the former, the goalkeeper is expected to slightly stagger their feet one behind the other and lower both their knees and waist.

At the same time, they should have one foot behind the ball as well as the other situated beside it.

This gives them that extra bit of coverage in case they spill the shot, which acts as another barrier from the ball rolling into the empty net behind them.

Once this posture is assumed, the goalkeeper can then safely catch the soccer ball with their hands using the inverted contour technique that has already been described.

Conversely, the knee-down pick up is great when a goalkeeper doesn’t want to take any chances with claiming the soccer ball.

In this case, they bend one of their knees whilst the other bends to a point where it is nearly in contact with the ground.

From there, they can implement the inverted contour catch to secure possession of the ball.

how to catch a soccer ball - knee down pickup

Additionally, the distance between the heel of the leg that is slightly bent and the knee of the leg that’s closer to the ground should be less than a single soccer ball width.

The last thing a goalkeeper would want when facing a shot is for the soccer ball to roll in between their legs, because it would be quite an embarrassing moment for them to experience.


Step 5 – Employ full body blockage when necessary

If you watch a lot of soccer matches on television, you may have heard commentators praise goalkeepers who have successfully “got their body behind a shot”.

What this basically means is that they were able to use their body as an extra preventative layer that stops shot attempts from making their way past them into the net situated behind them.

You will typically see a goalkeeper’s body sprawling to make a save when they are facing a curving soccer ball, as the side spin on such a strike makes these attempts more difficult to claim safely.

how to catch a soccer ball - full body blockage

The aim with this step is to give yourself that extra security in case a soccer ball slides away from your grasp.

With your body in the way of it, the soccer ball can only come to a stop or ricochet in a different direction that is further away from the goal frame.


Step 6 – Protect the soccer ball after a catch for drop prevention

Lastly, you’ll want to be able to smother the soccer ball to prevent any opposing player from latching on to it in the event that it falls down.

When a shot gets taken by a member of the opposition team, strikers and onrushing midfielders tend to follow through by charging towards the location of the goalkeeper.

The logic behind this movement is that in the event that the goalkeeper drops the ball, they will be in prime position to take advantage by poaching the ball away from them and slotting it into the empty net.

So, through the act of cradling the ball towards your body – just like how you would hold a baby in your arms – you’re able to keep hold of it much better and retain possession for your team to make use of.


Video demonstration of how to catch a soccer ball

I’ve managed to source a small piece of visual footage that you can use as a reference point when you practice catching your own soccer ball:

Here it is:


Why is catching a soccer ball useful in match environments?

There are a number of easily recognisable benefits to being able to catch a soccer ball again and again.

I’ll highlight the two main ones.


Prevents goals conceded

Catching a soccer ball prevents the opposition from scoring, which is one way of influencing the match result.

After all, professional players perform on the pitch in order to secure the best possible outcome for the clubs that they represent.


Provides opportunities for team regrouping

In matches that are very tightly contested, a goalkeeper can catch a soccer ball as a way of alleviating opposition pressure.

You see, when a goalkeeper holds onto the ball within their own penalty area, they are given 6-seconds to keep it in their grasp before they have to release it back into play.

By the time the goalkeeper catches it and then punts it to the other side of the pitch, their team mates will have had enough of a breather to re-organise themselves and prepare for the next phase of play – which could involve them remaining on the back foot or taking charge of proceedings.

Samuel Waihenya
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