Youth: How Safe (or Risky) is the Goalkeeper Position for Young Players? | Storelli

Apr 29, 2021

Being a goalkeeper is one of the most respected yet challenging positions on the pitch. It takes a combination of elite decision-making skills, reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and athleticism to succeed. Although it can be “safer” compared to attacking or defensive positions, many wonder if it is the right position for their young players. 

It’s not risk-free either - it carries some unique risks that field players may not encounter as often. This post will take a look at the injury risks and challenges that goalkeepers will face, along with tips to keep young goalkeepers safe and confident on the pitch. 

Typical Injuries Associated With the Goalkeeper Position

As your kid grows and adopts a certain goalkeeping style, they may be more or less susceptible to certain types of injuries. For example, sweeper keepers - the more aggressive type who will leave the penalty area - may have a higher risk of sustaining a concussion due to frequent contact with charging forwards. But most goalkeepers tend to face similar injuries that are unique to the position. 

  • Shoulder/Forearm/Wrist injuries - Constantly diving and landing on the shoulders can injure the acromioclavic joints (where the collarbone and shoulder girdle attach) and the glenohumeral joint (shoulder “ball and socket joint”). Frequent stops of direct shots can also fracture the radius bone. 

  • Hip/Groin injuries - Side-dives and sliding can lead to abrasions and nasty cases of turf burn, which can become infected. Bursitis and joint irritation can affect older keepers after years of side-diving. 

  • Knee injuries - Although a little less susceptible, goalkeepers can sustain ACL tears due to rapid cutting and landing excessively on one leg.

  • Concussion/head injuries - Goalkeepers make considerably less contact with field players, but they are not immune to concussions and head injuries. They can sustain concussions when they jump for the ball since they may have head-to-head collisions with forwards. They may also get unintentionally kicked in the head by a forward if they dive for the ball. In some cases, colliding with goalposts may occur and cause serious head injuries.

Just like field player positions, coaches and trainers can help reduce the risk of goalkeeping injuries among young players. A combination of neuromuscular drills, conditioning exercises and goalkeeping techniques can increase safety. However, choosing the best protective gear for goalkeepers is paramount. 

Essential Goalkeeper Equipment for Injury Reduction 

  • Padded jerseys - Wearing padded jerseys can reduce some of the impact a goalkeeper may sustain to the shoulders. 
  • Padded goalie pants -  Sliding and diving puts goalkeepers at an increased risk of hip and groin injuries, but like padded jerseys, padded pants reduce the impact of ground contact. Additionally, they are resistant to tearing, protecting a goalie from turf burn injuries. 
  • Soccer goalie gloves - Mentioning goalie gloves as an essential goalkeeping item might seem like a “Captain Obvious” thing to do. However, some gloves offer more in the way of protection against hand, wrist and forearm injuries. Goalie gloves with finger spines offer finger protection, while ergonomic design and shock-absorbing padding reduces the force of blocking high-speed shots. 
  • Soccer Headgear - It’s not possible to completely prevent a concussion or head injury, but wearing soccer headgear may significantly reduce the risk of getting one. Soccer headgear contains shock-absorbing material that can lower the amount of force a keeper sustains if they hit another player, the ball or the ground with their head. 

  • For female goalkeepers, we also recommend protective crop tops to lower the risk of breast injuries (especially for mid-to-late adolescent women and older). 

    Is Your Son or Daughter Fit to Keep?

    An important and sometimes overlooked aspect of the goalkeeper position is player style and personality. Attitude and temperament play a role in all positions, but successful goalkeeping is even more contingent to having the right mindset. This rings true even at a young age. 

    It also helps to have certain physical characteristics as well. Although no one is born to be a goalkeeper, having the right “presets” can make the goalkeeper position a better fit for your kid (or not). More importantly, many of these traits, whether they are physical or mental, can help young players avoid the worst injuries. 

    Traits of that Can Keep a Goalkeeper Safe

    • Sharp awareness and concentration - Focusing on ball movement and player position not only helps goalkeepers to react quicker to opponents, but to position themselves so as to avoid surprise contact that could lead to injury. 

  • Decision-making ability - A young player who makes better decisions will know when or if to charge for the ball, dive or execute the right maneuver to block a shot. This can help a keeper avoid overcommitting to a play, which may not only result in a goal, but potentially, in an injury. 

  • Athleticism and ability - A young keeper who has better coordination, jumping ability, agility, punching/catching skill and fast reflexes (among other skills) will often move better. That’s a fact. With better movement ability combined with good decision-making, a keeper can consciously avoid contact or moves that may lead to injury. 

  • Emotional control and composure - The greatest goalies to ever play the game always look cool and calm, whether a forward is on a fast break or they’re facing a penalty kick that could bring or cost them a trophy. Overreacting and getting angry, which is arguably easy for young players to do, can cause them to play more aggressively than necessary, which may not only injury others, but themselves as well. 

  • Don’t get too hung up if your young goalkeeper lacks some of these skills. None of these traits are purely nature - nurture, by means of training and practice can help a young goalkeeper develop a more rounded game. As long as your kid shows a decent baseline of proficiency, the right attitude and time will help them acquire these traits. 

    A Challenging Yet Worthwhile Position

    First and foremost, any young player that expresses interest in playing goalkeeper deserves a pat on the back. Many soccer kids will either be hesitant or averse to the position, because they don’t want to bear the responsibility of conceding a goal (which of course, is not just their responsibility). 

    With that said, if you worry about the safety of the position, keep in mind that it is not any more (or less) dangerous than field positions. It brings its own unique set of injuries, but with the right protective gear and technique, you can rest assured that your kid will be safe. 

    Need goalie gloves and other goalkeeping safety gear for your kid? Browse through our selection of goalkeeping gear to give them the best in soccer protection.
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