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Football explained: Why can’t goalkeepers kick a dead ball?

Football explained: Why can’t goalkeepers kick a dead ball?
Football explained: Why can’t goalkeepers kick a dead ball?

There is an easy answer to this question. Goalkeepers have much less practise time dedicated to using their feet than outfield players. Mostly because they have so much to learn about using their hands plus diving and landing safely. These skills take a lot of practice so as not to injure themselves. In this article we look closer to what’s needed in terms of biomechanics and technique to execute it better: how to kick a dead ball.

The more complicated answer involves questions about what exactly goalkeepers should practise when it comes to kicking a dead ball.

You often hear people say that the goalkeeper is too young to kick the ball a long way. I have to disagree. In matches, the centre-back (CB) can take the goal kicks for the keeper. The ball disappears effortlessly up the pitch. The CB is in the same age range as the keeper. This itself is a bit of a dilemma as the keeper now has one less opportunity to practise kicking the ball.

As any coach would do, I looked up the key components for an instep goal kick. This was not an easy task and there are still questions from me. I now flip the question from why can’t keepers kick a dead ball, to how can goalkeepers do better kicking a dead ball?

Angled or straight run-up to the ball?

Many coaches get keepers running up to the ball at about a 45-degree angle. This is too steep for a goalkeeper and, indeed, an outfield player. The optimal angle for the approach, is about half of this or less. The ball will go faster the straighter the run-up. But, if the run-up is too straight, it can interfere with the non-kicking foot placement, leading to all sorts of other complications.

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How far back should my run-up start?

This is a difficult question to answer. Newton’s laws suggest that the faster we are going before kicking the ball, the faster the ball will travel when we kick it.

Easy to say, seemingly harder to do. Starting from the other end, taking a run-up two steps back from the ball has been found to provide suitable acceleration of the ball after contact. If the run-up is too far away, your keeper will struggle to accurately place their non-kicking foot to get a better strike on the ball. Then all transfer of momentum will be affected. The keeper needs to become comfortable with their distance. When they are young a two-step run-up may not get them moving quickly enough and would rely on leg strength, which they don’t have much of yet. However, a six-yard run-up will interfere with accurate non-kicking foot placement.

Should my head be over the ball?

Biomechanical analysis of the kicking technique suggests that the head should be aligned with the body. If the head is over the ball or just in front of it, this suggests a very straight run-up. When a player runs up from a slight angle towards the ball, the placement of their non-kicking foot is to one side. This creates a body lean to that side — meaning the head should also be leaning to that side in order to be aligned.

All these answers mention the importance of non-kicking foot placement, where should this be?

The last step of the run-up should be longer than the rest. The non-kicking foot can be placed between 27–37 cm away from the centre of the ball and it can be level with or slightly in front (10 cm) of the centre of the ball on a front-to-back line. Height doesn’t seem to affect this rather precise distance; although, any further away, slowed ball speeds and significantly decreased accuracy of the kick.

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Which part of my foot should contact which bit of the ball?

The goal kick is the same as a long-lofted pass and is often described as kicking with the instep. The instep is often translated as the laces. But some boots these days do not have laces or the laces are all in different places depending on which boot you prefer. Ideal foot contact would be a point halfway from the ankle to the toes, i.e. just above the ball of your foot. Some call this the knuckle of your big toe, but that is a little further down towards your big toe and might cause instability in foot contact. Could result in injury at worst and will interfere with the accuracy of the kick.

Contact on the ball should be just below the halfway point of the ball when it sits on the ground. This point of foot-to-ball contact will provide sufficient lift to clear the attacking line. To enable contact at this point on the ball with the ideal part of your foot you need to point your toes down – called plantar flexion. Full plantar flexion is the most stable position at impact as the foot can’t move backward very easily. Coaches often say ‘lock’ the ankle when kicking the ball, this involves squeezing the muscles that control plantar flexion. If your foot is not locked, on contact with the ball it will move backward at impact and cushion the force through the ball (think catching a well-struck cricket or rounders ball). This will reduce the speed of the ball after kicking.

How do I follow through and is it important to do this?

The follow-through phase gives the keeper an opportunity to increase foot contact time on the ball. This can help with increased transfer of momentum to the ball. It will also help guide the direction of the kick, as long as the kicking leg follows the required direction rather than sweeping around the corner. Additionally, the keeper needs to safely decelerate the kicking foot and forward body momentum. Stopping immediately can increase the risk of injury to the knee or hip. The follow-through is where the kicking foot travels to the top of its forward movement.

There are two ways to achieve this. Firstly, as the kicking foot follows through, the non-kicking foot hops forward as well, landing first on the non-kicking foot. The second method is seen more often when outfield players take free kicks. As the kicking foot travels upwards and towards the top of this movement, the non-kicking foot also lifts up and forwards. There is almost a bicycle kick element to this movement and the kicking foot is the first to land. Ideally, though, for both of these methods, the keeper should be transferring their weight forwards as much as possible. We mostly see a sideways and backward move away from the ball — leaving the keeper off balance.

The arc of tension

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You may already do this. So what is the arc of tension? It creates a solid and stable point at which the kicking movement originates. The last step of the run-up to the ball is vital. It’s where the action starts. As you step into the ball and place the non-kicking foot down, your arms should come up and out to the sides for balance and stability. As your kicking leg bends back at the knee, your hip will be turned slightly towards the ball allowing the knee to bend further. At this very point, squeezing your core muscles provides the stability for the start of the movement and also contributes to faster acceleration of the kicking leg. This transfers to a faster ball speed.

As your kicking foot starts its downward journey to ball contact, the contracted core, gluteals and upper limb muscles give the leg a big push.

As your kicking foot gets closer to the ball, your hips move around to face the ball more and open out the other way on or just after impact with the ball. The ideal foot placement to the side of the ball means the body and head lean away from the ball slightly towards the non-kicking side. With the kicking foot in plantar flexion (pointing the toes), the combined hip movement makes the kicking leg longer. The lean stops you from stubbing your toes on the ground before ball contact. The longer leg length (leg length plus pointed toes) means your foot will be travelling at a faster velocity at impact with the ball because it is at the end of the movement. The ball should then travel faster.

Practise, practise, practise or dead ball kick

Knowing all of this is one thing. Practising this is now over to you. How much practise should you do? Lots is the short answer. Kicking 100 balls a day will help. Line up the balls you have, kick them all down the pitch or across the grass/lawn, then jog over to line them up and kick them back. It could take about 30-45 minutes to kick 100 times, but you get some additional running in too.

To further help develop goal kick technique, watch a video clip of yourself kicking. Pick out the good bits and the bits to change based on the above information.

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