As a trained goalkeeper I enjoy coaching goalkeepers of all ages, but in particular young and motivated youth goalies. Currently I am coaching the keepers for a girls U12 competitive team. As we were doing drills one goalie wasn’t comfortable punching the ball because her gloves hurt her hand. The gloves she had were of the style that has air cushioned plastic inserts on the top of the gloves including the fingers. The pressure of the plastic hurt her hand when punching the ball. So we decided to set out and find a new pair of gloves.
That wasn’t an easy task since the variety, styles, brands, and prices were incredible. She tried on many different ones to find the ones that work best for her. As we went through the process I suggested some criteria for selecting gloves to help with the decision and I recommend using these for any goalkeeper. In order of priority these criteria are:
- Ball handling, control, feel
- Dry grip
- Wet grip
It is really important that the glove fits the hand perfectly. Remember that gloves were an invention to help goalkeepers. When I played we didn’t use gloves and our hands directly handled the ball. There was immediate ball feel and control. So from a fit perspective gloves should be as close as possible to giving the feel of “no gloves”. That means they should fit snug, not too tight and not too loose. This is particularly important for kids and youth players. Quite often I see gloves that are too long in the fingers. The rationale is that the keeper will grow into them and they should last a few seasons. Financially understandable but not good for the keeper. As the hands grow, the gloves need to grow with them. If that means to buy a new pair every year, or even every six months, so be it. There are other ways to save money. So try lots of gloves until you find a few pairs that fit just right.
Ball Handling, Control, Feel
The ultimate ball handling, control, and feel is with bare hands in dry conditions. Fingers can flex without impediment, grip is perfect, and feel of the ball is accurate. If you wondering what I mean by “feel” ask any goalie and they will explain it. Some of it is physical and some of it is mental (confidence). Therefore the objective is to find gloves that mimic bare hands as much as possible. That means the gloves should not be too thick and padded such that bending the fingers is too difficult. Lack of flexibility results in goalies parrying or dropping the ball more than they should instead of holding on to it. The plastic air cushions on the back of the glove as described for my goalie need to be considered carefully. The theory is that they provide extra support to avoid overextending or breaking the fingers and to help with punching the ball. But they can also be stiff and reduce flexibility or hurt the hand when the ball hits them. So be sure that your goalie is comfortable with them and can handle the ball properly. Don’t be afraid to toss a ball at the keeper in the store and let them catch, pick up, and punch it.
The gloves should allow the ball to be gripped without slipping off or through the gloves. The actual soccer ball construction plays a role in this as well. Especially in youth soccer ball surfaces vary from shiny/polished to ribbed or embossed. Any surface other than shiny should not be a problem for any glove. So try them with a shiny ball. I have observed many goalies put water or spit on their gloves in dry conditions. I don’t see a technical reason for it but as long as it does no harm I have no objection. I believe it is more psychological than practical. Dry grip ranks ahead of wet grip because more games are played in dry conditions than wet conditions.
Gloves should absorb some water and their surface should remain “sticky” to handle a wet ball. This is probably something you can’t test during the purchase process, but it shouldn’t be a major issue either. Most gloves will be fine. This is the one area where soccer gloves outperform bare hands, and it was one of the original reason for the invention of soccer goalie gloves.
You may be surprised to find cushioning at # 5 of my list of priorities, particularly since all gloves are cushioned and often sold on that benefit, performance, and difference to other gloves. But remember cushioning was secondary in glove development to wet grip. In my experience cushioning has not prevented any broken bones. Goalies can break wrists from hard shots, but there is little cushioning on the wrist. There are straps and they are for stability, which is good. A hard shot and unfortunate hand position may still cause breaks. The top of the hand rarely breaks. Fingers do break or overextend but that is mostly an unfortunate position of finger relative to the ball. Cushioning will take the sting out of hard shots and avoid some minor potential bruising. It is therefore a source of comfort and confidence. So cushioned gloves are a good thing and I recommend cushioning highly. But not at the expense of fit, ball handling, or grip.
Like getting the right shoes for optimal ball control and kicking, getting the right gloves to optimize goalkeeper performance is critical. No matter what coaches, parents, or peers think it is up to the goalkeeper to determine the right pair of gloves for them. They may not be the fanciest or most expensive, or they may be. Have your keeper try them in store. If they turn out not to be the best, buy another pair considering what you learned. You might want two pairs – one for practice and one for the game. Chances are that gloves get used more in training, which means they must be the best possible, just as for the game.
Check out our soccer goalkeeper practice plans & drills: Soccer Goalie Practices