It’s recently been brought into light whether goalies should be taking a 45 degree step or a lateral (flat) step to make a save. Below we dive into some of our thoughts on the matter.
Thought 1: Does stepping at a 45 degree angle shorten the distance to the ball? While some people may think this is always the case, basic math (get out your protractor, kids!) would tell us that it is in fact not always the case. At a certain distance out, it is indeed shorter to move laterally than it is at a 45 degree angle. Looking at our diagram below, you can see that if a shooter 15 ft out (4.5m/5yd) is straight on with the goalie, and just hitting inside pipe (flight of the ball is blue dotted line), you’d have to travel 3 feet laterally, but a whole half foot further at 3.5 ft to cover the same inside pipe shot at a 45 degree angle. The inner black line has a radius of 3ft so you can visually see the gap. Even assuming the shot moves more towards the center of the cage, the math would stay the same at the 15ft distance and you’d travel a shorter distance laterally than at a 45 degree angle (albeit, the change of distance becomes less relevant).
As you can see though, as the shooter moves in (or you as a goalie move off of the goal line), there comes a point where the distance traveled is the same, and anywhere closer than that it is actually a shorter distance moving at a 45 degree angle over that of a lateral step. In this example, it is at 7.5 ft (2.3m/2.5yd aka a shot on the doorstep). Likewise, the further out the shooter goes, the opposite is true. Not pictured, but at 25 ft out (7.6m/8.3yd) you’d still be stepping 3 feet to cover the whole goal laterally, or almost 3.8ft at a 45 degree angle.
Something that is worth mentioning is that you’ll notice there are angles of approach between a flat and 45 degree step that are actually shorter than both. It’s also worth mentioning that in addition to traveling a shorter distance on a lateral step, the ball also must travel a longer distance, giving you more time to react.
Thought 2: Are you more efficient and powerful moving lateral or forward? This is an interesting question. Having backgrounds in exercise science, even we had to ask around for some friends. The common consensus (between a few certified trainers, PTs and more) was that your body is built to be more explosive and quicker forward, not lateral. So it would stand to reason you are also more efficient and powerful moving at a 45 degree angle over a lateral (but less than moving just forward). You’re able to engage more muscles, and a whole lot of other scientific stuff that we won’t get into.
Thought 3: Meeting the ball, and timing. The biggest difference between moving lateral and moving 45 degrees in our opinion is your approach to the ball. Moving at a 45 degree angle, you are planning your movement so that you are in the path of the ball. Whether you’re early or right on time, you’re positioning your body with more control to end up physically in the way of the ball. When I watch people moving laterally, they tend to have an all or nothing approach- they’ll end up next to the pipe no matter if the shot is a foot to the right or three feet. This is good in the sense that you’re exploding, this is bad in that you must now time your movement to meet the ball at the exact time it crosses the plane of your step with the exact location from your starting stance. In other words, you have to account for lining yourself up perfectly left to right while also accounting for the ball front to back. When you’re moving at a 45 degree angle, you’re in a little more control and tend to only step the distance you need.
Thought 4: Attack or wait? While this is similar to our thinking in the previous thought, there is also something we think about when teaching younger goalies: embrace the shot. That is, be fearless (one of our mottos!) and attack the ball. Now, it is pretty hard to get a goalie feeling like they are attacking the ball when they are moving laterally. But when you move at a 45 degree angle, you truly feel like you have the power over the ball. Not to mention, when your muscles are flexed, the shot hurts less! Furthermore, when attackers shoot low, it’s in your best interest to smother the ball, or prevent it from bouncing. By stepping out, you give yourself that chance. By staying on your line, you risk a bounce to any other direction, and if your weight is already moving one direction, chances are you won’t be able to adjust mid flight of the shot.
Another thing we take into account is finishing how you started- in other words square to the ball, balanced and ready to take on another shot, just as you were for the initial shot. Stepping into the flight of the ball, you tend to end up more square to the ball, rather than the goal line and it is easier to balance yourself and your body with your weight shifted forward than sideways (think about how your sprain your ankles!).
Thought 5: Be who you are. After reading all of this you might think that we are in favor of a 45 degree step. In fact, we’re not. We’re in favor of being who you are (up to a certain point!) and using your natural instincts and abilities. Different goalies are built different ways. Some are 6’5” some are 5’6”, some are quick and some are slower, some play a high arc some play a low arc. What matters most is your fundamentals and sticking to those. Being in the right position and being ready for a shot are essential, how you get there has a lot to do with how comfortable you are and what you’ve practiced. In fact, when we asked people about what was a more efficient and powerful shot, a few even mentioned proprioception and how moving lateral may be faster for some individuals because they are conditioned more to move that way. If I have a goalie who has been playing a certain way for an extended period of time, I might make small changes. But to change a way entirely is not effective for them or yourself as a coach. Likewise, if I have a fresh athlete who has never played in goal, I’d probably start them off with a 45 degree step for the reasons mentioned beforehand.