Being a goalkeeper is one of the most important jobs in a football team. It’s also one of the hardest.

You can go for a long time in a game without doing very much, just watching the play from a distance, only to be thrust into action at a moment’s notice. Every instinct needs to kick in, every reflex needs to be razor sharp and every sinew needs to be strained. Every ounce of your expertise matters.

And it’s easy to be the villain. Your outfield teammates can get away scot-free with fouls, slices, mis-placed passes, mis-control, glaring misses and more. However, just one small mistake from you and your team concedes a goal.

But you can be the hero, too. And it’s a special kind of heroism. Different from the rest.

If you learn your craft and practise hard, you can be a defensive colossus, pulling off stunning saves, swatting away penalties, earning your team precious points and winning games. Just ask England World Cup hero Jordan Pickford or Spain’s goalkeeping superman David de Gea.

It’s a unique position that requires a unique set of skills. To be a consistently good goalkeeper, you need aptitude, dedication and resilience.
This is how you can become a better goalkeeper in football

So, how do you become a better goalkeeper? How do you guard your goal like de Gea and palm away penalties like Pickford?

Here are six tips on how to be a better goalkeeper:

1. Reflexes. Good reflexes are crucial. A lot of football clubs use tennis balls to hone the reflexes of their goalkeepers, often getting them to catch the smaller ball before making a save with the larger one. Some spread out plastic bottles in front of the keeper and fire shots off them to simulate the unpredictability of match conditions. The goal is to improve reaction times.

2. Focus. Concentration is vital. Don’t switch on only when the ball comes close.

Always be alert to what’s going on. Even if you have little to do for long periods, this awareness is vital. Know where your defenders are and where the opposition’s strikers are. It’s also important to always be aware of where you’re standing in relation to your goal.

3. Communication. You should have a big voice and not be afraid of using it. Talking to your defenders during the match and ensuring that they’re aware of the play and occupying the right areas and positions are critical parts of a goalkeeper’s game. Also, when you come to claim the ball, say at a corner, you’ll do better if your players know that you’re coming and leave you to get the ball.

4. Distribution. Speed and accuracy are critical. As is choosing the right option. On the one hand, your rapid distribution could lead to a counterattack and a goal, on the other, playing the ball out to a player under pressure could cost your team a goal. And you need to be able to distribute the ball using your hands (underarm and overarm) and feet. Being good with your feet is an increasingly important skill for the modern goalkeeper.

5. Catching the ball. Catching a football is simple, right? It is when you do it right. Make sure that your hands are always behind the ball when you catch it, with your shoulders and elbows in a natural position. And catch the ball in front of you, not to the sides. Use these techniques and you’ll be less likely to drop the ball at the feet of an onrushing striker or into the goal.

6. Picking up the ball. This is another action that professionals make look easy but actually involves significant skill. Make sure that your feet are positioned correctly – not too wide apart and not too close together. Put yourself behind the ball and bring your knee down behind it, leaving a gap behind the ball for your hands. Then, with your body over the ball, claim it and land.

Practise these skills, over and over, and you’ll become a better goalkeeper. You’ll be ready to make that save that changes the momentum of a match and that turns an entire game on its head.