How to train your reflexes like a professional goalkeeper

Tomé Morrissy-Swan
Arsenal's Petr Cech saving a shot by Manchester United's Wayne Rooney on 7 May 2017 - AFP

Good reflexes are crucial to any sport. Reacting quicker than an opponent can be the difference between success and failure. A tennis player must return serves in excess of 100mph, batsmen in cricket or baseball regularly face similar speeds, and the first sprinter off the blocks after the starting gun has an immediate advantage. 

In some sports good reflexes can mean even more than winning or losing. Boxers dodge lightning quick and powerful punches, while for Formula 1 drivers quick reactions can help prevent potentially fatal accidents. 

If a reflex is "an action that is performed without conscious thought as a response to a stimulus", then how can we train to improve them? 

It is possible to hone our reflexes and condition the brain to react quickly to certain conditions. Football goalkeepers require some of the fastest reactions in the sporting world. Guarding an eight-yard wide goal against powerful shots, often from a matter of yards, is extremely difficult, as anyone who has tried will know. 

In last week's otherwise dull Premier League encounter between rivals Liverpool and Manchester United, David De Gea pulled off an incredible save with his feet from point-blank range, highlighting why a keeper's reflexes are so crucial. 

Goalkeepers have many bizarre and intriguing ways of improving their reflexes. Recently, a video surfaced of veteran Petr Cech, currently of Arsenal and formerly of Chelsea, working on his reactions. The legendary Czech stopper, winner of four Premier Leagues, five FA Cups, a Champions League and a Europa League, was made to tap colour-coded cones before catching table tennis balls fired at him, with next to no time between shots. He succeeds every time. 

It's not the only technique Cech has used to help him become one of the best goalkeepers of the past decade. As the following video shows, much of his training for the national team during Euro 2016 consisted of placing plastic bottles a few yards in front of the goal. When the balls struck the bottles they bounced up at unpredictable angles, a great way of replicating match scenarios and improving reaction times. 

It's not only Cech who routinely hones his reflexes. All professional goalkeepers spend hours practising. Some use fairly regular drills, while others think outside the box, figuratively speaking of course. 

Tennis balls are a common feature in a goalkeeper's training. Whether it's a coach whacking them at full speed with a tennis racket or throwing them at a device called a RapidFire football rebound net, they are a favourite of goalkeeping coaches around the world.

And if you want to know how all this training pays off, check out this clip of Tottenham's Michel Vorm catching a football blasted at him from a couple of yards with one hand. Very impressive.

Of course, it's not only football goalkeepers that work hard to improve their reflexes. Another video from Arsenal's training ground shows the squad involved in what looks like heads, shoulders, knees and toes for athletes, and they're having a lot of fun. 

Here's Conor McGregor gearing up for a big fight by being beaten with a foam baton. 

Finally, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg of the Mercedes Formula 1 team used a Batak machine, which makes the user respond to lights by tapping a button, and the slightly less high-tech method of throwing apples at each other, to improve their response time. 

 

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