Why Do Goalkeepers Dive The Wrong Way

Why Do Goalkeepers Dive The Wrong Way?

Last updated on February 25th, 2022

You may have seen penalty shootouts where the goalkeeper seems to keep diving the wrong way.

Doesn’t it get frustrating when your goalkeeper always seems to dive towards the wrong way? However, being a goalkeeper is really tough, especially during penalties!

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Why do goalkeepers dive the wrong way?

Goalkeepers usually decide a direction they intend to dive before the penalty taker kicks the ball. If the goalkeeper waits for the penalty kicker to kick the ball first before diving, they may not react in time. As such, goalkeepers usually guess the direction, which may result in them diving in the wrong direction.

Here are some possible reasons why they seem to diving in the wrong direction:

They may guess where the ball is going

Some goalkeepers have admitted that they guess where the penalty taker will place their shot. They usually base their guesses on the previous shots that the penalty taker has taken before.

One of the more famous example is Jens Lehmann (Germany) when they played against Argentina in the 2006 World Cup. He took out a piece of paper that could have had all the information of each penalty kicker’s preferred shot position.

He managed to guess all of the penalties correctly!

This will be useful if the penalty taker usually shoots at the same side. However, there are some penalty takers that are comfortable with shooting at either side. This makes it really hard to guess where the ball is going!

A well struck penalty does not afford the goalkeeper any time

It is hard for the keeper to dive after the ball has been kicked.

Even though the keeper knows where the ball is going, he may not react in time to dive down for the ball.

If the penalty kicker kicks the ball hard and well, it takes around 0.2-0.3 seconds to cross the goal line. The average calculated reaction time by a goalkeeper is 0.2s.

By the time he reacts and dives, it is way too late to be able to save the ball from entering the net!

There may be even times when the ball is shot so fast that the goalkeeper may just stand still and let the ball cross the line.

They have to dive first to reach shots that go into the corner

The length of a goalpost is usually around 2.44m. This makes it hard for the goalkeeper to cover their far posts during a penalty.

Did you know that if the penalty rebounds off the post and the player scores the rebound, it will not be counted? You can find out more about this interesting rule here.

Some penalty takers will also drive a hard and low shot into either corner of the goal.

As such, a goalkeeper usually has to dive first even before the penalty taker shoots the ball. This gives them enough potential energy to dive to the corner.

This makes it very hard for a goalkeeper to wait for the penalty taker to strike the ball before they dive. They will have no choice but to guess the direction the taker is shooting at and dive accordingly.

Do goalkeepers guess penalties?

Most goalkeepers may guess where the striker would place the ball and will dive to that side. This is mainly because goalkeepers do not have enough time to react to where the penalty taker is shooting the ball. As such, the safest way would be to guess where the penalty taker is shooting and dive to that direction.

The goalkeeper may fall prey to gambler’s fallacy

Some people believe that psychology has a role to play in a penalty shootout. They believe that a penalty shootout follows the Game Theory.

Provided that each penalty kick is independent of each other, the shootout will resemble a mixed-strategy Nash equilibrium. This usually occurs for penalties that are awarded during the match.

These penalties are usually one-off events and will most likely be independent of other penalties.

However, when it comes to penalty shootouts, things become more interesting. In a penalty shootout, the penalties are all taken in quick succession.

This may lead the goalkeeper to fall prey to Gambler’s Fallacy.

When the penalty kickers shoot at the same direction, the goalkeeper may anticipate that the next kicker will be kicking in the opposite direction. This will lead them to subconsciously dive in the opposite direction.

If the penalty takers are able to take advantage of this psychological effect, they will be able to score on the next penalty!

They may read the player wrongly

There are many indicators to where a penalty kicker may kick the ball towards.

Some of these include:

  1. Whether the player is left footed or right footed
  2. The angle in which the player runs up
  3. The direction of where the planted foot is pointing

By knowing these few indicators, it may give the goalkeepers some clue to where the ball is going. However, there is a chance that the goalkeeper read the taker wrongly.

The penalty kicker could also be skilled enough to change the direction of their shot during the run-up!

Moreover, the keeper is unable to change the position that they are diving towards when they’ve already committed. This makes them look like they are diving the wrong way.

A player may do a stutter kick

Some penalty takers like to do a stutter kick. This means that the kicker will do a slow run-up to the ball before shooting the ball at the goal.

So long as the player is continuously moving forward, the penalty will be legal.

As such, some players may use this to their advantage. While they are stuttering to run up to take the shot, the goalkeeper may give some hints to where he will be diving towards.

A goalkeeper may already start moving to one side to anticipate a low drilled shot right into the corner. The goalkeeper has already committed to diving towards one side. This allows the penalty taker to know where he intends to dive!

If the penalty taker is skilled enough, they will have some time to change the direction that they intend to shoot the ball. Since they shoot towards the opposite direction where the goalkeeper is diving, it seems like the keeper is diving the wrong way!

For most goalkeepers, they will usually require more experience to anticipate the tricks that the strikers may have up their sleeves. This could be one possible reason why goalkeepers are able to retire at a later age as they have greater match experience over time.


There are many reasons why a goalkeeper always seems to dive the wrong way. The most common reason would be that they guess where the ball is going. This is because they cannot wait for the taker to shoot the ball before reacting accordingly.

However, they may read the penalty taker wrongly, making them look rather silly when they dive to the wrong side!

This could be why a manager may choose to change goalkeepers before a penalty shootout. The substitute keeper is more fresh and alert, allowing him to have faster reflexes and be more decisive!

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