Qualities of a Good Water Polo Goalkeeper

A good goalkeeper is an integral part of any water polo team. While a field player may not score for an entire game, there is no doubt that a goalkeeper will have to block a shot. Their skill in the cage as well as their ability to direct their teammates makes them one of a team’s most valuable assets. Along with a great deal of responsibility, playing in the goal also requires serious physical effort. This guide outlines the physical and mental qualities of excellent water polo goalkeepers.

Physical Qualities of a Good Goalkeeper

Just because they don’t swim back and forth as much as field players does not mean water polo goalkeepers have an easier job. The skills and endurance required for their position are just as physically demanding as those of the other players in the water. They need incredible leg strength, fast reflexes, a good freestyle sprint, and the ability to throw long, accurate passes.

Reaction Time

Fast-twitch muscles — the muscle fibers that generate short bursts of energy — are important for any goalkeeper. Having a good reaction time can make the difference between a block and a goal. Some people are genetically gifted with quick reaction times, while others develop them through reaction drills. Either way, goalkeepers will be responsible for getting their arms in front of balls that travel at very high speeds.

Goalkeepers should also develop a fast freestyle sprint for swimming deflected balls away from the opposing team. These sprints are usually short, but necessary.

High Pain Tolerance

Playing goalkeeper is, in essence, asking to be part of target practice. Goalkeepers must put fear of the ball aside, and be ready to block shots regardless of pain on impact. Calluses will develop and the pain of blocks will dull eventually, but the simple fact is that the goalkeeper’s job is to get in the way of hard shots.

Strong Legs

Goalkeepers depend on their eggbeater even more than field players. They need to be able tread high out of the water while keeping their arms up and ready to block shots. If there are several shots taken on goal in quick succession, it can be quite a strain on the legs. Many goalkeeper drills involve treading with weights, or doing explosive bursts out of the water over and over.

A Good Arm

Goalkeepers also need the ability to make long, accurate passes. In many counterattacks, the goalkeeper’s responsibility is to make the best possible pass to one of the field players sprinting down the pool. The goalkeeper needs some power behind the pass, as well as excellent aim to get the ball to the field players by the time they are open.

Mental Qualities of a Good Goalkeeper

As the last line of defense and an undisputed leader in the water, the goalkeeper is a pillar of the team. Being a goalkeeper requires not just physical strength, but mental toughness as well. Goalkeepers are at once a cheerleader, strategist, coach, and game announcer. A large part of their role is evaluating the game and directing players on defense, but they also need to keep the team motivated (and stay positive themselves).

 Strong goalkeepers win games.

Robert Horn, UCLA, 1988


Because of their unique position, goalkeepers can see the field as a whole, and therefore are expected to communicate things like when the ball has been turned over and when man-up situations occur. While their team is on defense, they also need to act as the eyes and the ears of the players who cannot see everything that is going on. Directing the defense from the cage keeps the team working together to close any gaps and provide the strongest possible coverage.


Even during the most agonizing games, a goalkeeper should help rally his or her team, but must also turn off the negative voices in their own heads. It can be easy to get demoralized if on the losing side of a high-scoring game, but giving up should never be an option. It is hard for the field players to give a game their best effort if they know their goalkeeper is no longer trying.

Ability to See the Game as a Whole

There is a lot for a goalkeeper to keep track of when their team is on defense. Not only are they always keeping one eye on the ball, but they are also watching for plays run by the offense, directing their teammates to fill gaps in coverage, and looking for opportunities to steal the ball for a turnover. It is easy to get sucked into just one of these aspects, but the best goalkeepers have an intimate understanding of the game, and the ability to predict what will happen next.

The Importance of Goalkeepers

Not every player is cut out to be a water polo goalkeeper. The position requires a dedicated athlete who can work hard, communicate effectively with their team, and stay positive in challenging situations. The best goalkeepers are also willing to spend lots of time alone, working on skills the rest of the team doesn’t need to develop. While many aspects of the goalkeeper’s role seem thankless and tough, it’s hard to express how important their role is for a team’s organization, motivation, and teamwork.

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