Why do goalkeepers wear gloves?

Aubrey Bledsoe of Washington Spirit looks on.
Aubrey Bledsoe of Washington Spirit looks on during the quarterfinal match of the NWSL Challenge Cup at Zions Bank Stadium on July 18, 2020 in Herriman, Utah. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

From protecting your hands to keeping them warm — are goalkeepers’ gloves a necessity?

There is quite a lot written about when football goalkeepers first started wearing gloves — some are disputed facts. However, a picture taken in the mid-1890s provides pretty convincing evidence of goalkeeper Archie Pinnell sitting against his goal post sporting a pair of gloves.

Currently, there is no known law in football which states that goalkeepers must wear gloves. Yet seeing keepers playing with bare hands is rare these days.

IFAB 2020-21 Law 4 outlines all the equipment and clothing players and goalkeepers must wear. This includes shin pads, shirts, shorts, socks and boots. The detail is enormous — stating the colour of top and under layers, plus how much material can be covered by logos. But nothing about the gloves.

Futsal goalkeepers tend not to wear gloves. Bare hands give the stopper a better feel on the ball for rolling and throwing distributions. The futsal keeper blocks the ball more than they save and catch it, so you could argue there is less need for gloves.

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Typically, the 11-a-side keeper spends more time catching and holding the ball or fingertip parrying around the post. Some believe that the padded glove can enhance these skills. The glove provides better grip on the ball in all weathers with an element of shock absorption and protection from the ferocious shots of today’s game.

The goalkeeper’s glove

The modern glove is reputed to help reduce injury and provide some protection for the hand and wrist. However, there is no statistical evidence to support this claim. A recent article by Raj Bhatia suggests that injuries still occur despite most keepers wearing gloves.

Because of the lack of data, it is unclear how big a problem hand injuries are amongst these players. Although due to the nature of the position, any injury preventing the goalkeeper from contacting or claiming the ball will require some down time.

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Glove technology created the finger-save gloves, which boast a hard plastic layer behind each finger. The gloves were designed to help prevent sprains and dislocations common in any hand ball sport and quickly became popular.

Unfortunately, it seemed as though these gloves became a source of fractures due to the immobile finger protection. The finger had nowhere to move on contact with the ball. Instead of a sprain or dislocation, the digit was prone to fracture. Again, there is no statistical evidence to support this assumption and some goalkeepers till successfully use finger save gloves.

Minimalist goalkeeper gloves

More recently, the kit market includes gloves which are thought to speed up and heighten the technical development of goalkeepers. These specialist gloves feature an anti-grip palm and are made from thinner material. The design of the gloves enhances the keeper’s feel on the ball. The invention of this glove refutes the key arguments for why goalkeepers need to wear gloves. The minimalist nature of the glove works against the keeper, forcing them to use efficient hand dexterity when manipulating the ball. This is in direct contrast to most goalie gloves which provide padded protection and better grip on the ball in all weathers.

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Although gloves are not mandatory equipment for goalkeepers, you will rarely see a keeper playing without gloves in the modern game. However, the cost involved in buying a pair of gloves is something which outfield players may not appreciate. At the start of the season, common glove sizes are all sold out which can be frustrating. How many pairs of gloves does the keeper need anyway? What type of glove should the keeper have? These are all relevant questions.

Why goalkeepers wear gloves

Although the glove does not make the keeper, it is becoming a vital part of their kit bag. However, if the goalkeeper works on improving their ball handling techniques, they will experience superior gains in performance. Once the keepers are competent, gloves will help to further enhance already sound technique. The young keeper might cash in on a placebo effect of feeling confident wearing gloves and playing better because of this feeling. Although, poor ball contact is the same with gloves or in bare hands.

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Finally, injury prevention is a crucial part of today’s game. Time off is expensive for professional clubs and debilitating for grassroots clubs who may only have one keeper. Therefore, it makes sense to use any method that can help reduce injuries. Taping the goalkeepers fingers and then wearing gloves is the most effective way to help prevent hand injuries. But let’s not forget that working on ball control and feel is also a key strategy for ensuring more minutes of play.

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