How to Improve Reaction Time

How to Improve Reaction Time

How to improve reaction time (reaction speed, speed of reaction) is a question that every athlete and every coach is eager to always learn more about. In this blog post, I put a big focus on this topic, as well as on in-depth explanation of what reaction time is; what are the components and types of reaction time; examples of reaction time; the importance of senses; what are factors influencing reaction time; what is the difference between reactions and reflexes; the importance of reaction time in sport; how to improve reaction time in sport; what’s the importance of reaction time for handball goalkeepers; some of the reaction time studies findings; and a few videos with drills and ideas for how to work on improving reaction time.

Bigger understanding and knowledge about concepts that make reaction time, brings bigger understanding about how can we work on improving it in work with our athletes, or in everyday life. Application of reaction time is very broad, and it goes beyond the world of sports.

Simply put – reaction time is the amount of time that takes place between when we perceive something until when we respond to it. It is the ability to notice, detect, process, and respond to a stimulus.

Reaction time keeps you safe and it makes sure that your body can move away from a potential danger. You will apply the principles of reaction time whether you are competing in a sport, or walking on a street, or driving. In all these cases, you will need to react on a sudden visual stimuli, you will need to process that information as fast as possible, and then you will need to create the “output” – the movement based on the decision that was made in your brain.


What is Reaction Time?

Reaction time (reaction speed, speed of reaction) is the interval between the onset of a stimulus and the initiation of a response to it. It’s a fundamental measure in psychology and neuroscience, used to measure the speed at which an individual responds to external stimuli. This process involves several steps: detection of the stimulus by one of the sensory system, processing of the stimulus by the brain to decide on a course of action, and finally, execution of the response by the motor system. It’s where the complex wiring of our nervous system meets the real world.

Reaction time is a reflection of how quickly and efficiently the brain can process incoming information, make a decision, and then signal the body to respond. This capability is particularly important in sports, especially in handball, where milliseconds can make the difference between a successful save or a missed goal.

The body responds to stimuli through a fast communication system that involves the eyes, brain, and muscles.
When the body receives stimuli to which it needs to respond, then the eyes send a signal to the brain through neurons in the optic nerve, which has the role of the only neural communication connecting the eyes and the brain. After receiving these signals, the central nervous system processes the information and sends commands to the body’s muscles to execute the appropriate responses. This whole process, from perception to action, happens in a matter of seconds.

In handball goalkeeper training, improving the reaction speed is crucial for improving goalkeeper performance. Reaction speed training focuses on drills that simulate game scenarios, requiring as fast as possible decision-making and corresponding physical responses. Benefits of working on reaction speed include better anticipation of shots, improved agility, and a heightened ability to read opponents’ intentions.

Techniques involve exercises that reduce reaction time, such as catching fast-moving objects, specialized agility workouts, and visual training to track and react to visual stimuli faster. Incorporating reaction speed elements in training sharpens a goalkeeper’s reflexes, significantly impacting their ability to make crucial saves during a game.

Speed of reaction is all about how quickly one responds to stimuli. In handball goalkeeping, the main stimuli goalkeeper needs to respond to is the visual stimuli. So it’s a good idea to add a lot of visual stimuli and speed of reaction drills in your work with goalkeepers.

This way of working with your goalkeepers improves the speed of neural signals between the brain and muscles, and it also improves overall athletic performance by reducing reaction times


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1 How to Improve Reaction Time


The Components of Reaction Time

The components of reaction time form a fascinating journey from the initial stimulus to the final action. Here are the main components of speed of reaction:


Sensory Input

Everything starts with a stimulus, whether it’s a visual signal, a sound, or a touch. This is where the senses play the main role.
This is the starting line of reaction time. It involves the detection of a stimulus through one of our senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell. For example, a handball goalkeeper seeing the ball headed towards the goal, or the sound of a starting gun in a running race. The sensory organs carry that information to the brain through the nervous system.


Brain Processing

Once the sensory system picks up the signal, it’s sent to the brain for processing. This is where things get interesting. The brain has to interpret the stimuli, decide on a response, and then send out the necessary commands through the nervous system. This process involves several brain regions, highlighting the complexity of what seems like an instantaneous action.
This process involves several steps:

  • Perception – Recognizing and interpreting the sensory information.
  • Decision Making – Deciding on the best course of action based on the interpreted information and past experiences. This step can involve quickly assessing risks, predicting outcomes, or recalling similar situations.
  • Planning – Planning the motor response that will be executed. This is where the brain prepares the muscles for the action required.


Motor Response

Once the brain has processed the information and decided on a response, it sends signals through the nervous system to the relevant muscles to perform the action. This could be moving your foot to step on the brake pedal, reaching out to catch a ball, or making a save reaction as a handball goalkeeper.

Each of these components plays a very important role in how we react to the world around us. The efficiency and speed of each component can be influenced by various factors, including individual biology, mental state, level of training or practice, and overall health. Improvements in any of these areas can lead to improvements in speed of reaction, which is why elite athletes put a lot of attention to training the speed of reaction.


The Importance of Senses When Working on Improving Reaction Time

Our senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell – play a very important role in how we interact with the world around us, whether in sports or in everyday life. When it comes to improving reaction time in athletes or ordinary people, the importance of our senses can’t be overstated. Senses are our primary ways of receiving information from our environment, for processing it, and for responding to a received information accordingly.

I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to work on sensory input processing! And this fact was (and it probably still is) a reason why some of my coaching methods were hard to understand for coaches and people who are not perceiving and understanding some elements of my coaching work through the prism of sensory input processing.

Anyways, below you can read about some of the biggest reasons why our senses are so important when working on how to improve reaction time:


Information Gathering

Our senses are the first step in the information-processing cycle. They act as receptors that gather data from our surroundings. For athletes, visual and auditory cues often provide the most important information needed to make quick split-second decisions during competitions.


Improved Awareness

Sensory information helps us to be aware of our environment and any changes within it. This heightened awareness is vital for both athletes and for ordinary people to anticipate and react to potential unpredictable challenges or hazards quickly.


Decision Making

The brain uses sensory information to make decisions. For example, a handball goalkeeper uses sight to calculate the trajectory of an incoming ball, hearing to listen for coaches’ or teammates’ information or calls, and touch to control the ball. These sensory inputs are processed almost instantaneously, and simultaneously while playing a match.


Improving Precision and Accuracy

Training the senses can lead to more precise and accurate responses. For athletes, fine-tuning their sensory perceptions equals the difference between hitting or missing a target, or for goalkeepers – the difference between saving or receiving a goal. In everyday life, it could be as simple as reacting to a spilled cup of tea or coffee.


Speeding Up Reaction Times

Simply put – fast sensory processing translates to faster reaction times. Athletes often engage in drills that specifically improve their ability to quickly interpret and respond to sensory information. This ability is just as valuable in daily activities, where fast reactions can prevent accidents or injuries.


Adaptation and Learning

Sensory experiences are integral to learning and adaptation. Through repeated exposure to specific stimuli, individuals learn to react more efficiently and effectively. This principle is applied in sports training through repetitive drills that simulate game situations, as well as in activities designed to improve daily life reactions.


Stress Management

The ability to process and react to sensory information calmly under pressure is crucial both in sports and in everyday life. Athletes and ordinary people benefit from being able to maintain self-control and respond effectively in stressful situations. Training which incorporates sensory stimuli can improve this ability, making individuals better in handling high-pressure environments.


Safety and Survival

On a fundamental level, our senses are extremely important for our safety and survival. Fast reactions to sensory signals can mean avoiding any kind of danger, whether it’s an athlete avoiding a high-speed object or an individual stepping out of the way of an incoming car or bike.


In conclusion, our senses are at the heart of improving reaction time, serving as the foundation upon which all training and development are built. For athletes, mastering sensory input processing can lead to superior performance. For ordinary people, it improves everyday life by making reactions faster and more accurate, thus improving safety and quality of life. Recognizing the importance of our senses in this context highlights the potential for targeted training strategies that can benefit us all, whether we are trying to improve in sports, or in everyday life.



Types of Reaction Time

Reaction times can generally be categorized into two main types: simple reaction time and complex reaction time. The distinction between these two types lies in the complexity of the stimulus-response scenario.

Simple Reaction Time


Simple reaction time involves responding to a single stimulus with a single response. There is only one possible stimulus and one possible action to take, making the situation straightforward. Training background can also have a big effect on reaction time in sports. On average, simple reaction time is somewhere between 160 to 200 milliseconds among most people. However, top-level athletes have shown reaction times as low as 130 – 150 milliseconds. This variation accounts for the direct pathway from stimulus detection to response execution, with minimal cognitive processing required. Experience in a given sport helps with a better understanding of when and where a stimulus might occur, thus it helps with a faster reaction time.


An example of simple reaction time could be pressing a button as soon as a light appears. There is only one stimulus (the light) and only one response (pressing the button).


The key characteristic of simple reaction time is its minimal decision-making process. The participant does not need to choose between multiple stimuli or responses, which generally results in faster reaction times.


Complex Reaction Time


Complex reaction time involves choosing between multiple stimuli and deciding on the appropriate response among several options. It requires more cognitive processing to interpret the stimulus and decide on the correct response.

Complex reaction time, also known as choice or compound reaction time, involves choosing between multiple stimuli and deciding on the appropriate response among several options. This type of reaction time is inherently longer than simple reaction time, because it requires more cognitive processing to interpret the stimulus and decide on the correct response. The brain must receive, interpret, perceive, and analyze a substantial amount of information, weighing all possible factors and potential outcomes of different responses before deciding on the best course of action. This complicated process results in a slower response to complex stimuli compared to situations involving a single stimulus.
The reaction time for complex tasks can range from 200 to 800 milliseconds or more, depending on the complexity of the decision-making required and the number of potential responses.


In the context of sports, complex reaction time is very important during matches, where athletes have to quickly process dynamic and complex environmental cues. An example of complex reaction time applied to handball goalkeeping would be where the goalkeeper has to perceive and respond to the movement of the player with the ball, position of other players in attack, position and movement of players in defence, tactical system of the attack, movement of the ball, and then come up with a response that would be the best while attempting to save the incoming shot.
The ability to effectively manage complex reaction times can significantly influence an athlete’s performance, demonstrating the importance of cognitive processing speed and decision-making skills in high-pressure situations.


This type involves more sophisticated cognitive processes, including decision-making and response selection. Because of the need to process more information and choose between multiple responses, complex reaction times are typically longer than simple reaction times.


The Difference Between Simple and Complex Reaction Time

The main difference between simple and complex reaction time is in the length of the decision-making process. Simple reaction time tasks require minimal cognitive processing, as the response is straightforward and automatic. In contrast, complex reaction time tasks involve a higher level of cognitive processing, including decision-making and choosing between multiple possible responses, which lengthens the reaction time.



Examples of Reaction Time

Reaction time is a measure of the speed at which an individual can perceive, process, and respond to a stimulus or a task. It’s a very important aspect in many different fields, including sports, driving, and everyday activities. Understanding how reaction time shows up in different scenarios can provide insight into its importance across diverse contexts. Here are some examples showing the range of activities where reaction time plays a very important role:



Starting a Sprint – The time that it takes for a sprinter to hear the starting gun and start running.
Returning a Serve in Tennis – The speed at which a tennis player can see the opponent’s serve, predict its trajectory, and swing their racket to return the ball.
Goalkeeping in Handball (or in Soccer) – The goalkeeper’s ability to save a shot involves quickly processing the direction of the incoming ball and moving accordingly to try to save it.



Reacting to a Stop Light – The time between seeing a stop light change to red and pressing the brakes.
Emergency Braking – How quickly a driver can perceive an obstacle on the road and press the brake pedal to avoid a collision.
Evasive Maneuvers – The reaction time needed to steer away from an unexpected hazard, like for example an animal that is crossing the road.



Video Games – In fast-paced video games, players’ reaction times to visual and auditory cues determine their success in completing levels or defeating opponents in the game.
Virtual Reality (VR) Training Simulators – Used in different training programs, such as pilot training, where fast reactions to simulated emergency scenarios are very important.


Daily Life Activities

Catching a Falling Object – The ability to catch an object, like a slipping glass or a water bottle, before it hits the ground.
Responding to a Sound – Turning your head towards the source of a sudden sound, such as someone calling your name, which reflects auditory (hearing) reaction time.
Avoiding Obstacles while Walking – Navigating through a crowded street requires constantly adjusting your way in response to moving people and obstacles, which reflects a continuous process of sensory (what we see and hear) input and motor response (movement).


Professional and Emergency Situations

Medical Response – The reaction time of a medical professional in responding to changes in a patient’s vital signs can be extremely important.
Firefighting – Firefighters have to quickly assess situations and decide on the best course of action to fight fires and to rescue people.
Law Enforcement – Officers often need to make split-second decisions in high-pressure situations based on their training and the sensory information available to them.

These few examples show the importance of reaction time across various fields of life, showing its importance in improving performance in sports or other specialized activities, and also in making sure there is safety and effectiveness in daily tasks and professions. Improving reaction time can lead to better outcomes in all these scenarios, emphasizing the relevance of cognitive and physical training targetted at sharpening this skill.



Factors Influencing Reaction Time

Reaction time is influenced by a variety of factors, each affecting how quickly an individual can respond to stimuli. These factors can be broadly categorized into biological, psychological, and environmental influences.


Biological Factors

  • Age – Reaction times are generally faster in young adults compared to children and older adults. This is due to the maturation and gradual decline of neural efficiency and motor skills.


  • Gender – Research shows mixed results regarding the influence of gender on reaction time. Some studies suggest that men may have slightly faster reaction times, especially for visual stimuli, which is often attributed to differences in neural structure and function. However, the difference is relatively small and can be influenced by the specific type of task or stimulus involved. Other studies find no significant gender differences, suggesting that any differences might be more task-dependent rather than inherent. The influence of gender on reaction time is a subject of ongoing research and debate. It’s important to consider that any observed differences could be influenced by a variety of factors, including the nature of the task, the specific sensory modality involved, and the level of practice or familiarity with the task. Overall, while gender may influence reaction time in certain contexts, the impact is just one of many factors that contribute to individual differences in reaction time performance.


  • The Phase of The Menstrual Cycle (for women) – Research results show that both auditory reaction time (ART) and visual reaction time (VRT) were longer during the menstrual phase and shorter during the luteal phase. Average ART and VRT were slowest during the menstrual phase (ART: 187.23 ms, VRT: 190.37 ms) and quickest during the luteal phase (ART: 178.23 ms, VRT: 181.53 ms), with intermediate times during the follicular phase. This pattern suggests that reaction times are influenced by the hormonal fluctuations across the menstrual cycle. The slowed reaction times during the menstrual phase could be attributed to fluid and electrolyte retention, affecting neural conduction. In contrast, the quicker times during the luteal phase may be due to progesterone’s modulation of estrogen’s effects on neural conduction. These findings contribute to the understanding of how the menstrual cycle can affect sensory-motor performances, emphasizing the need to consider these physiological factors in activities requiring quick sensory responses.


  • Physical Fitness – Individuals who are physically fit or engage in regular physical activity tend to have faster reaction times, likely due to better overall neural and cardiovascular health.


  • Genetics – There is evidence to suggest that reaction time has a genetic component, with some individuals naturally predisposed to faster processing speeds. Research suggests that genetics play a significant role in determining reaction time, with estimates indicating that between 20% to 50% of the variance in reaction time performance among individuals can be attributed to genetic factors. The genetic impact on reaction time is likely mediated through various biological mechanisms, including neural conduction speed, neurotransmitter systems, and brain structure and function. The interaction between genes and environment (gene-environment interaction) suggests that the impact of genetic predispositions on reaction time can be moderated or amplified by one’s lifestyle and experiences. The exact impact of specific genes and their interaction with environmental factors remains an active area of research, promising further insights into the optimization of cognitive and physical performance.


Psychological Factors

  • Attention and Focus – The level of attention or focus directly impacts reaction time, with distractions leading to slower responses.


  • Fatigue and Sleep Deprivation – Lack of sleep or fatigue significantly impairs reaction time, affecting cognitive processing and motor response.


  • Stress and Anxiety – Moderate levels of stress or arousal can improve reaction times by heightening sensory alertness. However, excessive stress or anxiety can impair performance, leading to slower responses.


Environmental Factors

  • Stimulus Type – Reaction times can vary depending on whether the stimulus is visual, auditory, or tactile, with auditory stimuli often eliciting faster responses than visual ones.


  • Complexity of the Task – As mentioned above, complex tasks with multiple stimuli and possible responses require more cognitive processing, leading to slower reaction times compared to simple tasks with a clear stimulus-response pathway.


  • Practice and Familiarity – Regular practice or familiarity with a specific task can significantly improve reaction times due to the learning and automation of responses.


It’s important to note that while these ranges provide a general idea, the exact reaction time will vary from person to person and task to task. Experimental settings used to measure these times can also influence the outcomes, such as the method of stimulus presentation and the mode of responding.



The Difference Between Reactions and Reflexes

To fully understand the concept of reaction time, it’s important to understand the difference between reactions and reflex actions.

In handball world, I have heard very often many coaches interchangeably using terms “fast reaction” and “fast reflexes”, as if these two terms have the same meaning. But they really don’t have the same meaning. Reflexes and reactions, while seeming similar, are very different. Reflexes are involuntary, used to protect the body, and are faster than a reaction.

Reflex actions are fast INVOLUNTARY responses to stimuli, which are used to protect the body, and are faster than a reaction. Reflex actions bypass the brain and involve direct communication between the spinal cord and muscles.

In contrast, reactions refer to a VOLUNTARY response to a stimulus. Reactions require the brain to evaluate the importance of the stimulus and determine the most effective response strategy. This underscores the brain’s crucial role in processing and deciding upon a reaction, illustrating the complicated interplay between cognitive functions and physical actions in response to external signals.

You may be wondering how, for example, a knee reflex arc and a handball goalkeeper dealing with an incoming ball are different? Are both not reflexes? While it may seem that a handball goalkeeper dealing with an incoming ball is a simple, fast protective reflex – it is actually a sequence of hundreds of thousands of neurons working together to produce a conscious decision about what action to take in order to react to an incoming ball. The choice if the goalkeeper will catch, rebound, or save the incoming ball is what makes a reaction.


  • Involuntary – Reflexes are automatic, involuntary responses to specific stimuli. They don’t require conscious thought to occur.
  • Fast – Because reflexes bypass the brain and are handled by the spinal cord, they happen incredibly quickly. This speed is crucial for immediate, protective responses.
  • Simple Pathway – The pathway of a reflex, often called the reflex arc, is straightforward. It goes from sensory nerves directly to the spinal cord and then to the muscles for an immediate response. This could be something like the knee-jerk response when the knee is tapped.
  • Protective Role – Reflexes primarily serve a protective function, such as blinking to protect the eyes or withdrawing a hand from a hot surface.


  • Voluntary – Reactions are voluntary responses that involve conscious thought. Unlike reflexes, you decide how and when to respond to a stimulus.
  • Slower – Reactions are slower than reflexes because they involve more complex processes. The brain needs to receive the sensory information, process it, decide on a response, and then send signals to the muscles to take action.
  • Complex Pathway – The pathway for a reaction is more complex and involves the brain. It encompasses perception, decision-making, and then the execution of a response. This could involve seeing a ball headed your way and deciding to catch it.
  • Versatile – Reactions are more versatile and adaptable than reflexes. They can be improved and modified with practice and learning. This adaptability is particularly important in scenarios that require strategic responses, such as playing sports or driving.


Why is Reaction Time Important in Sport?

The importance of reaction time for athletes cannot be overstated, as it often dictates performance excellence across a wide range of sports. Reaction speed – the ability to detect, process, and respond to a stimulus as quickly as possible – is a fundamental component of athletic performance. Here are a few main reasons for why reaction time is important for athletes:


Competitive Edge

In many sports, the line between winning and losing can be very thin. Athletes with superior reaction speeds can get a decisive advantage, whether it’s making a split-second decision during a soccer match, reacting to a starting signal in track and field, or responding to an opponent’s move in martial arts.


Improved Decision Making

Quick reaction times are closely related to an athlete’s ability to make fast decisions. In dynamic and complex game situations, athletes often need to assess multiple factors and choose the best course of action in a fraction of a second. Those with faster reaction speeds can process this information faster, leading to more effective decision-making under pressure.


Improved Defensive Actions

For sports involving direct competition, such as handball, basketball, football, or tennis, a fast reaction speed is essential for defensive moves and decisions. Athletes need to quickly interpret their opponents’ actions to block, stop, or counterattack effectively.


Anticipation and Prediction

A part of reaction speed is the ability to anticipate and predict the opponent’s next move. This predictive capacity allows athletes to prepare and react more quickly than they would if only reacting to the action as it happens. While this involves a cognitive component beyond raw reaction time, they are closely linked.


Injury Prevention

Fast reaction times can also play a very important role in injury prevention. Being able to quickly respond to potential dangers – such as an unexpected obstacle during a race or an incoming collision with an attacking player – can help athletes avoid injuries or lower the injury severity.


Specialized Skills Improvement

Certain sports require specialized reaction skills, where milliseconds can determine success. For example, a handball goalkeeper’s ability to save a penalty kick, or a sprinter’s start off the blocks. Training to improve reaction speed can significantly improve these sport specific specialized skills.


Training and Improvement

Recognizing the importance of reaction speed, athletes and coaches can incorporate specific drills and technologies in their training designed to improve this aspect of performance. From specialized training programs to virtual reality simulations, the goal is to improve the brain’s processing speed and the body’s response time.


Integration with Other Physical Attributes

It’s important to note that reaction speed doesn’t operate in isolation. It works best when integrated with other physical attributes such as agility, balance, and coordination. An athlete’s overall performance is often a combination of these factors, with reaction speed being a critical component.

In summary, reaction speed is one of the main elements of athletic performance, affecting competitive edge, decision-making, defensive skills, injury prevention, and the improvement of specialized skills. It’s a trait that athletes can improve through targeted training, which will in the end contribute to their success and longevity in sports.


How to Improve Reaction Time in Sport

Improving reaction time in sports is essential for athletes across all disciplines, as it can be the fine line between success and failure. Quick reactions can help a player save a goal, hit a fast-moving ball, or dodge an opponent in the nick of time. Here are several strategies that can help enhance reaction time in sports:


Visual System Training

A very important first step, when working on how to improve reaction time in sports that most coaches skip, is to work on the quality of the perception of our senses. Which, in majority of sports, is our visual sense. In almost every sport – our actions will be initiated by the visual information which is the beginning of the whole reaction time process loop. We can’t start working on elements of cognitive speed training, or on elements of the physical speed with our athletes, if we skip to work on the “speed” of their eyes through which they are getting the visual stimuli – based on which they need to perform quickly whatever the given task is.
Too often we just simply asume that, in order to improve reaction time, we need to work on different drills that combine speed, cognitive load, and / or sport specific movements. But the truth is – unless we work also on how fast our athletes can SEE the visual stimuli, we are missing the first and the most important step in reaction time improvement. When working on the visual system, you can work separately on the eyesight part of the visual system, and then on the processing visual information part of the visual system.


Cognitive Training Tools

NeuroTracker is one of the amazing tools with which we can work on reaction time. Tools like the NeuroTracker, which use 3D multiple object tracking, can significantly improve cognitive functions, including reaction times. By working with that kind of tools, athletes can improve their visual tracking abilities, attention span, and spatial awareness, all of which contribute to faster reaction times.


Practice with Different Stimuli

Training sessions should include drills that require athletes to respond to different stimuli (visual, auditory, or tactile, or combination of some or all of them). For example, reacting to the sound of a whistle, the sight of a moving ball or a hand signal, or the touch of a tap on the shoulder. This variety helps the brain and body learn to respond quickly to a range of signals. I love using the combination of different stimuli in my work with athletes, and I have noticed really big improvements in their focus and in their speed to process information when working in this way.


Practicing A Specific Movement or Action

Practicing specific movements or actions is a core principle of skill acquisition in sports and directly contributes to improving reaction time. This practice is often referred to as “muscle memory,” although it’s more accurately a function of the brain than the muscles. Simply put – through repetition, the brain becomes more efficient at processing and executing specific tasks. Repeated practice of a specific movement improves the neuromuscular coordination required for that movement. This leads to faster and more accurate execution without the need for conscious thought. The more an athlete practices a particular skill, the more efficient their brain becomes at sending the necessary signals to the muscles to perform the action. This efficiency reduces the time it takes to initiate and execute the movement.
Regularly practicing specific movements helps athletes develop better anticipation skills – they become better at reading cues from their environment or opponents, allowing them to react more quickly.
Familiarity with a movement reduces the cognitive load on the athlete. This means they can devote more mental resources to processing other incoming information, such as an opponent’s movements, which will help in even bigger improvement of reaction times.


Improving Overall Physical Fitness

Overall physical fitness, including cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility, plays a very important role in reaction times. A well-conditioned body can respond more quickly and efficiently to cognitive commands to move when and if needed.


Mental Imagery and Visualization

Visualizing various game scenarios and reacting to them in your mind can prepare you for real-life situations. This mental practice helps improve neural pathways involved in reaction, making actual physical responses faster. You can apply and get benefots from working on visualization in sports, and in everyday life situations.


Focus and Concentration Drills

Exercises that require intense focus, like catching a ball dropped without warning or responding to visual cues on a screen or in-person, can sharpen concentration skills. Improved focus allows athletes to react faster to unexpected situations during competition.


Sleep and Nutrition

Adequate rest and proper nutrition are foundational to improving reaction times. For athletes looking to improve their reaction times, focusing on a diet that supports overall brain health and physical readiness is very important. Eating a balanced diet with the right mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to ensure a steady energy supply. Micronutrients – ensuring adequate intake of vitamins and minerals that support cognitive function and muscle contractions. Consuming a balanced diet makes sure a stable supply of energy to both the muscles and the brain. Certain nutrients impact the production of neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. For example, amino acids from protein sources are precursors to neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which influence focus, mood, and alertness – all of which are important for fast reactions.

Sleep optimizes brain function and reaction speed, while a balanced, healthy diet makes sure your body has the necessary fuel for faster responses. Sleep is very important not only for physical recovery but also for cognitive function, both of which are integral to athletic performance. A well-rested brain is more capable of sustained attention and focus, which are essential for monitoring and responding to fast-paced changes in the sports environment. Adequate sleep improves cognitive processes, including decision-making and problem-solving skills, allowing athletes to make faster, more accurate decisions during games.


Proper Hydration

Proper hydration is very helpful in improving reaction time for athletes. Hydration affects literally all aspects of physical and cognitive functions, which directly impact an athlete’s performance, including their reaction times. Dehydration can negatively impact cognitive function, including attention, memory, and the speed of cognitive processing. Proper hydration helps maintain optimal brain function, which is crucial for quick decision-making and fast reactions during sports activities, or in everyday life. Even mild dehydration can lead to fatigue, reduced endurance, and a decline in motor coordination, all of which can slow an athlete’s reaction time. Proper hydration helps to maintain blood volume, which is essential for proper cardiovascular function and blood flow to the brain and muscles. Good circulation makes sure that oxygen and nutrients are efficiently delivered to the muscles and brain, which improves both physical and cognitive reactions.


Eye-Hand Coordination Exercises

By practicing the quick interpretation of visual cues and executing precise physical responses like when doing some of the eye-hand coordination drills, athletes can improve their reaction times. This is very important in sports like handball where milliseconds can make the difference between a save and a goal. Specific eye-hand exercises can include catching a tennis ball (one or more) off a wall, juggling, playing catch with varying sizes or weights of balls simultaneously, in same or in different patterns. These drills can improve coordination between visual input and physical response, which further can improve reaction times by refining the efficiency of the brain’s processing speed and motor response.


Meditation and Mindfulness

Practices that improve present-moment awareness can improve an athlete’s ability to stay focused, ready, and present at all times, and to react promptly to situations during the matches. Mindfulness and meditation can reduce reaction time by lowering anxiety levels and improving attention.


Regular Competition Practice

Regularly placing yourself in competitive scenarios can prepare you to the pressures and speeds of real game situations. The more used you are to the intensity of competition, the better your reaction times will be.


By including some (or all) these strategies into training, athletes can significantly improve their reaction times, giving them big improvements in their sports. Whether you’re a coach looking to improve your team’s performance or an athlete wanting to sharpen your own skills, focusing on reaction time can give you a lot of benefits on the court, and in everyday life.



The Importance of Reaction Time for Handball Goalkeepers

Overall research on reaction time indicates that practicing a reaction time task leads to an increase in processing speed. This is what we are going after in handball goalkeeping! We want to work with our goalkeepers on improving processing speed. Because the success of every goalkeeper in the goal depends on how fast they will perceive / see the visual stimuli based on which they need to create the “output” – movement, save reaction. What happens between the visual stimuli and the save reaction is information processing – deciding what should be done, and how about what the visual input delivered.

This is why I prefer using a lot of different reaction stimuli and inputs in my coaching work with goalkeepers. After working on the main elements of proper basic technique, all other exercises and drills that I use will often have elements of reaction speed, and information processing speed.

Reaction speed is extremely important for handball goalkeepers. With the fast-paced nature of handball, and with shots towards the goal that are reaching very high speeds, goalkeepers have to have exceptional reaction times.

Everything that a handball goalkeeper does in the goal depends on, and it starts with the visual input. In general, visual input overrides everything else! In my coaching, it’s not even needed to explain how extremely important component of the goalkeeper training is visual training (which is only one aspect of my whole concept of the brain based coaching).
Reaction Speed in Handball
If we are speaking about the speed and about improving the goalkeeper reaction speed, you will get the fastest and the best results by improving the quality of the visual input and the speed of decision making process! Put simply – if you train your goalkeepers to “see faster”, to decide what to do about what they saw – then also their output, movement will be faster.
In general, most coaches are working on improving the output quality, which is the movement quality. But really, observed from the “brain hierarchy” – the output quality depends on the input quality – which, in handball, is the visual input quality.

Here are a few reasons for why reaction speed is a very important skill for handball goalkeepers:


Saving Shots

Handball is known for all the fast and strong shots, which give goalkeepers only fractions of a second to try to react, and to save them. Fast reaction speed enables goalkeepers to respond quickly and to save shots, which often come from close range and with a very little warning.


Anticipation and Prediction

A very big part of a goalkeeper’s success is their ability to anticipate the shooter’s intentions. Fast reaction speeds are connected with cognitive skills like anticipation and prediction of the direction of the shot, allowing goalkeepers to position themselves effectively even before the shot is taken. This readiness improves their ability to make saves.


Split-Second Decision Making

Goalkeepers have to constantly make split-second decisions, not just about saving shots but also about positioning, and all other parts of goalkeeper game. Fast reactions support these quick decision-making processes, enabling better performance in the game.


Adaptability to Play Patterns

Handball is dynamic sport, with tactical play patterns and systems changing quickly. Goalkeepers with fast reaction speeds can adapt more quickly to all these changes, whether it’s adjusting to a new attacking strategy in the middle of the game, or responding to a fast break or a breakthrough shot.


Penalty Shots

During penalty shots, the goalkeeper has a very short time to react. Success in these high-pressure situations often depends on a goalkeeper’s reaction speed, as well as their ability to read the shooter’s body language and intentions.


Injury Prevention

Fast reactions also contribute to injury prevention. Being able to quickly respond to unexpected situations, like a sudden change in the ball’s trajectory or an opposing player entering the goalkeeper area, can help avoid collisions and other goalkeeper play-related injuries.


Confidence and Psychological Edge

Knowing that they can rely on their reaction speed gives goalkeepers confidence, which can be very intimidating for shooters. A goalkeeper who consistently stops shots or disrupts the opposing team’s scoring chances can mentally disturb shooters, affecting their accuracy and decision-making.


Training for Reaction Time With Handball Goalkeepers

Acknowledging the importance of reaction time, goalkeepers need to get a specialized training designed to improve their reflexes and decision-making abilities. Drills can be situation specific, and include fast (or unexpected) saves of shots from different shooting positions and angles, or they can be exercises to improve hand-eye coordination, or cognitive exercises with different levels of challenges, or simulations to improve anticipation and prediction skills.

In the context of handball, where every millisecond counts, a goalkeeper’s reaction speed can be the difference between a save and a goal. It’s a skill that requires continuous work, development and training.



Results of Study “Domain-Specific and Unspecific Reaction Times in Experienced Team Handball Goalkeepers and Novices”

Based on the comprehensive study titled “Domain-Specific and Unspecific Reaction Times in Experienced Team Handball Goalkeepers and Novices,” this research goes deeply into how expertise in team handball affects the speed of internal perceptual-motor processing in response to both sport-specific (domain-specific) and non-sport-specific (domain-unspecific) stimuli. Conducted by Fabian Helm, Mathias Reiser, and Jörn Munzert from the Department of Psychology and Sport Science at Justus-Liebig-University Giessen, Germany, the study investigates the nuances of reaction times (RT) among experienced team handball goalkeepers compared to novices.

The study encompasses an experimental design wherein 30 male participants, comprising 15 experienced team handball goalkeepers and 15 novices, engaged in simple or choice stimulus-response (CSR) tasks that were either specific to the expertise of goalkeepers or unspecific. The findings revealed that goalkeepers demonstrated significantly faster reaction times in domain-specific tasks, suggesting a pronounced expertise advantage in these scenarios. This advantage was attributed to the goalkeepers’ ability to recall stored perceptual-motor representations, improving their internal processing speed for related domain-specific tasks. However, when faced with double stimulus-response paradigms, differences between the groups were not significant, implying that the expertise advantage might not extend to reprogramming actions under more than one fast stimuli in a row.

The study expresses the importance of motor experience in refining the efficiency of perceptual-motor processing, particularly for tasks within an athlete’s domain of expertise. It suggests that the advantages granted by specific training and experience in sports such as handball include not only improved anticipatory capabilities but also improved basic internal processing speeds for sport-relevant actions. Nonetheless, the research also points out the complexity of applying this expertise advantage to tasks requiring fast reprogramming of actions, such as responding to deceptive movements in competitive play.

In conclusion, the research offers valuable insights into the cognitive and motoric benefits of sports expertise, emphasizing the role of specific training in improving reaction times and perceptual-motor processing. This study contributes to the broader understanding of how specialized training in one domain influences cognitive and physical responses, with potential implications for training methods, athlete development, and the study of human cognition and motor control.



Video – Reaction Speed in Specific Goalkeeper Movements

In the video below, you can see one of my favorite goalkeeper specific combo drills for working on reaction speed, while also covering the work on goalkeeper technique – save reactions for high and low shots.

In the first part of the video goalkeepers are doing footwork drill “in and out” while moving forward, then they are reacting on audio stimuli (whistle) and performing 360 degrees rotation in jump, thus activating vestibular system. Just after the landing they have to immediately respond to the visual stimuli – shown direction of my hand.

At the beginning they reacted to the side and height (high or low saves) that I showed.
In the next option, they reacted to the opposite side, but the same height (high or low saves).
In the last, more complex version, they are reacting to the opposite side and height of save reaction from the one I showed.

Always pay attention that they are performing correct basic goalkeeper technique when making any of the save reactions, and another thing to keep in mind-try to get them to keep their hands in basic stance while making 360 degrees rotation in jump (very often they will put their hands down just before the jump).

Additional important thing, if speaking about brain based coaching, is that you want to get them to perform 360 degrees rotation in jump while turning to both sides. Meaning: to the left and then also to the right side. There is always dominant side to which they will turn most of the times, and you want to work also on non dominant one.

Always remember the importance of the intentional coaching!





Video – Reaction Speed With TestYou Brain Training System

Speed of decision making or brain speed is very valuable skill for handball goalkeepers! It’s not only important to make a fast reaction, it’s important to be able to decide what to do about the incoming visual stimuli and then to perform the output – movement!

Many goalkeepers struggle with this, so very often you will notice that your goalkeeper is fast and it can react fast, which is great, but on top of this skill you should add the work on the speed of decision making! In this way, you will create high level goalkeepers.
Please, consider this really important starting point: this kind of work comes only AFTER you have worked on all segments of proper basic goalkeeper technique with your goalkeepers. Meaning – there is no point in teaching your goalkeeper to react fast in a wrong way, with wrong technique!

In my coaching work, after working on elements of proper goalkeeper technique, after theory and goalkeeper tactics, and after proper work on different physical aspects of goalkeeper game, I like to put a big focus on the speed of decision making, on the speed of information processing in the brain – on the brain speed.

There are countless ways for how you can effectively work on these aspects, and in this video you can see only one of the ways with the TestYou brain light semaphore training system. The goalkeepers in the video are not reacting fast only on any light or color on semaphores that lights up. They are reacting on some of the 250 different symbols in different colors, while disturbing colors and symbols are also lighted up.

In the second exercise this whole process is more challenging because of the addition of an audio stimuli, on which the goalkeeper has to make 180 degree jump turn, and then see which hand and direction the other goalkeeper has shown, and to react to the opposite side than the one that is shown.




Video – Speed of Decision Making in Handball Goalkeeper Training

Being fast is important in handball goalkeeping. Being fast to see the game, being fast to “read” a shooter, being fast to see the shot, being fast to properly position and react on the shot.

The question is – how do we train to become fast in all these mentioned segments? Does your speed training end only on physical level? Do you ever dive into levels of a proper brain training?

Trying to move fast in certain exercises in training does not always equal improving the speed. The speed of movement comes after fast receiving and understanding of the visual input which precedes the action. For us in handball goalkeeping, everything depends on the speed of perceiving and understanding the visual input. How fast are you able to see (or to “read”) what kind of shot is coming will have a direct impact on how fast you will be able to react on that shot.

It’s very important to understand how to train inputs which will result in a faster output – movement. During the same time it’s important to learn and to improve how to use your own body in the most efficient way to perform the needed movement. Please, keep that in mind and explore different approaches and ways for how to train properly the quality of visual input, and then also how to train your brain to see faster, to process the information faster, and to create the output – movement faster.








Article last updated: March 2024.



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All content (such as text, data, graphics files, images, illustrations, videos, sound files), and all other materials contained in are copyrighted unless otherwise noted and are the property of Vanja Radic Coaching. If you want to cite or use any part of the content from my website, you need to get the permission first, so please contact me for that matter.