© 1998 jointly in the following individuals: Jim Geissman, David Graham, Jim MacQueen, Connie Matthies, Jim Meinhold, Chris Mohr, Gary Rue, Ken Smith, Dave Teetz, Ron Tremper, who are together known pseudonymously as the SOCCER-COACH-L LOTG COLLECTIVE

The Goalkeeper and The Laws

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The goalkeeper has a special function on a soccer team. He (gender non-specific) should be thought of as a regular field player with special capabilities only within his team's penalty area. That is, the goalkeeper is not restricted to stay in the penalty area. He may go anywhere. When the ball is outside of his penalty area, however, he is restricted to the same limitations as a field player. There are many provisions in the laws that are goalkeeper specific.

  1. The goalkeeper must wear a jersey that is of different color from his team, the opponents (including the other goalkeeper), the referee and the referee assistants. The goalkeeper may use gloves that are not considered dangerous to other players.
  2. Every team must designate and play with a goalkeeper. At no time shall a team be without a goalkeeper. The goalkeeper can switch positions with another field player at anytime, as long as the referee is informed and there is a stoppage in play. Play is considered stopped, at least momentarily, when the ball crosses a touchline or goalline or when the referee stops play.
  3. The goalkeeper can touch the ball with his hands and arms in his team's penalty area. Once the goalkeeper legally controls (gains possession of) the ball with his hands, the goalkeeper has four (4) steps in which to put the ball back into play (i.e., relinquish possession). The ball is considered back into play when the goalkeeper has thrown, kicked or rolled the ball away from him.

    A deliberate deflection or parry of an opponent's shot is considered control. A referee may allow the keeper to pick up a parry with his hands if no advantage is gained and the ball is close to the goalkeepers original position. However, the referee may also consider this ball to have been put back into play, as well.

    Once the ball is back into play, the goalkeeper may not touch it with his hands (or arms) until another player has touched the ball; however, he can play it at any time with his foot, etc.

  4. The goalkeeper must not delay putting the ball into play after control is established. Referees are asked to ensure the ball is back into play within 5-6 seconds, else the goalkeeper will be caution for delaying the game.
  5. A goalkeeper may not touch a ball with his hands (or arms) while in his penalty area when the ball has been deliberately kicked (i.e., played with the foot) by a teammate. Nor may the goalkeeper touch a ball with his hands direct from a throw-in by teammate. These situations are commonly known collectively as the "pass back" law.
  6. If the teammate plays the ball back to the goalkeeper with another part of the body, such as the knee, head, etc., the goalkeeper may legally handle this ball. Note, the shin, though technically not part of the foot, may be difficult for a referee or assistant referee to judge. The referee will also have to assess the deliberate nature of any ball that is played back to the goalkeeper, even though it is not directly to the goalkeeper.
  7. During a penalty kick, the defending goalkeeper must be positioned on the goalline between the goalposts until the ball is kicked. The goalkeeper can now move along the goalline before the kick is taken. The referees are being asked to appropriately penalize any goalkeeper that moves forward off the line before the kick is taken. The goalkeeper can move off the line immediately after the ball is kicked.
  8. A goalkeeper is subject to the same fouls and offenses as any other field player. Any foul committed by the goalkeeper that is a direct free kick foul (except handling the ball within his penalty area) will result in a direct free kick or penalty kick (if offense was in the penalty area).

    The opponents will receive an indirect free kick if the goalkeeper commits an infraction that is not against an opponent. This type of offense would include too many steps after gaining control of the ball, handling a teammate's direct pass back (kicked or thrown) or handling a ball that is play in the penalty area before another player touches.

    As stated above, other than those offenses that are specifically related to the goalkeeper such as handling the ball in his area, the keeper is just like another field player and subject to the same offenses in favor of and against. However, it would be unrealistic not to consider some prevailing practices by referees which tend to favor the goalkeeper in the way the rules are practically administered. For example, because the goalkeeper often must put himself into a dangerous situation to make a save, the referee will rarely cite the goalkeeper for playing dangerously.

    Secondly, a few rules provisions specially favor goalkeepers. For example, a field player cannot prevent or disrupt the goalkeeper from putting the ball into play.

Questions on the Goalkeeper and the Laws

The following questions have been divided into three areas (some of which overlap slightly):

  1. The Goalkeeper and The Ball
  2. The Goalkeeper and Teammates
  3. The Goalkeeper and Opponents

The Goalkeeper And The Ball

GK.01 A ball is played wide of the penalty area. The goalkeeper ran out and dribbled the ball back into the penalty area. Can he pick it up?

Yes, if the ball was not deliberately kicked or thrown-in by a teammate. If a teammate did deliberately play it, the goalkeeper cannot handle the ball. He can kick it, chest trap it, etc.

GK.02 The goalkeeper intentionally deflects a long floating shot away from the goal with open hands to the ground and takes 4 steps before picking it up with his hands. Is this legal?

Perhaps not. The referee may determine the ball has been put back into play with a controlled parry of the shot. An IFK from the spot where the goalkeeper handled the ball a second time (*) would be given to the other team. However, intent is a judgment call based on the skill level of the goalkeeper and the referee may choose just to warn the goalkeeper the first time if the goalkeeper does not gain too much of an advantage from his parry.

GK.03 Why are some goalkeepers allowed to take 5 and 6 steps before they punt the ball?

A goalkeeper should not be allowed to take more than 4 steps. The referee may not be counting some initial steps after a pickup or he may choose to warn the goalkeeper on some initial violations before giving the opponents an indirect free kick at the spot of the fifth step. Realistically, most referees are not real picky on this, unless a goalkeeper is extremely blatant and consistant.

GK.04 I see goalkeepers that will run several steps after they pick up a ball played on the ground before they come to a stop. Then they take four more steps to punt the ball away. When do referees start counting steps?

Goalkeepers should be trained to run through the ball. Referees should allow some leeway on this. However, two or three steps should be ample enough follow through on a low pick up. If the goalkeeper seems to be gaining too much of an advantage, the referee may tell the goalkeeper he will start the step count a little sooner on the next pick up.

GK.05 Should tiny steps by the goalkeeper be counted?

The intention of the rule was to not allow the goalkeeper a free run out to the near the 18 to distribute the ball. If the tiny steps do not gain much distance or advantage, then they can and should be overlooked. However, some referees are "bean counters." If warned, the goalkeeper better heed the advice.

GK.06 In a game, there was a foul just outside the penalty area. Just as the goalkeeper was preparing to play the free kick, the referee ruled the foul was against the goalkeeper's team. The goalkeeper would not give the ball to the other team, but tossed the ball toward the referee who was still 20 yards away. The referee cautioned the goalkeeper for delay of game. Was this fair?

Just because the goalkeeper is out of position, there should not be any unnecessary delay to the fouled team from taking the free kick. The goalkeeper was trying to gain time to get back to his goal, therefore the caution was warranted. Note, if the referee initially indicated the wrong direction, it is hoped that he would allow the defending team a chance to recover.

GK.07 I switched my goalkeepers at halftime. Do I have to notify the referee?

There is a common misconception about this amongst coaches and referees. This law is written to address the situation of a player already on the field switching jerseys with the goalkeeper during play or a brief stoppage. It is important that the referee realizes this change is taking place for the same reason he has to be notified of any other substitution. A substitution from the halfway or at halftime should not require any extra notification. Having noted this misconception, however, it may be a good habit for a coach to always notify the referee of any goalkeeper changes.

GK.08 A team is awarded a corner kick. Can that team's goalkeeper take the kick?

Yes. The goalkeeper has no restrictions as to where he can go. He may also take free kicks or penalty kicks. He can play forward. However, as the designate goalkeeper, he is the only one on his team that can handle the ball in his team's penalty area.

GK.09 Would a goalkeeper throw or punt from his penalty area into the other team's goal count as a score?


GK.10 The attacking team is awarded an indirect free kick on the defensive team's 6-yard line. Can the goalkeeper charge the ball when the attacking team plays it? Where does the goalkeeper have to stand?

Yes, the goalkeeper can grab the ball immediately after it moves on a legally taken free kick. In fact, the goalkeeper is may be the best defender to charge the ball (assuming it is played short). As with any other defender, the goalkeeper must be at least 10 yards away from the ball or standing on the goalline between the posts.

GK.11 I see goalkeepers punt (volley kick) the ball when they are outside of the penalty area. Isn't this a foul for handling the ball outside of the penalty area?

It certainly would be if the goalkeepers hands were in contact with the ball when it was wholly across the penalty area boundary. However, the ball release from a running goalkeeper occurs much sooner than the point from where the ball is kicked. In other words, in many cases the ball is released from the hand(s) before it is past the line.

GK.12 A goalkeeper deflects a hard shot (not a deliberate parry). Can the goalkeeper dribble the ball to near the top of the penalty area, pick it up, take 4 steps and punt the ball?

Absolutely. The goalkeeper never was in totally control of the ball when the ball touched his hands. The goalkeeper could have dribble the ball anywhere including outside of the penalty area, back into the penalty area and then picked it up.

GK.13 A goalkeeper catches the ball and injures himself when he falls down hard on the ball. The referee stops play to allow a trainer to administer to the goalkeeper. Assuming the goalkeeper stays in the game, can the goalkeeper punt the ball away?

After the referee stopped play, the ball must be put back into play with a drop ball. If the referee does a drop ball with an opponent present, the goalkeeper can participate and handle the ball after the bounce if in the penalty area. Hopefully, the referee will do a drop ball with only the goalkeeper present, thus allowing play to continue as if it were not stopped. There law on drop balls does not mandate the drop ball be performed in the presence of both teams.

GK.14 If a goalkeeper chest traps a long shot down to the ground and then dribbles around before picking it up. Isn't he delaying the game?

He may be running time off the clock, but he is not necessarily guilty of delaying. The goalkeeper is only mandated to get the ball into play within a reasonable amount of time (5-6 seconds) when he has control of the ball. In this case, control will not be until he picks the ball up. It may be up to the opponents to force him to do that. Of course, it is within the referee's right to determine delay of the game at any time.

GK.15 I saw a goalkeeper bounce the ball. Can he do that? Can an attacker take the ball from the goalkeeper when he bounces it?

The goalkeeper can do just about anything he wants with the ball when in control, as long as he does not put it back into play. However, when the ball is temporarily out of the control of the goalkeeper (i.e., during a bounce or toss in the air), the ball is "up for grabs" by an opportunistic opponent. The referee may also determine the attacker is guilty of dangerous play or preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play as well.

GK.16 The attacking team kicks an indirect free kick directly at goal. The ball grazes off the goalkeeper's glove and goes into the goal. Is this a goal? What if this situation was off of a throw-in?

In both cases, the goalkeeper's touch was the touch by a second player that was needed to allow a goal to be scored; therefore, the goal counts and the defending team will kickoff.

GK.17 Can the goalkeeper punch a high cross into the air, then go catch it 10 yards away before it hits the ground?

This is acceptable as long as the referee does not consider this a controlled parry or deflection.

GK.18 The goalkeeper was standing inside of the goal when he caught the ball. Is this a goal?

It is only a goal if the whole ball was past the vertical line that runs up from the outside edge of the goalline. It does not matter where the goalkeeper stands, only the position of the ball matters.

GK.19 After a save near the goalline, the goalkeeper started to throw the ball up field, as he swung the ball back, all of the ball crossed the goalline. Is this a goal, even though the goalkeeper maintained total control of the ball throughout the throw?

Goal. The defenders must kick off.

GK.20 As the goalkeeper started to throw the ball, it slipped out of his hands. He went and picked it up and punted it out instead. Should the goalkeeper be allowed to pick it up again?

As the goalkeeper did not purposefully release the ball from his possession on the dropped throw and if it was near the goalkeeper, the referee may allow play to continue. However, if the dropped ball was half thrown or if the ball traveled a good distance after the drop, the referee may decide the ball was released into play and give an indirect free kick to the opponents where he picked it up a second time (see note).

GK.21 On a breakaway save, the goalkeeper grabs the ball when it is barely within the boundaries of the penalty area; however, his slide takes the ball outside of the penalty area while the goalkeeper is still holding it. Is this a foul?

The goalkeeper should be called for handling and a direct free kick be given to the opponents at the point where the ball left the penalty area. The goalkeeper may be booked for at least unsporting behavior if the referee feels his illegal play was deliberate.

The Goalkeeper And Teammates

GK.22 How do I train my goalkeeper to know when to handle a ball that is last touched by a teammate?

It is difficult to know what is in a referee's mind. Many coaches explain to the goalkeeper that any ball that is played directly back to them with the foot is one that the goalkeeper should not touch with the hands or arms. However, if the goalkeeper definitely feels the ball was not deliberately passed to him, such as a mis-kick, then he should be able to handle it without referee retribution. For instance, if the teammate tried to clear a ball up field and it deflected off his foot back to the goalkeeper, this would certainly not be construed as a deliberate attempt at a pass back. When in doubt the goalkeeper should clear the ball without handling it. Of course, any throw-in from a teammate is off-limits.

GK.23 The goalkeeper's teammate kicks a pass back and sends a high ball towards the goalmouth. What should the goalkeeper do?

If the goalkeeper can't get to it with any other part of the body, then by all means he should grab it. It is better to give up an indirect free kick to the opponents at the point of the catch (*), than to allow a goal.

GK.24 A field player on the goalkeeper's team plays a free kick back to goalkeeper's feet outside of the penalty area. The goalkeeper dribbles back into his penalty and picks up the ball with his hands. Is this legal?

No. The goalkeeper cannot handle a ball deliberately kicked to him without it touching another player or going out of play. It does not matter where on the field the goalkeeper receives the ball passed to him.

GK.25 The goalkeeper's teammate deliberately kicked a ball to the goalkeeper, but the kick deflected unintentionally off a teammate's knee who was standing nearby. Can the goalkeeper pick it up?

He probably shouldn't. Even though the ball touched another player, most referees will recognize the original pass as the being a deliberate play back to the goalkeeper and will not wave it off due to an accidental touch by a teammate.

GK.26 The goalkeeper's teammate deliberately kicked a ball to the goalkeeper, but the kick deflected unintentionally off an opponent who was standing nearby. Can the goalkeeper pick it up?

Yes. Since, an opponent touched the ball before the goalkeeper was able to handle it, this would be enough to nullify the deliberate pass back by a teammate.

GK.27 A defender is running back to the goal after a bouncing ball. The ball caroms off the defender's shin back to the goalkeeper. Can the goalkeeper use his hands to pick up this ball since it was not kicked.

If the goalkeeper can easily play the ball away, then that probably should be his choice. If there is a good chance the goalkeeper's clearing kick may bounce off another player (back into the goal), then the goalkeeper may be better off picking up the ball and hope the referee does not call a pass back infraction. The rules specifically state the ball must be kicked (i.e., played with the foot). However, some referees view the lower leg as part of the foot. In a situation such as this, the referee may not be able to see how the ball was played. Also, he may not be able to determine the intent of the defender when the ball came off his leg. Lots of gray area here and either a called foul or a play on is possible.

GK.28 The goalkeeper's teammate flips the ball into the air with his foot and another teammate heads the ball back to the goalkeeper. If the goalkeeper thinks his teammate is using trickery to bypass the pass back law, will his teammate escape a referee call if he does not play it with his hands?

Maybe. The referee can whistle an offense anytime he considers a player is using trickery, regardless of the goalkeeper's actions. However, he may wait to see if the goalkeeper handles the ball before assessing a penalty. Rest assured that the teammate(s) who tried the trick probably will be watched closely by the referee for the rest of the game.

The Goalkeeper And Opponents

GK.29 It seems that the referee will call trifling fouls on other players that merely touch the goalkeeper, but the goalkeeper is allowed to commit fouls such as jumping on the backs of players or using the hands to push players out of the way. Is this legal?

Often, the goalkeeper is allowed a little more freedom in his domain. For instance, the goalkeeper is allowed to put himself in certain dangerous situations (e.g., diving to the ball at the feet of an attacker) that field players would be called for fouling. In his penalty area, the goalkeeper probably is allowed to cause more contact in tight situations; however, every referee has his tolerance limit and goalkeepers are expected to abide by the law as well as field players. A goalkeeper foul usually means a PK, whereas a foul on the attacker is just a free kick from the defensive end. Therefore, the referee may not choose to call some fouls on the goalkeeper.

GK.30 The goalkeeper screams "KEEPER!" as he goes to grab the ball, causing the attacking player to stop his run momentarily. Isn't this unsporting behavior when a field player distracts his opponents with a loud yell?

This would be unsporting behavior if a field player distracted his opponent with a loud yell; however, it is often considered to be allowable communication if a goalkeeper does it. Now if the goalkeeper said "leave it" in an attempt to fake the attacker into thinking that comment came from a teammate, then that would be reason for a caution for unsporting behavior.

GK.31 Is it legal to set an attacker in front of the goalkeeper near the goal to block him on corner kick plays?

It is illegal to impede an opponent. If the attacker's only purpose is to block the goalkeeper from the ball, without trying to play the ball himself, then this is an offense.

GK.32 On a penalty kick, can the goalkeeper move back and forth quickly to disrupt the kicker?

The goalkeeper is now allowed to move along the goal line before the kick is taken. The goalkeeper still cannot come forward off the line until the ball is kicked. The referee may consider some disruptive acts to be unsporting behavior, and give the player a caution [yellow card].

GK.33 On a breakaway diving save, the goalkeeper barely touches the ball just before the attacker trips over the goalkeepers outstretched arms. What's the call?

As long as the goalkeeper did not grab at or reach up for the attacker after playing the ball the play should be allowed to continue. By playing the ball first, the goalkeeper made a legal play.

GK.34 After being elbowed (unseen) by an attacker; the goalkeeper throws the ball from within the penalty area at the attacker as he is running up field. The attacker is outside of the penalty area. What's the call?

The goalkeeper should be ejected and play should be restarted with a penalty kick, as the foul originated inside the penalty area. Even if the ball did not hit the attacker, it is considered an attempt to strike, which is a penal foul and violent conduct.

GK.35 I have heard you can charge a goalkeeper when he is holding the ball in his goal area. Can you change him into the goal?

Actually, with the new laws (1997), referees are specifically directed to penalize any attacker that changes a goalkeeper in a careless or reckless manner or with excessive force, regardless of the location of the goalkeeper or the presence of ball.

GK.36 After every save, an attacking player that was rushing the goal would brush up against the goalkeeper, probably to let him know they were there if he dropped the ball. Is this good aggressive play?

This is unsporting behavior on the attacker's part. The goalkeeper may need to hold his temper until the referee deals with the situation. If the referee continues to allow this to occur, the team captain may to ask the referee to be more aware of the intimidation tactics of the other team.

GK.37 A goalkeeper made a diving catch. As he hit the ground, the ball came loose slightly. An attacker kicked the ball as the goalkeeper was still trying to get control. The referee allowed the goal. Correct?

As long as there is some part of the goalkeeper's body (hand, fingertip, chest, nose, etc.) is touching the ball, the ball can be considered to be in the possession of the goalkeeper. However, if the goalkeeper is not touching the ball, the ball is fair game for an opponent, assuming the opponent is not playing dangerously (e.g., a high kick near the goalkeeper).

GK.38 On a hard shot that was being juggled by the goalkeeper, an attacker leaped up and volley kicked the ball near the goalkeeper's face. Since the goalkeeper is used to putting his head around the feet of field players, why did the referee call the field player for playing dangerously.

Though goalkeepers are often in seemingly dangerous situation, they are usually trained in doing this in a manner that provides protection. Since the attacker was the one that generated the dangerous situation while the goalkeeper was vulnerable, he should be whistled for playing in a dangerous manner and an indirect free kick be given to the goalkeeper's team at the spot of the foul (see note below).

GK.39 On a ball flighted into the penalty area, the goalkeeper jumped up and caught the ball above an attacker. The goalkeeper then lost the ball when he brought it down on top of the attacker's head. The referee called an offense on the attacker and gave the goalkeeper's team an indirect free kick. The attacker was just standing there. Why was this foul called?

This is a tough call for the referee. The goalkeeper is responsible for maintaining possession. However, once the goalkeeper has possession of the ball, the attacker is not allowed to dislodge it. Often play will continue, however, if there is any action by the attacker once the ball is in the goalkeeper's possession, a foul will be called.

GK.40 The goalkeeper made a diving save and the ball rebounded just out of reach. Right before the attacker kicked the free ball, the goalkeeper reached out and touched the top of the ball with one finger. Why did the referee disallow the attacker's shot?

Because the goalkeeper is considered to be in possession if any part of his hand or arm is touching the ball. The attacker cannot kick the ball out of the goalkeeper's possession.

GK.41 After the goalkeeper makes a save, an attacker runs up and stands in front of him. The goalkeeper moved to the side in order to put the ball back into play, but the attacker moves with him. The referee awards an indirect free kick to the goalkeeper's team. Why?

A field player is not allowed to prevent the goalkeeper from putting the ball back into play.

GK.42 As the goalkeeper prepares to catch a high ball, the attacker hooks his arm over the goalkeeper's arm. Should the referee award a direct free kick to the goalkeeper's team because the attacker was holding?

Yes, this would be the correct call, even though this is often not called between two field players. This is a serious foul, because the goalkeeper must be able to use his hands and the attacker intentionally hooked the arm.

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The Goalkeeper and the Laws

Thumbnail and Commentary | The GK and the Ball | The GK and Teammates | The GK and Opponents | Download

Updated February 26, 1998