Goalies have one of the most unique roles of any player in the game of soccer.
Whether you are a goalkeeper in a team, a parent of a child playing soccer as a goalie, or an avid fan watching the game, knowing the rules for a soccer goalie is so important for understanding and enjoying the game.
Although the majority of the rules of soccer apply generally to all players including the goalie, there are some rules that are specific to a goalie. In this article, we’ll look through them one by one.
If you are interested in reading my simple and easy to understand guide to the rules of soccer for all players then click here (and, don’t worry, this link will open in a different tab so you can carry on reading this article first!)
So what are the rules for a soccer goalie?
- A goalie must wear colors that are distinguishable from all the other players and the game officials.
- There must be a goalie on the soccer field at all times
- A goalie can only use their hands within the penalty area
- Except in a few specific scenarios, a goalie can’t touch the ball with their hands when they have received the ball from a player on their own team.
- A goalie can only hold the ball for 6 seconds at one time
- A goalie can’t score a goal in their opponent’s goal with their hands or arms
- A goalie must stay on the goal line for a penalty kick
- A goalie can change places with another player during a game as long as the referee is informed
Each of these 8 rules is put in place for a reason. Let’s look at them in more detail now and hopefully by the end of this article you will feel confident knowing every rule in soccer that a goalie must follow.
1. A Goalie Must Wear Colors That Are Distinguishable From Other Players
You only have to watch a game of soccer for 5 minutes to notice that goalies wear a different colored uniform than the rest of the team.
This is because it is a requirement in the rules of soccer that the goalie wears colors different from the other players on the field and different from the referee and other officials officiating the game.
The only exception to this is if the two goalies on the field are wearing the same color jersey and neither of them has another color jersey to change into. In this circumstance, the referee can allow the game to continue.
The reason why
The reason that goalies have to stand out from the other players is that they have a unique role in the game.
As we will look at throughout this guide, a goalie has the freedom to do things that no other player on their team does and in a high-speed game situation, the players and the referee need to instantly know which player is the goalie and who is not.
You can imagine how much slower it would be to quickly identify who the goalie was in a group of players if they were wearing the same uniform as every other player on the team!
Goalies wearing different color jersey’s is a rule that benefits everyone.
The rules also allow for a goalie to wear other equipment as long as it isn’t dangerous to them or anyone else. It is up to the referee of the game to decide whether or not the equipment is dangerous.
These rules allow for a goalie to wear a cap to prevent the sun from getting in their eyes, but they also allow for a player to wear protective headgear if they feel they need to.
One example of a player who felt the need to wear protective headgear was former Czech national goalie Petr Cech who wore a soft protective helmet for a large part of his career.
After sustaining a serious head injury during a game in October 2006 he returned to soccer in January 2007 and wore this protective headgear in every game he played in until he retired in 2019.
One interesting fact that few people realize is that there is no requirement in the rules of soccer for a goalie to wear gloves.
It is incredibly rare to see a goalie playing without gloves on as there are multiple advantages to wearing them, but there is no rule that requires it.
2. There Must Be a Goalie on the Soccer Field at All Times
The second rule you will need to know about is the requirement for there to be a goalie on the field as part of the team at all times.
Each team begins the game with 11 players on the field. From the moment the game starts until the moment the referee ends the game, one player must play as a goalkeeper.
To find out more about how a soccer game ends click on this link to go to an article I wrote explaining how it works.
This requirement stands no matter what else happens during the game.
Even if the goalie is shown a red card, or is injured and has to leave the field, another player must replace them before the game restarts.
The replacement can be a substitute goalie who comes on, or if a team has used up their permitted substitutions then another player who is already on the field must change position and take on the role of goalie for the team.
3. A Goalie Can Only Use Their Hands Within the Penalty Area
The goalie’s own penalty area is the only place on the soccer field where the goalie is permitted to handle the ball. Outside of this space on the field, there are no circumstances where the goalie may pick up the ball.
At this point, I realize there may be some people who are unsure about what I mean by the “penalty area”. Let me briefly explain.
As you can see in the image below, the penalty areas are the two boxes at each end of the soccer field.
These areas are sometimes also referred to as the penalty box or 18-yard box (as they extend 18 yards into the field and 18 yards either side of the goal) and you may often hear these terms used interchangeably.
A goalie is allowed to leave the penalty box in soccer, but outside of this area, the goalie is treated as no different from any other player. They cannot handle the ball.
It is also perfectly acceptable for a goalie who has the ball at their feet outside of the penalty area, to dribble the ball back into the box and then pick it up.
Importance of the position of the ball
What is also important to know about where the goalie handles the ball is that the position of the ball is what matters not the position of the goalie. The ball must be within the penalty area for the goalie to be allowed to touch the ball with their hands or arms.
For example, when the ball is within the penalty area but the goalie is outside, it is within the rules for the goalie to reach into the penalty area and handle the ball.
However, when the ball is outside the area but the goalie is within the area the goalie can’t reach out and handle the ball.
If you are interested in knowing more about where a goalie can use their hands, click on this link to go to an article I recently wrote all about where a goalie can use their hands.
4. A Goalie Can’t Use Their Hands in Every Situation
The fourth rule for soccer goalies that you should know about is that there are restrictions on when a goalie can handle the ball.
Although the only place a goalie can pick up the ball is within the penalty area they can’t handle the ball there in every circumstance.
In fact, there are 3 specific circumstances that a goalie is not allowed to handle the ball.
- When a player on their own team deliberately passes the ball to them with their feet
- When a player on their own team throws the ball directly to the goalie from a throw-in
- Before another player has touched the ball after the goalie has released it from their hands
The second and third circumstances in this list are reasonably self-explanatory but the first one is worth explaining a little more.
If you do want to know more about when a goalie can handle the ball, including more info on those second two situations, then click here to go straight to the article I wrote all about it.
The fact that a goalie can’t pick up the ball after a player on their own team has deliberately kicked it to them is known as the “back-pass rule”.
The back-pass rule was designed to prevent teams slowing down a game by regularly passing the ball back to the goalie who would then pick up the ball and hold on to it for as long as possible.
You will have also noticed that the back pass rule specifically states that the goalie can’t pick up the ball when the ball is kicked.
This means that although a goalie can’t pick up the ball when it is kicked to them by a player on their team, they are allowed within the rules to pick up the ball if a player on their team plays the ball back to them with another part of their body such as their head or chest.
If you are interested in finding out more about a goalie picking up the ball from a throw-in then click here to go to an article I wrote specifically addressing this question.
5. A Goalie Can Only Hold the Ball for 6 Seconds at One Time
In the rules of soccer, it is an offense for the goalie to control the ball with their hands or arms for more than 6 seconds without releasing it.
As it is also an offense for another player to challenge the goalie for the ball while the goalie is in control of the ball, without an enforced time restriction the goalie could hold onto the ball for the entire duration of the game if they wanted and no one could do anything about it!
That would make for a very long and boring game!
Control of the ball
It may seem confusing at first but the meaning of “being in control of the ball” is reasonably straight forward.
A goalie is in control of the ball when:
- the ball is between the goalie’s hands or
- the ball is between the goalie’s hand and any surface such as the ground or their own body
- the goalie is touching the ball with any part of the hands or arms, except when the ball bounces off the goalie or they are making a save
- the goalie is holding the ball in the outstretched open hand
- the goalie is bouncing the ball on the ground or throwing it in the air
So, it’s ok for the goalie to move around their penalty area with the ball and they can even bounce or throw the ball in the air as they do, but none of this takes away from the 6 seconds they have to release the ball.
It also means that a player can’t head or kick the ball out of a goalie’s hands.
It doesn’t matter if the goalie is throwing the ball up, bouncing the ball, or holding the ball firmly between their hands, in all these situations the goalie is still considered to be in control of the ball and can’t be challenged by any other player.
Drop the ball and pick it up
Knowing that a goalie can only hold onto the ball for a maximum of 6 seconds often leads people to ask the question – “Can the goalie just drop the ball and pick it up again?”
The answer to this is “no”.
After holding on to the ball a soccer goalie cannot just drop the ball and pick it up again immediately. The rules of soccer say that once the goalie has released the ball from their hands, the ball must touch another player on the field before the goalie can again handle the ball.
If the goalie does pick up the ball again before another player has touched the ball then an indirect free-kick is awarded to the opposing team.
If you are looking for definitions of various soccer terms such as “indirect free-kick” click here to go to a comprehensive soccer glossary of terms and meanings of words that I put together to help people understand the game of soccer better.
6. A Goalie Can’t Score a Goal With Their Hands or Arms
The rules of soccer restrict any player from scoring a goal with their hands or arms. This rule applies to goalies in the same way it applies to every other player.
Although, as we know, there are areas of the field and situations where the goalie may handle the ball, a goal cannot be scored from the ball coming directly off the hand or arm of the goalie.
This means that even if a goalie had the strength and accuracy to throw the ball from one end of the field to the other and the ball went past the opposing goalie and into the goal without touching any other player, the goal would not stand.
If this did happen then a goal kick would be awarded to the opposing team.
To discover more about if and how a goalie can score during a soccer game click on this link to go to an article I wrote all about it.
7. A Goalie Must Stay on the Goal Line for a Penalty Kick
When a referee awards one team a penalty kick then there are some specific rules the defending goalie must follow.
Until the ball is kicked the goalie must:
- remain on the goal line,
- face the kicker,
- stay between the goalposts,
- not touch the goalposts, crossbar or goal net
As the ball is kicked, the defending goalie must have at least part of one-foot touching, or, if the goalie is jumping, in line with, the goal line.
In many soccer tournaments, if a game ends in a tie then a penalty shootout takes place to determine a winner. In a penalty shootout, each team takes it in turns to take a penalty and the team who scores the most penalties wins.
The rules for a goalie are the same during a penalty shootout at the end of the game as they are for any penalty during the rest of the game.
For each penalty, the goalies must follow the rules as mentioned above.
There are, however, a few extra rules that come into play during a penalty shootout that a goalie must follow.
- When a penalty is being taken by a player on the same team as the goalie, the goalie must stay on the soccer field but outside the penalty area and on the goal line where it meets the edge of the penalty area line.
- A goalkeeper is the only player who can be substituted during a penalty shoot-out, but only if they are unable to continue.
The image above shows the exact position on the field that the goalie needs to stand in when they are not involved during a penalty shootout.
Goalie substitution during a penalty shootout
As stated above a goalie can be substituted during a penalty shootout but only if they are unable to continue, not just because the coach wants to change them.
This is only possible if the team still has a remaining substitution to make. If the team has used there 3 permitted substitutions and the goalie is unable to continue then another player who is already on the field of play must replace them and become the goalie.
8. A Goalie Can Change Places With Another Player During a Game
There have been a number of times throughout this article where I have mentioned the goalie being substituted. This last rule clarifies the rules regarding when the goalie is changed.
As stated in rule number 2 there must be a goalie on the field at all times. Because of this, the rules allow any player to change places with the goalkeeper as needed.
In the majority of cases, if a goalie is injured, unable to continue playing, or sent off, then the team will substitute either the goalie or another player and replace them with a replacement goalie who will take up their position in goal.
However, the rules of soccer only allow a team to make 3 substitutions per game and sometimes a goalie will find themselves unable to continue after the 3rd substitution has been made.
It is for this scenario that the rules allow another player already on the field to exchange positions with the goalie.
The only requirement for this is that the referee is informed of the change and that it happens during a stoppage in play.
If a goalie and another player swap positions without informing the referee or without waiting for a stoppage then they will both receive a caution.
These are the 8 rules in soccer that every goalie must follow.
I hope this guide to the rules of a soccer goalie has helped you to understand and appreciate even more the role of the goalie in soccer and that you feel more confident about what is happening, or what you need to do as the goalie, during a game.
Recommended Goalie Equipment
Knowing what soccer equipment to buy for goalies is hard. To make life easier for you I’ve put together a list of goalie equipment that I would recommend for any goalie.
The Nike Vapor Grip 3 Goalkeeper Gloves are some of the best gloves currently out there.
To check out these gloves on Amazon click here.
They are not only comfortable but they offer great protection and grip as well.
It’s hard to practice as a goalie if you have no goal to defend. If your looking for an easy to assemble goal to use in your backyard or recreationally with friends then the Kwik Goal Flex Soccer Goal is what you need.
Check out this goal on Amazon by clicking here.
This goal is expertly designed to offer strength and durability while being lightweight and easy to transport as needed.
If you want to see more of my recommendations for soccer equipment then click here to head over to my recommended soccer equipment page. I have recommendations for cleats, ball, shin guards and more there.
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