A Penalty Kick In Soccer: Your Questions Answered

Penalty kick title image

The opportunity to take a penalty kick will excite any soccer player. But not everyone understands how a penalty works. Having spent many years playing soccer and taken numerous penalty kicks, I’m going to explain all the details for you and give you everything you need to know about a penalty.

A penalty kick in soccer is a kick taken by a player to restart play after an opposition player has committed a foul within the penalty area. A player must take a penalty kick from a specific mark within the penalty area, and only the defending goalkeeper stands between the ball and the goal.

A penalty kick is a unique moment in a game when a player has a free shot at goal. But there are specific events that have to occur to arrive at the point where a referee awards a team a penalty.

In this article, I’ll explain:

  • what is a penalty is
  • how you get a penalty
  • How a penalty works
  • and the rules for a penalty kick

Let’s get started!

What Is a Penalty?

A penalty kick can be one of the most exciting parts of a soccer game. You only have to watch this video below of the top penalty takers in soccer to see what I mean.

Top 10 Penalty Takers In the Last 5 Years

The chance to have an unimpeded shot at goal can dramatically change the outcome of a game.

Understanding what a penalty is is the first step in appreciating the value of one.

A penalty is an opportunity for a team to score a goal after their opponents have committed an offense against them within the penalty area.

If you imagine, for a second, a team in possession of the ball. Imagine they’ve brought the ball up the field and are looking for a goal-scoring opportunity. As a player enters the penalty area with the ball at their feet, an opposition player trips them up and illegally takes possession of the ball from them.

I’m sure you would agree that committing an offense to stop an opposition player shouldn’t be allowed. The team on the receiving end of the offense deserves to carry on from where they were before being stopped.

Now, if this offense had taken place outside of the penalty area, then the referee would most likely award a free-kick. But an offense that takes place within the penalty area almost always leads to a penalty kick.

How Do You Get a Penalty?

The only way to get a penalty in soccer is for a player to commit a direct free-kick offense within the penalty area. When this happens, the referee will award a penalty kick to the opponents of the player that committed the offense.

You can find more out about direct and indirect free-kicks in my article – A Free-Kick in Soccer: Everything you need to know, but essentially the referee awards a direct free-kick whenever a player acts carelessly or recklessly, uses excessive force, holds or impedes an opponent, or touches the ball with their hands.

A direct free-kick offense in the penalty area leads to a penalty kick.

As soon as the referee sees this happen, they will blow their whistle, stop the game, and point to the penalty mark, indicating that they have awarded a penalty kick.

At this moment, you will usually hear a loud roar from the crowd as they realize their team is about to be given a fantastic opportunity to score!

How Does a Penalty Work?

The ball must be stationary on the ground at the designated mark within the penalty area for a penalty. All opponents must remain outside of the penalty area and D until a player kicks the ball. The player taking the penalty cannot touch the ball again until another player touches it.

You may or may not already be aware that the box at either end of a soccer field is known as the penalty box or penalty area. (You can find much more out about soccer field markings and dimensions in my article – How Big is a Soccer Field – if you’re interested.)

soccer field
Soccer field with penalty area at either end

What happens within these two boxes is key to understanding how a penalty works.

Not only can a referee only award a penalty when a foul or offense takes place within the penalty area, but a player must take a penalty kick from the penalty mark in the middle of the penalty area.

If you look at the image above, you can see the small dot representing the penalty mark.

The rules of soccer state that:

“…a penalty mark is made 11 m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.”

IFAB Laws of the Game

The penalty mark’s distance from the goal provides the penalty taker with a significant opportunity to score a goal while also giving the goalkeeper a reasonable chance of preventing a goal.

You will also have noticed the D on the “top” of the penalty box. This D indicates the minimum distance other players must stay from the ball when a player is about to take a penalty kick.

All players, except the penalty taker and the defending goalkeeper, must be at least 9.15 m (10 yards) from the penalty mark when a penalty kick is taken. The players must also remain behind the ball and outside the penalty area.

As soon as the player taking the penalty kicks the ball, the rest of the players are permitted to enter the penalty box.

Penalty Kick Rules

There are a few key points to understand when it comes to the rules of a penalty kick.

This includes understanding the rules as they apply to the penalty taker, the goalkeeper, and the rest of the players on the field.

Penalty Kick Rules:

  1. The penalty must be taken from the designated mark within the penalty area.
  2. The ball must be stationary before a player kicks it.
  3. The ball must clearly move forward once kicked.
  4. All players, except the penalty taker and goalkeeper, must remain outside of the penalty area and D until the ball is kicked.
  5. Once kicked, the player taking the penalty cannot touch the ball again until another player touches it.
  6. The defending goalkeeper must remain on the goal line between the goalposts, facing the kicker.

Each one of these steps must be followed.

If they are not, then the referee will often ask the player to retake the penalty kick. And if the player taking the penalty or another member of their team neglects to follow the rules, the referee may award a free-kick to the opposing team. This is because the team taking the penalty has now committed an offense by not following the rules.

A penalty will be taken when every player on the field is in a position in accordance with the rules, and the referee has signaled that the player can proceed with the kick.

Penalty Kick Rules for a Goalie

You will have noticed that there are also specific requirements on a goalie at a penalty. These rules are based on the goalie’s position on the field at the time of the kick.

When a player takes a penalty kick, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, the goal line. They must be between the goalposts, facing the kicker, and must not be touching the goalposts, crossbar, or goal net.

In the past, you may have seen a goalie rush forward toward the ball just before the player took the kick, but new penalty kick rules in 2020 put an end to this practice.

Now the goalie must stay on the goal line until the kick is taken.


A penalty kick has the potential to transform a soccer game entirely, and it’s essential to understand how one works.

Even if the game is about to end, the referee will still allow time for the penalty kick to be taken during stoppage time at the end of each half of soccer.

If you want to find out exactly how a penalty shootout works, you need to check out my article – A Penalty Shootout in Soccer: Exactly how it works.

For more helpful information about how soccer works, check out one of my related articles:

Throughout this article, I’ve described and explained a penalty kick in soccer based on the official Laws of the Game. If you want to look at the official detailed rules, you can check them out here.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

Recent Posts