Soccer Goalie: Role, Responsibilities, and How to Play

Soccer goalkeeper image beneath post title

In the game of soccer, each team has eleven players on the field at one time. Of these eleven players, one must play in the position of goalkeeper. In this article, we’re going to look at the position of the goalkeeper and explain everything you need to know.

The goalkeeper in soccer, also known as the goalie, protects their team’s goal from opponents who are trying to score by moving the ball over the goal line. Goalkeepers are unique among soccer players because they can use their hands, as well as their bodies, to stop the ball from entering the goal.

To really understand what it means to be a goalie, in this article we’ll look at:

  • The role of the goalkeeper
  • Rules for goalkeepers
  • Goalie equipment
  • Different styles of play goalkeepers use
  • and How to be a good goalie

The Role of the Goalkeeper 

Although I usually play in the outfield on a soccer team, I’ve enjoyed playing as a goalkeeper in the past because the goalie plays such an important role in a team.

The main role of a goalkeeper in soccer is to stop the opposing team from scoring a goal. They primarily do this by placing their body between the ball and the goal. A goalie also has the role of communicating with their defenders and passing the ball to other players on their team.

Ultimately the goalkeeper is there to stop the ball from going in the goal. Scoring a goal wins teams games and a goalie needs to prevent the opposition from scoring if their team is going to win.

To prevent the opposition from scoring a goal, the goalkeeper is the only player on the field allowed to use their hands when the ball is in open play. This helps to make their job easier.

However, a goalkeeper can only use their hands when inside the penalty area, also known as the penalty box. This box is a large marked area around the goal in the shape of a rectangle.

If the goalkeeper uses their hands outside of the box, the referee will award the opposing team a free kick, and the goalkeeper could receive a yellow card or even a red card. Receiving a red card would get the goalkeeper sent off from the game. You can find out more about this in my article – Red Cards in Soccer: Meaning and Consequences.

As the role of the goalkeeper is largely to prevent goals from being scored, and they are permitted to use their hands, they often perform a move called a dive.

Goalkeepers dive to give themselves a better chance of making a save.

If the ball is moving towards one side of the goal and the goalkeeper is standing in the middle of the goal, they will dive in the direction the ball is moving towards in order to make a save with their hands.

It is also unsafe for the goalkeeper to venture too far from their goal. If the goalkeeper is halfway up the pitch, the goal would be left unguarded, and it would be straightforward for the opposition to score.

A goalkeeper normally stands in the box to guard the goal even if their team is on the attack in the opposition’s half.

The goalkeeper is usually responsible for taking a goal kick.

The referee will award a goal kick when the ball goes out of play on either side of the goal or over the crossbar after being last touched by an attacking player. For a goal kick, the ball can only be placed and kicked from the small box in front of the goal. This box is called the six-yard box.

Goalkeepers are not required to take goal kicks, but the vast majority do. It is easier for teams that their goalkeeper takes these kicks as they don’t need to leave the box after taking the kick. Find out much more about goal-kicks in my articleGoal Kicks in Soccer: Everything You Need to Know.

Rules for Goalkeepers

There are a number of rules that are specific to a goalkeeper in soccer and I’ve covered them in detail in my article – 8 Rules for Soccer Goalies: Everything You Need to Know. But let’s quickly go over the main ones here.

List of the Soccer Goalie Rules
Soccer Goalie Rules

As previously mentioned, the goalkeeper cannot handle the ball outside their box. Doing so could result in a yellow or red card and a free kick to the opposition.

The goalkeeper cannot pick up the ball when it has been deliberately kicked to them by one of their teammates. This is known as a “back pass” and will result in a free kick to the opposing team.

Goalkeepers are allowed to handle a ball passed to them by their teammate if this pass came from a body part that was not their foot, such as from their head or chest.

When the goalkeeper picks up the ball or catches it, they are only allowed to hold onto the ball for a maximum of six seconds. If they don’t release the ball in six seconds, either by dropping it to their feet or throwing or kicking it to their teammate, then a free kick will be awarded to the opposition team.

The six-second rule is there to prevent time-wasting from the goalkeepers holding onto the ball for too long. Once the goalkeeper places the ball on the ground after picking it up or catching it, they cannot pick it up again. This restriction is also to prevent time-wasting.

When the opposing team has a penalty kick, the goalkeeper must stand on the goal line. If the goalkeeper’s feet are not touching the goal line when a penalty kick is taken, the referee will order a retake of the penalty.

Players cannot try to take the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands or block the ball when the keeper is trying to kick it out of their hands.

Goalkeepers have to wear a different colored shirt than all other players on the field. I’ve explained the specific reasons for this here, but essentially this is to allow the goalie to be easily identified by the referee.

Each team is only allowed to have one goalkeeper on the pitch.

Equipment for Soccer Goalkeepers

There are nine pieces of equipment a soccer goalie needs.

  1. Goalkeeper gloves
  2. Different color jersey from the rest of the team
  3. Shin guards
  4. Soccer cleats
  5. Long socks
  6. Shorts or pants
  7. Water bottle
  8. Towel
  9. Cap

All goalkeepers require specially designed soccer goalkeeper gloves. These gloves help the keeper have a better grip when catching and holding a ball. The gloves also help to protect the keeper from injury.

goalie gloves
Soccer Goalie Gloves

As previously mentioned, goalkeepers also have to wear a different color shirt/jersey so that the referee can easily identify them.

Some of these shirts are long-sleeved and contain padding around the elbow for extra protection. If there isn’t elbow padding or the shirt their wearing is short-sleeved, goalkeepers can choose to wear their own padding to keep their arms protected.

All players on the pitch are required to wear shin guards and cleats, including the goalkeeper.

Like other players, the goalkeeper also wears long soccer socks. Most goalkeepers wear shorts, but some prefer to wear tracksuit pants. Some of these pants include padding for additional protection.

A lot of goalkeepers keep water bottles and towels inside or beside their goals. The goalie can use the towels for many reasons, such as simply removing sweat from the face.

If the goalkeeper’s gloves get wet in rainy conditions, they may use the towel to wipe the moisture off the gloves. Wet gloves make it harder to catch a ball and could lead to the goalkeeper dropping the ball by mistake.

When a goalkeeper is facing the sun, they might decide to wear a cap so that the sun’s brightness does not impair their vision.

If you’re looking for advice on what goalie equipment to purchase, check out my Recommended Soccer Equipment page for my personal recommendations.

A Goalkeeper’s Style of Play

In the past, the role of the goalkeeper was simply to keep the ball out of the goal.

They were often encouraged to get rid of the ball as fast as possible by kicking it far up the field or kicking it out for a throw-in.

Some goalkeepers still play like this today, and there is nothing wrong with that if they are still good at their main job of protecting their goal. These goalkeepers are known as shot-stoppers, as they are in the team for the sole purpose of saving shots on the goal.

However, in modern soccer, there has been a massive increase in ball-playing goalkeepers.

A ball-playing goalkeeper is a goalkeeper who is comfortable playing with the ball at their feet. They are players who have good control of the ball, have good passing ability, and can move with the ball at their feet if needed. They are almost always composed and never panic when the ball is at their feet.

A great example of a ball-playing goalkeeper is Ederson, best known for playing in the English Premier League for Manchester City and the Brazil national team.

Many goalkeepers also operate as sweeper keepers. A sweeper keeper is a goalkeeper who plays further up the field than normal and is quick to rush out from their box to clear an oncoming ball.

Sweeper keepers take massive risks in games. If they mistime their run or kick the ball to an opposing player, they have left the goal unguarded and wide open, giving the opposition an easy chance to score.

Manuel Neuer, most famous for playing with Bayern Munich and the Germany national team, is widely regarded as the best sweeper-keeper in history.

How to Be a Good Goalkeeper

To be a good goalkeeper you must:

  • Pay attention to the game
  • Stay alert
  • Communicate with your teammates
  • Keep your eyes on the ball
  • Direct the defenders in front of you
  • Organize the wall at a free kick
  • Collect the ball from corners and crosses
  • Use appropriate techniques
  • Be comfortable with the ball at your feet
  • Stop the ball entering the goal you’re defending

When playing as a goalkeeper, you must always pay attention to the game and always be alert. A goalkeeper must never take their eyes off the ball.

Because the goalkeeper has a view of the entire pitch, it is important to communicate with your teammates, particularly the defenders in front of you. If you see a gap forming in your defense, tell them to get closer. If you think your defenders are too close, tell them to spread apart.

The goalkeeper must always be alert to what is going on in the game and constantly communicate with their players.

These actions help to avoid any mistakes, either by the goalkeeper or their teammates.

Maintaining communication with your defenders also keeps them more alert, essentially at times, the goalkeeper could even be regarded as an on-field coach!

When the opposition has a free kick or a corner kick, it is also essential that the goalkeeper gives orders to his players about what position they want them to be in.

An example of this would be when the opposition has a free-kick.

The defending side will often form a wall made up of three or four players standing side by side who attempt to block the ball at the free kick. It is possible that this wall could obstruct the goalkeeper’s view, so the goalkeeper might order the wall to move slightly in one direction so that the keeper can get a better view.

If the goalkeeper is planning on coming out to catch a ball or punch the ball away, they must shout out to their teammates that they are coming for the ball.

Suppose there is no communication in this situation. In that case, the goalkeeper and a defender could collide as they attempt to reach the ball, and the ball would remain in the danger zone.

Goalkeepers must also use the correct techniques.

When preparing to face a shot, goalkeepers should keep their knees slightly bent, so they are prepared to perform whatever action is necessary to save the shot.

For example, suppose the ball is moving along the ground towards the keeper’s right. In that case, if they are still standing up straight, it’s going to be a lot more difficult for them to dive down and make the save.

In a one-on-one situation, when an opposing player has run past the defenders and is through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat, the keeper is encouraged to run out towards the player and make themselves look big.

The position of the goalkeeper gives the opposing player less room to take a shot on goal and gives the keeper a better chance at making the save.

The main techniques for goalkeepers handling the ball are the “W” and the “scoop”.

Goalie saving a shot with his hands
Soccer goalie using the “W” technique

Keepers use the W technique when catching a ball from above chest height. It involves creating a W shape with your hands to ensure you catch the ball cleanly.

For balls coming in from stomach height and lower, they would use the scoop technique. This technique involves creating an almost V shape with your fingers touching and your hands almost flat to ensure you can catch the ball cleanly.

As more teams like to play out from the back, it has never been more important for a goalkeeper to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.

Many young goalkeepers are now adding ball control and passing to their training plans as the amount of ball-playing goalkeepers in the game continues to rise.

Height can also be a factor in what makes a good goalkeeper, but it is not essential. Tall keepers cover more of the goal than shorter keepers, giving them a better chance of making a save.

However, although goalkeeper is the best soccer position for tall players, there have been many goalkeepers shorter than the traditional goalkeeper height, such as Fabien Barthez. Barthez helped France win the FIFA World Cup in 1998 as well as helping Manchester United to win two Premier League titles. Standing at 1.8 meters, many people consider him short for a goalkeeper.

A soccer goalie is a fascinating position and if you want to know more check out

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

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