Soccer Goalkeeper Rules (+ Goalie and The Box)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Quality goalies are made from a different material than the rest of us. GKs must be agile, athletic, brave, and know the rules.

It takes a certain kind of person to voluntarily dive into the path of a soccer ball moving more than thirty miles an hour and deal with the pressure of being the last defender for 90 minutes. Skill is one thing in between the posts, but there is an advantage to knowing all of the goalie rules.

Real Salt Lake Goalkeeper Zac MacMath #18 watches the ball goes out at Exploria Stadium on Saturday February 29, 2020
Real Salt Lake Goalkeeper Zac MacMath #18 watches the ball goes out at Exploria Stadium on Saturday February 29, 2020

basic soccer rules for goalies

  • Handle the ball for 6 seconds
  • No picking up the ball from team-mate
  • Goal kicks within the 6-yard box/goal area
  • The keeper stays on the line for a penalty
  • Handling the ball outside of the box is a freekick

I’ve gained a lot of respect for goalies for putting their bodies on the line each game.

As well as the knowledge required to play the position.

Soccer Goalie Rules


  • Holding the ball for 6 seconds

This includes when the keeper touches the ball while it is on the ground, holds it in the air, or holds it against the body with one hand.

  • If the ball is held for longer than 6 seconds, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposition.

The opponent cannot challenge the ball when the goalkeeper has gained possession.

Goalkeeper Cannot Handle When…

  • After 6 seconds, the goalkeeper drops the ball – it cannot be picked up again until it’s touched legally by another player.
  • When a team-mate deliberately touches the ball – it’s considered a back-pass, and an indirect free kick is given from the position that the ball is touched with the hands.
  • A teammate throws the ball on a throw-in.
soccer coach and player

Offenses against the Goalkeeper

  • Releasing the ball -The goalkeeper must be allowed to release the ball from their hands. Otherwise, it’s an offense and a free kick.
  • Allowed to distribute – The goalkeeper must be freely allowed to throw or kick the ball when in possession
  • Dangerous play – in danger of injuring a player
  • Blocking – preventing the goalkeeper from playing the ball

The exception to Outfield Players

When an outfield player is injured, they must leave the field before being allowed back into play. Goalkeepers can stay off the field.

Can the goalie leave the box in soccer?

Goalkeepers can leave the box in soccer. They move anywhere on the field. Once a goalie leaves the box, they cannot touch the ball with their hands.

Youth game - mid penalty  (Soccer Rules for Goalies)
Youth game – Mid penalty

This article will review the written rules for goalies and some insights and tips to assist you in playing the position.

Handling the Ball Outside of the Box

If the goalkeeper handles the ball outside of the box, it will result in a freekick and a caution if;

  • Yellow card – if the handball stops a promising attack
  • Red card – if the goalkeeper stops and there is an obvious goalscoring opportunity
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Interesting Rule

If the goalkeeper throws the ball directly into the opponents’ goal, a goal kick is awarded

Soccer pitch coaching

penalty box keeper rules

Also known as the 18-yard box, the penalty area is the source of great anxiety for defenders, keepers, and coaches alike.

Games have been won, lost, and drawn in the dying moments of a game due to a handball or foul in the box. In most cases, keepers have the privilege of legally using their hands in this area. The only exception to this rule is when a teammate deliberately kicks the ball to the keeper.

If the keeper picks up this pass, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team. Passes to the goalie played with the thigh, chest, or head will not incur this penalty, and play will continue without stoppage.

Illegal back pass rule

An indirect free-kick is awarded to the other team from where the ball is picked up. The opposing team can shoot, but as it’s an indirect free-kick, the ball must touch another player for it to count.

If the goalkeeper handles the ball when not allowed an indirect freekick is given and no caution is given


A box is a dangerous place, and constant and clear communication must be kept between the goalie and their defenders when the ball is in or around the box.

Soccer Field Infographic - Lines/Areas/Positions
Soccer Field Infographic – Lines/Areas/Positions

6-yard box/Penalty area

The penalty spot and the goal area are within the penalty area, also known as the 6-yard box. When the ball rolls over the goal line, a goal kick ensues. Goal kicks must be taken from within the 6-yard box. Opposing players must stay outside the penalty box until the goalkeeper plays the ball.

Messi penalty kick vs Argentina e1576487994417
Messi penalty kick vs. Argentina

When is a penalty kicks given

Fouls committed by the defending team within the penalty box result in a penalty kick for the attacking team. The rules for a keeper have recently been revised to more specifically define the movements allowed by the keeper during the penalty kick procedure.

New penalty kick rule for keepers

“When the ball is kicked, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one-foot touching, or in line with, the goal line.”

  • Touching the posts or crossbar before the kick is also prohibited
  • The goalkeeper must not move off the line until the penalty is taken
  • During a penalty shoot-out, the opposing goalkeeper not involved must stand on the goal line out of the penalty box

I remember watching a knockout round match between the Netherlands and Costa Rica in the 2014 World Cup. The Netherlands goalkeeper, Tim Krul was subbed on just before the game went into penalty kicks. He was brought on because of his size and the mind games he played with his opponents during spot-kicks, and he had a great record of saving kicks.

He jumped up and down, slapping the crossbar with his hands, and pointed to where he thought the opposing player would shoot. Though effective in that match, these antics would not be allowed under the current rules.

Penalty kicks and rebounds

If the penalty is taken during regulation or overtime periods, a blocked shot can be rebounded and scored by the attacking team. Once the woodwork blocks or denies the ball, it is only dead in penalty shootouts.

Top 10 Brutal Tackles • Fouls By Goalkeepers
10 Goalie Fouls

Denial of a Goal Scoring Opportunity

The denial of a goalscoring opportunity, commonly referred to as a DOGSO is a foul that stops an attacker from taking the chance to score. A DOGSO is commonly called when the last defender or goalkeeper fouls an attacking player or commits a handball offense to prevent a goal.

This is punished with a red card to the guilty party and a penalty kick if the foul is committed within the penalty area.

  • It’s hard to predict when a one-on-one will occur but recognizing that conceding a goal is better than going down a player and gifting the opponent a penalty kick.
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Be wise in the decisions you make in those situations.

Free kick rules

Free kicks are great goal-scoring opportunities for attacking teams. It’s important to note if the kick will be direct or indirect.

  • Direct kicks can be scored without the ball touching another player, while at least two players must touch indirect free kicks before entering the goal.
  • If an indirect free kick is scored without being touched by more than one player, the goal is disallowed, and a goal kick is awarded.

To differentiate between the two types of free kicks, check the referee’s signal.

“The referee indicates an indirect free kick by raising the arm above the head;

this signal is maintained until the kick has been taken and the ball touches another player, goes out of play or it’s clear that a goal cannot be scored directly.”


IFAB Direct free kicks will not have such a signal.


Offside is not applied to throw-ins and corner kicks, but did you know that a player who receives a ball directly from a goal kick cannot be flagged as offside? Consider when the opportunity arises to catch a defense napping or counter an overcommitted opponent.

  • The goalkeepers’ arms are not included for an offside position
Tim Howard | 6 Attributes Every Goalkeeper Needs | Pro Tips

Substitutions rules for a goalkeeper

As was the case with my team down 3-0 before the half, sometimes a change in keeper is necessary. This could be due to injury, performance, or changing personnel due either to 1) the strengths of individual players or 2) shifting positions after the loss of a player because of a red card.

This past week in the Champions League, Manchester City had to substitute their starting keeper at halftime due to an injury. Late in the second half, their backup goalie was sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, as was Kyle Walker.

He had to take the backup’s jersey and gloves to play the remaining minutes of the game in goal. He held his ground well and kept the ball out of the back of the net to preserve his team’s result.

  • Whatever the reason for the change, the goalkeeper can be substituted off to make way for the replacement as normal, or a field player can switch spots with them.

This is done by notifying the referee, who can hold play at the next stoppage when the swap can be made. If the players make the change without first clearing it with the head official, both will be given yellow cards at the next stoppage in play.

Changing Places with the Goalie

Outfield players can change position with the goalkeeper if the referee is told before the game. This is to change the starting goalkeeper during the game, but it must be done during a stoppage in play. Changing a Goalkeeper During a Penalty: If the goalkeeper is injured, substitution may occur before the penalty is taken.

Soccer goalkeeper kicks out the ball during the match at stadium. Ball mid flight. ○ Soccer Blade

Goalkeeper Equipment Rules

All soccer players that enter the field of play must wear;

  1. Shirt/jersey with sleeves – Different from oppositions goalkeeper, officials, and outfield players
  2. Shorts – Team-supplied shorts or ones that allow movement
  3. Socks – Tape or material must be the same color as the garment it covers
  4. Shinguards – Made from suitable material and be worn behind socks
  5. Footwear – Dependant on the playing surface

Optional Equipment

  1. Tracksuit bottoms- worn underneath shorts and the same color as the lowest part of shorts
  2. Undershirts – same color or pattern as shirt/jersey
  3. Goalkeeper glove – specific soccer gloves for grip and safety
  4. Goalkeeper cap – To give protection from the weather
  5. Headcovers – for protection must be black or the same color as the shirt
  6. Supports – knees, arms, legs as a lightweight padded form of protection
  7. Sports spectacles – used for protection of the eyes
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Unlike field players, goalkeepers may wear pants with or without padding to protect the player’s legs when diving.

As well as padded caps to protect from head injuries in a physically risky position.

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While all field players can wear gloves to protect their skin from the elements, Goalkeepers typically wear gloves with padding and materials to better grip the ball and metal or plastic braces behind the fingers. This is to prevent sprains from occurring and the bones from breaking.

penalty kick saved
A Goalkeeper saving a penalty kick

Understanding Goalkeeper Rules

There are many rules to the game of soccer, and a fair portion of them apply to the goalkeeper, either directly or indirectly. Take some time to understand different parts of the game and find ways to use the rules in your strategy as a player.

Whether you’re a goalkeeper or a field player by trade, understanding these parameters will improve your soccer IQ and assist you in elevating your play. The rules for soccer goalkeepers take a bit of getting used to, but knowing them will give you more confidence in the goal.

How can I become a goalie?

To play any position, it’s important to research the rules, requirements, and characteristics. You’ll also need to practice blocking shots, punting, and goal kicks to become a goalkeeper. One more key responsibility of the keeper is communicating and organizing the players in front of them.
The goalie should be able to direct the attack and the defense due to their perspective on the field.

Can a goalie play offense?

Yes, the goalie can play anywhere on the field but can’t touch the ball with their hands outside the penalty area.

Some goalies have scored, and it’s not uncommon to see goalies join the attack on corner kicks late in the game when their team is down a goal.

Soccer Analyst and Publisher at Soccer Blade | Soccer Blade | + posts

Joel is a seasoned soccer journalist and analyst with many years of experience in the field. Joel specializes in game analysis, player profiles, transfer news, and has a keen eye for the tactical nuances of the game. He played at various levels in the game and coached teams - he is happy to share his insight with you.

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Soccer Rules FAQ

How long is a soccer game?

Soccer games include two 45 minute halves, which is 90 minutes of play. Those who have ever watched a game know that, like many sports, real-time is longer than the match time.
In real-time, the length of a soccer game varies immensely. At the bare minimum, it will be 90 minutes of play + 15 minutes of halftime for a total of 105 minutes.

What is offside in soccer?

The offside rule in soccer is to stop player ‘goal hanging’ – standing near the opposition goal. This also stops soccer from being a long ball game, balls hit from one goal to another.

What are yellow card offenses?

+ Charging an opponent – caution if reckless.
+ Holding an opponent – When the ball is in play and the holding continues.
+ Handling the Ball – When a player handles the ball to break up attacking play. If an attacker + uses their hand to attempt to score a goal.
+ Dangerous play – If a player makes an action that can risk an injury to another player.
+ Impeding the progress of an opponent – If a player holds another player back or blocks a player on purpose, that prevents an attack.
+ Breaking up an attack - where there is the possibility of creating a scoring chance.
+ Simulation - where a player tries to con a referee into thinking that they are injured in order to punish the opponent. If a player tries to make out that they have been fouled.

What are the red card offenses?

+ Serious foul play
+ Violent conduct
+ Spitting at a person
+ Deliberate handball – denying a goal-scoring opportunity
+ Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
+ Offensive, aggressive, abusive language or gesture
+ Receiving a second caution

Soccer field size, size of goal, number of players and minutes played per age;

+ u17-u19 - Halves 2 x 45 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-100 by 100-130 yards
+ u15-u16 - Halves 2 x 40 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50- 100 by 100-130 yards
+ u13-u14 - Halves 2 x 35 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-10 by 100-130 yards
+ u11-u12 - Halves 2 x 30 minutes - Number of players 9 vs 9 - Goal Size 7 x 21 - Field size 45-70 by 70-80 yards
+ u9-u10 - Halves 2 x 25 minutes - Number of players 7 vs 7 - Goal Size 6 x 18.5 - Field size 35-45 by 55-65 yards
+ u6-u8 - Quarters 4 x 10 minutes - Number of players 4 vs 4 - 4 x 6 Goal Size - Field size 15-25 by 25-35 yards

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