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When Can a Soccer Goalie Pick Up the Ball?

As a coach, you want to spend a considerable amount of time with your goalkeeper. They are a very important position in the game. As a coach, you can forgot to allocate time since it is only one position. We are all guilty of trying to maximize our time with the most amount of players. Great defense is the foundation of a great team. It starts with having a solid grasp of goalkeeper rules.

A soccer goalie can pick up the ball in the goalkeeping area or with a back-pass via a header or passer’s chest, or a pass that is deemed accidental. Any other instance will result in a indirect or direct kick for the opposing team.

Goalies have specials rules that don’t apply to any other player on the field. Make sure you are aware of all goalie rules to put your team in the best position to win.

Other Rules

Below we will discuss the other rules that apply specifically to this critical position. All rules have been extracted and paraphrased from FIFA’s Laws of the Game.

6 Second Rule

Once a goalie has possession of the ball, he or she has six seconds to pass it to another player. Throughout this article, I use she for a goalkeeper, but the rules apply to men and women. This rule applies to goalkeeper whether she is inside of their own penalty area or not. This penalty will result in a free indirect kick for the opposing team.

FIFA gives us some guidance as to what is considered control or possession:

  • The ball is between her hands or between her hand and any surface such as the ground or own body
  • While holding the ball in her open hand
  • While in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it in the air
  • When she deliberately parries the ball

Back Pass

As described in Law 12 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game, a goalkeeper may not touch the ball with her hands after it has been kicked to her by a team. In addition, if a teammate delivers the goalkeeper a throw-in, she may not touch the ball with his hands. An free indirect kick will be awarded to the opposing team if the goalkeeper fails to aided by these rules.

  • Indirect kick – some player on either team, not including the penalty kicker must touch the ball before a shot on goal is allowed
  • Direct kick – a penalty kick can be taken as a direct shot on goal

To be clear, when a teammate deliberately delivers the ball to a teammate via a throw-in or pass, a goalkeeper can play and guide the ball with her feet and other parts of the body.

The back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 after 1990 World Cup to make the game more entertaining for spectators. This particular World Cup was considered excessively boring where goalkeeper would deliberately hold the ball after a back-pass. It was a time stalling strategy. Additionally, the 6 second rule was introduced to reduce ball time spent with the goalkeeper.

In 1997, the rule was extended to prevent goalkeepers from picking up the ball after a teammate’s throw-in.

Outside of the Box

The goalkeeper is granted a safe zone where they can handle the ball safely. This is known as the goalkeeper or penalty area. In a 11v11 game, the goalkeeper area is a eighteen (18) yard box. Outside of this safe zone, the goalkeeper is treated any another player. The image below depicts the goalie’s “office”, where she will spend the majority of her game time.

Therefore, they must not use their hands or it will result in yellow card. In the event, the goalkeeper uses her hands to stop a definite goal scoring opportunity, the goalkeeper will receive a red card and be forced to leave the game.

Any other player that isn’t the goalkeeper is not allowed to use their hands. If a player intentionally touches the ball to gain an advantage with any part of their arm, this results in a penalty. The opposing team receives a direct free kick. If the player touches the ball with her hands in the penalty area, a free penalty kick is awarded. In addition, the player will receive a red card and be ejected from the game. The official has the final say. If the ball is kicked into a player’s arm, then no foul should be called. It all starts with intent and if the player main objective is to gain an advantage.

What if the goalie’s feet are in the box but touches the ball outside of the box?

For instance, the ball is rolling towards the goal box and the goalie feet are inside the box. The goalie reaches over the line and picks up the ball. The referee must determine where the ball is. In this instance, the ball is outside of the goalkeeper area, meaning it would result in a direct free kick for the opposing team. Follow the ball. This is where the penalties will be called.

Double Touch

A goalie can’t pick up the ball after she releases it from her hands and before it touches another player (either offense or defense). If a goalie commits this act in her own designated area, an indirect free kick is granted to the opposing team. If this occurs outside of the goalkeeper area, a direct free kick will be granted to the opposing team.

For those that want to get into the nitty gritty, a goalkeeper can bounce a soccer ball. It is legal. Bouncing a ball isn’t considering releasing the ball, therefore the goalkeeper still has control. It is only when a goalkeeper releases the ball that they aren’t able to pick it back up. If you watch professional soccer on TV, you will notice many top goalkeepers will bounce the ball before they kick it downfield.

Can a Goalie Bring Back Ball into the Box and Pick It Up?

Yes, as long as the goalie doesn’t violate the back-pass or double touch rule. If the goalie hasn’t released the ball from her hands or received the ball from a teammate via a pass or throw-in, the goalie could bring ball back into the penalty area and pick it up.

Protections as a Goalie

As a goalie, there are certain protections that you wouldn’t get as another position. The reason is a goalie is put into danger often. Injury is more common among goalies than other positions. Referees look out for these players and will defend if put in a harmless position.

When the ball is in the goalkeeper’s control, an opposing player may not touch or attack the ball. Any time a goalie touches the ball, it is considered control. The only situation is when the goalie makes a saves and the rebounds off her. Here the ball is still in fair play.

When players put the goalie in danger, referees won’t be afraid to discipline players with free kicks to the opposing teams or red card for the most serious offenses. Some situations are described below:

  • A offensive player tries to prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from her hands
  • A offensive player plays in a dangerous manner if she tries to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is releasing it
  • If the goalie movement is unfairly restricting due to a player or group of players

In summary, a goalie can pick up a

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