Tuesday, 23 Apr 2024

Understanding When Goalkeepers Can and Cannot Pick up the Soccer Ball

Soccer goalkeepers play a crucial role in the game, but their actions are governed by specific rules. It is essential for goalkeepers to have a clear understanding of when they can and cannot handle the ball. Let’s dive into the rules and scenarios that every goalkeeper should know to avoid costly mistakes.

When Can Goalkeepers Pick up the Ball?

The penalty area, also known as the 18-yard box, is the only part of the pitch where goalkeepers can handle the ball without breaching the rules. Here are the key moments when goalkeepers can pick up the ball:

  1. Opponent Set Pieces: Goalkeepers can collect and handle any set piece taken by the opponent that arrives in the penalty area, including throw-ins, corners, and free kicks.
  2. Opponent Last Touch: If the opponent shoots, attempts a through ball, or tries to dribble around the goalkeeper, and the ball ends up inside the penalty area, the goalkeeper can pick up or handle the ball.
  3. Header or Chest Back to Goalkeeper: Outfield teammates can head or chest the ball back to the goalkeeper at any point during the game, as long as the ball ends up back in the penalty area. The goalkeeper can then pick up the ball.
  4. Accidental Back Passes: If a teammate back passes to another teammate who misses controls the ball and it runs through to the goalkeeper, the referee will decide if the back pass breached a rule.
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Goalkeeper handling the ball

Scenarios Where Goalkeepers Cannot Pick up the Ball

There are moments when goalkeepers are not allowed to handle the ball. Here are two important scenarios to remember:

  1. Deliberate Back Passes: Goalkeepers cannot touch the ball with their hands when it has been kicked to them by a teammate or delivered to them through a throw-in. Breaching this rule results in an indirect free kick for the opposing team.
  2. Balls Outside of the Box: Goalkeepers can only handle the ball safely inside the penalty area. If a goalkeeper handles the ball outside of the box, they are treated like any outfield player. This offense leads to a yellow card, a direct free kick against them, and may result in a red card if it denies a scoring opportunity.

It’s worth noting two more additional rules that apply to goalkeepers:

  • 6-Second Rule: Goalkeepers have six seconds to release the ball and pass it to another player after they have it in their hands. Failure to do so results in an indirect free kick for the opposing team.
  • Double Touch: Goalkeepers cannot pick up the ball again after releasing it from their hands without another player touching it first. A breach of this rule inside the penalty area leads to an indirect free kick, while outside the penalty area, a direct free kick is awarded.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about goalkeepers:

Q: Can a goalkeeper bounce the ball before kicking it?
A: Yes, goalkeepers often bounce the ball before releasing it. Bouncing the ball does not breach the double touch rule.

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Q: Can a goalkeeper return to the box with the ball once it’s left the penalty area and pick it up?
A: Yes, as long as the goalkeeper doesn’t break the double touch or back-pass rule, they can dribble the ball back into the penalty area and pick it up.

Q: Can a goalkeeper play outfield?
A: Yes, goalkeepers can leave the penalty area and act as outfield players. Many modern goalkeepers have excellent foot skills and contribute to the team’s attacking plays.

Q: Can an outfield player go in goal?
A: Yes, any outfield player can go in goal and replace the goalkeeper if necessary. This often happens when the goalkeeper is sent off or gets injured.


Understanding the rules regarding when goalkeepers can and cannot handle the ball is crucial for both goalkeepers and coaches. Mistakes can happen, especially at the entry levels of the game, so patience and guidance are necessary. Coaches should create training sessions that simulate realistic game scenarios to help players learn and improve their understanding of the rules. Remember, the referee’s decisions should be respected, and honest assessment of rule breaches by players is essential for their development.

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