We are not going to go into the history of the way that the laws
about the goalkeeper have changed, but we have to emphasize certain
points about why the laws were changed...
we believe it is important to understand the purpose of the laws in
order to apply them correctly.
-- Evans and Bellion,
For the Good of the Game
It is very difficult to play a game if you don't know and understand
the rules. A good goalkeeper -- or field player, or coach, for that
matter -- needs to know the Laws of the Game of soccer in order to
perform at their best. This section is not intended to be a complete
primer on the Laws, but addresses specific areas that relate to
goalkeeping. The black and white text of the Law book is supplemented
by years of experience and tradition that impact how the game is called
and how the players play.
Although the soccer field and its markings are often taken for granted by the
players unless there is something obviously wrong, it can be helpful for
the goalkeeper to know the dimensions of the lines on the field. A
keeper will use these lines more than anyone else on the field to
determine their positioning. Before the game, scan the lines and make
sure they are all square and at proper distances. In particular,
the penalty spot is often not marked or mis-marked. If it is off, don't
use it as a guide to get centered in goal.
Law 4 says "each goalkeeper wears colors which distinguish him from the
other players, the referee and the assistant referees." This is the
only requirement. Tradition allows the keeper to use
equipment that is
not specified for field players: gloves, long pants, or hats. The
referee always has final say on what is allowable; if he deems something
to be unsafe, it may not be worn.
Law 8 has a section called "Special Circumstances" that players,
especially goalkeepers, should be aware of. It has to do with the
placement of the ball on free kicks inside the goal area. Essentially,
any free kick for the defense inside their own goal area is like a goal
kick - it may be taken from anywhere in the goal area and must leave the
penalty area before it is in play.
For indirect free kicks for attackers in their opponents' goal area, the
kick is taken from the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the
point nearest to where the foul occured. Thus, no free kick can be
taken from closer than six yards to the goal. More on this special
circumstance below the section on free kicks.
Although he is (usually!) a bit more mobile than the goalposts, the referee is
considered to be part of the soccer field when it comes to play. A ball
rebounding off the referee (or off an assistant referee, if for some
reason they are on the field of play) is still in play.
Simple as it seems, I have come across players who did not know that the
entire ball must be past the goal line for the goal to count. The
outside of the chalked line is the true boundary; the whole of the ball
must pass over this boundary. The back of the goalposts should be set
even with the outside of the goal line, so that the goal frames are
actually considered on the field of play, and the ball must completely
clear the posts and crossbar to be a goal.
Calls involving fouls and misconduct are the most argued about and disputed
in any game of soccer. All players need to remember that all fouls and
misconduct are strictly in the opinion of the referee. If the
referee has made a decision, it seldom does any good to argue about it.
Better to let it go and concentrate on the task at hand (setting the
defensive wall, preparing for the penalty kick, etc.).
Direct Free Kicks
The goalkeeper is subject to the same Laws regarding kicking, tripping,
holding, pushing, tackling, etc. as all other players on the field.
Although the Laws don't give the keeper any special privileges, most referees
realize that keepers often put themselves at considerable peril in the
thick of play and give them some leeway. However, don't use that as
license to commit mayhem in the penalty area.
An example of this is the goalkeeper using the knee when going for
high balls. As stated in the section on catching
high balls, the knee is used to generate height and provide some
protection, not as a weapon. A referee who feels the keeper's
knee is being used dangerously can call the keeper for jumping or
charging... and the result would be a penalty kick, if not a yellow or
red card in addition.
Indirect Free Kicks
There are four offenses in Law 12 specifically aimed at the goalkeeper.
An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if the keeper, in
the penalty area, commits one of the following:
- Takes more than six seconds, after controlling the ball with the
hands, to release the ball into play.
Six seconds is not hard and fast; referees are instructed not to count
or signal publicly, and first offenses are usually given verbal
warnings. But six seconds is plenty of time to settle the ball, jog up
to the edge of the penalty area and find an outlet. During this six
seconds, the goalkeeper can move anywhere in their penalty area.
Don't get caught by
this Law - instead, use it as a reason to work on quick
distribution to start the counterattack.
- Touches the ball again with the hands after releasing it into play,
before the ball has been touched by another player.
Bouncing or softly tossing and catching the ball are not considered "releasing
the ball into play", but why even risk it? Bouncing the soccer ball is a
holdover from olden days where a goalkeeper was able to move in the
penalty area if they bounced the ball (similar to a basketball dribble).
That rule no longer applies, so once the keeper has the ball safely in
their hands, they should hang on to it until they are ready to deliver
- Touches the ball with the hands "after it has been deliberately
kicked to him by a team-mate".
The italicized above is a direct quote from the FIFA Laws, and is often
misunderstood. Remember the intent of the Law, which is to prevent time
wasting by the defense. As such, only a deliberate kick by a teammate,
either to the goalkeeper or to a place where the goalkeeper can safely
pick the ball up, should be penalized. An accidental deflection off a
defender's foot, or a missed clearance that falls to the goalkeeper should
not be penalized.
But as always, "deliberate" is in the opinion of the referee. So
doubt, don't pick the ball up - unless the ball is at risk of
going into the net if you don't use your hands! In that case, better to
concede an indirect free kick than a goal.
- Touches the ball with the hands directly from a throw-in from a
The goalkeeper may still be used as a target for a throw-in, but they
must handle the ball with their feet like any other player.
An indirect free kick can also be given to the goalkeeper's team if an
opponent prevents the ball from being released into play by the keeper.
This is seldom called, but it's good to know the keeper gets a little
protection in the Laws!
Finally, it is an indirect kick if an opponent plays in a dangerous
manner. This applies not only to endangering an opponent (e.g. high
boot) but also to endangering one's self (this is why the player on the
ground is called for this - they have put themselves in harm's way). By
tradition, the goalkeeper is given leeway here and is allowed to put
themselves in positions that would be dangerous for any other player on
the field (for example, sliding at the feet of an attacker).
Direct and indirect kicks differ in one respect: a direct kick that
goes into the net without being touched is counted as a goal; an
indirect kick must be touched by another player (on either team) in order
to count. Indirect kicks are signalled by the referee raising one arm
straight up above his head. Look for this signal; if it is not given,
assume a direct kick. If in doubt, ask the referee -- most will also
inform you verbally.
Occasionally an attacker will not realize a kick is indirect and shoot
straight at the net. In this case, if it is a difficult save, the
keeper should just let the ball go in rather than risk deflecting the
ball in themselves and providing the touch that let the goal stand.
But be absolutely sure it is indirect and nobody but the shooter touched
the ball. If in doubt, try to make the save. (By the way, an indirect
kick that goes into the net without being touched is awarded a goal
Any free kick from within the penalty area must leave the penalty area
before it is considered in play.
Everybody knows that the defenders must be 10 yards from the spot of a
free kick, but what about an indirect free kick that is less than 10
yards from the goal (subject to those "special circumstances" in
Law 8)? In this case, defenders are permitted to
be closer than 10 yards provided they are on the goal line and between
the goal posts. This kind of situation doesn't happen much, but it can
come up and it would be wise if the keeper knows how to set the defense
if this happens - see Setting a Wall
under "Advanced Tactics" for more on this.
The only time during a game a goalkeeper should be standing on the goal
line is during a penalty kick, and that is only because the Law says so.
Goalkeepers are allowed to move side-to-side along the goal line, but
not to move forward until the ball is struck.
Why is this Law disregarded so often? Moving forward offers the
goalkeeper a host of advantages, from a better catching position to
narrowing the size of the net the shooter sees. Why isn't it called
more often? Tradition, mostly. This is one of the most inconsistently
called Laws in the book, especially for one that isn't even a matter of
opinion. Until FIFA decides referees are going to enforce this one to
the letter, or the rule is rewritten, we will have to live with the
inconsistency. For more on penalty kicks, see the
Penalty Kick page.