When Goalkeepers Can and Cannot Pick up the Soccer Ball

The game of soccer can be a complex place for goalkeepers, they must have a clear understanding of the game. Errors and mistakes in these positions can often be costly. Make sure your goalkeepers understand what is, and is not acceptable in terms of picking up and handling the ball. This article will provide goalkeepers with a good grasp of the basic rules they must follow. Scenarios about when goalkeepers can and cannot pick up the soccer ball.

When Goalkeepers Can and Cannot Pick up the Soccer Ball

When goalkeepers can and cannot pick up the ball?

The penalty area(18-yard box) is the only part of the pitch where a goalkeeper can handle the ball. That is without fear of breaching the rules of the game. The main moments a goalkeeper can pick up the ball are when the opponent has touched the ball last. An accidental back pass from a teammate. A deflected shot or a teammate has headed or chested the ball into the penalty area. In most other moments such as back passes, throw-ins, and any spaces outside the 18-yard box the goalkeeper will be penalized for picking up the ball.

Understand the Pitch Layout

On an 11 v 11 field pitch, the 18-yard box is the only area on the field where the goalie can safely handle and pick up the ball without fear of breaching a rule. There are moments even in these boxes when the ball cannot be picked up. These will be described in depth below. In the picture above the goalie is inside the 18-yard box. The rules are consistent at most levels of soccer and the ball can only be handled or picked up in this area.

Mini soccer rules generally include the back-passing law. This is to teach players the game from an early age. The size of the box changes based on the age of the players. The rules remain consistent across different levels of the sport. In some countries such as the U.K., a retreat rule is in place in mini-soccer games to allow goalies the time to play out to a teammate unopposed.

Retreat rule: If the ball goes out for a goal to kick the opposition must retreat behind the halfway line and the goalie must play out to a spare player. As soon as the ball is played the game is live.

pitch layout

Important to Know

If the goalie leaves the 18-yard box then they are treated like an outfield player. They must not handle or pick up the ball, doing so will result in a foul and the opposition will be awarded a direct or indirect freekick

For this section, it is important to be aware of the types of free kicks that can be awarded in a soccer match. These will relate directly to the scenarios when goalkeepers cannot pick up the ball.

Indirect Free kick: A player on either team, not including the free-kick taker must touch the ball before a shot on goal or a goal is allowed

Direct Free kick: A player on the team can shoot directly at the goal from the spot the foul was awarded.

Scenarios when a goalkeeper can pick up the ball

For a goalkeeper to handle the ball, it must be inside of the penalty area (18-yard box). Each instance outlined below means that the ball has ended up inside the penalty area. Each of these instances outside of the penalty area would result in a foul and a direct or indirect free kick to the opponent. The referee is responsible for enforcing the rules of the game. During any game, they will decide what is or is not acceptable in terms of rule breaches.

  • Opponent set pieces: Any set piece taken by an opponent that arrives in the box. Throw-ins, corners, and freekicks can be collected and handled by the goalkeeper
  • The opponent has the last touch: If the opponent shoots, attempts a through ball, tries to dribble around the goalie, and the ball ends up inside the area the ball can be picked up or handled by the goalkeeper
  • A header or chest back to goalkeeper: Any outfield teammates of the goalie can head or chest the ball back to the goalkeeper at any point during a game as long as the ball ends up back in the penalty area. The goalie can then pick up the ball once it is inside the 18-yard box.
  • Accidental back passes: An example of this would be a teammate of the goalie back passing to another teammate who misses controls the ball and it runs through to the goalie. This moment would be at the discretion of the referee to decide if the back pass breached a rule.
Accidental back passes

Scenarios when a goalkeeper cannot pick up the ball

The moments below outline when goalkeepers may not pick up the ball. The result of doing so is a free kick to the opponent from the position the law of the game was breached.

  • Deliberate back passes: According to FIFA Laws of the Game. A goalkeeper cannot touch the ball with their hands after it has been kicked to them by a teammate. When a teammate delivers the goalkeeper a throw-in, they or not allowed to touch the ball with their hands. An indirect free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team if the goalkeeper fails to follow these rules.
  • Balls outside of the box: The goalkeeper can only handle the ball safely, inside of the 18-yard box. This box is known as the penalty area. If a goalkeeper picks up the ball outside of the penalty area. The goalkeeper is treated like any other player if they handle it outside this area. They will receive a yellow card and a direct free kick against them. If the goalkeeper handles the ball outside of the box and denies a scoring opportunity? They might receive a red card and have to leave the game

Additional Rules

  • 6-second rule: When a goalie has the ball in their hands. They have six seconds to release it and pass it to another player. This rule applies to goalkeepers both inside and outside of the 18-yard box. A breach of this rule will result in an indirect free kick for the opposing team.
  • Double touch: A goalkeeper is not allowed to pick up the ball after they release it from their hands and before it touches another player. If a goalie commits this foul in the penalty area, an indirect free kick is granted to the opposing team. If this occurs outside of the goalkeeper’s area, a direct free kick will be granted to the opposing team.

In Summary

Many different rules affect the goalkeepers and coaches. We have a responsibility to teach our players these rules as part of our coaching. There will be times when the players get things wrong and make mistakes. If you coach the entry levels of the game, then expect mistakes. Coaches must be patient and remind players about the correct way to play.

It is useful if coaches can create rules and conditions that relate to the game. This is an important consideration when they design their training sessions. The realism of the practices coaches design can help players learn more quickly. Realism allows players to make mistakes in a controlled environment. The coach can stop the game to help the players or they can just go onto the pitch to speak to them.

From the article above the key moments when a player can handle and pick up the ball have been identified. The moments when a goalie is not allowed to pick up and handle the ball have also been discussed. Remember the referee is in control of the game. What they see and what you see as a coach might differ. Be sure to respect their decisions and even help young referees make the right decisions. Be honest about rule breaches by your players.

Scenarios when a goalkeeper cannot pick up the ball
Related Questions

Can a goalkeeper bounce the ball before kicking it?

Yes, professional goalkeepers often bounce the ball before they release it. It does not breach the double touch rule, it’s not considered releasing the ball and the goalkeeper is in control

Can a goalkeeper return to the box with the ball once it’s left the penalty area and pick it up?

Yes, as long as the goalkeeper doesn’t break the double touch or back-pass rule. If the goalie hasn’t dropped the ball out of their hands. Or received the ball from a teammate via a pass or throw-in. The goalie could dribble the ball back into the penalty area and pick it up.

Can a goalkeeper play outfield?

Yes, the goalie can leave the penalty area and act as an outfield player with their feet. The modern game required goalkeepers who can use their feet to distribute passes. Some teams are placing their goalies in central defender positions to help support outfield players. This tactic allows the team to commit an extra player to attack.

Can an outfield player go in goal?

Yes, this is allowed, any outfield player can go in goal and replace the goalkeeper. This is often the case if a goalie is sent off or they have to leave the pitch through injury. If a team does not have a replacement or substitute goalie. An outfield player would have to go in the net. There have been numerous examples of this throughout European soccer.

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