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Laws of the Game for Goalkeepers

The specific laws of the game that pertain to goalkeepers are listed and described below.  From FIFA, the governing body of soccer around the world. (Click for FIFA laws of the game)

Note: The FIFA laws of the game are identical for men and women. The laws refered to below apply to all ages as well.

When the keeper cannot (and can) pick-up the ball:

The goalkeeper may handle the ball if the ball is within the penalty box. Note that it is the position of the ball that matters not the position of the goalkeeper.

The exception is the pass back:

Law 12 from the
FIFA laws of the game awards an indirect kick if a goalkeeper:

  • Touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate (Note the words deliberately kicked.  If a ball deflects off a defender’s foot, the keeper may use her hands)
  • Touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate.
  • Touches the ball again with his hands after it has been released from his possession and has not touched any other player.
but Decision 3 states that:

  • a player may pass the ball to his own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc.
  • If, however, in the opinion of the referee, a player uses a deliberate trick while the ball is in play in order to circumvent the Law, the player is guilty of unsporting behavior. He is cautioned, shown the yellow card and an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from the place where the infringement occurred.
  • A goalkeeper is permitted to trap the ball with a part of the body other than the hands or feet and then pick it up any time after unless a teammate touches the ball during this time.

  • The opposition kicks the ball and it rolls into the penalty box.  The keeper traps the ball with her feet, dribbles to the other side of the box, picks it up and punts it.  - No call.
  • The ball deflects off a defender and rolls into the corner of the field with not opposition close.  The keeper goes out of the box, dribbles the ball back into the box with his feet, and picks up the ball.  - No call.
  • A ball rolls into the box.  The keeper traps the ball badly.  The ball goes to a teammate who touches the ball back to the keeper who picks it up.  - Whistle, indirect kick from the spot the ball was picked up.
  • A defender, attempting to clear the ball up field, misses the kick but touches the ball with his foot as it heads toward the goal.  The keeper picks the ball up.  - As the kick to him was not deliberate, no call.
  • The keeper blows a punt and the ball falls a few feet away still in the box.  The keeper dives on the ball as the opposition closes in.  - Whistle, indirect kick where the keeper picked the ball back up.

How long, how long:

 Law 12 from the FIFA laws of the game also awards an indirect kick if a goalkeeper:

  • takes more than six seconds while controlling the ball with his hands before releasing it from his possession
Note: Possession here refers to holding the ball in the hands.  If a keeper chooses to put the ball down on the ground and kick or dribble it they can take all day, as long as they don’t pick it up again.

I have only seen rule this called once but that one time cost the Canadian Women's Olympic team their chance in the semi-finals against the US in 2012. Keeper Erin McCleod abused the rule so many times during the game that the referee finally got fed-up and gave a free-kick to the US within the penalty box. The free-kick hit a Canadian player's arm resulting in a penalty kick. The US made the PK and went on to win the game and eventually the gold medal.


Law 4 of the FIFA laws states that:

  • each goalkeeper wears colours that distinguish him from the other players, the referee and the assistant referees.
Note: Referees usually wear yellow.  On one occasion a referee insisted that our keeper who favored a yellow shirt switch to her orange backup shirt.

The Ultimate:

Law 12 from the FIFA laws of the game also penalizes a player if he:

  • denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area).
If your keeper comes out of the penalty box and stops a ball with his hands that otherwise would have gone into the goal, the opposing team will be awarded a free kick and the keeper will be ejected with a red card.  I have seen this happen twice in indoor soccer. 

If your keeper is ejected you will have to play a player short but will be able to designate a different player as goalkeeper.

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