The soccer goalie is one a very unique position you can play in soccer. With that, the goalie job comes with a unique set of responsibilities that are different from the rest of the team, most notably the fact that a soccer goalie can use their hands. But that doesn’t mean you can use your hands just anywhere on the field.
A soccer goalie can use their hands only inside the penalty area, marked in a rectangular shape just outside the goal. Any time the goalie steps outside this penalty area, they are considered a field player and must play those rules, so they can no longer touch the ball with their hands.
To learn more about this area where it is permitted for goalies to use hands, as well as some more rules for the goalie position while they are inside this penalty area, keep reading!
What is the penalty area?
The penalty area is the only place where the goalkeeper can handle the ball, in a way to prevent the ball from scoring a goal and deflect it to another teammate. This penalty area, which is also often referred to as the penalty box or the 18-yard box, is the box that surrounds the goal area, which sits just in front of the goal.
This box is 18 yards in length, and 44 yards wide. These penalty areas sit on both sides of the field, in front of both teams’ individual goals. It should go without saying that the goalie can only stay within his own penalty area.
Inside this area is the only place on the soccer field where the goalie can touch the ball with their arms or hands. Keep in mind that it is the ball that must be within the penalty area, not the goalie.
If the ball is anywhere outside the penalty area, even if the goalie is inside the penalty area, the goalie cannot touch the ball, under any circumstances. If the ball is outside the penalty area, the goalie must treat the ball as if they are a typical field player and handle the ball only with their feet, until it crosses the boundary of the penalty area.
What happens when the goalie handles the ball outside the penalty area?
If the goalie handles the ball while it is anywhere outside the penalty area, regardless of where the goalie is on the field, it could result in a foul. Often the goalie is wearing a different colored or styled jersey, as well as a pair of gloves to help protect their hands so that the referee can better distinguish who the goalie is and whether or not he or she is following the rules of being a goalie. (Reference)
If they touch the ball outside the penalty area, oftentimes, the referee will have to award the opposing team a direct free kick into the goal. This could cost the goalie’s team the entire game, depending on how close the scores are.
Some exceptions to handling the ball inside the penalty area
There are some instances in which the soccer goalie cannot handle the ball while it is inside the penalty area, and all goalies should keep these in mind. The first thing to keep in mind is that goalie cannot use their hands when the ball has been directly passed to them by another player on their own team.
Instead, they must use their feet to catch the ball and pass it to another player or kick it in any direction they choose. If the ball is kicked too high for the goalie to catch it with their feet, the goalie can use their head or any other part of their body except for their hands to deflect the ball. This rule is known in the rulebook as the “back pass rule” for goalkeepers.
Another instance in which the goalkeeper is not allowed to handle the ball while it is in the penalty area is if they receive the ball directly from another player who passed it via “throw-in.”
This is very similar to the previous rule, except instead of the player on the goalie’s team passing the ball to them by a deliberate kick, they’ve thrown it to the goalie instead. Once passed to them, the goalie’s hands or arms cannot come in contact with the ball. Instead, they can use their head, chest, or feet to deflect or kick the ball back to a teammate.
Another rule for goalies inside the penalty area is that once they have possession of the ball with their hands, they cannot have contact with the ball for more than 6 seconds (although most referees are pretty lenient with this time, so it doesn’t need to be exactly 6 seconds or less). They must pass the ball to another player or perform a kick within a few seconds, but if they take too long to make such an action, the referee can issue a penalty to the goalkeeper.
Lastly, if the goalkeeper had possession of the ball with their hands while in the penalty box, and they’ve released it, they cannot then pick up the ball once more. They must instead wait until another player passed the ball back to them or had come in contact with the ball.
This rule was added to the goalkeeper position because many goalkeepers would hold onto the ball for 6 seconds or less, then drop the ball in front of them and immediately pick up the ball once more to extend the time for deciding where to pass the ball.
Only the goalie has access to the penalty area
It should be noted that the penalty is a space that is only for the goalie. While the goalie is permitted to exit the penalty area at any time (although they must then adapt field player rules while outside this area) all other players cannot enter the penalty area during the game. There is one exception to this rule, however.
When a penalty kick is performed, all players, except for the kicker, must be at least ten yards away from the penalty spot before the kick is performed, and once the ball is kicked, players can enter the penalty box until a player takes possession of the ball. These penalty kicks are performed whenever someone on either team, whether it be a field player or a goalie, breaks any rule of the penalty area or commits a foul inside their own penalty area. (Reference)