Saturday, 22 Jun 2024

When Can A Goalkeeper Not Use Their Hands?

Buffon Save

The goalkeeper position in soccer is incredibly challenging and can be quite unforgiving when things aren’t going well. Unlike outfield players, goalkeepers don’t have anywhere to hide. One advantage that goalkeepers have is the ability to use their hands. However, there are certain situations where this perk is limited.

In this article, we’ll explore when a goalkeeper cannot use their hands, how these situations arise, and how goalkeepers must adapt to maintain an edge. If your goalkeeper never leaves their six-yard box, you have nothing to worry about. But in modern soccer, goalkeepers need to be more adaptable, often moving outside their penalty area, where they can’t use their hands.

Outside The Penalty Area

Goalkeeper Outside the Box

Unsurprisingly, goalkeepers can only handle the ball inside their penalty area. However, they can be outside the area as long as the ball remains inside. When outside their safety zone, goalkeepers must use their feet or body to block shots. With the rise of sweeper keepers, we see goalkeepers venturing upfield, initiating attacks while risking being caught off guard.

If a goalkeeper loses the ball outside the penalty area, their priority is to quickly retreat to the area, allowing them to use their hands again. If they are unable to get back in position before the opponent shoots, they have two options: accept that a goal will be scored or try to block the shot with their body or feet.

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The Opponent’s Penalty Area

As tempting as it may be for goalkeepers to venture into their opponent’s penalty area, it is usually seen in desperate situations where a team needs a last-gasp goal. Defenders are usually unprepared to mark a goalie, and their height makes them a useful goal threat. However, goalkeepers cannot use their hands in the opponent’s area. If they do, the opposing team is awarded a direct free kick, and the goalkeeper receives a caution.

Throw Ins From Your Own Team

Throw-in Soccer

While goalkeepers may leave their penalty area at times, their main role is to stay close to the goal and prevent opponents from scoring using any part of their body, including their hands. One situation where goalkeepers are not allowed to use their hands is when a teammate throws the ball directly back to the goalkeeper. This rule was introduced in 1997 to speed up the game and make it more exciting for fans.

Backpass To The Goalkeeper

In the past, players would often pass the ball back to their goalkeeper, who would pick it up. However, this is no longer allowed due to the back-pass rule introduced after the 1990 World Cup. The rule aims to increase the speed and excitement of the game by eliminating excessive passing to goalkeepers. Sweeper keepers, with their ball-playing skills, emerged as a result of this rule, making games faster and more thrilling to watch.

The Six-Second Rule

The Six-Second Rule

Goalkeepers are penalized if they hold onto the ball for too long. Though rarely enforced, the six-second rule demands that goalkeepers quickly get on with the game. Failure to do so can result in an indirect free kick for the opposing team and a potential caution for the goalkeeper. This rule was introduced to make soccer more entertaining for spectators and TV viewers.

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In conclusion, being a goalkeeper is a complex role that goes beyond simply blocking shots. Modern goalkeepers must create chances, navigate specific rules, control their defense, and avoid infractions. Mistakes are highly scrutinized, and any handling of the ball outside the penalty area can result in immediate dismissal. Time on the ball is limited, and poor back-passes can lead to goals and blame being placed on the goalkeeper.

Learn more about handball rules in soccer here.


  • Can a goalkeeper use their hands outside the penalty area?
    No, a goalkeeper is only allowed to use their hands inside their penalty area.

  • What happens if a goalkeeper handles the ball in the opponent’s penalty area?
    If a goalkeeper handles the ball in the opponent’s penalty area, a direct free kick is awarded to the other team, and the goalkeeper receives a caution.

  • Why can’t a goalkeeper pick up a back-pass from a teammate?
    The back-pass rule was introduced to speed up the game and eliminate excessive passes to goalkeepers. It prevents goalkeepers from using their hands to pick up deliberately passed balls from teammates.

  • What is the six-second rule for goalkeepers?
    The six-second rule requires goalkeepers to release the ball within six seconds. Failure to do so may result in an indirect free kick for the opposing team and a potential caution for the goalkeeper.