The Penalty for Passing the Ball to Your Soccer Goalie

Goalie making save in soccer

In soccer, goalkeepers are the only players allowed to deliberately use their hands to play the ball while it is in bounds. To help ensure that such privileges are not used unfairly, a number of penalties limit the keeper's ability to handle the ball. Although keepers are allowed to receive passes from their own players, handling the ball immediately after a pass can result in different penalties depending on the circumstances.

What the Rule States

In both the U.S. Soccer Federation, or USSF, and FIFA's Laws of the Game, the pass-back rule states that a goalie cannot handle the ball within the penalty area after a deliberate pass from a teammate. While this may seem clear, the rule requires that the pass is deliberate, the ball does not touch any other player before reaching the keeper and the ball must be kicked, not played with other parts of the body. If the referee determines that all of these conditions are met, the opposing team is awarded with an indirect free kick, or one that cannot result in a goal, from where the ball was handled.

Penalties on Throw-Ins

Similar to the pass-back rule, the throw-in rule in USSF and FIFA Laws of the Game prohibits the keeper from handling the ball within the penalty area after a throw-in by a teammate. Provided the ball does not touch another player and the pass is determined to be intentional, an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team from where the keeper handles the ball.


Although it is permissible for a keeper to use her foot to play the ball after a direct pass, punishments may follow a play deemed to be an attempt at circumventing the Laws of the Game. Examples include deliberately heading, kneeing or using other parts of your body to pass the ball back to your keeper, as the pass-back rule states that the ball must be kicked. Known as "trickery," any attempt to deliberately avoid penalties for the pass-back rule can result in an indirect free kick being awarded to the opposing team from where the ball was last played. In addition, the offending player is given a yellow card, or caution, regardless of whether or not the keeper handles the ball -- the punishment applies to the attempt to circumvent the Laws, not its outcome.

Referee Interpretation

While the pass-back and throw-in rules state that the ball must be deliberately passed to the keeper, the pass does not need to go directly to the keeper for a free kick to be awarded. Throwing or kicking the ball through the penalty area, for example, may be viewed as indirect attempts at passing the ball back to the keeper, with punishments varying depending on whether or not this is viewed as an attempt to circumvent the laws. Although such indirect passes may be punished, the referee may determine that an apparently direct pass is an acceptable play depending on the circumstances. For example, if the referee determines that the ball went to the keeper due to an accidental deflection, poorly aimed throw-in, funny bounce or miskick, no penalty may be awarded.