How Long Can a Goalkeeper Hold the Ball in Soccer?

A great goalkeeper is the pillar of any successful soccer team.

You can ask any professional coach and they will likely tell you that the men and women who stand between the posts play a key role in how competitive a club are and whether they will grind out positive results.

Sometimes, when the stakes in a match are so high, goalkeepers tend to hold on to the soccer ball for a long time after making a catch.

Of course, it makes sense for them to do this, especially if their team was coming under considerable amounts of opposition pressure.

Especially when a game is about to come to its conclusion, goalkeepers are known to hold the ball for a long time to give their team mates a breather and run down the clock a tiny bit more.

However, doing so in an excessive manner is not permitted by the laws of the sport.

More specifically…

A goalkeeper is only allowed to hold onto the ball for a maximum duration of six seconds. If that time period elapses before the goalkeeper in question releases the ball, then an indirect free kick would be awarded inside the penalty area to the opposing side.

That’s a pretty fascinating outcome, right?


Let’s now explore what happens in more detail.


What happens if the goalie holds the ball for too long?

Goalkeepers can get punished by the referee for holding onto the ball beyond the six seconds that they’re permitted to.

The Laws of the Game are quite clear on this as well.

Here’s a brief excerpt that states exactly what happens in such a scenario:

“An indirect free kick is awarded if a goalkeeper, inside their penalty area, commits any of the following offences… controls the ball with the hand/arm for more than six seconds before releasing it.”

Source – FA Law 12 on Fouls and Misconduct
how long can a goalkeeper hold the ball - 6 seconds

The possibility of an indirect free kick being awarded to the opposing team in such an instance is quite high, especially when a goalkeeper is trying so hard to preserve a win or a draw for their team.

Below are some examples of this scenario playing out in professional games.


Example 1 – Simon Mignolet vs Bordeaux

The former Liverpool goalkeeper was found guilty of holding the soccer ball for too long in a Europa League fixture against Girondins Bordeaux in 2015.

Apparently, the Belgian goalkeeper kept the ball in his hands for almost 25 seconds, which prompted the referee to award an indirect free kick to Bordeaux.

Subsequently, the Bordeaux set piece taker squared the ball to a team mate who then cannoned it into the back of the net.


Example 2 – Lower league play

There’s some footage on YouTube that shows a goalkeeper being penalized for holding onto the ball for more than six seconds.

Although in the video it’s not made clear which teams are playing, making it hard to identify the particular goalkeeper who committed the offence.

Here’s what happened:


How long does a soccer goalkeeper have to kick the ball?

Ultimately, the goalkeeper has six seconds to release the ball from his possession.

Whether he decides to do that with his hands by throwing or rolling the ball towards a team mate, or kicking it upfield is up to him or her.

Any longer than that, and there’s a good chance that the referee will stop play and present and indirect free kick opportunity to the opposition team.


Is the six second rule for goalkeepers enforced anymore?

This is a really good question.

Despite the fact that the rule clearly exists in the Laws of the Game, it’s rarely implemented on a match to match basis.

Sadly, this rule is rarely enforced.

Referees are usually hesitant to call a foul here and award the opposing team with an indirect free kick, because there are generally other officiating tools at their disposal that they can use to deal with such a situation instead.

Some of these things include:

  • Verbally instructing goalkeepers to release the ball if they’re taking too much time;
  • Warning the goalkeeper of the consequences of not releasing the ball;
  • Cautioning the goalkeeper with a yellow card for time wasting


Closing thoughts

By reading this article, you should now be enlightened on the topic of how long a goalkeeper can hold the ball for in soccer.

Just to recap…

Goalkeepers have up to six seconds to distribute the ball – with either their hands or feet – once they’ve claimed possession of it in their own penalty area. Failure to do so will see an indirect free kick in the penalty area awarded to the opposition team.

It should help you, especially if you play as a goalkeeper in training sessions and competitive matches.

Because being aware of the rule means that there’s a lower likelihood of you getting caught out and having an indirect free kick awarded against you.

Before you go, you can learn more about what goalkeepers do while in possession of the ball.

Samuel Waihenya
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