How Long Can A Soccer Goalie Hold The Ball? (Find Out Now)

Unlike many other sports, the clock is never stopped in a soccer game. Because of this, it is important to have rules that keep the game moving to avoid any time-wasting. This is especially the case when it comes to goalkeepers and how long they can hold the ball.

In soccer, a goalkeeper is only permitted to hold the ball for a maximum of six seconds. The International Football Association Board's (IFAB) rulebook states that an indirect free-kick will be awarded if this rule is broken. However, this rule is very rarely enforced.

Now you know exactly how long a goalie can hold onto the ball. But what actually happens when a goalie holds onto the ball for more than six seconds? And why is the punishment for breaking this rule rarely enforced? I will answer these questions and more in this article.

How Long Can a Goalkeeper Hold The Ball in Soccer?

The official IFAB (International Football Association Board) rulebook states that a goalkeeper can only hold onto the ball for up to six seconds.

When a goalkeeper has the ball in both hands or has it fully controlled with one hand, this is seen as being in control.

When a goalie is in control, opposition players are not allowed to challenge for the ball. During this period, a goalkeeper can also bounce the ball as much as they like.

Once the goalie is in control, they have a maximum of six seconds to distribute the ball.

They can do this by:

  • Throwing the ball to a teammate
  • Rolling the ball to a teammate
  • Kicking (passing) the ball to a teammate
  • Or simply dropping the ball at their own feet

Once they have done this, the ball is out of control and back in play. Opposition players are then allowed to try to retake the ball.

What Happens When the Goalkeeper Holds the Ball for More Than 6 Seconds?

The official rules state that an indirect free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team if the goalie holds onto the ball for more than six seconds.

Here is a snippet of what the FA (football association) rulebook says regarding the breaking of this rule:

An indirect free-kick is awarded if a goalkeeper, inside their penalty area, commits any of the following offenses:

  • Controls the ball with the hand/arm for more than six seconds before releasing it
  • Touches the ball with the hand/arm after releasing it and before it has touched another player
  • Touches the ball with the hand/arm unless the goalkeeper has clearly kicked or attempted to kick the ball to release it into play

You can read the entire rules regarding fouls and infringements here.

But what is an indirect free-kick?

An indirect free-kick is the punishment that is supposed to be given for breaking the six-second rule, but what exactly is it?

An indirect free-kick is a free-kick that takes place inside the penalty area. This should not be confused with a penalty kick.

Although inside the penalty area, an indirect free-kick still allows defenders to be inside the area. A penalty kick is just the attacker and the goalie.

How Long Does a Goalkeeper Have to Take a Goal Kick?

Now you know all the rules for when a goalkeeper has control of the ball in their hands, but what about goal kicks?

A goal kick is awarded whenever a team puts the ball out of play behind their opponents' goal line without scoring. According to the official rules of IFAB and the FA, there is no time limit for a goalkeeper to take a goal kick.

You can read the rules on goal kicks here.

However, the six-second rule that is applied to handling the ball can also be applied here. The rules also state, "A player who excessively delays the restart of play is cautioned."

Is this rule being observed?

If you watch a lot of soccer, there's a good chance you didn't even know that a team could be given an indirect free-kick when goalies break this rule.

Especially because indirect free-kicks are rarely ever seen in a soccer game; this isn't due to goalies behaving themselves, though. This is because referees very rarely observe the rule in modern-day soccer.

Why is this rule rarely observed?

The main reason this punishment is not enforced is due to how much it can change a game. An indirect free-kick usually comes with a high chance of scoring a goal.

Because of this, referees are cautious when it comes to awarding them and prefer to use lesser punishments as warnings before being forced into calling for an indirect free-kick.

Here is a list of actions a referee is likely to take when a goalie continuously breaks the six-second rule:

  • A simple verbal warning
  • Inform the goalkeeper that the time wasted will be added on at the end of the game (injury time)
  • A yellow card will then be shown for time-wasting
  • One final verbal warning

A referee should call for an indirect free-kick if a goalie continues to waste time and break the rule after these warnings. However, goalies are well aware of how far they can push these rules and rarely take it too far.

It is also very common for goalies to get away with breaking the six-second rule without any punishment.

Goalies will often use tactics such as feigning injury or complaining to the referee about a minor issue in an attempt to hold the ball for longer than six seconds.

Has a Goalkeeper Ever Been Sent Off For Breaking The Six Second Rule?

Given that goalies often get yellow cards for breaking the six-second rule, you may wonder if a goalkeeper has ever received two yellow cards and been sent off for this offense.

Although this is rare, a goalkeeper has indeed been shown a red card for time-wasting.

In Israel's 2021 Toto Cup, a goalie by the name of Danny Amos was shown a red card for time-wasting.

He was first shown a yellow card in the 85th minute for holding the ball for much longer than the six seconds permitted. He then committed the same offense in the 92nd minute, resulting in the referee showing Amos a second yellow, followed by a red card.

Technically speaking, the referee made a mistake and should have awarded an indirect free-kick to the opposition team before issuing a second yellow card.

This proves how uncomfortable most referees are with awarding an indirect free-kick.

In most cases, it is extremely rare that you will ever see a red card or an indirect free-kick for breaking the six-second rule.

This is due to goalies knowing not to break the rule after receiving their first yellow card and referees feeling uncomfortable with awarding indirect free-kicks.


To summarize, a goalkeeper is not allowed to hold the ball for longer than six seconds. The punishment for doing so should be an indirect free-kick to the other team.

However, it is extremely rare for a referee actually to observe this rule. Referees prefer to first warn the goalie with verbal warnings and a yellow card.

November 22, 2022
Published: November 22, 2022