A football goalkeeper dives to save a shot on goal

In many team sports which involve scoring goals, a goalkeeper (termed goaltender, netminder, goalie, or keeper in some sports) is a designated player charged with directly preventing the opposing team from scoring by intercepting shots at goal. Such positions exist in hurling, association football, Gaelic football, international rules football, handball, field hockey, ice hockey, netball, water polo, bandy, lacrosse, floorball, and other sports.



Usually special rules apply to the goalkeeper that do not apply to the other players. These rules are often instituted to protect the goalkeeper, being an obvious target for dangerous or even violent actions. In certain sports, such as ice hockey and lacrosse, goalkeepers are required to wear special equipment like heavy pads and a face mask to protect their bodies from the impact of the playing object (e.g. a puck).

In some sports, goalkeepers may have the same rights as other players; in football, for example, the keeper is allowed to kick the ball just as any other player, but may also handle it. In other sports goalkeepers may be limited in the actions they are allowed to take or the area of the field where they may be; in the NHL, for example, goalkeepers may not play the puck in the restricted areas behind the net or take the puck across the red line.


Association football

Youth-football goalkeeper

In association football, each team's goalkeeper defends his team's goal and has special privileges within the game. The goalkeeper's main job is to stop any penetration of the ball into the goal.

The goalkeeper is the only player in the side who may use his or her hands and arms to play the ball, but only within the penalty area. Goalkeepers are required to wear a distinctive color jersey, separate from the referee's jersey color and either team's regular jersey color, so the referee can easily identify them. There are no other specific requirements, but goalkeepers are usually allowed to wear additional protective gear such as padded clothing. Most goalkeepers also wear gloves to protect their hands (sometimes referred to as "Mickey Mouse gloves") and enhance grip of the ball and, like every player on the pitch, they are required to wear shin guards.

The goalkeeper is allowed to catch the ball, and also to punch or deflect the ball away from the goal. The goalkeeper generally has a significant advantage on a ball high in the air, as he can raise his arms and play the ball before an attacker can attempt a header. When the keeper picks up the ball, he is allowed to kick it or throw it, or to place it on the ground and play it with his feet. The official laws of the game stipulate that once the goalkeeper has picked up the ball, he must redistribute it within six seconds; however, referees often use their discretion as long as the keeper is not obviously attempting to waste time. Once the keeper establishes possession of the ball, opposing players are not allowed to attempt to play the ball and must give the goalkeeper room to attempt a kick. If a ball is in the air and both the goalkeeper and a field player of the opposing team are challenging for the ball, advantage usually goes to the goalkeeper because he or she is not able to protect himself.

One key rule is that the goalkeeper is not allowed to touch the ball with their hands when it has been intentionally kicked to him by one of his teammates (the keeper is still allowed to play the ball with his feet). This is known as the "back-pass" rule in Law 12 of the Laws of the Game and an infringement results in an indirect kick to the other team. The referee has some discretion in making this call; for example, a ball which is merely deflected by a teammate may still be picked up by the goalkeeper. Also, the rule applies only to a ball which is actually kicked. A ball which is headed or otherwise not kicked may be picked up by the goalkeeper without penalty. The back-pass rule has been followed in international football and in most professional and amateur leagues since the early 1990s, but leagues for younger players may choose not to enforce the rule.

As the goalkeeper is usually the team's only player who can see the entire field, they often act as the organizer of the team when it is defending, such as on a free kick or a corner kick. The goalkeeper needs to be loud with a voice that can project over the area of the whole field.

Field hockey

In field hockey, the goalkeeper generally wears extensive protective equipment including helmet, face and neck guards, chest and leg padding, gloves, lower leg guards (known as pads) and shoe covers (known as kickers). He or she is also equipped with a stick; either one designed for goalies or one as used for normal play. From 2007 teams may elect to play with 11 field players, and no-one has the privileges of a goalkeeper. If a goalkeeper is used, they fall into one of two categories: a fully equipped goalkeeper must wear a helmet, unless they are nominated to take a penalty stroke against the opposing goalkeeper, wear a different coloured shirt and at least foot and legguards (arm and upper-body protection is optional); or they may opt to wear only a helmet. The goalkeeper is allowed to use any part of their body to deflect the ball, although they can't obstruct its play (for example by lying on top of it), and they can only do so within the goal circle (or "D"), and goalkeepers who are wearing a helmet are not permitted to pass their team's 23 m line, with the exception of goalkeepers who take penalty strokes. However a goalkeeper who has elected to wear only a helmet is permitted to remove it and provided it is not left on the field of play, they make take part in the game in any part of the pitch, and retain their goalkeeping privileges, even if they do not have time to replace the helmet before making a save. It is compulsory to wear a helmet when defending a penalty stroke or penalty corner.[1][2]

Gaelic football

In Gaelic football, the goalie's main task is to prevent a goal from being scored against his side by directly defending the team's goal. A goal occurs when the ball passes through the goal; the attacking team is awarded 3 points. The goalie is the only player who may handle the ball on the ground, and only inside the small rectangle.


In hurling, the goalkeeper's main task is to prevent a goal from being scored against his side by directly defending the team's goal. He also takes "puckouts" after a score or wide ball. A goal occurs when the ball passes through the goal; the attacking team is awarded 3 points. The goalkeeper has no special rules pertaining to him, although he still wears a different color jersey. Most goalkeepers use a special hurley with a wider bas (flat face).


A bandy goalkeeper attempting a save

In bandy, the goalkeeper defends his team's goal and has special privileges within the game. The goalkeeper's main job is to stop any penetration of the ball into the goal. He is allowed to hold the ball for six seconds before he has to release it. He may drop it to a defender or chuck it directly into attack.

If the ball passes the goal line, it is followed by different actions:

  • If the ball is last touched by a defender, the reaction is an own goal if the ball goes between the goalposts.
  • If it passes outside the goalposts, the reaction is a corner stroke.
  • If last touched by an attacker's stick, and passes between the posts, the reaction is a goal, or
  • a disallowed goal (offside or an infringement from the attacking team).
  • If the ball passes from an attacker over the goal line outside the goalposts, the goalkeeper may retrieve a new ball from a cage hanging on the goal's either side, and put the new ball in play with no signal from the referees.

The goalkeeper is the only player who may use his or her hands to play the ball (although only within the penalty area). The goalkeeper is required to wear a jersey with a different color from either team's jersey color to avoid confusion for the referee. Goalkeepers wear padded gloves to aid in catching the ball, large shinpads, a padded sweater, and a helmet with a face mask.

He is the only player in the team who can pass the ball to a team mate by aid of his skates. The team might have a reserve goalkeeper, and the two may switch at any time during the game, without the need to notify the referee. There is no time-out in bandy, but an exception is sometimes made when the goalkeeper is hurt, especially if they don't have a designated reserve keeper.

As the goalkeeper is usually the team's only player who can see the entire field, they often act as an organizer of the team when it is defending, especially for free strokes against them.

Ice hockey

The goaltender in ice hockey defends his team's goal net by stopping shots of the puck from entering his team's net, thus preventing the opposing team from scoring. The goaltender usually plays in or near the area in front of the net called the goal crease (often referred to simply as the crease or the net). Because of the power of shots, the goaltender wears special equipment designed to protect the body from direct impact. Only one goaltender is allowed to be on the ice for each team at any one time.

International rules football

In International rules football, a hybrid game between Australian rules football (which does not have a goalkeeper) and Gaelic football, the goalkeeper's main task is to prevent a goal from being scored. A goal occurs when the ball comes off any part of an attacking player and passes through the goal; the attacking team is awarded 6 points.

Field and box lacrosse

In men's field lacrosse, the designated goalkeeper is allowed to have a stick from 40 inches to 72 inches long and the head of a goalkeeper's crosse may measure up to 12 inches wide. This is significantly larger than field players' heads to assist in blocking shots. Once a goalkeeper makes a save and has control of the ball in his crosse (stick), he may only remain in possession of the ball inside the protective crease for four seconds (the length may depend on the level of play). Before the four seconds is up, the goalkeeper must either pass the ball or leave the crease. After leaving, he may not re-enter the crease with possession of the ball.

While inside the crease (nine feet in radius), offensive players may not make contact with the goalie or his stick. Doing so is declared "goalie interference" and is penalized by a free clear to the half field line. (There is a significant difference between NCAA/MLL rules and international rules regarding a pass while the goalkeeper is inside the crease: under NCAA/MLL rules, contact with a goalie's stick while in the act of passing—even after the ball is released—is prohibited and considered interference. Under international rules, protection ends when possession ends. Therefore, contact with a goalie's stick after the ball is released, is legal.) In addition, a goalie is allowed to make contact with the ball with his hand, although he is not allowed to control it or pick it up.

In women's lacrosse, once a goalkeeper makes a save and has control of the ball in her crosse, she may remain in possession of the ball inside the crease for ten seconds. The interference rule is similar to men's lacrosse; unlike in the men's game, a woman goalkeeper is allowed to control or even pick up the ball in her hand.

In both men's and women's lacrosse, goalkeepers are required to wear a helmet and 4-point chinstrap, a throat protector, gloves, and a chest protector. Use of a protective cup is, for obvious reasons, required in the men's game; thigh pads and shinguards are also being required for women goalkeepers as of 2007. Although they are permitted to, few goalkeepers elect to wear optional protective equipment, including elbow and shoulder pads, thigh pads and shin guards, and long sweat pants.

Box Lacrosse goaltender with wooden stick.

In Box Lacrosse, a goaltender is typically more heavily armored than a field lacrosse goaltender and plays with a net that is four feet tall and four feet wide, except in the National Lacrosse League and Major Series Lacrosse where the nets are the same height but four and a half feet wide. The crease rules are relatively the same, except that the punishments for different infractions include a change of possession, resetting of the time-clock, or a possible two minute penalty depending on the infraction. Box lacrosse goaltenders are known for their massive upper body gear, large shin guards known as "irons", and ice hockey-style helmets. Also, below the professional level, box lacrosse goaltenders are often seen using traditional wooden sticks.

The box lacrosse goaltender is allowed to play in any area of the playing surface and is not confined to any zone. It is not uncommon to see a box lacrosse goaltender run up and join the play in the offensive zone on a slow whistle. Goaltenders in box lacrosse are known to score goals for their team, usually in powerplay or slow whistle situations. Also, due to the unique lack of offside rules in box lacrosse, it is not unheard of to see a goaltender lead his team in scoring on game sheets through multiple assists, usually through long passes to teammates that are attempting to breakaway on unsuspecting defenders. Box lacrosse goaltenders are also encouraged to be aggressive stick checkers around the ball and ferocious cross-checkers when needed (cross-checking is legal in box lacrosse). If a goaltender leaves the crease with possession of the ball, opponents are allowed to cross-check the goaltender as long as there is no attempt to injure.


A netball goalkeeper is one of two players who are permitted to remain within their defensive shooting third, and is restricted to the defensive third of the court.

Water polo

Goalie eggbeatering up to block a shot.

Goalkeepers in water polo are granted some special privileges when inside the five metre area:

  • The ability to touch the ball with two hands.
  • The ability to stand (that is, if he can. Most Water polo pools are at least two meters deep)
  • The ability to punch the ball with a clenched fist

However, they have one limitation that field players do not have: they may not cross the half-distance line.

Rule change in 2006:

The four and seven meter lines were merged to a five meter line. A goalie may now under revised rules:

  • Go beyond the 5 m line according to the field rules (one hand) and not pass the half line.
  • Use two hands

New cap rules:

  • A goalie cap must now be in quarters alternating red/dark for home and red/white for away
  • The goalie must be number 1, 13, or 15
  • For females: a red swim cap must be worn under the goalie cap, a team's dark swim cap is no longer acceptable as it is hard to distinguish a goalie from field players if official cap is off.

These revisions are according to the NFHS 2006-2007 swimming/diving and water polo rulebook. USWP and NCAA rules may vary slightly.

Goalkeepers on coins and postage stamps

Goalkeepers have been used on some collectors' coins and medals such as the Austrian 5 euro 100 years of football coin that was minted on 12 May 2004. The coin depicts a successful shot by a footballer, shown in the background, with the ball just passing the goalkeeper (still in the air) into the goal.


  1. ^ Hockey Rules Board (2007) (pdf). Rules of Hockey 2007–2008. International Hockey Federation (FIH). Rules: Rule 4, Players' clothing and equipment, paras 4.3–4.4, page 15; Rule 10, Conduct of play : goalkeepers, all paras, page 24. http://www.fihockey.org/vsite/vfile/page/fileurl/0,11040,1181-177698-194916-110316-0-file,00.pdf. Retrieved 2009-01-14. 
  2. ^ FIH Umpiring Committee (January 2008). "2008 FIH Outdoor Umpires Briefing" (pdf). FIH website. FIH. pp. 11–13. Archived from the original on 2007-12-02. http://web.archive.org/web/20071202000007/http://www.fihockey.org/vsite/vfile/page/fileurl/0,11040,1181-180262-197480-115788-0-file,00.pdf. Retrieved 2008-01-14. 

External links

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