Officiating GKs (GK Dad / Coach / Ref Perspective)

As a dad of a goalkeeper, a goalkeeper (and team) coach, and as a referee instructor I have a unique perspective of seeing things through multiple lenses. Being in a smaller community many recognize me around the field as someone who wears all three hats at various times. One of the greatest things I’ve learned over the past years is which ‘hat’ to wear, and when. I’ve also found that when wearing the ‘dad hat’ if I so much as take a deep breath or a sigh when an official makes a decision a parent sitting to my right or left picks up on that and I need to be mindful of those non-verbal moments and think tactfully when others ask me about a call.

Recently I had a coach approach me about high school soccer officiating with a question about goalkeepers, about a week later, a parent approached me with a similar question, so I thought I’d share my perspective. Again, take it as a grain of salt, as someone who wears three hats – and not an official position of any of the organizations I officiate for or with.

This post is a few ideas of ways to reduce the risk of injury, as well, from my perception a bit more of the shared responsibilities for safety between player and official.

Here are three specific examples from games this season.
Clip One: GK Appears to have control of the ball when it is struck from his hand.
Clip Two: Attacker does not appear to be playing the ball in a controlled manner.
Clip Three: Appears to be fair challenge, yet GK still receives contact.

The goalkeeper is the last line of defense, and as a result, the GK may find themselves in the position of making rapid decisions in which they actively put themselves in a position of risk. As a GK dad I’ve learned to accept that there is a chance at any moment on an away game I could get a call from a coach asking me to meet a trainer at the ER and we’ve certainly had more than a single visit to the Urgent Care. As a parent, I have to decide if I can accept that. In talking about this blog with my wife, she even explained that she is more confident in our daughter's ability and safety, because she knows her inquisition and mastery to studying the role and learning techniques properly. A confident and well trained goalkeeper is a safer goalkeeper.

Yes, my daughter has suffered concussions, missed school, and likely had minor soft tissue injuries that she didn’t disclose. I swear when her school has hired a new Athletic Trainer (fun fact, Anna Tuuri’s initials are AT) she usually knows their school trainers name within 48 hours. Within a week, they’re best of friends. Heck, her college athletic trainer for soccer and wrestling is even named Anna – tell me that isn’t fate? Over the years she has even taken Intro to Physical Therapy Assistant and Athletic Injury Prevention college courses herself, knowing that the more she understands the better prepared she is to understand and reduce her risk.

My daughter wears bruises on her leg, the occasional scar, or incision, and that turf burn on the side as a badge of pride. Yes, princess meets tom-boy on Prom Night when concealer covers up some newly discovered bruise that formed at practice a night before. It certainly isn’t a position for everyone and that’s OK! #GKUnion is inclusive, all are welcome, but it definitely is a group where membership is earned through grit, tenacity, and drive.

There is nothing specifically in the IFAB Laws of the Game or NFHS Rules that state a GK MUST go to ground to make saves. Instead, the GK consciously makes a decision to attempt these actions. Thus, the GK through their action assumes a higher level of risk. When we get into older ages of play there is an expectation that the GK is aware of how their actions might create situations and an acceptance to an extent that they knew what they were putting themselves in to.

Now, don’t take this as a complete free pass on a full attack against a goalkeeper. There very much is a need for (wearing referee hat) us to do a better job in terms of recognizing when the goalkeeper is in control of the ball. For purposes of this conversation I will only apply IFAB’s Laws of the Game (21-22).
Law 12, Indirect Free Kick (pg. 100).
A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball with the hand(s) when: 

the ball is between the hands or between the hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body) or by touching it with any part of the hands or arms, except if the ball rebounds from the goalkeeper or the goalkeeper has made a save

holding the ball in the outstretched open hand

bouncing it on the ground or throwing it in the air

A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball with the hand(s).

So, what we need to do as the officiating crew is recognize the moments where the ball is under control and use verbal acknowledgement or even a whistle tap to affirm before dangerous situations develop. I’m very intentional here about saying officiating crew as I think the AR should feel comfortable recognizing GK control and acknowledging it if they have the angle to do so, and certainly if a goal is scored having a conversation with the center about any concern prior to the restart to get the decision right.

If I see a ball stopped by the goalkeeper, with a hand firmly on top of it, with an opponent continuing to progress I believe it is valuable to shout out a quick “Keeper Has”. If the opponent is coming in with force or my verbal que might not be heard even a whistle to stop play quickly and award a drop ball to the GK is a better situation than a misread situation resulting in injury. If I do not complete these actions and the ball is taken away from the GK and placed into the net, I may have challenges in disallowing a goal and may even invite dissent when I try to explain to players or coaches that I believe the GK had possession. As well, at this point I am now awarding a free kick from the point of infraction versus what likely was a more advantageous Drop Ball which would allow the GK to deliver a drop kick, punt, or be mobile with their distribution from anywhere within the penalty area while also enabling a faster restart and protecting game flow.

 Now, the next part to consider is Playing in a Dangerous Manner, referenced on (pg 101):

Playing in a dangerous manner is any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury.

A scissors or bicycle kick is permissible provided that it is not dangerous to an opponent.

Something that I think is often forgotten here is that the Referee has a duty to consider if the player is themselves creating a dangerous situation in which the injury could be sustained on themselves. Most commonly we think of situations such as a high kick where a cleat may be in the face of an opponent, but reading the law we see that a player putting themselves in a position with poor control, technique, or a lack of care or focus could result in the harm being self-imposed and an offense being called. I anticipate that improperly trained GKs are likely creating as many dangerous situations for opponents as they create for themselves.

While the term dangerous play is not explicitly charted for each situation, there is a generalized expectation that play is safe to those on the field. For example if the goalkeeper is leaning forward preparing to scoop a ball that is 18 inches from their glove and an opponent is running towards them at seven miles per hour that could be playing in a dangerous manner. More likely however there will be contact made at this point, in which a DFK offense such as Charging, Striking, Tackles or Challenges may be more appropriate.

Although it may feel like a referee needs to call dangerous play for pressuring a GK preparing to make a save in many situations it is likely an incorrect application for a skilled upper aged player. In a youth game, I am more apt to do this, for example at 10U/12U Club, and even up through 14U Recreational I expect that players are still learning the rules, limits, and control of the game.

Tips for Goalkeepers:

Preseason Strength & Conditioning is KEY.

- Muscles heal faster than bones.

- Especially when you are in high school seasons there is not much time for recovery or healing, you need your body at maximum performance BEFORE the year starts.

- Flexibility is as important as raw strength.

Proper Technique is Absolute

- Make saves by playing forward and “through” the ball. When the ball is saved with arms outstretched away from you it is clearer to the referee that you have possession and more difficult to contest that a ball remains in play.

- Do not commit fouls in your attempt to play a ball. GKs must attack the ball. Contact with the player first, either with your hands or legs can construct a foul against the GK.

- I often observe GKs with leg forward slides. By leading with the feet GKs lose control, maneuverability, and composure. GKs lose vision of the ball, the play, and players. GKs lose traction and footing to launch into a second save.

- A feet first slide, with exposed cleats, could be considered Serious Foul Play if the referee determines that excessive brutality or force was used. This is a send-off / red card offense. If the GK is uncontrolled and not deliberate in their actions this could create a challenge for their team. Even a foul could create a PK.

Accept Ownership

- YOU as the GK make the decision of the situation you put yourself into. Part of making big moves is owning the result of those choices.

- If there is a decision you are unhappy about, “catch and release” your emotions, the role of GK requires your full mental fortitude and concentration. Don’t let yourself be distracted by emotions of thinking you got ‘screwed’ by a bad call.

Judge Pace of Game & Officiating Crew

- Look at your opponents and how they play the game, study film and prepare yourself for what to expect. How aggressive are you prepared to be? What can you expect?

- Each officiating crew will handle situations differently. If you feel protected you may be more brave, if you don’t feel protected you might decide to be more cautious that day.

- You can only control yourself, you won’t change how others react or respond to game situations.

Nutrition, Healing, and Periodization

- Look, your coach might hate me for saying this, or they might love me for saying this. Right here you’ll find out if you have a coach who cares about your well being or not. If you are not well talk to your coach about it. 

- Mental Health affects Physical Health, stressed at school – you are more injury prone.

- Menstruation Cycles affect Performance and Injury Risk – read up on this, talk to your Doctor.

- I’d rather ANY of my athletes tell me they need a game off or that they’re “just not feeling it” than for them to be dishonest or feel pressured by the team to perform and sustain a serious injury. Take care of yourself first.

- Hydration, Rest, Proper Nutrition it will all do more for you and your body than any amount of training or coaching ever will.

Tips for Referees:

- Use voice control and command to note when GK’s have possession.

- Use physical presence and follow challenging attacks into the penalty area to maintain the best possible view and angle.

- If we see a GK get bumped (even if their team regains possession) acknowledge it to the GK and just remind them that you were active and did see what happened. The GK position is lonely and it’s easy to feel abandoned. GKs will appreciate immensely if they know you are watching to protect them.

- Don’t be afraid to whistle a ball dead when the GK has control on the ground and award a drop ball if you feel it will protect the GK.

- We need to get better about calling fouls on GK’s when they commit them while attempting saves.

Tips for Parents:

- You’re not the first GK parent to wonder what you got yourself into.

- Support your athlete, love your athlete. 

- Connect with other GK parents at group goalkeeper trainings or GK specific camps.

- Learn and study the position yourself.

- Have a healthy and honest dialogue with your athlete and their coach if you have concerns or need help or additional training ideas.


  1. Some pretty good insights there from all sorts of angles. Some ideas I had forgotten and others that were new.
    Asking a referee to have a presence in the penalty area is going to be asking some referees to move a lot more. I think several referees will do their best to make their call but stop short of using their presence to manage situations. They may run in after the fact to manage but to be there when it's happening is another thing (and can be tough to predict).
    We've had several 2 ref games and it can be a challenge for the ref to use their presence to manage situations. If you feel that you have to stay outside of play on the offside line then you're just making calls (not providing a presence). If you can move into the field for a better position to see fouls and provide a presence then you'll be sacrificing making good offside calls.
    I like your whistle for a drop ball if you think it's dangerous but I think you'd have to end up whistling every time the keeper has the ball and an opponent is near her because the opponent is unpredictable. There are times when the keeper is reaching out while the opponent is swinging the leg and you don't know who will contact the ball first. One time the opponent kicks the ball into the goal. The other time the keeper possesses the ball and the opponent kicks the keeper. It would be unfair to whistle and prevent the possible goal. (Perhaps that isn't the situation you had in mind.)
    You do say that it's the keeper's choice to go to ground and put themselves in a less safe position. I would hope that training (that you mentioned) can make these situations safer.


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