In a soccer game a player deliberately used his knee to pass the ball to the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper then picked the ball up with his hands. Does this count as a pass-back to the keeper?

What part of the body can a player use to send the ball to his/her goalkeeper and have the keeper pick it up with his/her hands? Or maybe I should ask what part of the body can’t a player use to pass the ball to the keeper if the keeper intends to pick it up?

USSF answer (November 12, 2010):
The Law is pretty clear. See the back of the Law book 2010/2011, Interpretations, Cautions for unsporting behavior:

• uses a deliberate trick while the ball is in play to pass the ball to his own goalkeeper with his head, chest, knee, etc. in order to circumvent the Law, irrespective of whether the goalkeeper touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of law 12 and play is restarted with an indirect free kick

Even with that information, we would be remiss if we did not point out that, subject to the terms of Law 12, a player MAY pass the ball to his (or her) own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc., if he does NOT use trickery. Furthermore, just to lock it down tightly, for the misconduct offense to be called the referee must decide that the action was done to circumvent the Law.  Merely observing that the ball was played from foot to head is not enough, even if the ball subsequently goes to or toward the GK.  Because we are dealing with misconduct here (the “trickery”) and not the foul commonly referred to as “pass back to the ‘keeper,” we are required to evaluate the intentions of the defender.

In such circumstances, it is irrelevant whether the goalkeeper subsequently touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Law 12.…


During one of our U-14 games one of our defensive players and opposing team members were shoulder to shoulder heading towards our goal. Our defensive player then reached his foot out to try and kick the ball away towards the side and instead he toe tipped it out in front towards the center of the goal and our goalie picked it up.

This maneuver also landed the opposing teams player on the ground and our kids catching his balance in sprint. The Ref then called an indirect kick for the opposing team on the “pass back rule” I am under the understanding that it only applies if it is intentionally kicked back to our goalie. Obviously two players sprinting shoulder to shoulder and the defense trying to get it out of there can not be taken as intentionally can it? This IDK lead to another messy situation where the Ref then told our players they could not make a wall stating they must be 10 yds from the goal line (ball was 8 yds from goal line) then when our players looked confused and moved away he tried to save himself and say 10 yds from the ball. Yelling at them.

Our Goalie was trying to get our people back on the goal line when the ref proceeded with game play (no whistle, or asking goalie if ready).

Our Goalie was not ready and well tap tap ball in. I want to contest this however I want to make sure I have the right answer before doing so.

USSF answer (October 15, 2010):
Let’s start with the good things the referee did (or may have done):
• The call for the “pass back rule” was correct if your player deliberately kicked the ball to the goalkeeper or to a place where the ‘keeper could play the ball. The emphasis on “deliberately” means that the player did not miskick or deflect the ball, but knew essentially where it was going to go.
• No whistle is necessary at a free kick unless the referee has had to move the opposing back the minimum ten yards from the ball; a whistle is necessary if the opponents had to be moved.

Now we move to the bad things the referee did:
• The defending team has no right to form a wall at free kick. In fact, they have only one right to anything at a free kick, and that right is not to be confused by the referee. By giving them bad directions on where they could be, the referee misled your players. At an indirect free kick near goal, all opponents must be at least 10 yds from the ball until it is in play, unless they are on their own goal line between the goalposts.
• Referees should never yell at players.

Your game is not protestable. Even though the referee misled your team through his poor mechanics, that does not mean that he “set aside a Law of the Game.”…


We were playing a high school soccer match in Illinois and a player on my team flicked the ball up to his head and headed it back to the goalie so he could pick it up and would not be in violation of the pass back to the goalie rule. The ref did not know the rule but the linesman did and called it trickery and gave the player that passed the goalie the ball a yellow card.

I was wondering what the real rule would be.

USSF answer (October 15, 2010):
The assistant referee was correct; the practice of flicking the ball to one’s head and then heading the ball to the goalkeeper is trickery, punished with a caution of the heading player for unsporting behavior and an indirect free kick for the opposing team from the place where the misconduct occurred. Here is an article on the matter that appeared in the USSF referee magazine Fair Play five years ago. It should answer your question.

FIFA has demanded that referees deal quickly and firmly with timewasting tactics. One of the least understood forms of time wasting is trickery in passing the ball to the goalkeeper. This article describes trickery and how the referee can combat it.

Law 12 was rewritten in 1997 to reduce the number of options available to players for wasting time. Playing the ball to one’s goalkeeper was traditionally used as a way of “consuming” time. By the time the Law was rewritten, the practice had become synonymous with time wasting.

Normal interplay of the ball among teammates is not a matter of concern to any referee; however, the referee must be concerned with obvious deliberate attempts to circumvent the requirements of the Law. Players may pass the ball to their goalkeeper in any legal way and not infringe on the requirements of Law 12. It is when a player uses trickery that the referee must act. Trickery is any contrived scheme or unnatural way of playing the ball in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of Law 12 when passing the ball to the goalkeeper. Examples of trickery include a player who deliberately flicks the ball with the foot up to the head, so as to head the ball to the goalkeeper, or a player who kneels down and deliberately pushes the ball to the goalkeeper with the knee or head.

If the ball was already in play, an indirect free kick from the spot where the initiator touched—not merely “kicked”—the ball is appropriate. If the ball was out of play, the restart for a violation depends upon how the circumvention began. If the action began from a free kick or goal kick that was properly taken, the restart will again be an indirect free kick from the spot where the initiator of the trickery played it, no matter where the kick was taken or when it occurred in the sequence of play. If the goal kick or free kick was not properly taken, then the restart must be that goal kick or free kick. This could lead to a situation where the offending team has a player cautioned (or sent off for a second cautionable offense), but still retains the ball on the restart.

If more than one player was involved in the trickery, the question as to which defender to punish can be answered only by the referee. The referee must be sure that the sequence of play was meant to circumvent the Law and to prevent opponents from having a fair chance to compete for the ball rather than have it unfairly handled by the goalkeeper. If, in the referee’s opinion, there was trickery, then it is the teammate who played the ball immediately prior to it going to the goalkeeper who would be cautioned.

The punishment for trickery is a caution for unsporting behavior, with the restart to be taken at the place where the trickery was initiated, not where the goalkeeper handled the ball. The referee does not have to wait until the ‘keeper handles the ball to make the call. The referee must only be convinced that trickery was the player’s motive for the act.

However, this is a high school match and the action becomes cautionable to the defender playing the ball to his goalkeeper only if the goalkeeper actually handles the ball. Rule 12-7-4 (Note). The Laws of the Game do not care if the keeper handles the ball or not, it is misconduct by the defender either way.…


In a recent professional match, a defender under pressure kicked the ball (with an indeterminate amount of deliberation) back toward his defensive penalty area. As his ‘keeper was coming out to play the ball, the ‘keeper seemed to make gestures that seemed to be asking the referee whether it would be permissible to play the ball with his hands (i.e., silently asking the referee whether this would be a “back-pass” infringement). It was not clear from the video whether the referee did pre-authorize the ‘keeper to use his hands, but the ‘keeper did so, and was not penalized for it.

In discussing this, some referees see no problem with this. Others suggest that the referee should not get involved in giving “extra help” in this fashion to either team. This seems qualitatively different than the verbal guidance that referees typically give to players who are close to the edge of an offense (“Stay off his back”, or “Let go of the shirt”), in that it is asking prior permission to avoid an offense. For example, I believe that an assistant referee should not respond to a nearby attacker’s query, “Am I offside?” before the player decides whether to chase a long pass – mainly because the AR can’t determine that until the player actually makes chase.

Without criticizing the referee involved in this match (and, honestly, without knowing whether this referee did any such thing), what guidance does USSF give its referees on this issue?

USSF answer (March 19, 2010):
The decision as to whether a player deliberately kicked the ball to his/her goalkeeper or to a place where the goalkeeper could play it is up to the referee on the game.

As to “individual help,” without having either seen the match or spoken with the referee, we cannot give you a definitive response. In general it is good for referees to speak with the players, but definitely not good to give advice on how to play. Giving advice would simply encourage the players to give the referee “advice” on how to referee — and we get enough of that without soliciting it.…


Defending team has been awarded a free kick outside the penalty area. The kicker pass back the ball to his goalkeeper. The keeper touches the ball with his hands but the ball, anyway, enters the goal.

How the referee should reiniciate the game?

1. Awarding an IFK against the goalkeeper because he used his hands after the ball was passed to him by a team mate?

2. Allowing the goal because the goalie touched the ball before it entered the goal? or

3. awarding a corner kick because a team can not kick a free kick into its own goal?

USSF answer (February 12, 2010):
For direct free kicks taken outside the penalty area, the Law requires only that a ball is kicked and moved to be in play and thus be eligible to enter the goal for a score (or a corner kick, if taken by the defending team). That happened. The ball was kicked by a player directly to his own goalkeeper. If the goalkeeper had let the ball go, it would have been a corner kick for the opponents. If the goalkeeper had stopped the ball with his hands, it would have been an indirect free kick for the opponents. Unfortunately for his side, the goalkeeper touched the ball but allowed it to continue on its way to goal. The referee should invoke the advantage clause and record the goal. Restart with a kick-off for the defending team.…


Defender under pressure kicks the ball back to the keeper, it is a crappy rainy day, the keeper misplays the ball trying to kick it away but it bounces up an into the air only a short distance away where it bounces and as attackers and other defenders are now close at hand the keeper chooses to grab this ball with the hands.

Is this an INDFK offence?

Can it be ignored as the keeper tried to do the right thing the first time but failed?

Should it be ignored if a pursuing opponent was there to challenge but prevented because the keeper WAS able to use the hands?

Is the ONLY reason to make this call if time wasting was the reason?

Does the intention of the passer or the intention of the keeper matter?

USSF answer (November 16, 2009):
There is no issue here at all if the scenario is to be given its face value meaning. A teammate kicks the ball back to his goalkeeper — no violation.

The goalkeeper kicks the ball (badly, but that doesn’t matter) — no violation. The goalkeeper subsequently handles the ball — since this occurred directly (no intervening play of the ball by anyone ELSE) — violation.

In short, there is no issue that a violation has occurred. The only question is whether it was trifling or should be whistled. This HAS to be decided by the referee based on the circumstances of play, taking risks, maintaining flow, etc. The only fact bearing on the matter is that the goalkeeper DID illegally take hand control of the ball under pressure from the opponents. In other words, he illegally withheld the ball from challenge, which is what this infringement is all about. Accordingly, although the decision must be up to the referee, the scenario tends to favor whistling this indirect free kick foul.

Referees often make the mistake of treating this as an issue involving time-wasting when, in fact, the central issue is unfairly withholding the ball from challenge.

And, no, the “intention” of the passer is not relevant to this decision because that was resolved when the action was determined to be a violation.…


I read the question and answer in the FAQ area [of the US Soccer website], but would like some clarification. Can the goalie go outside the goal area to retrieve the ball and dribble it back into the area to pick it up? I see this the same as a team mate passing it to the goalie and the goalie picking it up. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. Thanks.

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
The goalkeeper may leave the penalty area (which includes the goal area) and retrieve the ball and dribble it back into the penalty area and play it with his/her hands only if the ball was played (a) in any manner by an opponent or (b) by a teammate in a legal manner, i. e., not deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper or to a place where he or she could play it.…


I believe it’s a little bit silly how many questions there are about the “pass back” violation, given how rarely these situations actually occur. That said, a potential “pass back” situation arose during a recent assessment, and I hope you don’t mind offering a little clarification.

An attacking player kicked a ball forward toward the penalty area. A defending player, under pressure from another attacker, controlled the ball with his upper leg/thigh toward his goalkeeper, and the goalkeeper caught the ball with his hands.

Given the skill of the players, I felt the defender’s action was deliberate, and he knew he was pushing the ball out of reach of the attacker and to a place where his keeper could easily collect the ball. However, the ball never touched the defender’s foot, which I considered a requirement (part of the “iron triangle” described in the 21 May 2008 Memorandum).

After the game, the assessor said that I was not interpreting the term “foot” correctly. He stated, “Any part of the leg is considered, not just the foot.” He did not believe I should have called a “pass back,” however, because he felt the defender’s action was not deliberate: he considered the action more of a mis-directed attempt to clear the ball over the goal line.

Can you offer clarification and guidance? What parts of a defender’s body are included for the purposes of the “pass back” violation?

USSF answer (October 15, 2008):
Sigh! You are correct, there have been and continue to be too many questions about possible “pass back” infringements.

The Law is clear: “An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, . . . touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate.” Kicking requires the use of the foot. The foot does not include the knee, thigh, or shin.

We cannot read the minds of the players; we can only interpret what we see. In this case no foot equals no infringement.…


Defender has the ball, passes it back to the goalie, offense player, from opposing team, attempts to intercept the ball, can the goalie pick up the ball?

USSF answer (September 8, 2009):
No. In other words, if the goalkeeper picks up the ball in this situation, he or she is punished for handling the ball deliberately kicked to him or her by a teammate.…


Defense player (A) standing mid way between half field and the penalty arc, lobs a ball in the air back towards his own goal. Defense player (B) is standing in the penalty arc. There is multiply players from both team between Player A and B. Player (B) in the penalty arc decides to head the ball back to his keeper who picks it up.

The referee in this game called trickery to the pass back rule as he perceived that the original intent of player A was a pass back to the goalkeeper and that player B header was trickery to by step the law and allow the keeper to pick up the ball. He awarded a free kick just outside the 6 yard box.

Was he correct?

USSF answer (January 28, 2009):
It is not against the Law to head the ball to one’s own ‘keeper in this situation.…