Wasting Time by Goalkeeper

Joe, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

My team (silver) played in a U-12 youth league tournament against the (orange) team.  I noticed that their keeper (more than once) kept the ball for longer than 20 seconds before kicking the ball. In the rule handout given to us at the beginning of the season, a goalkeeper is supposed to release the ball within 6 seconds. Sounds like a ref problem.  Is there a rule about wasting time? We were up on them by 1. I timed the keeper on how long he held the ball before releasing the ball and it totaled more than 4 min in a 4 quarter 10 min match. They also kept kicking the ball out of bounds every chance they got.  Finally they got up on us 2-1 and we lost. What’s with this?


We somehow get the impression that what you want from us is an answer the justifies your being outraged over your loss.  Unfortunately, things are not that simple.  Here’s why (in no particular order).

  • The measurements you cite are not helpful.  You totaled 4 minutes of “keeper time” but don’t say how many possessions that covered.  Was it 10 at an average of 24 seconds each?  60 at 4 seconds each?  Perhaps 40 possessions at 5 seconds each plus 2 that you measured at 20 seconds each?
  • Yes, the goalkeeper is required, in the normal course of play, to release the ball within 6 seconds of taking possession with his hands.  At no point did your scenario state that the 4 minutes of possession all occurred while the keeper was holding the ball.  Did any of them include possession at the feet of the goalkeeper?  Only possession by hand counts for the “6-second limit.”
  • Were any of your players failing to back away in order to give the keeper an opportunity to release the ball?  Any time spent avoiding opponents or trying but being unable to release the ball due to crowding by opponents is not counted in the 6-second limit.  Indeed, if your players were not allowing the keeper to release the ball into play quickly, they would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.
  • It seems to us it is not entirely clear that this necessarily accounts for your team’s loss, whatever the legality of the keeper’s holding onto the ball longer than 6 seconds.  Keep in mind that your team was up by 1 at one time and lost by 1-2 — this obviously means that your loss was attributable to having had 2 goals scored against you.  Every “extra second” the keeper’s team may have been holding the ball longer than they should is an “extra second” in which neither of your teams had an opportunity to score.
  • The 6-second limit serves one primary objective — preventing the keeper from taking an unfair advantage of the time in which he is withholding the ball from active challenge.  In other words, the issue is not how much time the keeper has possession, it is how much time were opponents prevented from competing.
  • The 6-second limit is not, was never intended to be, and in practical terms never could be a precise measurement.  Every referee on the planet, in judging how long a keeper keeps possession of the ball, works solely by feel.    Standard Referee mechanics for dealing with goalkeepers withholding balls from challenge is to warn a keeper who appears to be abusing the limit by letting the keeper know that he is taking too much time and that, if it continues or is repeated, it will be dealt with according to the Law.  This typically results in some period during which the keeper pays attention, followed by a return to prior habits.  The point at which to warn a goalkeeper is at the discretion of the Referee, as is length of “extra time” the keeper takes before a warning is deemed advisable.  Most of the time, Referees don’t have a problem with possession time stretching to 7 or 8 seconds or as much as 10 — depending on what is going on in the game.
  • We will grant that, at first blush, taking 20 seconds to release the ball is severely pushing the limits but … the first time, the Referee may simply note it as data, the second time might occasion a warning (if it was equally egregious), and the third instance of a roughly equivalent delay could warrant a whistle but not for wasting time.  It would be for failing to release the ball into play in a timely manner and that may or may not be worth a caution.
  • Finally (you thought we might never get here?), there is nothing illegal about kicking the ball out of play no matter what the circumstances.  This is an entirely valid method of “using up” but not wasting time.  Withholding the ball from your team, in fact, is the job of the opposing team.  Using legal methods to do so is legal, using illegal methods is not.