The Must-Know Rules Of A Penalty Kick In Soccer

A penalty kick can be a dramatic part of a soccer game when one is awarded. Whether it determines which team has the chance to score a goal, or even which team wins a knockout match.

The Must-Know Rules Of A Penalty Kick In Soccer

The penalty kick can be one of the most pressurized situations in soccer which makes attackers keen to win one for their team and defenders determined to avoid giving one away.

In this guide, we will look at how a penalty kick is awarded, the different types of fouls that can result in a penalty kick, and the rules of a penalty kick.

We will also look at the history of the penalty kick in soccer, how you should take or even save a penalty kick as well as the penalty shootout. 

How A Penalty Kick Is Awarded In Soccer

Once a referee deems that a foul has been committed in the defending team’s penalty box they will blow their whistle and then point to the penalty spot.

For such an important decision, especially late in the game, the referee can expect to see a range of emotions on both teams. 

The conceding team may try to argue that it was not a foul and the player who was fouled may display a sense of accomplishment at winning their side a penalty kick. 

Even before a goal has been scored, you can expect to hear cheers from the crowd, or cries of anguish, depending on which team has been awarded the penalty kick.

Penalties are awarded when a soccer player has committed a foul inside their own penalty box. 

The team that has been awarded the penalty kick has a free shot on goal from the penalty spot which is 12 yards out.

The penalty kick is essentially a one-on-one with a single shot, a goalkeeper is exposed and is the only barrier to prevent a goal being scored.  

A penalty kick can be nerve-wracking for the goalkeeper and the player chosen to take the shot.

The pressure is off the goalkeeper as they could become the hero on a rare occasion if they save the penalty while the player chosen to take the kick should expect to score. 

All other players have to remain outside the penalty box until the ball is struck.

There are few situations as dramatic as a penalty kick in soccer and it is worth knowing which fouls can result in one. 

The Different Types Of Fouls That Can Result In A Penalty Kick

Just as there are a variety of fouls all over the pitch, any of them can result in a penalty kick when they occur inside a team’s own penalty box.

This includes the glaringly obvious ones such as a handball or a trip when committed on an opposition player. 

It could be more at the referee’s discretion such as a pull of a jersey or a push but that would still be deemed a foul.

A mistimed tackle from a defender or goalkeeper is often punished with a penalty kick as well as more serious fouls such as a high foot or an ill-timed tackle. 

For a penalty kick to be awarded, the ball must be in play and the lawmakers at FIFA and ITAB have a definitive set of must-know rules for the fouls that can result in a penalty kick if committed in a team’s own penalty box. 

These include pushing as well as jumping or charging at an opponent, as well as kicking, or attempting to kick, an opposing player.

A headbutt or similarly reckless play and aggressive force can also be considered a foul for a penalty kick.

More subtle fouls that can still result in a penalty kick include biting or spitting, throwing any object, or holding/impeding an opponent. 

The rules for handball are multi-faceted which perhaps makes them more difficult to understand.

For a handball to be deemed worthy of a foul, it must be deliberate which means that a player moves their hand towards the ball intentionally.

If a player handles the ball to deny a goal-scoring opportunity or their arms are above the shoulder or in an unnatural position then this can also be deemed a foul worthy of a penalty kick. 

Certain instances where the ball has been handled may not be penalized with a penalty kick.

These include if the ball is headed and then hits the hand, largely because the player does not have time to remove their hand in time so it does not seem intentional. 

Similarly, if another player deemed close enough to the player interferes which results in a player handling the ball then this is not considered a foul.

If the arm is close to the body or a player is on the ground and using their arm for support then this is also not considered intentional. 

One foul that does not result in a penalty kick when committed inside a team’s penalty box is a backpass.

This is where the ball is intentionally kicked back to a goalkeeper and they handle the ball or pick the ball up.

This is still a foul inside the penalty box but is awarded an indirect free-kick which must be touched by a player before a kick at goal can be taken.

A defensive wall is typically employed to protect the goal when an indirect free kick is awarded.

The Must-Know Rules When A Penalty Kick Is Awarded In Soccer


The penalty kick is always taken from the penalty spot. It does not matter if the foul took place on the goal line or the line marking the penalty box, the kick is taken from the spot 12 yards from the center of the goal. 


The player who is the designated taker of the penalty must identify themselves to the referee.

Occasionally, this can cause anger in a team when one player decides that they will take the penalty when they are not the agreed, designated penalty taker.


Only the goalkeeper and the designated penalty kick taker are allowed in the penalty box until the ball is struck.

This is important to remember as the ball can be passed to a member of the same team who can then take a shot at the goal when they run in from outside the penalty box. 

Goalkeeper’s Position

The goalkeeper can stand anywhere on the goal line but they cannot stray in front of the line or charge the designated penalty taker.

They can also wave their hands on the goal line and run across the line but not off it. 

The Whistle

The referee’s whistle will indicate when the kick is to be taken. The designated penalty taker cannot take the penalty until the referee’s whistle has been blown.


The designated penalty taker can feint during their penalty run-up but they cannot stop once they have begun moving.

This can be confusing when a player seems to stop their run-up but as long as they keep moving, albeit slowly, this is still acceptable. 



Once the ball has been struck, the penalty kick has been taken and the remaining players can enter the penalty box.

Not only should the ball be kicked forward (even as a pass to an onrushing teammate) but it cannot be double-struck.

Occasionally, this occurs when the designated penalty taker slips and kicks the ball onto the other foot.


The designated penalty taker cannot touch the ball once the ball has been struck until another player touches it.

That means that if the ball has struck the crossbar or post, the designated penalty taker is not allowed to kick it but anyone else can. 

However, if the goalkeeper saves the shot then the ball is back in play and the designated penalty taker may then score the rebound.

The History Of The Penalty Kick In Soccer

The origin of the penalty kick in soccer dates as far back as 1882 when a law was brought in which awarded a goal to a team if they were denied scoring due to a handball.

This deliberate handball rule was the start of fouls being punished which did deter them and only lasted a single season. 

Eight years later, an Irish goalkeeper named William McCrum teamed up with the Irish Football Association to bring back the deliberate handball rule.

A meeting with IFAB (the International Football Association Board) to discuss it was deferred to the meeting due to occur the following year.

However, in the quarter-final stages of both the English and Scottish cups, blatant and deliberate handballs were committed which prevented goals from being scored.

Neither infraction was punished and the Irish FA was keen on finding a way to deter these serious infringements to goals being scored.

The First Penalty Kick

The original penalty kick rule was first introduced on 2nd June 1891. However, what we interpret as a penalty kick these days was very different back then.

For one, the penalty kick could be taken anywhere, as long as it was 12 yards away from the goal line. 

Common infringements for awarding a penalty kick include deliberate handballs, but also tripping or holding down an opposition player.

Without a penalty kick, these infringements were deemed to be committed within 12 yards from the defending team’s goal line. 

One feature was that a fouled player would appeal to the referee who would then award the penalty kick.

Every player, aside from the designated penalty kick taker and the goalkeeper, had to stand behind the ball but only six yards away.

Another difference was that the designated penalty kick taker could dribble the ball to the goal instead of simply striking it.

The goalkeeper could also stand as far away as six yards from their goal line. 

One part of the rule that has stood the test of time is that the ball was ruled in play as soon as it struck. By that point, all players could run and approach the ball and goal.

Soon enough the rule was adapted and the dribbling was taken out which meant that once the penalty kick was taken, the designated penalty kick taker was not allowed to touch the ball until it was touched by a different player. 

The ball also had to be struck forward and you no longer had to appeal to the referee for a penalty kick to be awarded, it was at the referee’s discretion to award it if they saw that an applicable foul had been committed. 

The very first penalty kick was taken at Broomfield Park in 1891 and was awarded to Airdrieonians.

In league soccer, the first penalty kick was taken on 14th September 1891 and was awarded to Wolverhampton Wanderers in a home match against Accrington at their Molineux Stadium.

It was a successful one too as Billy Heath scored and Wolverhampton Wanderers won 5-0. 

How You Should Take A Penalty Kick

There are several ways to strike a ball and, thus, several ways to take a penalty kick.

However you decide to strike the ball, the most important thing is to get it past the goalkeeper into the goal. 

That could be by accuracy, power, or sheer deception. A lot of designated penalty takers spend hours working on their technique to hit the ball exactly how they want to make it almost impossible for the goalkeeper to save. 

The likes of the English striker, Harry Kane, or the Portuguese striker, Cristiano Ronaldo, are formidable in hitting the ball hard and in one the corners. If you do opt for power, you should opt for placement too.

That means in the bottom or top corner of the goal so if it hits the side netting and the ball is hit hard it should prove very difficult for a goalkeeper to save.

If you hit the ball in the middle of the goal, you are assuming that the goalkeeper is going to dive to one corner in anticipation of you hitting the ball there.

If the goalkeeper dives out of the way, they are unable to save the ball when it is hit in the middle of the goal, unless they leave out a trailing leg.

A lot of goalkeepers will wait until the ball has been struck to treat the kick like a shot from 12 yards and depend on their quick reflexes to save it.

A goalkeeper may even decide to try to coax a player into going to a certain corner by pointing at it.

However, a designated penalty kick should know where they aim to kick the ball before they strike it and rely on their practice. 

If a designated penalty taker opts for deception then they could try to suggest they are aiming for one of the corners of the net, only to hit the ball down the middle.

One great way of deceiving a goalkeeper is to try the ‘Panenka penalty which was a technique deployed to win the very first official penalty shootout in a European Championship.

At 4-3 with Czechoslovakia beating Germany, Antonin Panenka took the final penalty, feigned shooting to a side of the goal, and, with the goalkeeper diving out of the way, simply chipped the ball into the middle of the open net.

How You May Save A Penalty Kick

How You May Save A Penalty Kick

For goalkeepers, the penalty kick is one of those rare occasions where they could become the hero for their team.

A lot of psychology can go into a penalty kick and though trying to save a penalty kick may be one of the hardest things that a goalkeeper can do, it is something they can practice for. 

Some goalkeepers will decide which way to dive before the penalty kick is taken by analyzing the opposition player’s body language and motion pattern, even their previous penalties. 

Goalkeepers can also use gamesmanship to effectively put off a designated penalty taker.

This could mean simply taking their time by cleaning their boots or asking the referee to clarify if the ball is in the right spot. 

They may even decide not to dive beforehand and use intimidation to their advantage.

Goalkeepers can also point to spots in the goal, wave their arms, and run across the line to try to put a player off. 

The Penalty Shootout

During a tense knockout match, there is always the chance that it could be decided by a penalty shootout.

The format has been used to decide soccer matches since the Fifties and variations of a modern penalty shootout were first seen in minor tournaments including the Yugoslav Cup in 1952, then the Coppa Italia from 1958 to 1959.

It took until 20th February 1970 that IFAB recommended that a penalty shootout would be taken forward as the method to decide a knockout tie if it ended as a draw. 

The first penalty shootout used to decide a professional match was held that same year when Manchester United triumphed over Hull City during the semi-final of the Watney Cup.

George Best was the first player to take a penalty kick in that shootout and it even featured a goalkeeper who took one.

Unfortunately, Hull City’s goalkeeper, Ian McKechnie hit his shot against the crossbar and Hull City lost. 

Since then, penalty shootouts have become an important facet of modern knockout soccer. Many teams will attempt to mimic the conditions of a penalty shootout during a training session.

Even going as far as picking the ball up in the middle of the pitch and then slowly walking to the penalty spot to ramp up the tension.

Players will also practice their penalties at the end of a training session to ensure that they can place the ball exactly where they want it to go. 

The Rules Of A Penalty Shootout

Certain rules must be followed for a penalty shootout. These are detailed in the Laws of the Game, specifically under Law 10 which is entitled, ‘Determining the Outcome of a Match’.

These rules state that the referee must toss a coin to decide which goal at which the penalty kicks will be taken.

A second toss of the coin will decide which team will take the first penalty kick. 

Aside from the two goalkeepers and the designated penalty taker, all other players must remain in the center circle.

For the actual penalty kick itself, the rules are followed as if it was taken during the match itself, though a player cannot score a rebound during a shootout. 

It is typically the coach’s job to pick the players who will take a penalty kick in the shootout and there will also be a designated order to follow which avoids the confusion about who is up next.

Only players that are on the pitch at the end of the match are permitted to take a penalty and both teams must have the same amount of players so one team will omit a player if the opposition only has ten men at the end of the match.  

There is an oddity that needs to be remembered for a penalty kick taken during a shootout which rarely happens.

Clarification was needed after a penalty kick was taken by France’s Bruno Bellone that hit the post and then went in off the back of the Brazilian goalkeeper, Carlos, in the 1986 World Cup.

Law 14 was clarified which meant that the ball can touch the goalkeeper or the goal frame and still be counted as a goal if the ball’s motion is from that initial kick.  

There are typically ten penalties to be taken in a penalty shootout. This can be ended prematurely if one team has scored more goals than the opposition would be able to score with their remaining kicks. 

This is known as ‘best of five kicks’ though if both teams are still level after each taking their five kicks then sudden death occurs where the shootout is ended when one team scores and the other subsequently misses. 

There are other several rare occurrences where the rules come into play. If a goalkeeper is injured during the shootout, they can be replaced by a substitute, as long as that team still has a substitution to use. 

A goalkeeper can even be sent off during the shootout, and another player must take their place.

If any other player gets injured or sent off, the opposition must reduce their number of designated players accordingly. 

Should the penalty shootout continue until every player has taken a penalty kick, including the goalkeepers, then each player can take a second penalty kick.

This does not have to be in the same order as before and sudden death still applies. 

Penalty shootouts can also be psychologically challenging as they represent the decisive action at the end of a knockout match.

The pressure tends to be on the designated penalty takers in a shootout as a miss could mean that their team is eliminated from competition.

For a goalkeeper, a penalty shootout represents a rare chance of glory as a save, or a miss from the opposition penalty taker, could see their team through and see the goalkeeper as the hero. 

World Cups, European Cups, European Championships, and domestic cup competitions have all been settled by a penalty shootout.

They represent the pinnacle of a tournament and also the trauma of getting so far, only to be denied by a few kicks of a soccer ball.

Penalty shootouts also prove to be highly entertaining and nerve-racking, especially if your team is not involved.

Finals That Have Been Decided On A Penalty Shootout

There is a certain heartache to having a final decision on a penalty shootout.

That both teams have got that far and only a few kicks of a soccer ball separate them from glory.

Until someone comes up with a different way to decide a soccer match then the penalty shootout will remain.

It has also settled some of the biggest and most important soccer matches. 

Both the World Cups in 1990 and 1994 were settled by a penalty shootout with Germany and Brazil winning respectively.

The Italian forward, Roberto Baggio, is likely still haunted by the sight of his decisive penalty kick going up and over the goal in 1994.

A penalty shootout also settled the 2006 World Cup when David Trezeguet missed for France and Italy scored all five of their penalty kicks.

The very first European Championships was also settled by a penalty shootout when Antonin Panenka dinked his penalty into the net to win it for Czechoslovakia against West Germany in 1976. 

Again in 2021, a penalty shootout was all that could separate Italy and England in the final. The penalty shootout is an agonizing way to finish a competition and it seems a likely way for England to exit the European Championships.

The country has lost via a penalty shootout in 1996 against Germany in the semi-final, against Portugal in a 2004 quarter-final, and against Italy in 2012 in another quarter-final.    

The European Cup has also been settled on a penalty shootout. The first to be decided via this method was in Rome in 1984 when Liverpool beat Roma which featured Bruce Grobbelaar’s wobbly legs. 

Two years later, Steaua Bucaresti beat Barcelona 2-0 on penalties when the Romanian goalkeeper, Helmuth Duckadam, stopped all four of the penalty kicks he faced.

The European Cup finals in 1988, 1991, 1996, 2001, and 2003 were all settled by penalty shootouts. 

English sides have fared better in the European Cup finals than their international team as Liverpool in 2005, Manchester United in 2008, and Chelsea in 2012 have all triumphed with that method.

A penalty shootout also decided the 2016 European Cup with Real Madrid beating their city neighbors, Atlético Madrid 5-3.   

Final Thoughts

The penalty kick is one of the most enduring features of a soccer game and proves highly decisive.

When awarded, the penalty kick remains one of the most dramatic aspects of a match and represents a great chance for a goalscorer but also for the goalkeeper to be the hero.

Several rules determine how a penalty kick is awarded and taken during a match and until someone comes up with a better method, the penalty shootout will remain too.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s The Difference Between A Penalty Kick And A Free Kick In Soccer?

A free kick can be the result of an infraction anywhere on the pitch whereas a penalty kick is the result of a foul committed inside a team’s penalty area. However, a penalty kick can be considered a free-kick, just a very specific one.

In soccer, the free-kick is the most commonly used method of restarting play following an infraction occurring.

A penalty kick can be interpreted as a direct free kick where the ball can directly enter the goal from being struck. 

Why Is It Called A Penalty Kick?

The penalty kick is the format that was chosen to effectively punish a team for an infringement when it was first introduced in 1891.

It is still regarded as a way to restart play in soccer where a player is permitted to take a shot at a goal with only the opposing team’s goalkeeper to face. Another name for a penalty kick is a spot-kick.