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Goalkeeper (GK) Roles and Responsibilities

The goalkeeper role is the most unique and specialized in soccer. The goalie is the only player on the field that can use his hands to control the ball. Each team must field one and only one goalie.

The goalkeeper is the last line of defense. GKs are the only position on the field that can handle (use hands) the ball in his or her team’s penalty box. However, it’s not unusual to see them sprint off of their goal line in some situations to close down the ball in a one-on-one or to desperately try to get a late goal by joining the attack on a corner kick or set-piece.

Goalkeeper roles

In the modern game, there are two major goalkeeping roles: the traditional and the sweeper-keeper.

Traditional goalkeeper

Traditionally goalkeepers stay on their line for the majority of the game. Their main job is to protect the goal by saving shots and dominating the penalty box in the air.

46 years old

"The role of a goalkeeper is difficult to judge, above all if you haven’t been a goalkeeper. It’s like me giving an opinion on someone’s job without having had any experience in their sector. You start to realize how many stupid things are said and written about goalkeepers."


The sweeper-keeper is a goalkeeper who will play off their line when their team has the ball. This role pairs well with a team that plays a high defensive line. In this setup, the goalkeeper must close down and press any ball that breaks the defensive line.

Goalkeeping responsibilities

Aerial dominance

It is the goalkeeper’s responsibility to be dominant in the air and come out for any crosses when necessary. Timing and quick decision-making are essential to be commanding in the air, as misjudging the flight of the ball gives the opposition a shot on an empty net.

Shot stopping

The most immediate responsibility is defending the goal and preventing the ball from passing the goal line. To be a good shot-stopper, a goalie must have good positioning, reflexes, and agility, as well as the intuition to read the striker’s body language.


Distribution refers to a goalkeeper’s ability to pass the ball over to the field players to start an attack or keep possession of the ball. Goalkeepers with the ability to play the ball with their feet are becoming essential in the modern game. A goalkeeper with excellent control of the ball and a diverse passing range opens new tactical options for the team.

Defending set-pieces

The goalkeeper, depending on the situation, must save shots at goal from direct free-kicks, or penalties, and show a presence in the box to close down and catch deliveries and crosses from corners and free-kicks.

Goalies are also responsible for organizing and positioning the defensive wall while defending free-kicks. It is customary for the goalie to signal how many players are needed in this scenario while directing the positioning of the wall.

Organization and positioning

The goalkeeper organizes the entire team. The goalkeeper position is the only position on the pitch that can see the entire field at all times. As such, an effective goalkeeper is vocal with his or her instructions. Communication with the defensive line is essential for keeping a solid defense.

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