Penalty Kick – Defending Team



When a penalty kick is awarded during the normal run of play in soccer, the defending team doesn’t just stand around to see whether or not their goalkeeper blocks the kick!

When a penalty kick has been awarded during the normal course of play, it is a RE-START.  This means that at the moment the ball is kicked, it is LIVE and IN PLAY.  If the ball has been blocked or saved by the goalkeeper, or if it has rebounded back into the field off the goal, full action immediately resumes.

If the ball has not gone into the goal or out of bounds, all defending players must have been properly pre-positioned and then react to the ball being in play, usually by moving toward the goal, in order to obtain any rebound and to clear the ball out.

To start, everyone must review and understand the details contained in Law 14 of the Laws of the Game, “The Penalty Kick.” The most important portion of Law 14 for the defending team is:

All players, other than the kicker and the goalkeeper, must be –

    • At least 10-yards from the Penalty Mark (This is the purpose of the partial circle at the top of the Penalty Area known as the Penalty Arc, the “bubble,” or the “D.”  See Law 1, “The Field of Play,” for identification of the Penalty Arc.);
    • Behind the Penalty Mark;
    • Inside the field of play; and,
    • Outside of the Penalty Area.

There is a fairly standard position chart for defenders that addresses these requirements:

Sample defending team penalty kick formation.

Sample Defending Team Penalty Kick Formation

The coach may designate which field players take the positions outside the Area and the Arc, but it doesn’t matter as long as the players fill the positions and understand their duties.

Defending players must get into position immediately in order to try to box out the attackers, who will also be trying to get to any rebound after the ball is kicked.  If a defensive player gets to a spot first and then is jostled by an opponent, they are to hold their ground.  If they get there after an attacker, they should stand beside them and not try to jostle them out of position.

Only after all the players are in place in accordance with the Law, and all of the other conditions for a penalty kick have been met, will the referee whistle for the kick to be taken.

Players must remember that it is NOT the whistle, or any motion made by the referee that indicates that the kicker may proceed with the kick, that permits players to move into the Penalty Area or the Penalty Arc.  These players must wait until after the ball has been touched by the penalty kick taker and it clearly moves forward.

Coaches must instruct their players that all within-game penalty kicks must be followed-up.  Every defending player must be prepared for when a penalty kick is saved, blocked, or rebounds into the field, and to respond accordingly.

Further, defenders must remember that the penalty kick taker cannot touch the ball again until it has been touched by another player.  This most often means a block by the goalkeeper.  It is not a rebound off the goalpost or the crossbar.  If the kick is blocked by the goalkeeper, the kicker may follow-up immediately.  If the goalkeeper blocks the ball – but does not capture it – or if a rebound off the goal occurs, defenders must get to the ball first before the attackers.  The attackers will be sprinting in to try to score.

This was demonstrated dramatically during the USA vs. Vietnam group-stage game in the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup.  After a particularly poor penalty kick by Alex Morgan, the ball was blocked by the goalkeeper and Morgan had an excellent opportunity to follow-up her shot and put the ball into the back of the net.  Instead, she briefly froze and didn’t go to the ball until it was too late.  By the time an attacking teammate arrived, so had a defender and the ball was blocked and then cleared.  The USA lost a significant goal-scoring opportunity and the Vietnam defense had done their job properly.

Defenders must go for the ball as second nature.  They have to be careful to read and react properly so that they don’t over-run the ball.  They also have to be particularly careful to understand that they are almost always going to be running at their own goal as part of the process.  As such, it is critical that any defender, upon getting to the ball, either gets turned away from the goal or blocks the ball first, or both, in order to get the ball out of danger.

Finally, if the ball is secured by the goalkeeper or cleared out, all members of the defending team must go directly into attacking mode.  This is particularly important to take advantage of the kicking team having moved up and to create a fast break or quick counter, if possible.  Coaches must set up target players for an outlet pass accordingly.

As a reminder, the following sanctions apply for players who do not follow the penalty kick procedures –

If a defender enters the Area or the Arc early:

    • if the ball enters the goal, it is a score
    • if the ball does not enter the goal, the kick is retaken.


Defenders must also be made aware of the following:

There is an aspect of Law 14 that creates a situation for a very unique type of penalty kick “play.”  This is often referred to as a “tap” penalty kick or a “two-man” penalty kick.  Because a penalty kick is a re-start and the Law states that the ball must simply move forward to be in play, the initial kicker may just tap the ball and an onrushing teammate then shoots.

This is a very rare kick.  It assumes that the goalkeeper expects a traditional shot, and will move to one side, and that the kicker’s teammate is not adequately defended.  It may also be rare because, whether it is successful or not, one team will be embarrassed.   Another rarity is that, if the onrushing teammate scores, the original kicker gets an “assist” on a penalty kick.


Be prepared!  Although penalty kicks are relatively rare, they are game deciders.  Coaches should:

  1. Establish defensive locations by appointing specific field players by name and/or appointing locations based on player positions.
  2. Defenders only out in the field. Call for a penalty kick. Ensure that defenders sprint into their locations immediately (in order to beat attackers to the same spots).
  3. Return defenders to the field. Add attackers out in the field.  Attackers must have already been coached regarding their responsibilities.  See “Penalty Kick – Attacking Team.”   Call for a penalty kick.  Ensure that defenders try to beat attackers to the best spots.
  4. Teach defenders that they must not jostle for position if an attacker beats them to their location. If a defender is beaten to a spot, they are to take up a position next to the attacker, not behind them.  (At the intersections of the outside Penalty Area lines with the imaginary line through the ball, defenders must further be aware not to have their feet over either line.)
  5. From a live scrimmage, call for a penalty kick. Observe and correct positioning by the defenders.
  6. From a live scrimmage, call for a live penalty kick. Take the kick.  Defenders around the perimeter are to sprint into the Area, while blocking out attackers, to collect any rebound. Observe and correct defenders and attackers.
  7. Instruct the penalty kick taker to strike the ball in such a way that the goalkeeper can block or secure the ball. Instruct the goalkeeper to block the ball into the Penalty Area or to secure the ball.  If the goalkeeper blocks the ball, defenders are to win it and clear it (if possible, to the outlet player).  If the goalkeeper secures the ball, the goalkeeper is to throw it to the outlet player.  (This instruction to the goalkeeper and the penalty kick taker can be done surreptitiously.)  From a live scrimmage, call for a live penalty kick.  Take the kick.  Attackers try to score.
  8. Work all of the options. This includes rebounds off the crossbar or uprights back into the field of play.  For “fun,” have penalty kick takers try to actually strike the ball to create the rebound.  Since this is extremely difficult, an announcement that the ball is a rebound, followed by an appropriate service from the coach, will be required.
  9. Only if there is time, set up the attackers for a “tap” penalty kick and ensure that it is properly defended.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • This article addresses penalty kicks taken during the course of a match. This article does not address a “penalty kick shoot-out,” used to determine the outcome of a tied match.  Kicks taken during a shoot-out are not live after a kick has been taken.  These are governed by slightly different rules, most notably that once the ball has been kicked there is no follow-up allowed.  See Law 10, “Determining the Outcome of a Match.”
  • Defenders must not be fooled by a penalty-kick taker using a “stutter-step,” “skipping,” or a “paradinha,” and enter the Area or the Arc too soon.
  • Additional time may be allowed for a penalty kick to be taken and completed at the end of a half or extra time. When this happens, players other than the kicker and the goalkeeper are not involved.
  • See “Penalty Kick Taker” for the techniques to be used by the players who actually take penalty kicks.

© Copyright, John C. Harves