Penalty Area

We’ve already talked about the six-yard box, but what are some main differences between that and the penalty box (also known as the ‘penalty area’)?

The first thing that comes to mind here would be the size of the two. The six-yard box is much smaller compared to the penalty box.

There are, of course, many rules that pertain to goalkeepers only, especially in the box, but we will try to give a more broad explanation of various aspects of the penalty box (also known as the eighteen-yard box).

soccer penalty area dimensions

The dimensions

As you already know, the penalty box is the largest box on the pitch. It is more than double the size of a six-yard box and there is, of course, a slight difference between the two when it comes to both the goalkeeper and outfield player rules.

The standard size of a penalty box is 18 yards or 16.5 meters by 43 yards (or 40 meters). There are various dimensions when it comes to the inside of the box itself – here is the diagram that will hopefully help you get an idea of its size.

Markings and different placements

Even if you’ve never watched a single soccer game in your life, you most likely already know that there are many different lines and markings all over the pitch.

One of the first things that grabs the attention of an average viewer is the aforementioned six-yard box. A six-yard box is a small area inside the penalty box just outside of the goal line. We already talked about it in this article so we won’t get into detail about why it is important.

The penalty spot is usually placed 12 yards (or 11 meters) outside of the goal line. The penalty spot is a small white dot closer to the edge of the six-yard box than to the edge of the penalty box. This spot is used for taking penalty kicks.

When it comes to the D-shaped area outside of the box, you guessed it, this one also has its role. When a player is taking a penalty kick, all the players have to be at least 10 yards away from the penalty spot. The shape of this area makes sure that all players are far away from the ball.

The rules inside the box

What differentiates the penalty box from the rest of the pitch are, of course, the rules. For example, a handball inside the box will be penalized differently if it happened outside of the box. If a handball occurs inside of it, the attacking team will get a penalty kick. This also applies to any type of foul inside the box.


If the referee calls for a penalty kick because of a handball, the defending team has several different reasons why they would complain.

Before the introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee), all the calls that a referee and their team would make were often arguable. With the new technology, the group of referees on the pitch alongside the group of referees in the VAR room can now make better calls and decide if a player actually broke a certain rule. Unfortunately, even with a huge number of cameras, match officials tend to make mistakes.

What is a “handball”?

A handball inside the penalty box is a situation in which a player touches the ball with either their hands or their arms – up to the shoulder. But it is important to note that not every contact the hand or the arm makes with the ball is a handball. 

“How so?” – you might ask. 

The answer is quite simple – it really depends on whether the player touching the ball positioned their hands “naturally”. That means sticking their arms to their torso or their back. If a hand is positioned in any way different than that, and a defending player deflects the ball with either the arm or the hand, the referee will call for a penalty kick. Next time you watch a game, keep an eye out for defending players and the way they position their arms once they are inside the box. They will usually put their arms behind their backs in preparation for either a cross or a shot from the attacking team.

Other reasons for referees calling for a penalty kick

A handball is not the only way the attacking team can get an advantage. If a foul occurs inside the box, the defending team will get penalized, and the attacking team will have a good chance to score a goal.

The main difference between a foul and a clean tackle is the contact with the ball. To keep this a bit more simple, imagine a defending player (A) tackling an attacking player (B). If player A went for the ball and touched it first, a foul didn’t occur. It doesn’t matter if player B falls down, since there was no contact and player A was obviously going for the ball and not the player. In the case of player A going for player B’s feet, the referee will call for a penalty kick, since this was not a clean tackle.

Indirect free kick

The indirect free kick rule is also mentioned in our six-yard box article. Since we had a somewhat in-depth analysis of this rule, we will try to keep it simple in this segment.

An indirect free kick is a free kick taken inside the penalty box. The indirect free kick is NOT the same as the penalty kick. The main difference here being that a penalty kick has to be taken from the penalty spot, while the indirect free kick can be taken from basically any part of the penalty area except for the six-yard box.

When a goalkeeper puts the ball on the ground and passes it to a nearby player, the goalkeeper can’t touch the ball with their hands again if that player returns the ball as a pass. If a ball has been passed via a header, the goalkeeper could easily take it into their hands. The hand touch from a bass is extremely prohibited.

If the unallowed touch occurs, the referee will call for an indirect free kick that the attacking team will take from inside the box. There are similarities with a regular free kick here since the players could create a wall and try to defend in an almost identical way as they would on any other part of the pitch.

Final thoughts

As you can see, the penalty box has a slightly different set of rules compared to the rest of the pitch. Every form of foul play inside of it will instantly result in a penalty kick, which is considered by many the worst possible punishment in the world of soccer. 

While every part of the pitch is equally essential to the game, the focus and mental strength have to be much higher when inside the box, both for the attacking and the defending team.

Defenders tend to be quite underrated and are usually in the shadow of various top-tier strikers, but the defensive skills needed to perform well inside the box are, in our opinion, on par with the skills needed to be a great finisher.

Have you noticed some different irregularities yourself? Soccer is a game that constantly evolves, and there might be some new tweaks even 6 months or a year after this article has been published.