New York Red Bulls
© Garth Milan
Soccer (Football)

How soccer penalty kicks and shootouts work

What does it take for a penalty kick and shootout to happen during a match? Read more to find out as the 2022 World Cup is approaching.
By Michael Burgess II
5 min readPublished on
Late in a 1-1 contest, New York Red Bulls midfielder, Lewis Morgan is jostling for possession inside the penalty box before he gets dragged down by New England Revolution midfielder Thomas McNamara. After conferring with aides, the referee calls a penalty on the play and awards the Red Bulls a penalty kick.
Under pressure, the goalkeeper has to make a split-second decision, so he commits a half step to the right. Morgan seizes the opportunity, slots the shot into the left corner, and hits the net for a goal!
The New York Red Bulls ended up winning that game 2-1 and securing a spot in the playoffs for the 13th straight year– all because of that penalty kick.
Red Bull Salzburg vs SCR Altach, Dominik Szoboszlai

Red Bull Salzburg vs SCR Altach, Dominik Szoboszlai

© GEPA pictures / Red Bull Content Pool

Below we will explain how soccer penalty kicks and shootouts work.

How Soccer Penalty Kicks Work

Nothing can swing the momentum of a soccer game as quickly or easily as a penalty kick. In both men’s and women’s soccer, more than 70% of penalty kicks result in a goal.
Penalty kicks date back to 1890 when a goalkeeper for the Milford Football Club suggested the idea to the Irish Football Association. Before that, FIFA had tried other penalties with negative reviews, such as an indirect free kick or an automatic goal. Penalty kicks were adopted by FIFA in 1891.
By definition, a penalty kick, also known as a PK or a spot kick, is a direct free kick awarded to the charging or offensive team when the defending team commits an interfering foul in their own penalty area.
Player receives a yellow card

Player receives a yellow card

© Hugo Silva / Red Bull Content Pool

Examples of interfering fouls that would trigger a penalty kick include illegal contact, such as tripping an opponent or charging them, or a handball foul. It doesn’t matter where the ball is on the field, what matters is if the foul took place in the penalty area. In addition to the penalty kick, the foul could also result in a red or yellow card, depending on the severity of the foul.
Before the penalty kick occurs, play is paused. The kicker stands at the penalty mark, which is centered between the touchlines and 12 yards from the goal, and all the other players stand outside of the penalty arc.
When the referee blows his whistle, the single player kicks the stationary ball forward toward the goalie. While he or she can wave their arms or jump to distract the kicker, the goalie must stay in between the goalposts until the ball is kicked. While the kicker can fake from one side to another, they can only move forward. After the kick, the kicker cannot touch the ball again until another player touches it first.

Penalty Kicks vs. Shootouts

A penalty kick at the LA Qualifier for Neymar Jr's Five competition

A penalty kick at the LA Qualifier for Neymar Jr's Five competition

© Marv Watson / Red Bull Content Pool

While a penalty kick is awarded in response to a foul, a penalty shootout occurs to determine the winner of a tied match. This applies after the two periods of the match have ended, the extra time has also been played, and the match is part of a knockout round - in other words, a match that cannot end in a tie.

Soccer Penalty Shootout: How it Works

First, the referee flips a coin to decide which goal will be used. Then, there is a second coin flip to determine which team will go first.
Each team takes turns taking five penalty kick shots that have to be kicked by different players. These are direct free kicks between the kicker and goalie alone, taken from the penalty mark, in a best-of-five kicks scenario. In other words, as soon as one team has an insurmountable lead, the penalty shootout ends.
If, after five rounds, no one is in the lead, the penalty shootout goes into sudden death. Now, the first team to score unanswered wins.

Positions of a Shootout

Whether it’s a PK or a shootout, the kicker stands at the same penalty mark. But in a shootout, the other players’ positions differ, to account for both team's alternating kicks.

© GEPA pictures / Red Bull Content Pool

For starters, all the players are in the center circle of the soccer field, as opposed to outside of the penalty arc. Then, there is the positioning of the two goalies. In order to save time between the five kicks, and to avoid any distraction, the active goalie stays in between the goalposts on the goal line until the opposing team is done kicking. Meanwhile, the other team's goalie waits in the wings, positioned on the goal line just outside the penalty area. After kickers are done with their turn, they immediately return to the center with the other players.
In a big tournament, chances are a coach has already drawn up a list of who will take the kicks and in what order. But this list can change quickly if there have been injuries, suspensions, or substitutions during the game. The biggest rule for the coaches penalty shootout roster: you can only choose players who were actually on the field at the end of the game. This can include the goalkeeper.
While some say the fifth kicker should be the strongest, others argue a team should start with the strongest because the fifth kick, in a best-of-five scenario, isn’t guaranteed. Regardless of the roster, shootouts are nerve-wracking for both the fans and the players. It’s when superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored on 91% of his penalty kick attempts since 2008, really shine.


Penalty kicks are an integral, high-pressure, part of the game. Not only do they keep it fair and safe for everyone involved, but they also can reward teams with game-changing opportunities.
While reading about penalty kicks can help you understand the nuts and bolts, there is nothing like seeing players in action. Between the obsessed fans, and inspirational team talks, penalty kicks, and shootouts are just part of the show!