Apicomplexa is a large phylum of intracellular parasites that are notable for the diseases they cause, including toxoplasmosis, malaria and cryptosporidiosis. A conserved motile system is critical to their lifecycles as it drives directional gliding motility between cells, as well as invasion of and egress from host cells. However, our understanding of this system is limited by a lack of measurements of the forces driving parasite motion. We used a laser trap to measure the function of the motility apparatus of living Toxoplasma gondii by adhering a microsphere to the surface of an immobilized parasite. Motion of the microsphere reflected underlying forces exerted by the motile apparatus. We found that force generated at the parasite surface begins with no preferential directionality, but becomes directed toward the rear of the cell after a period of time. The transition from non-directional to directional force generation occurs on spatial intervals consistent with the lateral periodicity of structures associated with the membrane pellicle, and is influenced by the kinetics of actin filament polymerization and cytoplasmic calcium. A lysine methyltransferase regulates both the magnitude and polarization of the force. Our work provides a novel means to dissect the motile mechanisms of these pathogens.