© 1998 jointly in the following individuals: Jim Geissman, David Graham, Jim MacQueen, Connie Matthies, Jim Meinhold, Chris Mohr, Gary Rue, Ken Smith, Dave Teetz, Ron Tremper, who are together known pseudonymously as the SOCCER-COACH-L LOTG COLLECTIVE

LAW 8 - The Start and Restart of Play

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Law 8 is concerned with filling in any details about how to start or restart the game after a stoppage in play that is not defined elsewhere in the rules.

In particular:

  1. A pre-game protocol is defined for determining which end of the field each respective team will attack and which they will defend, and which team will start the game by kicking off. A coin is flipped, and the winner chooses ends for the first half while the loser kicks off.

  2. The rules for the kick-off restart are defined. A kick-off is used for starting each half of the game and for restarting the game after a goal. In a kick-off, each team must be in their respective defending half of the field and the team opposing the kick-off must also have no players closer than 10 yards from the center spot on the field where the ball is placed for kick-off (hence, the center circle). The ball is in play as soon as it is kicked and moves forward at all; even stepping on it and causing it to bobble forward slightly is enough.

  3. A residual (catch-all) restart, the drop ball, is defined to cover any situation where the game gets stopped and the rules do not specify a specific other restart (such as a free kick or throw-in). In a drop ball, the referee literally holds and then drops the ball onto the field. The ball is not in play and may not be touched by players until after it touches the ground. Then, it immediately becomes like an ordinary loose bouncing ball on the field, which both teams may contest for control (but see the discussion in the next section).

  4. For indirect free kicks awarded to attackers inside the defender's goal area, special alterations are defined for specifying where the kick is to be taken from. The proper spot for the kick is the point on the goal area line (i.e. 6 yards out and parallel to the goal line), closest to the spot where the infraction occurred within the goal area. Defenders are allowed to stand on the goal line, even though this is less than 10 yards away.

As a supplement to this FAQ, there is included a comprehensive table of the proper restarts for situations covered under every LOTG 1-17, and not just LOTG 8.

Commentary and Coaching Points

  1. Pre-game procedure for determining who gets which end and who kicks off: Before the game, a representative from each team meet together with the referee for a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss must choose which ends of the field their team will respectively attack and defend the first half. The other team automatically gets designated to kick off the ball to start the game. The team winning the coin toss cannot elect to kick off instead of choosing ends, as they could under the rules before July 1997. In the second half, the teams switch ends, and the team that won the pre-game coin toss kicks off to start the second half.

  2. Rules for kick-offs: A kick-off is simply a direct free kick (DFK, see LOTG 13) taken from the center spot on the field, with only a few special conditions attached.

    Just like any other DFK:

    The following additional conditions are attached to a kick-off:

    1. The ball must move forward from the kick and not just in any direction. This means that some contrivance between two attacking players must be used to effect a rearward pass to teammates from the kick-off, though this in practice poses no insurmountable problem. The former "ball circumference" movement distance rule is no longer in effect; simply stepping on the ball, causing it to bobble forward, is enough.
    2. All players from each team must be in their own respective half of the field.
    3. There is no option for the kicking team to elect a quick restart rather than wait for the opponents to be 10 yards away or in their own half of the field. A kick-off can only be properly taken after the referee's signal indicating s/he's ready and everyone is properly in place.

    If the above rules for a kick-off are infringed by either team:

    1. If the kicker touched the ball a second time before anyone else touched it, the opposing team gets an indirect free kick from the spot where the second touch occurred. However, note that the ball must have been validly put into play (by kicking it forward, with all players in their proper half of the field, etc) for the second touch rule to apply.
    2. For any other infringement, the ball never has been validly put into play, and the kick gets retaken. If a player persistently infringes the kick-off rules thus requiring repeated restarts, it is possible the referee may decide to caution that player with a yellow card.

  3. After a goal scores; kick-off restart: The appropriate restart after either team scores a valid goal is a kick-off by the other team, identical to the rules for kicking off at the start of a half. That is why the referee's signal for a goal is to point to the center spot, to indicate the restart. Some referees add a bit to this ceremony, borrowing a quick hands-up signal from American (gridiron) football as a clearer gesture before pointing to center circle. This possibly makes traditionalist shudder, but to some is a more satisfying gesture to others than just a wan point.

  4. Drop Ball Restarts: A drop ball is the residual (catch-all) restart for any situation where the game is stopped and the rules do not specify that a different method (such as a free kick or throw-in) should apply to put ball back into play. In some situations, the rules do specifically call for a drop ball restart, e.g. where the referee has to halt the game while the ball is in play to attend to an injury.

    The rules for a drop ball are as follows:

    1. The referee drops the ball at the place where it was when play was stopped.
    2. The ball is in play and may be touched by the players only after it hits the ground.
    3. If a player touches the ball before it hits the ground, or if the ball hits the ground and goes off the field without being touched, then the drop ball is retaken at the original spot.
    4. If play is stopped while the ball is inside the goal area of either team and a drop ball is the appropriate restart, the drop spot is relocated to a point on the goal area boundary line that is parallel to and 6 yards out from the goal line, located nearest to where play was stopped.
    5. There is NO rule specifying that there must be two, and only two players from each team facing off basketball or hockey-style to initially contest for the drop ball, although that is the way it is usually done in practice. This loophole is exploited by some referees to achieve an equitable restart in certain situations, see questions 8.5 and 8.6 below.

  5. Indirect Free Kicks awarded inside the defender's goal area:

    1. The spot for the kick is relocated to a point on the goal area boundary line that is parallel to and 6 yards out from the goal line, located nearest to where the infraction occurred.
    2. As many defenders may deploy along the goal line itself as they wish, even though this is less than 10 yards away from the spot for the kick. Except for along the goal line itself, defenders must, however, otherwise yield a 10-yard distance from the kick.
    3. IMPORTANT: The attackers ordinarily have a right to elect to take an immediate restart if it is to their advantage when the referee stops play for the IFK call, rather than wait for defenders to clear away either 10 yards or to the goal line. The defenders do NOT necessarily have a right to sufficient time to set up their defense along the goal line! So, hurry defenders!

Questions on Law 8

8.01 What are the considerations I as coach should take into account in instructing my captains which end of the field we want to defend or attack if we win the coin toss?

Conventional wisdom from experienced coaches says the following about choosing ends (with the caveat that your mileage may vary, so judge each situation for yourself):

  1. Choose the wind at your back the first half so it favors you; it may die down or change completely by second half.
  2. Anticipate the sun's movements to avoid having the sun low in the sky in your goalkeeper's face as much as possible during the game. In the afternoon, take the side facing the sun in the first half while it is relatively higher, and let your opponents face it when it is relatively lower in the second half. Do the opposite during the morning.
  3. If there's a huge puddle or muddy or soft spot in the field that is unlikely to go away, ground conditions will likely only get worse as the game proceeds. It may be better to take the risk of having the problem at your defensive end the first half, and let the other team deal with it when it's likely worse in the second half. On the other hand, if it's likely to improve (e.g. a warm, dry sun just came out), you may want to do the opposite.

8.02 I am a relatively new coach. What exactly goes on at the coin toss meeting so I don't have to guess or bluff my way through telling them if my players ask me what to do?

The exact procedure for the coin toss meeting varies from place to place and referee to referee, but in outline, it is usually something like this. When both sets of captains and the referee are assembled near the center of the field, if either team sent more than one "captain", the referee will ask which one is the "speaking captain", i.e. is authorized to make binding decisions at the meeting. The referee notes the numbers (and possibly, names) of the respective captains for the game record, and then chooses one team's speaking captain (it really doesn't matter which) to call the coin toss. The selection may be arbitrary, or there may be a local convention such as "home" tosses and "away" calls. The referee may possibly, though not necessarily, instruct the players beforehand what the options are for the winner of the coin toss (choice of ends only) and the result for the loser (kick-off). You should make sure they understand this beforehand to avoid possible embarrassment of trying to elect kick-off if they win the toss (you should prefer to choose ends anyway). After the toss, the referee asks the speaking captain that won the toss which end they want to attack and defend, and then makes sure everyone present is straight about which end they will attack and defend respectively to start the game. They then instruct the team that lost the coin toss that they will kick off, and the meeting is over. Some referees will also try to give any special instructions about the way the game will be officiated to the captains, for them to pass along to their coach and teammates. While this is far better done other ways, this is how some referees do it, so ask your players about this when they return.

8.03 Should I send just one player as captain, or if I send several, must I pick one to be the real authorized decision-maker? Does the captain have any function beyond this?

The rules don't really specify how many captains a team may send to the coin toss, but your local league rules may. In any case it's bad form to send a crowd; limit it preferably to just 2. You should always designate beforehand who the speaking captain is and make sure they understand which ends to choose if they win the coin toss, rather than leave this open for possible disagreement. The main function of a captain, other than the coin toss, is to be the authorized intermediary to ask questions of the referee during the game. However, this status gives them no special rights to dissent or have the game stopped for a clarification. Captain status is not that practically important (except for honorary purposes) anymore once the game gets underway, except occasionally, a referee or coach will attempt to use this person as a diplomatic intermediary when it seems better to not speak to the other directly.

8.04 A ball went out over the touch line, and both the referee and the linesman were unfortunately blocked off from view of the critical play, and couldn't see who the ball last touched before it went out. Therefore, the referee decided to restart with a drop ball as the fairest way to restart the game, rather than arbitrarily award the throw-in. Was this a correct procedure?

Emphatically, NO! If a situation is of a type for which the rules specifically provide a restart other than a drop ball, the referee is not authorized to instead call for a drop ball restart merely because s/he has factual uncertainty or incomplete evidence on which to base a decision. The situation of a ball going out off a player over the touch line is comprehensively covered by LOTG 15, which specifies that a throw-in is the proper restart for such situations without making any exceptions. The proper response would be to make their best guess based on whatever they do know, perhaps using some rule-of-thumb (awarding doubtful cases to the team who is at their defensive end of the field is one commonly used R.O.T.). Understand, however, that this situation is very different from when the referee refrains from calling that the ball went momentarily out over the touch line while the referee and the linesman temporarily had their view blocked, or from refraining from calling offenses they did not actually see. The proper analogy is between the ball having definitely gone out and the referee having definitely stopped the game to call an offense, and not to a decision whether either these things occurred. Thus, the referee has no choice but to designate the proper restart, and if it's not a drop ball, then also who to award the ball to. That said, USA high-school rules specifically permit a drop ball, 5 yards from the touch line, if the referee can't determine which team should be awarded a throw-in.


8.05 The referee stopped play immediately after my goalkeeper made a great save near the goal line, because they were obviously injured on the play, although they were able to hold onto the ball. What is the proper restart once the goalkeeper recovers or is replaced?

The proper restart is a drop ball from where play was stopped, moved to the 6-yard line if this was inside the goal area. This can seem to be an unfair result, but unless the attacking players truly committed some sort of offense, it would be equally unfair to try to solve the situation at their expense. There are two possible solutions referees attempt in such cases:

  1. If the goalkeeper appears momentarily able, the referee may direct them to kick or throw the ball as far away from the goal as possible and then call for a stoppage immediately as the ball comes down, before it can be further played (thus moving the restart location). But this may not be reasonable or possible, depending on the goalkeeper's condition.
  2. The referee will use a drop ball, but will make absolutely sure the goalkeeper wins the drop by bouncing it straight to them, having first instructed all other players in no uncertain terms that the goalkeeper will win this ball. The unspoken threat is a yellow card for unsporting conduct. This actually is not bending the drop ball rule, because it contains NO provision for the number of players that must participate, or that each team must have equal opportunity to participate, though fairness demands the referee allow this in most circumstances. The choice to use this approach is completely a matter of the referee's discretion (and creativity). Note, however, that in USA high school rules, the restart would be an IFK to your team if the keeper had clear possession when play was stopped.

8.06 A defender is injured near the goal in the process of successfully playing the ball to a teammate, also located near the goal, but who would, if play were allowed to continue, have an uncontested opportunity to soon clear the ball away from the goal. However, the referee decides to stop the game immediately due to immediate risk to the injured player if the game was to continue any longer. (Perhaps there is active play around the helpless and possibly badly injured player.) Must the referee restart with a drop ball where it was near the goal where it was when play was stopped?

Good referees will try to avoid this situation by letting play continue until the ball is cleared, and then call a stoppage for the injury. However, sometimes this is inconsistent with good judgment of risk to the injured player, and the referee cannot in good conscience wait to stop play. Yet, they may feel that the attackers would get an undeserved break under the particular circumstances by a drop ball near the goal. The solution some referees may use is identical to the second one posed in question 8.02 above, a drop ball straight to the goalkeeper. Recognize that the equitable resolution the majority of times may indeed be a drop ball in front of the goal, because the referee does not regard the advantage to the attackers to be unfair in the particular circumstances. The referee's judgment of whether to creatively give the defenders a break is entirely a matter for the referee's discretion.

8.07 My older child sometimes used to play goalkeeper back in 1995, before I started coaching. Her coach instructed her that when the other team was kicking off and the kick-off was strong enough to make it to the goal line well before the other team could possibly arrive, then as long as it did not touch any of her teammates or bounce off the goalposts, she should let it go by without touching it (even if it appeared headed into the goal). Was this sound advice?

No, this is not sound advice at all anymore, because a kick-off is now (since July 1997 rules changes) a direct free kick from which a goal may be scored immediately from the kick-off itself. Before July 1997, a kick-off was an indirect free kick, and this might have been better advice (because her team would get a goal kick if the ball went in the goal, and the goal would not have counted). But now, the goal would instead count!

8.08 The rules require the ball to move "forward" on a kick-off, and the player taking the kick-off cannot touch it again before someone else does. So, how can we legally and effectively start by passing the ball backward to one of our players 10 or 15 yards to the rear of the center line, while allowing the defenders the least amount of time to react?

To start, you must have two players next to each other adjacent to the ball. The player designated to take the kick-off starts slightly behind and to one side of the ball. There are three key movements: First, the player quickly steps on top of the ball with their forward foot just enough so that it bobbles ever so slightly forward, putting it in play. Second, the player who kicked off continues forward and to the side to immediately clear out of the way of the second player. Finally, the second player quickly steps over to the ball and quickly either turns to make an inside the foot pass, or perhaps instead uses a back-of-the heel pass, to send the ball rearward to a third target player. The idea is for the players kicking off, plus perhaps the wing forwards or midfielders to then run forward toward the attacking half, and for the designated rearward player who received the ball to look to play a ball forward to one of these players, if they can get open. If not, they can at least to hang onto possession of the ball while seeking for a better way to move it up field. The advantage of this play is that in exchange for sending the ball initially in a negative direction, this buys time before defensive pressure can arrive, while at the same time threatening immediate attacking pressure from the possibility of a pass forward to any of the forward-positioned attackers left uncovered. It should be noted that referees tend to not be very fussy about the "forward" part, except to not allow the ball to be passed backward directly by the player taking the kick-off. For those of you having first or prior exposure to indoor soccer, it is important to realize that the rule there is different (direct pass-back from kick-off is legal), and not get indoor and outdoor practices or rules confused.

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Updated February 26, 1998