© 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 9 - The Ball In and Out of Play

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The ball is in play when one of the prescribed means of (re)starting play has been properly executed. these include the kick-off, throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, free kick, penalty kick and drop ball. (see the comprehensive table of restarts.) The ball is out of play "when it has wholly crossed the goal line or touch-line... [or] when the game has been stopped by the referee." This is a simple (and elegant) concept.


Unlike basketball or American football, the position of the player or the player's feet is irrelevant. Only the position of the ball matters.

The soccer field (pitch) may be imagined as a three dimensional box with invisible vertical planes rising from the outside of the two touch-lines and the outside of the two goal-lines. As long as the ball is within those invisible planes or is in contact with one of those planes, it is not out. It must entirely leave the box to be out. This is a very simple concept, but, particularly for those accustomed to basketball or American football, there are times where the ball appears to be out of play when it is not. For example, a ball rolling along outside the touch line remains in play as long as part of the ball is over the touch line. A player may run outside the touch line to play it.

It is the job of the referee (aided by the assistant referees) to determine when the ball leaves the field.

Questions on Law 9

9.01 Can a player step out of bounds and still legally play a ball on the touch line or goal line, without first coming back in bounds?

Yes. Only the position of the ball is relevant. A player may leave the field and re-enter it as long as this occurs during the normal course of play. The referee watches the position of the ball, not the player's feet.

9.02 Can a ball go out of bounds in the air and still be in bounds if it curves back in before it hits the ground, or gets deflected by a player who has not touched the ground out-of-bounds (e.g. like basketball)?

No. If the ball goes out of bounds in the air and curves back in, it was out and play should be halted, most likely by the AR, who is stationed on the touch line (or on the goal line, in the case of corner kicks) to observe exactly this type of situation.

9.03 Is a ball touching the line in or out? What if it no longer touches the line, but the edge of the ball is still vertically over the line even though the rest of it is out?

In both these cases, the ball is still in. In order to be out, the ball must completely leave the field; if part of the ball is vertically over the line, then the entire ball has not left the 3-dimensional field.

9.04 The ball appears to have gone out of bounds, but the referee hasn't blown the whistle or done anything yet. Is the ball in or out of play?

The final decision is in the hands of the referee. When in doubt, players should continue playing and listen for the referee's whistle.

9.05 Sometime after the game has started, while the ball is in play, an obvious foul occurs but the referee hasn't blown the whistle yet. Is the ball dead from the moment of the foul, or only from the moment the referee blows the whistle or otherwise clearly indicates for play to stop?

If the foul is called, the ball is dead from the time of the foul. (If the foul is not called or the referee uses the advantage clause to allow play to continue, then there is no dead ball.)

9.06 On which restarts does a player have to wait for the referee's signal to put the ball into play?

Kickoffs (at the beginning of a half or after a goal) and penalty kicks require the referee to signal before the restart. Referees almost always make this signal with their whistle. No other restarts require a referee's signal and players may immediately restart play on their own initiative. However, a referee has the discretion to delay a restart (e.g. to allow substitutions, to caution a player, to enforce the 10 yard restriction of a free kick). In those cases where the referee delays the restart, he/she will usually indicate the restart with a hand signal.

Players should be coached to quickly restart the game when it is to their advantage. A scoring opportunity may be created by an alert player who quickly puts the ball back into play with the appropriate throw-in or free kick. Some referee clinics teach referees to be alert for these possibilities and to allow them to proceed if the situation warrants. Note: when a defensive wall is being set up before a free kick, the referee may tap his whistle or point to it: in this case, players must wait for a whistle before executing the free kick.

9.07 The ball hit the frame of the goal and rebounded onto the field of play. My players didn't know what to do -- was the ball still in play?

The ball most likely did not leave the field of play. (Occasionally a ball will even roll along the crossbar of the goal and then fall back into the field.) Players should realize that the ball is not out in this situation and should be ready to play the ball.

9.08 What if the game is being played on a field that doubles as an American football field, where the goalposts for the football field also serve as the frame of the soccer goal with double horizontal crossbars, the lower one serving as the crossbar for soccer, and the upper one being the crossbar for football, and the ball strikes the upper crossbar?

A soccer goal should not have two crossbars. If it does, the coach should discuss the effect of the higher crossbar with the referee before the game. The league or field probably has some ground rules, written or unwritten, which say a ball striking the higher crossbar is out! Barring some type of ground rule, the laws of the game would suggest that as long as the ball did not completely leave the field of play, it is still in play. Similarly, any other unusual structure on the field (a tree, an overhanging branch) may lead to some type of local ground rules which should be discussed with the referee before the game begins.

9.09 What happens if the ball hits the referee, and rebounds out of play or into the goal? What if the ball inadvertently hits the assistant referee? Does it make any difference whether the assistant referee is standing on the line or just outside the line?

The referee, like the corner flag, or a rock in the field, is merely part of the field of play. If the ball strikes the referee, play should continue just as if the ball bounced off a rock. And if the ball bounces into the goal, it is a goal! (This is one reason referees try to stay out of the goal area if they can!)

Similarly, if the ball hits the assistant referee, it should still be played (as if it hit a rather unusual blade of grass!) If the ball passed completely out of the field, it is out; if it did not completely leave the field of play, it is still in. The ball's contact with the referee or assistant referee is irrelevant.

9.10 Since players may run outside the touchline to play the ball, how far from the field should players, fans and coaches be?

Players, coaches and fans should be at least a yard from the field in order to allow room for players to play the ball on the touchline and to allow assistant referees to judge whether the ball is in or out of play.

9.11 A ball is heading out of bounds. Just after it crosses the touch line, but before the ball has left the field of play it is (a) picked up by a player on the field, (b) picked up by a teammember who is not one of the players, (c) picked up by the mother of one of the players, (d) hits a lawn chair and bounces into the field, (e) hits the assistant referee and bounces into the field. Should the game be stopped? if so, what's the restart?

  1. This is "handling" by a player. It is a penal foul and the opposing team should be awarded a direct free kick from the spot where the ball was handled.
  2. This is outside interference while the ball is in play (see Law 8). Play restarts with a drop ball. The referee may caution (give a yellow card to) the team member who interfered with the ball (the caution would be for unsporting conduct).
  3. This is outside interference while the ball is in play. Play restarts with a drop ball. In most leagues the referee is not allowed to caution (give a yellow card to) a fan, but the referee will likely take steps to assure such interference does not re-occur.
  4. As for 'c.'.
  5. Since the ball did not leave the field of play then play has not stopped! Keep playing!

9.12 A player restarting the game with a throw-in throws the ball down the touchline and it lands out of play. Sometimes the referee lets the player retake the throw-in; other times he awards a throw-in to the other team. Why?

If, in the opinion of the referee, the ball entered the field (that is, at least some part of the ball crossed over the outside edge of the touch line), then the ball was properly thrown into play and then subsequently curved out of bounds. Thus the ball left the field and was last touched by the thrower and a throw-in is now awarded to the opposite team.

However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the ball did not enter the field, a throw-in did not occur. The ball is returned to the thrower so that he/she may restart the game.

9.13 The Red team is awarded a throw-in. Red player number 8 runs off the field and picks up the ball. Red player 9 runs toward Red 8 and calls, "Let me do the throw." Player 8 lobs the ball underhand to Red 9, while Red 9 is still on the field. Is this legal?

Most referees would recognize that Red 8 is not attempting a throw-in and would then wait for Red 9 to step off the field and make the throw-in. However, since Red 8 had the ball out of bounds and, by tossing it to player 9, put the ball into the field, it is possible that the referee will consider this an attempted throw-in. If the referee believes Red 8 was attempting a throw in, he might call an illegal throw-in on the Red team or, worse yet, call a foul on Red 9 for handling the ball. For this reason, Red 8 should place the ball on the ground outside the touch line and thus leave it for Red 9 and not risk an inadvertent turnover.

9.14 On a corner kick the ball strikes the near goal post and rebounds into the field of play. However, the assistant referee raises his flag and rules the ball was out of play. Why?

It is possible that the ball, when kicked from the corner flag, curved over the goal line, completely leaving the field of play, and then curved back into the field where it then hit the goal post. The ball is out of play, not because it struck the goal post, but because it completely left the field after it was kicked. (The restart should be a goal kick.)

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Law 9

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Updated February 9, 1998