© 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 11 - Offside

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The offside rule generally provides that a pass cannot legally be made to an off-ball attacker who is ahead of the ball and in the attacking half unless there are at least two defenders (one of whom may be the goalkeeper) between him and the goal when the ball is passed to him by a teammate.

Specifically, under the offside rule, an off-ball attacker who is in his opponent's half of the field must stay even with or behind the ball or, if he goes ahead of the ball, he must stay even with or behind the second-to-last-defender (2LD) until the ball is played or touched by one of his teammates. Normally, the 2LD is the last field player. However, the 2LD term is used instead of "last field player" to provide for situations where the keeper comes out of the box and the last two defenders may be field players, or the keeper may become the 2LD.

If the off-ball attacker is ahead of the ball and closer to the opponent's goal than the 2LD, then he will be called for an offside infraction IF the referee decides that he interfered with play, or interfered with an opponent, or gained an advantage from being in an offside position. It is not necessary that the player in an offside position (OSP) actually participate in play to be called for offside (technically, if an attacker is lying unconscious in front of the goal, and the keeper cannot get to the ball because of him, he will be called for an offside infraction even though he never participated in play at all). However, an infraction will not normally be called if a player in an OSP is passively standing on one side of the field while a teammate dribbles the ball up the opposite side and scores.

If an offside infraction is called, the opponent is awarded an IFK.


The basics of the offside rule are pretty easy. The attacker has to be in an offside position (OSP) and interfere with play, or an opponent, or gain an advantage from being in that position. While some occasional differences in opinion do occur from referee to referee on what "interfering" means, and on what "gaining an advantage" means, this is a normal by-product of making split-second decisions, and coaches should expect that variations will occur. Some of the common times when these difference arise will be discussed later.

A. What is an offside position?

Five things must occur before an attacker can be in an OSP:

  1. He must be across the halfway line, in his opponents' half of the field (i.e., in the half of the field with the goal which his team is attacking).

  2. He is closer to his opponents' goal line than the second-last defender (note: if he is even with the second-last defender, he is onside).

  3. He is ahead of the ball.

  4. He is not receiving the ball directly from a goal kick, a corner kick or a throw-in.

  5. His team has possession of the ball, so that the ball is being played or touched by one of his teammates.

B. When is OSP determined?

Offside position is determined at the moment that the ball was last played by one of the other attackers. It is not determined at the time that the ball is received. It often happens in a game that a speedy attacker will be well ahead of the 2LD by the time that the ball comes down. However, as long as he was even with the 2LD or behind him (i.e., closer to his own goal than the 2LD), then he was not in an OSP and he should not be called for an offside infraction.

Even if a player is standing in an OSP, this does not automatically mean that offside will be called. An offside infraction occurs only if the attacking team gained an advantage from the fact that he was in an OSP, or where the OSP player interfered with play or an opponent.

C. Once the player is in an OSP, what makes this an infraction?

The player should only be called for an offside infraction if he interferes with play, or interferes with an opponent, or gains an advantage for his team by being in that position.

  1. What is "interfering with play"?
    "Interfering with play" typically means playing or attempting to play the ball. The most common offside infraction is the situation where the ball is served to the off-ball attacker who is in an OSP, and this player immediately collects the ball and goes towards goal. To avoid delay, however, the foul is usually called as soon as the player in an OSP makes a step towards the ball, rather than waiting for him to play it. Some referees don't even wait for the step, and call the foul immediately (even though the player technically may still be just in an OSP). While this may not be in full accord with the Laws, the referee has such broad authority to determine offside that there is no point in arguing. It is much smarter and more productive to instruct the players to watch how the referee interprets the rule, and to be sure to always stay onside if you get a strict constructionist.
  2. What is "interfering with an opponent"?
    "Interfering with an opponent" typically means getting in the way of an opponent, or otherwise distracting him so that he is less able to play the ball. A common example would be where an attacker in an OSP steps in the way of a defender, and interferes with the defender's path towards the on-ball attacker. Another common example would be where an attacker in an OSP near the far post shouts loudly for the ball, distracting the keeper.
  3. What is "gaining an advantage"?
    This is the term which allows the referee to call an offside infraction when, for instance, an unconscious attacker in the box still gains an advantage for his team by getting in the way of the keeper. Arguably, he is also interfering with an opponent. However, this broader language makes it clear that he doesn't actually have to be moving, or involved in the play, to be called for an offside infraction.

D. How can I tell that an offside infraction has been called?

Offside is signaled by the Assistant Referee (AR), if ARs are being used, by snapping the flag so that it is held straight up. When the Center Referee (CR) looks over, the AR then shows where the ball needs to be placed (pointing the flag high means far side; straight out means middle of field; low means near side).

E. What is the penalty for offside?

The Laws specify an indirect free kick IFK, to be taken from the place where the player in an OSP was standing at the time when the ball was last touched by another attacker (assuming that he immediately interfered with play or an opponent). However, because it can take a few seconds for the AR to decide that an offside infraction has occurred, and another few seconds for the CR to notice the offside flag, the OSP player often will have moved a considerable distance by the time that the whistle is blown. As a result, the IFK may be ordered to be taken some distance away from the spot where he ended up when the whistle was blown.

Questions on Law 11

11.01 Can the offside rule be used as a tactical weapon?

Absolutely. By taking advantage of Law 11, defenders can pull the off-ball attackers up and away from their own goal, since the attackers have to stay even with the defenders to avoid being called for an offside offense. However, by pushing up, the defenders run the risk that a speedy attacker will be able to outrun them if a ball is played into the spaces behind the defenders for the off-ball attacker to run onto. Coaches constantly strive to strike a balance between pushing up too far, and not pushing up far enough, and the offside rule is an important part of their decision-making process.

11.02 I have heard of an offside trap. What is this tactic?

The offside trap is a tactic in which the defenders wait until the last possible moment, then take a large step upfield in order to throw their opponents into an OSP. It must be carefully timed, so that the step forward is made before the ball is played. It also relies heavily upon having an alert AR who will be looking at the 2LD, and not looking upfield, when the ball is played. Especially at the younger age levels where less- experienced ARs are likely to be found, this tactic is unlikely to work well. In addition, younger players rarely have the observation skills to be able to time the move properly.

11.03 Can you suggest some tactical considerations for an attacking team to use in coping with an offside trap by the defenders?

The key to beating an offside trap is for attackers to either patiently wait for the precise moment the ball is kicked before they begin their run into the area behind the defenders, or to time their runs carefully so they don't pass the defenders until immediately after the ball is kicked. Diagonal runs instead of straight, upfield runs work much better for purposes of flexibly adjusting to the uncertain timing of the kick, since the angle of the run can be easily altered to delay getting past the 2LD. There is also a tactic which upper-level teams employ which actually turns the offside trap against overly-smug defenders. These teams have a decoy attacker who deliberately steps offside or runs into an offside position before the ball is played. In the meantime, the ball is actually played to another attacker who is making a run down the opposite side of the field. Seeing the attacker in an offside position, defenders often will hesitate (expecting an offside flag). Instead, the decoy goes passive while the opposing attacker takes the ball in. Obviously for this to work, the ploy must be timed perfectly - and the attackers must have referees (and especially an AR) who will not raise an offside flag unless the decoy actually appears to be trying to get involved in the play, since the ploy won't work if the AR tends to flag anyone who steps into an offside position.

11.04 The AR signaled offside, so our players stopped playing and the other team scored. The CR let the goal stand, which seems unfair. Can he do this?

It is very important to train your players to "Play the whistle and not the flag" - ie., ignore the offside flag and keep playing until the CR agrees and accepts the call. Inexperienced ARs may raise flags for someone who is just in an OSP (just being in an OSP is often called "passive offside", meaning that the attacker did not interfere with play or gain advantage from his position - for example, he was on the other side of the field when another attacker dribbled the ball in and scored, so he never participated in the play). As a result, the CR often will overrule such calls. Your players will gain a huge advantage if they know to keep playing until the whistle blows. It is better to assume that the flag was raised in error, and keep playing, than to assume that CR will accept the call. This is true at all ages, but especially true at younger age levels where the ARs are likely to be less experienced and more likely to be overruled.

11.05 Our club starts using the offside rule at U9 and above. This rule seems way too complicated for kids who are just 8 years old. What should I tell them to make it simple?

SOS (simple offside) requires that you be able to:

  1. Identify the ball. If you're behind it, you can't be offside.
  2. Know one half of the field from another. If you're in your own half, you can't be offside, and
  3. Be able to count to two. If you can count two defenders between you and the goal, you can't be offside.

11.06 Is there anything else which can help get offside across with younger players?

It generally helps young players to go out on the field and physically show them when an attacker is offside, by moving an attacker around a defender so that he is ahead of him, behind him or even with him. You also will want to explain to your defenders that they don't want to let any attackers get behind them if they push up over the midline, because the attackers don't have to worry about offside in their half where their goalie is. Then, show them that once the other team steps over the "magic boundary" (the midline) into their half, your defenders have the power to decide how close to let the opponent get to their goal by pushing up to the boundary line. Younger children get the idea more quickly about where they should be for attacks than on where they should be for defense, as it worries them to leave an attacker in an OSP. Relax. Almost all of them will know enough to apply the rule by U10 or U11.

Realize that younger players usually do not have the mental ability to extrapolate, or to convert mirror images. So, if you show them something which happens on one side of the field, they will not make the mental leap to correlate this to the same thing happening on the other side. In fact, it is not uncommon that the players on one side will tune the coach out if she is showing something on the other side of the field, as they will assume that this explanation is just for the people on the other side of the field.

11.07 The AR in our last U10 game kept on missing offside calls, and we lost by a big margin. This really made all of us angry, and it didn't get any better when we yelled at this stupid AR. Why don't the clubs get better referees?

New referees typically start as ARs, and that they often will miss offside calls while they are learning. This cannot be helped, as they have to work in game situations to become competent, and they usually get assigned to the recreational games at the younger levels (U12 and below) to learn. It takes most beginning referees about 20-30 games to get proficient at calling offside. While this can be very frustrating, it does no good to yell at these new refs. Not only is this against club rules, but you are increasing the chance that they will quit just when they had started to get more proficient, which means that your team likely will get somebody even worse and less experienced the next time. Besides, remember that teams switch places at the half. This rule was designed so that, if an AR was horrid, both teams got an equal shot at having bad calls. By yelling, you actually may have caused the CR to hang back a bit when your opponent got this new AR in the second half, so that your yelling actually may have insured that your opponent didn't get the same bad calls which your team did!

11.08 Okay, if yelling doesn't work, what should our team do if we get an inexperienced AR who always makes bogus offside calls by calling offside when our guys were in an OSP or even onside?

If the AR "over-calls" offside, so that players who are just in an OSP still get called for the infraction, your attackers will need to play back a bit more to insure that they don't get caught in an OSP. It can be helpful to ask them to just put a hand out to keep track of where their defender is. More experienced attackers actually can watch their man, and just listen for the ball (this is also what experienced ARs do), but it takes a bit of time to develop this knack. If you have a real speedster on the wings who usually gets the jump on his defender, you also may want to have him count to 1 or 2 before taking off, to give the AR time to see that he was onside. New ARs will watch the play, then turn their heads to recheck on players who are in an OSP, and often will call offside if the attacker is ahead of the defender at the time that they turn back to check. If the players are right next to the AR, this really makes for a tough angle for the AR to watch the game and these two players, so another adjustment is to put your attacker farther over into the middle of the field, which may make the job easier for the new AR.

11.09 What if we get a poor AR who doesn't call offside, even when the opponent is 10 feet or more ahead of our last defender - or a CR who has no ARs and is working the game alone?

The answer is so obvious that it is amazing how many folks refuse to see it - and then blame the referees for their coach's failure to adjust to this common situation. When you have a poor AR, or no AR, it is lunacy to try to use offside as a defensive weapon. You simply have to mark every attacker, even if this means letting them within inches of your own goal. This is far more effective than complaining - since you will have the benefit of this same situation on your own end in the second half and your team may want to take full advantage of the sloppy calls (or, if you are more sporting, at least push the envelope a bit). Sometimes, of course, you will not get this poor AR until the second half, so a smart coach will watch how both ARs are calling the match, and make any needed adjustments at half-time.

11.10 In our last game, we had a player who was standing in an offside position at the far post. Another one of our players shot the ball; it bounced off of one of the defenders; and this player shot the ball into the net. The goal was disallowed. Was this the right call?

It sure was. Your player was in an OSP and gained an advantage, right? After all, he scored a goal. The ball is considered to be last played by one of his teammates, because the defender is not considered to have played the ball when it merely ricocheted off of him to your player.

11.11 What happens if the ball ricochets off an attacker in an offside position into the net? Is he considered to have played the ball?

It is not necessary to be playing the ball to be called for an offside infraction. Remember, he could be lying unconscious and still get called for the infraction if his team gained an advantage from his position. Since your team gained an advantage, and the ball was last played by one of your teammates, and your attacker was in an OSP, your team should be called for offside.

11.12 We had a situation recently where an opponent was in an OSP, realized this after the ball was played, and got back onside by the time that the ball reached him. The AR raised his flag, but our team got the ball back immediately and cleared it. The CR waved down the flag. Was this the correct call?

The player technically committed an offside infraction (he was in an OSP, and arguably interfered with play when he managed to play the ball briefly). However, the CR always has the option to "play the advantage", which means that the CR can decide to ignore a foul if a whistle would just disrupt the game and awarding a free kick would give no advantage (or would actually be a disadvantage) to the team which otherwise would get the call. In other words, he can use common-sense in applying the rules. In this situation, many CRs would wave down the flag - but many others would blow the whistle. This is a recognized gray area of the Rules, so don't be surprised if you get different calls from both ARs and CRs in an identical situation. In fact, some experienced ARs will not raise the flag if no real advantage was gained from the offside infraction, in order to avoid gripes when the flag should obviously be waved off.

11.13 In a recent game, an opponent was in an OSP, but his teammate kicked the ball too hard, and our keeper caught it easily. The player in the offside position did move towards the ball, but never really got near it. No flag went up, and some people on our side grumbled that we would have had better field position if the ball had come back upfield, rather than requiring our keeper to punt it. Was the AR right not to raise the flag?

This is another recognized gray are Some referees will argue that an attacker cannot have interfered with play (and surely got no advantage) when he was miles away from the ball when it was controlled by a defender. These referees will not make the call if a CR or raise the flag if an AR, preferring to let play continue uninterrupted unless a clear advantage materialized. Other referees will argue just as strongly that situations come up where the keeper feels rushed by the incoming attacker (even if he really did have ample time), and it is wrong to reward the attacker in an OSP if the harried keeper misclears the ball. These referees will always call offside in this situation, just to be on the safe side (and also to penalize the attacking player to teach him to be more observant of his positioning). Because the laws give broad discretion to the referee, the coach will simply have to adjust to the style of different referees, and expect differing calls in these types of situations.

11.14 I'm confused. In one game recently, there was a player who was in an OSP at the far post near the goal area, and another teammate shot the ball, which our keeper saved. There was no offside call. In this identical situation in a different game, offside was called when the player moved towards the ball, even though the keeper saved it. Which call is correct?

Strange as it may seem, both calls may have been correct! This is true because the referees have to make a split-second decision about whether attacking team gained an advantage by the acts of the attacker in an OSP. The laws give the referees wide latitude to make this decision, so different referees may have different opinions (even in the same fact setting) about whether an advantage was gained in this situation. For example, if the player in an OSP did something (called for the ball, perhaps) which distracted the keeper, this would be enough for many referees. Others look for a concrete advantage to the attacking team, and will want for the player to actually play the ball or get in the way of an opponent, before they will make the call. While this can be frustrating at first, more experienced coaches learn to "read the referee" and will adjust their game to the calls being made. In general, the safest course is to train your players (and especially your keeper) to assume that all attackers are onside until they hear the whistle.

11.15 Once a player is in an OSP, how does he clear this status and get to be considered onside again?

This is a very tricky area of the rule, and an area where you will get lots of variation among referees. As you will recall, the off-ball attacker must be in an OSP at the moment that the ball is played by a teammate, and commits an offside infraction if he interferes with play, etc. Technically, if the player in an OSP was deemed passive at the instant that the ball was played to his teammate, he should no longer be considered to be in an offside position once his own movement, or that of other players or the ball, has put him back onside. As a practical matter, however, most referees will flag offside if the offside player quickly returns to play without a few seconds of obvious passivity (since the player in an OSP was ahead of everyone else, he usually will have gotten enough of a headstart that he will be considered to have gained an advantage by being in an OSP if he rejoins play before enough time has elapsed for that advantage to have been cancelled out). Expect differences between referees on when the offside status will be treated as having been cleared. The safest course is to tell your players that, if they realize that they are in an OSP, they should start heading back towards an onside position (or, if they will get in the way of play, start towards the touch line). This will signal to the AR that they have taken themselves out of play, so the AR is more likely to "reactivate" them as soon as they get back onside (since the AR usually will stop paying close attention to them once they have clearly taken themselves out of the play).

11.16 Is it ever possible for an on-ball attacker to get in a position where he could be called for offside?

No. An on-ball attacker technically could get into OSP (for example, after taking the ball to the endline and cutting back sharply, he could be closer to the endline than both the ball and all of his opponents). However, he cannot be called for offside, because the rule requires that he is OSP when the ball is played to him by a teammate. So, if he was onside when he got the ball, he should be safe from any offside call as long as he retains possession. Of course, once he passes the ball to someone else (or the ball is stolen by a defender), he becomes just another off-ball attacker.

11.17 We have a very speedy forward, who likes to station himself right at the midline and then run onto long balls served over the top. Recently, he was standing with one foot on the line and the other in our defending half, but was bent over in a typical runners stance (so part of his body was over the line). When he took off, the AR immediately raised the offside flag - and stated that he was offsides because a part of his toe and part of his body were in the attacking half. He has never gotten any flag for this before. Was this the right call?

The lines are considered to be a part of the area which they enclose, but the midfield line encloses both halves. Therefore, a person who is standing right on the line technically could be considered to be in his own half - or in the opposing half. As a result, you are going to find occasional differences between referees on these types of calls. While the majority probably will not call an offside infraction where a player has both feet on or behind the line (after all, it is still about 50-60 yards to the goal, so an inch or so likely won't matter), you will find some who will consider a player to be "in the attacking half" if any part of his body touches or encroaches over the midline. When this happens, you simply will have to tell your player to back up about 5-6 inches - as arguing will not get you anywhere.

11.18 In a recent game, one of the opposing team's attackers was clearly offside, but was trying to get back onside when the ball was played in his direction. By the time that the ball reached him, several defenders were between him and the goal. The AR still called offside, even though it didn't look like our player had gained any advantage from being offside. Besides, it sure looked like the other defenders had made our attacker onside again when they got nearer to the goal than our attacker was. Why can't our club get better ARs?

Actually, it sounds like you have some pretty good ones already. This was clearly the correct call (and one often missed by beginners, so this AR likely had some solid experience). This player was clearly in an OSP, right? At the time that the ball was played to him by a teammate, he was ahead of the ball and apparently ahead of all of the defenders except the keeper. Furthermore, he then participated in play by trying to play the ball, right? When he did this, he is considered to have interfered with play, so it was entirely proper to make an offside call in this case. Remember that OSP is judged when the ball is played - not when it is received - so it does not make any difference that the defenders were between him and the goal when he received the ball. He was still OSP when it was played, and he then interfered with play, so he did commit the offside infraction and properly was called for that infraction. Of course, there still may be times when an experienced referee will choose to ignore the infraction because it was considered trivial or because the call would penalize the wrong team (for example, the ball is mis-kicked and goes directly to a defender, who quickly clears it upfield for a breakaway, so it would be a penalty to the defenders to bring the ball back). However, in most cases, experienced referees will make the same call which was made here.

11.19 I took a look at the Offside law at the FIFA website, and it says that an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team for an offside infraction, which is to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred. However, I am hopelessly confused. In our club, the ball usually is placed even with the AR, even if the offside attacker was standing several yards past the last defender. Sometimes, with really lazy attackers (or tired ones, late in the game), they can be considerably behind the last defender, so there are times when the placement of the ball seems like it could make a difference. So, can you tell me what the "official" rule is on where the ball should be placed?

It sounds like the referees in your club follows the standard rule-of-thumb on placement of the ball. In most cases, putting the ball even with the last defender (which is where the AR usually is stationed) is a workable guideline to give to newer referees - since most attackers normally are trying to stay onside and are fairly close to the last defender. However, as you point out, there are times when there is considerable distance between the OSP attacker and the last defender. Technically, since OSP (and offside) is judged "at the moment the ball is played", the infraction occurs at the place where the OSP player was standing when the ball was last touched by his teammate. Thus, in your example, the ball probably should have been brought back to where the tired attacker was standing. However, as a practical matter, the placement of the ball is rarely something which any team will choose to gripe about as long as their side is getting the ball back and getting the IFK. Besides, if the worst mistake made by the CR or AR on your game is to miss the placement of an IFK by a few yards, your team has been pretty lucky to get such good officials.

11.20 Okay, if an attacker is OSP just across the midline, and then comes back into the defending half to get the ball, does this mean that the IFK should be awarded from an point in the attacking half where he was standing OSP when the ball was played?

Yes. This would be the correct placement of the ball. However, don't be surprised to see the ball placed where the AR is standing at the time the flag is raised (which likely will be somewhere right around the midline). Also, since the ball is still in the defending half, the CR is likely to be looking closely on whether to simply let play continue (considering the offense to have been trifling), so there is a higher chance of the offside infraction being ignored than would be the case if the attackers were closer to their opponent's goal.

11.21 I would like to know more about the offside law than is contained in this summary and FAQ, and look at some diagrams to be sure that I fully understand the rules. What resources do you suggest?

The FIFA website at http://www.fifa.com includes a full copy of the laws (as well as diagrams). Copies of the laws also may be ordered from your national federation. In the USA, the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) is located at 1801-11 S. Prairie Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60616. Phone: 312- 808-1300. There are several companies which produce summaries of the Laws which may be suitable to give to parents and players. One inexpensive pamphlet which many of the members have found helpful is "The Rules of Soccer: Simplified" by Soccer Learning Systems. However, no exhaustive search has been made of these resources (the writers of this FAQ have all been referees for several years), and there may be other publications equally as good and inexpensive.

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Law 11

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Updated February 23, 1998