© 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 13 - Free Kicks

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Tweeeet!! The referee has seen a foul-now what do I do? Which direction is the kick? Where is the spot of the kick? Do I have to wait for the referee? Can I kick it directly at goal? Oops! It's the other team's kick. How far away do I have to be from the ball? When can I go after the ball?

Where do I go, what do I do, when can I do it - these are all decisions players on both sides of the ball must make when the referee gives a free kick. Different things can happen based on the position of the ball, the type of foul, the position of the opponents and teammates and sometimes the involvement of the referee. Players must be coached to understand and react appropriately in each situation.


When the referee blows the whistle to indicate an offense, the first thing that must be established by every player on the field is which team takes the kick (attacking team) and which team is defending. Generally the referee indicates this by pointing with an extended arm towards the goal of the team that just committed the foul (now the defending team). However, some fouls are just obvious as to who committed them. The referee is not required to make a signal.

Probably the most important thing to know when there is a free kick is if the ball can be kicked directly-i.e., without being touched by another player-into the defending goal. If it can't, this is called an indirect free kick (IFK) and the referee is required to put one arm straight up in the air and hold it there until the ball touches a player other than the kicker or goes out of play. This is the only hand signal a referee is required by the law to make. All players should be coached to recognize and understand this signal. If the arm is not up, then it is a direct free kick (DFK) and the initial kicker can score a goal.

The ball must be played from the point where the infringement occurred, unless it occurs within one of the goal areas. If the spot is inside the kicking team's goal area, the ball may be placed anywhere inside the goal area. However, if it is inside the defenders' goal area, the ball is placed on the six yard line (running parallel to the goal line) at the point closest to the infraction. This is actually beneficial to the attacking team, as they get more room to work.

The ball must be stationary before it can be kicked. As with any other restart of play, the kicker cannot touch the ball again until it has touched another player or goes out of play.

The ball is in play when it has been kicked and it moves (even if it just a little bit). The exception to this is if the ball is being played from within the attacking team's penalty area, where the ball must wholly cross outside of the boundary line marking the penalty area.

Prior to the 1997 laws, the ball had to move its circumference (about 27" for a #5 ball). Defenders (illegally) would start moving as soon as the ball was touched, giving the defense an advantage. Now teams can design plays, such as a player just stepping on the ball as he runs over it, to put the ball into play; this would allow the next player to kick the ball directly at goal, or even start dribbling the ball.

Interestingly, there are no goals awarded if a free kick of either type is kicked directly into the kicking team's own goal. If this happens, it would be treated just as if the ball was kicked over the goal line giving the defending team a corner kick. Here again, if the ball is being played from within the attacking team's penalty area, the ball is not in play until it wholly crosses the boundary line (other than the goal line).

There is a reason these kicks are called free. The attackers can kick the ball into play whenever they want (within a reasonable time period), without being pressured by the defending team. The defending team must be at least 10 yards from the ball in all directions (including behind the ball). If the ball is placed inside the kicking team's penalty area, the defenders must be outside the penalty area and at least 10 yards from the ball. If the ball is placed inside the defensive team's penalty area, the defenders must be at least 10 yards from the ball or standing on the goal line between the goalposts.

If defender is closer than these requirements when the kick is taken, the referee may decide to retake the kick and possibly caution the player for either failing to respect the required distance of a free kick. It should be noted that it is the defending team's responsibility to retire the appropriate distance immediately after the offense was signaled. The referee is there to help facilitate this separation, but would be within his legal right to sanction any player that does anything to delay or harass the kick.


In the past, one of the most abused laws was waiting for the ball to roll its circumference before it was considered in play. Now, the ball is in play immediately after it has been kicked and moves (and is outside of the kicking team's penalty area). The referee and the defender(s) must judge when the kicker actually kicks the ball into play. Was it a ball positioning adjustment touch or is it a subtle ploy to throw off the defense's reaction timing? Any movement of the ball after it has been kicked is to be considered valid. Attackers need to be concerned that their positioning touches (and cute little fakes) will accidentally release the defenders from their restraining lines with the referee's permission. Positioning or bringing the ball to a stop with the hand(s) may be the best way the attacking team can ensure it does not get called for putting the ball into play too soon.

When the referee signals for a free kick, the fouling team does not have to be allowed time to recover before the attacking team can put the ball back into play. The fouling team essentially has no rights at this time and should have none. When asked (and sometimes on his own), the referee may stop play to set up the defense a proper distance from the ball. In general, once the offense is signaled, the attacking team can put the ball back into play as soon as they want, even if the defenders are not the required distance. The laws are written to encourage a continuous game flow with a minimal length of stoppage time.

Coaching Opportunities

The free kick is one of the few times coaches (in practice) and players can put some specific structure into a very dynamic game. Free kick "set pieces" should be practiced based upon the area in which they can occur. For example, a coach may want to encourage distance on a free kick from within the kicking team's penalty area, a quickly taken short pass within the defensive third, a long diagonal cross from the middle third, and go with a practiced set piece in the attacking third. Often, first touch kicks are sent on goal when possible, but set pieces that utilize a second touch for IFKs should be practiced.

Defensively, the players need to know how and when to set walls; how far to retreat; whether to mark man to man or to defend zonally. Players should also be instructed in the ramifications of delaying tactics.

The team must know how to set a wall, if a coach prefers that tactic. Normally walls are set within shooting distance of the goal and the goalkeeper indicates how many players he wants in the wall. The key thing about a wall is the anchor player that is in line with the ball and the near post. The anchor needs to be aligned. This job often falls upon the goalkeeper to signal the player to move in a direction. Unfortunately, this takes the goalkeeper out of his prime defending area and he must worry about a quick kick while he is out of position. Perhaps a trailing player should align the anchor from behind the ball.

Questions on Law 13

13.01. A player on the kicking team touches the ball as she runs by. Can my wall players close on the ball?

Yes, assuming the referee felt the first touch was a deliberate effort to put the ball into play, allowing the other team to move within the 10-yard limitation. Touching the ball by stepping on it should have caused some ball movement.

13.02. In setting up a free kick, a player moved the ball with his foot to position the ball on a tuft of grass. The defending team ran in and kicked the ball away and the referee allowed play to continue. Why didn't he stop play?

Apparently, the referee felt the attacking player was trying to fake out the defending team by pretending to reset the ball. The attacking player should consider positioning the ball with his hands.

13.03. After a team fouled, a player on the fouling team stood in front of the ball to prevent the ball from being played in order to allow his team time to set up their wall. Why did the referee caution him without first telling him to back off the ball?

The fouling team has a responsibility to retreat the appropriate distance without being told. The referee recognized the delaying tactic and booked him for this.

13.04. As a defending team was setting up their wall with their goalkeeper positioning them, the attacking team shot on goal. Didn't the referee have to restart play?

Only if the referee temporarily stopped play to move the defense back 10 yards would there have to be a formal start. If a team wants to use their goalkeeper to set their wall, then it's their problem if the keeper is not in position for the shot on goal.

13.05. On an IFK, the kicker strikes the ball on goal and the goalkeeper reaches up and tries to catch the ball but doesn't touch it before it goes in the goal. Is this a goal?

No goal, since a second player did not touch the ball.

13.06. The goalkeeper handles in his goal area a ball deliberately passed to him by a teammate. The referee indicates the ball is to be placed on the 6 yard line. The defenders recover to the goal line. The attacking team quickly plays and a defender recovering from behind intercepts the first touch. The referee stops play and has the kick retaken. Why?

An attacking team can play before the other team retreats the required distance if they feel they can gain an advantage. Generally, a referee will not require a kick to be retaken if the advantage does not materialize and the defenders are not in a blatant delaying posture and are making some attempt to move back the proper distance. However, a player that comes from behind is not making an attempt to be the proper distance away. The attackers are probably not aware of this player and should be allowed to retake the kick. The defender in this case should probably be cautioned.

13.07. A player is called offside near a touch line at midfield. The kicking team quickly put the ball in play 20 yards to the side from the spot of the foul. The referee allowed play to continue. Later, the referee would not allow play to go on until the attacking moved the ball back a foot from the 18 after a tripping foul. Why is the referee so inconsistent?

In the first case, the placement of the ball did not give the kicking team a great advantage. It was more important to get the ball back into play. In the latter scenario, the exact placement of the ball is very critical, since a direct challenge on goal is possible.

13.08. The referee called for an IFK inside the defending team's penalty area. The defending team lined up on the goal line. An attacker kicked the ball into the line of defenders. The ball deflected off a player and into the goal. Because it did not touch a second attacker, is this a goal?

Yes. A goal may be scored on an IFK if a second player, regardless of team, touches the ball.

13.09. The referee whistled a foul when a defender kicked at a ball that was near the attacker's head. The referee only pointed in the direction of the defender's goal. An attacker kicked the ball directly into the goal without touching another player. The referee did not allow the goal and gave the defending team a goal kick. Was this correct?

If the referee did not raise his hand over his head, he is not providing the attacking team enough information. Unfortunately, there is little the kicking team can do about it, but accept the decision and ask the referee the type of kick on all subsequent free kicks.

13.10. The referee calls for an IFK near the defender's goal. The attacker takes a quick kick that deflects off the referee as he is trying to move out of the way. The ball goes directly into the goal. Because it touched the referee, does this goal count?

No. On an IFK the ball must touch a second player. The referee is not a player.

13.11. A player on Team A is called for pushing in Team B's goal area. Team B places the ball to the opposite side of the goal area from where the foul was committed. Can they do this?

When the spot of the foul is inside the fouled team's goal area, the ball can be placed anywhere within the goal area.

13.12. A goalkeeper weakly kicked a free kick in his penalty area. Before the ball left the penalty area, the goalkeeper ran up and kicked it again. The referee had the ball replaced at the original spot and the kick was retaken. Since the goalkeeper touched it twice in succession, why doesn't the other team get a free kick?

The referee's call was correct. Since the ball never left the penalty area, the ball was never in play.

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Law 13

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Updated February 26, 1998