Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading

Basic Restarts


In soccer, there are four basic restarts of play (other than by throw-ins). These are free kicks, goal kicks, corner kicks, and kickoffs. Most coaches choose to practice these restarts as a normal part of end-of-practice scrimmages or in a single session devoted to learning soccer rules. The biggest initial concern is defending these restarts, so it is not a bad idea to concentrate on coaching the defensive side of these various kicks. However, do not be surprised if your players pick up some attacking tips anyway (thinking to themselves when you describe or demonstrate common attacking strategies that this might be a good idea when they have the ball).

Free Kicks

Players need to know the following things about free kicks, in order to be able to decide upon the best defensive strategy.

  1. Is the spot of the kick within scoring range?
  2. If inside scoring range, how many players should be in the wall?
  3. Is the kick direct or indirect?
  4. How far do you want them to drop back?

If the ball is outside of scoring range, then the only thing that you need to worry about is how far the players should drop back. See the discussion below on this topic.

If the kick is being taken within scoring range, then the defending team will want to build a "wall", by putting 1-4 players between the ball and the goal. Under the soccer laws, the wall must be placed at least 10 yards from the spot of the free kick. Attackers are NOT required to give the defenders time to build the wall, so defenders must be alert to a fast restart. Under the laws, all that is required is that the ball be placed at the spot indicated by the Ref, then kicked to a teammate. On occasions, the Ref will tell the attackers to hold the ball to allow him/her to get into position. This request is usually made by telling the attackers to "wait for my whistle". These requests must be honored.

How big should the wall be? Basically, you want to put enough players in the wall so that, when looking from the angle of the attacker, the goal is filled with your players and your goalkeeper. So, if the angle is very acute, then only one player usually would be placed in the wall. For somewhat sharp angles, 2-3 players will be in the wall. If the kick is being taken centrally, e.g. the ball is placed so that it is clear of both goalposts, then the team will want to put 4-5 players in the wall. However, all of the players should NOT be placed in the wall, because it is necessary to mark the off-ball opponents who are standing to the sides. As a result, especially on dangerous central kicks, the forwards will need to drop back to help defend. Often, it is helpful to have a forward stand 10 yards on the far side of the wall to help the keeper to decide on both the placement and composition of the wall by communicating with hand signals.

Free kicks are either direct or indirect. An indirect kick can result in a goal only if touched by someone besides the kicker before it goes in the net. Refs will signal when a kick is indirect by holding one arm straight up in the air. If the players are not sure if the kick is direct or indirect, they should learn to ask the Ref ("excuse me, Referee. Is it direct or indirect?"). This is important to the attackers in terms of how to set up the kick, and also is important to the defenders in terms of who to mark and what to look for.

Some teams at the youth level will try to aim direct kicks at the heads of the players in the wall, in the expectation that the wall players will duck. Some coaches also may instruct their kickers to kick hard shots right at the wall on the first free kick, in the hopes that the wall players will move away on the next occasion. These tactics, although legal, are not very sporting to employ with small players who already are somewhat afraid of the ball. Nonetheless, because some coaches do opt to do this, players will need to be taught how to respond.

To protect the chest/abdomen (and male genitals), one arm should be angled across the body with the hand touching the top of the opposing thigh. Shoulders should be scrunched up and the neck tucked in with neck muscles tightened. The other hand should grab the elbow of the next player in the wall, to help the wall to stick together the link also helps to support the teammate if he gets hit. However, arms should not be "linked". After taking a hard hit in a wall, the coach must be sure to praise the player for his courage and offer to excuse him from more "wall" duty in the game if the player feels too shaken to take more risk. Also, coaches should be aware that the sense of self-preservation is quite high in young players and many will duck involuntarily. If this happens, it is best to let it go. Indeed, if an opponent has a player with a very hard shot, and this player likes to take pot-shots at the wall, it may be wise to abandon the use of a wall rather than risk possible concussion to your small little charges. This is especially true for very young players, whose brains/necks may not be developed to the point where hard balls to the head can be tolerated with more safety.

Although older players may aim at the wall on indirect kicks in the hopes that the ball will hit an opponent on the way into the net, younger teams usually will pass the ball to a teammate. The defenders should realize that, once the initial touch on the ball has been taken, they are free to charge the attackers to try to win the ball. In indirect kicks, the primary purpose of the wall is to protect the keeper from a hard direct shot on goal by the original kicker since the goal would count if the keeper touches the ball before it goes in. Therefore, the non-wall defenders should look around to find the possible targets for the pass and mark them if outside the 10-yard dead zone. If the attacker is inside the dead zone, then the marker should stand perpendicular to the target and charge towards the target just as soon as the ball is touched by the first attacker.

Defenders also should know that the attacker who puts the ball into play cannot touch the ball again until someone else from either team has touched the ball. This means that the kicker cannot choose to simply dribble the ball, or touch it to one side and then kick it. However, the passing target has no such restrictions. As a result, it is not uncommon to see experienced teams pass the ball to target players on both direct and indirect kicks, in the hopes of getting the ball around the wall quickly.

The Offside rule applies to all free kicks. Once the ball has been hit, however, the attackers can run towards goal so many attackers will try to float a high ball over the defenders in the hopes of winning a footrace to goal. As a result, the players must balance the risk of holding the offside line against the risk of losing the footrace. The ability of the keeper to quickly come off of his line is a large factor in this decision. In general, with youth players, the best approach for a free kick in their own half is to "Hold the 18" which means to drop back no farther than the penalty box. This leaves a nice buffer zone that allows the keeper to see the ball coming in, but leaves a fairly small amount of space behind the defenders for the attackers to collect and control the ball. For free kicks taken from the opposing half, the defenders usually will not wish to drop off any farther than the estimated distance that the kick will travel and, if their team has speedy defenders, they may wish to hold at the center line or at the 10-yard mark, whichever is farther.

Penalty kicks are simply direct free kicks that are taken from the penalty mark. The only difference is that ALL players from both teams must be 10 yards or more away from the ball AND behind it. This means that they must be outside of both the penalty area (the "box") and the penalty arc if stationed centrally. Once the ball is struck, all players can charge into the box and ANY player can play the ball except that the kicker cannot play it again until it has touched another player from either team. That means that the kicker cannot play a rebound directly from the post but CAN play a ball which is touched by the keeper. Defenders will want to mark up on attackers and run in with them to try to prevent another shot if the keeper managed to save the initial kick. The only object of the defenders at this point is to get the ball out and the safest thing to do is usually to kick it over the nearest end-line. They should not worry about conceding a corner kick at this point.

Corner Kicks

Corner kicks are treated like a form of free kick, so the 10-yard rule and 2-touch rule apply to these kicks. Players below age 10 often do not have the leg strength to get an accurate ball to goal, and the receiving players often do not have the heading or chest-trapping expertise to get the ball into the net if an air ball is sent in. As a result, until these abilities are developed, coaches often rely on the "short corner". A short corner is accomplished by having the player who is taking the corner kick to pass the ball to a teammate who is inside the 10-yard limit. This player may relay the ball to another teammate standing at the top of the box, or may try to dribble the ball in towards the upper edge of the box in order to take a shot.

There are 2 ways to defend against the short corner. The first is to put a defender parallel to the target player, and to have the defender rush the target as soon as the ball is passed. The second, which is often employed together with the first, is to have the other defenders push up (i.e., move towards the opponents goal) as soon as the ball is passed. The hope is that, by pushing up and pressuring the ball, the target player will panic and pass the ball back to the original kicker who will be offside.

Of course, many teams will elect to send a lofted ball into the box, even with minimal skill at air ball receiving, in the hopes that they will get a garbage score in the resulting confusion in front of the goal. To reduce this confusion, it is useful to assign specific duties to the defending players. The wing defenders typically will be assigned to stand inside the goal posts in order to narrow the goal and clear any balls coming to the corners. The center defender and sweeper, if used, typically will take the central area. The near-side wing mid (the wing mid on whose side the kick is being taken) will cover the short corner and mis-kicks, while the far-side wing will collect balls which go completely across the goal. Depending on the number of players on the field, and the numbers sent up by the opponents, the forwards may come in to help defend the corner. If at all possible, however, at least one forward should be positioned about midway between the goal and the midline to serve as an outlet if your team gets the ball. It is even nicer to have another forward who is wide of the last defender, to whom your outlet player can make a quick relay. But, of course, it is often best to err on the side of caution, so this ideal situation is not always possible.

As teams gain experience in handling air balls, the attackers will start to congregate players towards the far side of the box and then rush the goal as the ball is being played in. This makes it harder for the defenders to mark them, and also makes it easier to time a run to connect with the incoming ball. In order to defend against these tactics, the wing defenders and wing midfielders continue in their coverage assignments, while teammates mark the incoming attackers either ball-side (meaning between the ball and the attacker) or ball-side/goal-side (slightly ahead of the attacker, but stationed between him and the goal). This type of marking will help to prevent the attackers from getting possession of the ball inside the critical central area of the goal and/or restrict the angle of any shot due to the presence of the defender.

When practicing corner kicks, it is important to practice from both sides regardless of the age of the players since things "feel" differently on different sides. Additionally, younger players are very literal and can't make the mental adjustment to simply "mirror" your instructions for the other side. This literal-mindedness will be seen in many other contexts also. For example, an instruction for defenders to stay behind the midline may result in a defender who allows a ball to come to rest just inches from his feet, but will not play it because it is over the midline and in "forbidden" territory. It does not mean that the players are stupid or playing dumb out of spite; just that their brains are still developing, so they do not think like adults.

Goal Kicks

A goal kick is taken whenever the ball goes over the end-line after being last touched by an opponent. The ball is placed anywhere inside the goal area. To be in play, the ball must go completely outside of the penalty area before it is touched by any player. If the attackers play the ball before it has left the PA, the kick will have to be retaken. If they "score", it is too bad because the ball was never in play, so the "goal" will not count.

Of course, if the ball just barely clears the PA, it is in play. This means that, if the kick is not very hard and there are lots of attackers camped at the edge of the PA, an easy goal can be scored. In most games at the upper levels, the keeper takes the goal kick. However, at the younger levels, the coach might want to have his best kicker take the kick. Furthermore, a defender should be placed in front of each attacker who is near the PA, so that they can intercept a poorly-hit ball and kick it into touch before an attacker can get to it.

If the team does not have any good kickers available who can get a ball up into the air and send it well past the PA, then the team has two immediate choices. One choice is to kick the ball directly out of bounds, usually towards the touch-line, but even towards the end-line if the other team is terrible on corner kicks or your team has nobody who can kick well. By getting the ball out of bounds, the defending team may have a much better chance of regaining possession and clearing the ball up-field. The other choice is to pass the ball to a waiting player who is stationed near the touch-line along the side of the PA and then to have this player dribble, pass or kick the ball farther up-field. While this option has considerable merit, opposing teams tend to figure out very quickly that this approach will be taken, and will try to mark the target player in the hopes of intercepting the pass. Once the target is marked, the kicker should pick another option as the risk of interception is too high to send a ball to the target player under these circumstances.

Before holding a special practice devoted to ways to get around the lack of good kickers, the coach might be better advised to devote a practice to lofted kicks. Usually, at least 2 players can be trained to do decent lofted kicks by the end of just one practice session, so this is clearly the best use of time in most instances. Besides, if the session produces no success, you can still tell your keeper to kick all goal kicks across the nearest unguarded touch-line and, if the touch-lines end up being guarded after he does this for the first kick, then to simply kick the ball across the end-line for a corner. While not ideal, this is still better than giving up a sure goal by passing the ball to opponents who are right in front of your goal - and may be the best temporary patch available.


A kick-off is taken from the center circle at the start of each half, and after a goal is scored. The kick-off is treated like a form of free kick, which means that the 10-yard rule and 2-touch rule apply. As a result, members of the opposing team must stay outside of the center circle and in their own half until the first touch on the ball, after which they are free to try to win the ball.

There are three ways to handle the kick-off. One very common approach in youth games is to boot the ball as far downfield as possible with a hard kick, then to rush after it and try to regain possession. This approach tends to work for only a very brief period of time before the opposing team learns to boot it back the other way. However, in the short term, it can be rather effective although it produces rather ugly soccer and does nothing to develop good soccer habits.

The second way to handle the kick-off is to follow the approach used by older teams, and to play the ball back to your teammates. By doing this, the opponents are pulled into your end of the field, which creates more space into which your attackers can move because it clears out quite a few opposing players. However, this approach requires several ingredients to be successful, including reasonably good passing and receiving ability, as well as reasonably good composure under pressure. While those skills are being developed, young players may be tempted to take the bootball approach, especially if this is an approach used by a prior coach. It's better, however to have them work on making deeper passes to the back if they need more time to play the ball and to explain/show to them how the use of back-passes helps to clear out the end that you want to attack.

The third way to handle a kick-off is in between simply booting the ball and making a back pass. In this method, the kicker kicks at a 45 degree angle with the hope than an onrushing winger will be able to quickly penetrate the defense. This is particulary effective in 4v4 games where the forwards for the defending team stand together along the top of the center circle..

Updated 11 April 1999
Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading