Soccer Rules Direct vs Indirect Kick: Explained With Examples

When a team fouls in soccer, the opposing team will be given a free kick. Let’s look at what a free kick is, the different types of free-kick, and how they’re applied in soccer.

These rules are hugely important in the game and fascinating to know – By the end of this article, you’ll be in the know.

What is a free kick in soccer?

A free-kick in soccer restarts the game after a team commits a foul. A foul is an offense and is against the soccer laws. The opposition stands 10 yards away from the ball for the kick to be taken.

A ‘free kick’ is exactly how it sounds. A player gets to kick the ball without any players opposing them.

A free-kick means players have time and space to kick the ball how they want. Players on the opposing team can’t try to tackle for the ball when it’s a free kick.

They have to stay away from the ball until it’s kicked. Once the ball is kicked, the game restarts.

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Argentinian Players In A Wall Of The Free Kick - Taken by Xavi Hernandez
Argentinian Players In A Wall Of The Free Kick – Taken by Xavi Hernandez

How many types of free kicks are there?

There are two types of free kicks in soccer: direct free kicks and indirect free kicks. The referee decides if it’s a direct free kick or indirect free kick based on the foul a player makes.

What’s the difference between a direct and indirect kick?

A direct kick means that a player can take a direct shot at the goal and score, while an indirect kick means that another player must touch the ball before a goal can be scored.

So, a player can shoot directly for a goal from a direct kick. Like Messi does here:

Messi Free-Kick -Argentina vs. Ecuador

With an indirect kick, a player has to pass before shooting for a goal. This is shown here:

Direct free kick rules

When the referee gives a direct free kick, five main rules apply;

1. The kick must be taken from where the foul was committed.

When watching a soccer game, you’ll often see the referee marking the position of a foul. This shows where the foul happened and where the free kick should be taken from.

2. The ball must be stationary when the kick is taken.

You’ll see the player setting the ball down for a free kick and stepping back.

That’s because the ball can’t be moving when taking the kick. If it’s moving, the referee will make the player take the kick again.

3. Opposing players must be 10 yards from the ball.

Often, you’ll see referees counting out steps from the free-kick position. It means they’re counting 10 yards so the opposing players won’t be too close to the free-kick taker.

4. The free kick taker can only touch the ball once.

The kicker can’t touch the ball and then shoot. They can only take one touch, the free kick. Once the ball touches another player, the free-kick taker can then touch it again.

This prevents a player from passing to themselves and then shooting for a goal.

5. The free kick taker can shoot directly for goal or pass the ball.

A direct kick means the player can shoot directly for a goal. But they don’t have to. It’s their choice. They can pass the ball or cross the ball if they want to.

Soccer free kick The ball in the air over the wall

What fouls are direct kicks in soccer?

There are 7 main fouls that result in direct kicks. A referee gives direct kicks if a player is careless, reckless, or uses excessive force when committing these fouls:

  • Kicking or trying to kick an opponent
  • Tripping or trying to trip an opponent
  • Jumping towards an opponent
  • Charging at an opponent
  • Striking or trying to strike an opponent
  • Pushing an opponent
  • Tackling an opponent

There are 3 more offenses where a direct kick is given:

  • Holding an opponent
  • Spitting at an opponent
  • Deliberately handing the ball (including goalkeepers when outside their 18-yard box)

These last three offenses are more clear-cut because the referee doesn’t have to decide if they’re careless, reckless, or excessive.

When is a direct kick awarded in soccer?

A direct kick is awarded in soccer if a player is careless, reckless, or uses excessive force during a game. This usually happens when a player tries to get the ball from an opposing player.

But a direct kick is also awarded for holding an opponent, spitting at an opponent, or handling the ball deliberately.

A referee will always give a direct kick for those three offenses.

You’ll know it’s a direct free kick when the referee points his arm forward.

Indirect free kick definition

An indirect free-kick means that a goal can’t be scored unless another player touches the ball after the kick is taken. So, the player taking the indirect free kick can’t shoot directly for a goal.

If a player shoots and scores from an indirect free-kick, the goal won’t count. The opposing team will be given a goal kick.

But if a player taking an indirect free kick passes to another player, and that player scores a goal, the goal will count.

Basically, an indirect free kick means you have to pass the ball before a goal can be scored.

Do indirect free kicks still exist?

Yes, indirect free kicks still exist. Indirect free kicks are most noticeable when they’re given inside the defending team’s 18-yard box. Like here:

Indirect Free-Kicks In The Penalty Box

This type of free-kick will be mainly given when a goalkeeper picks up a backpass.

But indirect free kicks can be given anywhere on the soccer field. The referee will signal for an indirect free kick.

The next time you’re watching a soccer game, you’ll know it’s an indirect free kick when the referee raises her arm in the air. She won’t take her arm down until another player touches the ball or it goes out of play.

When you see that signal, you’ll see that indirect free kicks still exist.

Is a high foot an indirect free kick?

Yes, a high foot is an indirect free kick. A high foot would be considered dangerous play. Also, it could impede the progress of an opponent without any contact being made.

Those are 2 things, of many, that result in an indirect free-kick.

Let’s look at an example where a high foot would result in an indirect free-kick. In one outcome it’s dangerous to play, and in another, it’s impeding an opponent.

  • Firstly, a player hits a high ball towards the opposing 18-yard box. A defender jumps up to head the ball away, while an attacker jumps up to control the ball with his foot.

The defender heads the ball away without getting hurt, but the referee blows the whistle.

It’s an indirect free-kick because the defender could’ve been hurt by the high foot. It’s ‘dangerous play’ from the attacker.

  • Secondly, the same play happens, but the defender sees the high foot coming this time. He stops going for the ball in case he gets hurt.

The attacker controls the ball and shoots at goal, but the referee blows the whistle.

It’s an indirect free kick because the high foot stopped the defender from getting the ball. Even though there’s no contact, the high foot impeded the progress of the defender.

What fouls are indirect kicks in soccer?

According to the IFAB, 10 main fouls are indirect kicks in soccer. These can be broken into 2 sections: overall play and inside a goalkeeper’s 18-yard box.

Overall play

An indirect kick is awarded for:

  • Offside
  • Dangerous play
  • Play that impedes an opponent, without making contact
  • Dissent, using offensive, insulting or abusive language, actions or other verbal offences
  • Stopping the goalie from kicking the ball from their hands or kicking/trying to kick the ball when the goalie is releasing it
  • Setting up a back pass. For instance, a player flicking the ball into the air for themselves so they can head it back to the goalie

Inside a goalkeeper’s 18-yard box

An indirect free kick is awarded if the goalie:

  • Holds the ball for more than 6 seconds before releasing it
  • Handles the ball after releasing it and before another player has touched it
  • Handles the ball when a team mate deliberately passes to them, a back pass
  • Handles the ball from a team mate’s throw in

These are the 10 main fouls you’ll see an indirect free kick given for.

Indirect free kick Rules

Indirect free kick rules are the same as the first 4 direct free kick rules already listed:

  1. The kick must be taken from where the foul was committed.
  2. The ball must be stationary when the kick is taken.
  3. Opposing players must be 10 yards from the ball.
  4. The free kick taker can only touch the ball once.

But it’s the 5th rule that makes the difference.

  1. The free kick taker can’t shoot directly for goal.

The important difference with an indirect free kick is that the player taking the kick can’t shoot directly for a goal.

If a player kicks the ball into the goal directly from an indirect kick, the goal won’t count. It’ll be a goal kick for the opposing team.

So, the ball must touch another player before a goal can be scored.

That means an indirect free kick is usually passed to a teammate for them to shoot if it’s taken close to the goal.

If it’s taken far from the goal, the player taking the kick usually passes to a teammate to restart the game.

Indirect free kick in the box

An indirect free kick in the box usually happens when the goalie does one of the 4 fouls listed above in the Inside a goalkeeper’s 18-yard box section.

When committed inside their 18-yard box, this means the goalie will give away an indirect free kick in the box.

For indirect kicks in the box, the normal rules apply, except the opposing players don’t have to stay 10 yards away from the ball.

That’s because when it’s in the box, there usually won’t be enough space for a 10-yard distance.

The free-kick taker still can’t shoot directly for a goal.

Because the indirect kick taker has to pass, and every player in the opposing team can defend the goal, indirect free kicks in the box can be chaotic.

You can see that in a Bundesliga game between Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen here:

Bailey Indirect Free-Kick – Hertha Berlin vs. Bayer Leverkusen

That chaos makes indirect free kicks in the box super exciting. You never know where the ball could end up.

Direct or indirect free-kicks are a special part of the game and you’ll now know more than most about them!


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