In soccer, there are two types of kicks: direct and indirect. What a player can do with the ball at a direct kick differs from what the player can do with the ball at an indirect kick. So what exactly is the difference?
The difference between a direct and indirect kick is that the player taking a direct kick can score a goal directly from the kick without another player touching the ball, but a player taking an indirect kick cannot score a goal until another player has touched the ball.
Not only are there differences between what a player can and can’t do at a kick, but there is a different list of offenses that lead to a direct kick than there are for an indirect kick.
In this article, we’ll look at both.
First, we’ll discover when a player is taking a direct kick or an indirect kick and then look at some examples to clarify what happens at both.
A Direct Kick in Soccer
When you watch soccer, the most common kick you will see a referee award is a direct kick.
Whether it’s from a player committing a foul or the ball going out of play, most kicks from set-pieces are direct kicks.
Here’s an explanation of a direct kick:
A direct kick in soccer is a kick from which a player can score a goal directly from the kick. The ball doesn’t have to touch another player or object before entering the goal. The referee will determine if a kick is a direct kick based on what happened immediately before the kick.
You will see a direct kick more often than an indirect one in soccer because the offenses and events that lead to a direct kick are more commonplace than those that lead to an indirect kick.
For example, goal kicks, corner kicks, and penalty kicks are all direct kicks.
It’s only when the referee awards a team a free-kick that you find exceptions.
Not all free-kicks are direct.
If you look at the rules of soccer, you’ll notice that the list of offenses that the referee will award a direct kick for is extensive.
But to give you an idea of what to look out for, a referee will award a team a direct free kick if an opponent commits any of the following offenses in a careless or reckless manner or uses excessive force:
- charges at another player
- jumps at another player
- kicks or attempts to kick another player
- pushes another player
- strikes or attempts to strike (including head-butt) another player
- tackles or challenges another player
- trips or attempts to trip another player
There are several other offenses where a referee will award a direct kick.
Unless the goalkeeper commits a handball offense within their penalty area, a referee will always award a direct free kick for a handball.
Or if a player holds or impedes an opponent with contact. This action will result in the referee awarding a direct free kick.
As I mentioned, this list is not exclusive. If you want the complete list, I suggest you look at the IFAB website, as they are responsible for creating and governing the rules of soccer worldwide.
Let’s quickly look at a few examples where a referee would award a direct kick before looking at the situations where a referee would award a team an indirect kick.
Examples of a Direct kick
- If a player commits a foul on an opponent while in their team’s penalty area, the referee will award a penalty to the attacking team. A penalty kick is always a direct kick.
- If a player pushes another player off the ball in a reckless manner, the referee will award a direct kick to the opponents of the player committing the offense.
- If a player deliberately touches the ball with their hand outside the penalty area, the referee will award a direct free kick to the opponents of the player that touched the ball.
Having explained what a direct kick is in soccer, we need to look at indirect kicks.
An indirect kick in soccer is a kick from which a player cannot score a goal directly from the kick. Before a goal can be scored, the ball must first touch a player other than the one taking the kick. The referee will decide if a kick is “indirect” based on what happened immediately before the kick.
Indirect kicks are far less common in soccer than direct ones.
This is because the list of offenses that lead to an indirect kick occurs less often during a game.
Similar to direct kicks, there are multiple offenses within the rules of soccer that lead to the referee awarding an indirect kick.
A referee will award an indirect kick in soccer when:
- a player plays in a dangerous manner
- a player impedes the progress of an opponent without any contact
- a player commits a verbal offense including dissent, offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures
- a player prevents a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from their hands
- or a player tries to kick the ball when a goalkeeper is attempting to release it.
An interesting element of indirect kicks in soccer is that specific rules apply to the goalies.
A referee will award an indirect kick if a goalie:
- Controls the ball with their hands or arms for more than 6 seconds
- Touches the ball again after they have released it before the ball touches another player
- Controls the ball with their hand or arm directly from a back pass
Let’s quickly look at some examples of indirect kicks to see how this works on the soccer field.
Examples of indirect kicks in soccer
- An offside is always an indirect kick. Once the referee has decided that a player has committed an offside offense, they will award an indirect free kick from the location the offside offense was committed.
- A high-foot challenge is always an indirect free kick. Because a high-foot challenge is an example of a player playing in a “dangerous manner,” the rules of soccer dictate that the referee should award an indirect free kick to the team on the receiving end of the challenge.
- Obstructing a player from progressing by moving into their path when the ball is not within playing distance of either player will result in the referee awarding an indirect kick. Every soccer player has a right to their position on the field. Impeding a player infringes this right.
Shielding the ball is different from obstructing a player and is permitted in soccer, as you can discover in my article – Using Your Arms in Soccer: 12 Do’s and Don’ts.
How to Know if a Kick Is Direct or Indirect?
When you are watching a soccer game, it’s helpful to know if the referee has awarded a direct or indirect kick to one of the teams.
There are a few ways to figure this out.
1. Watch the referee’s signal
The simplest way of ascertaining if the referee has awarded a direct or indirect kick is to watch for the signal the referee is making.
If the referee raises their arm above the head and keeps it up until the kick has been taken and the ball has touched another player or gone out of play, it is an indirect kick.
If you don’t see the referee making this signal, then a player is about to take a direct kick.
2. Understand that some kicks in soccer are always direct
There are three types of kicks in soccer that are always direct:
- A goal kick
- A corner kick
- and a penalty kick
If you see the referee award any of these, you know they will always be a direct kick.
3. Watch how the players set themselves up for the kick
Although this one relies more on personal judgment, you can often tell what type of kick a player is about to take by where their teammates have positioned themselves.
Because the ball has to touch another player before a goal can be scored, you will usually see another player standing near the player about to take the kick.
This player is there to either receive a short pass from the original kicker or take a small touch of the ball before another player takes a shot at goal.
Having a player roll the ball a short distance to another player on their team who then takes a shot at the goal is one way players work around the indirect kick rule.
Because the ball has made contact with another player before a goal is scored, the players have followed all the rules.
Now you understand direct and indirect kicks, I would encourage you to find out more about different kicks in soccer and what a player can and can’t do at each of them.
A good starting point would be at one of these articles: