A game of soccer consists of multiple different events. One common event that you will see in every game is a free-kick. Knowing precisely what is involved in the process of taking a free kick can seem confusing, so in this article, I’m going to give you all the information you need.
A free-kick in soccer is an unopposed kick taken by a player to restart play after an opposition player has committed a foul. A player must take a free-kick from the exact location where the offense occurred, and the play does not restart until the ball clearly moves.
If you want a greater understanding of what is involved in a free-kick in soccer, then you have come to the right place. In this article, I will explain:
- How you get a free-kick
- How a free-kick works
- What a player can (and can’t) do at a free-kick
- and direct vs. indirect free-kicks
Let’s get started!
What Is a Free-Kick?
A free-kick can be one of the most exciting parts of a soccer game. You only have to watch this video below of the top 10 goals scored from free-kicks to see what I mean.
But they can also be a reasonably mundane moment in a game when a player quickly takes a short free-kick to get the game going again after a break in play.
Understanding what a free-kick is is the first step in appreciating the value of one.
A free-kick is an opportunity for a team to restart the game in possession of the ball after an offense is committed against them.
If you imagine, for a second, a player in possession of the ball. Imagine them moving up the field, looking for another player on their team to pass to. As they look to move forward with the ball, an opposition player charges into them and illegally takes possession of the ball away from them.
I’m sure you would agree that committing an offense to take control of the ball for your team shouldn’t be allowed. The team on the receiving end of the offense deserves justice.
To reset the play and return possession of the ball to the original team, the referee will stop the game and award a free-kick to the team that lost possession of the ball.
However, the example that I used of charging a player off the ball isn’t the only way a soccer team can get a free-kick. There are several ways this happens.
A soccer team gets a free-kick when the opposition commits a foul against them. Any time a player performs an action that isn’t permitted within the rules of soccer, the referee will award a free-kick to the team on the receiving end of the offense.
There are multiple actions a player can take that are banned from being used on the soccer field. A few examples of this would be any of the following actions performed in a manner that the referee considers careless, reckless, or using excessive force:
- jumping at another player
- kicking or attempting to kick another player
- pushing another player
- striking or trying to strike another player (including a head-butt)
- tackles or challenges another player
- tripping or attempting to trip another player
Remember, this isn’t a complete list of the offenses in soccer, just a selection. If you want more information on these, I recommend you check out my Guide to the Rules of Soccer as a next step.
The moment when a player commits an offense is the moment the referee awards a free-kick.
A referee will award a free-kick to a team when one of the opposition players commits an offense. A free-kick gives possession of the ball to the team on the receiving end of the offense.
How a Free-kick Works
Having understood what a free-kick is and how a team gets one, let’s look at how a free-kick works.
For a free-kick, the ball must be stationary on the ground at the place where the offense occurred. All opponents must remain at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the ball until a player kicks the ball and it clearly moves. The player taking the free-kick cannot touch the ball again until another player touches it.
There are five elements to understand how a free-kick works.
- The ball must be stationary before a player kicks it
- The ball must clearly move once kicked
- The free-kick is taken from the location of the offense
- Opponents must be a minimum of 9.15 m (10 yds) away from the ball when a free kick is taken
- The player taking the kick cannot touch the ball again until another player touches it.
Each one of these steps must be followed.
If they are not, then the referee will often ask the player to retake the kick or may award a free-kick to the opposition as the team taking the free-kick has now committed an offense themselves by not following the rules for a free-kick.
It’s also worth knowing that there is no restriction on what player takes a free-kick for their team.
Any player on a team can take a free-kick. There is no requirement for one specific player to take the free-kick. A team will often decide before a game what player they want to take a free-kick should the opportunity arise.
Because a free-kick can be a valuable opportunity for a team to create a goal, they will usually make sure one of their best players takes the kick.
Some players spend hours every week on the training ground practicing for these moments, and they don’t easily let them pass them by.
Indirect vs. Direct Free kick
So far, we’ve looked at the rules and facts that apply to every free-kick on a soccer field, but what we haven’t yet looked at is the difference between a direct and an indirect free-kick.
A free-kick can be either direct or indirect. The main difference between a direct and indirect free kick is that a player can score a goal from a direct free-kick, but a player cannot score from an indirect free-kick.
Let’s have a look at each of these types of free-kick individually.
A direct free-kick is the most common type of free-kick you will see in soccer. Most offenses that are committed end up with the referee awarding a direct free-kick rather than an indirect one.
The definition of a direct free-kick is actually very straightforward.
A direct free-kick is a kick where the player taking the kick can score a goal directly from the kick. The ball doesn’t have to touch another player before entering the goal.
Basically, a player can score a goal directly from a direct free-kick. From the moment the player strikes the ball, there is no requirement for the ball to touch anyone or anything else before going into the goal.
A direct free-kick is more common than an indirect one because the most common offenses in soccer lead to a direct free-kick.
There is a long list of offenses in the rules of soccer that lead to a direct free-kick, but to give a brief overview:
A referee will award a direct free kick when:
- a player commits an offense in a careless or reckless manner
- a player commits an offense using excessive force
- a player commits a handball offense
- or a player holds or impedes an opponent with contact
Despite what you may have heard, indirect free kicks do still exist! Some people believe indirect free-kicks are no longer a part of the game because you don’t see players taking one as often as you see direct free-kicks.
An indirect free-kick is a kick in soccer where the player taking the kick cannot score a goal directly from that kick. After the player takes an indirect free-kick, the ball must touch another player before any player can score a goal.
To summarize: A player can’t score a goal from an indirect free-kick.
You will often see players get around this rule by having the player taking the kick roll the ball a short distance to another player on their team, who will then take a shot at goal.
Because the ball has made contact with another player before a goal is scored, this is a permissible action.
As with a direct free-kick, there is a long list of offenses in the rules of soccer that lead to an indirect free-kick, but to give you an overview:
A referee will award an indirect free kick 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 the indirect free-kick rules is that certain parts apply just to the goalies.
For example, a referee will award an indirect free-kick if a goalkeeper:
- 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
If you are watching a game and you are unsure if a referee has awarded a direct or indirect free-kick, my advice is to watch for the signal the referee is making.
The referee will signal an indirect free kick by raising their arm above the head and keeping their arm up until the kick has been taken and the ball has touched another player or gone out of play.
If the referee isn’t doing this, then a player is about to take a direct free-kick.
For even more info about direct and indirect kicks, check out my article – Direct and Indirect Kicks in Soccer: Explanation with Examples.
Penalty Kick Vs. Free-Kick
Another interesting fact about indirect free-kicks is that they are the only type of free-kick that is permitted to be taken within the penalty area.
When you see this happening, it may be confusing as most people believe that a penalty kick is the only set-piece that takes place within the penalty area. But this isn’t the case.
Although both types of kicks take place in a similar area, there are significant differences.
The difference between a penalty kick and a free-kick is that a penalty is awarded for a direct free-kick offense within the penalty area. In contrast, a free-kick is awarded for an offense outside the penalty area or an indirect free-kick offense within the penalty area.
Find out much more about penalty kicks in my article – Penalty Kick in Soccer: All your questions answered
Free-kick Inside the Penalty Area
The times when you see a free-kick taken within the penalty area, it will always be an indirect free-kick.
The referee will award a free-kick within the penalty area when an indirect free-kick offense occurs within the penalty area. A player must take this kick from the location the offense took place, and the same rules apply to this kick as they do to any indirect free-kick.
A free-kick within the penalty area for a team can be both an opportunity and a challenge. It’s an opportunity to use the ball unopposed within a few yards of your opponent’s goal. However, it is also a challenge as the break-in play before you take the kick allows the opposition to bring all their players back behind the ball before you have a chance to do anything with it.
Although you don’t often see free-kicks in the penalty area, the rules of soccer do permit it. It is also an essential factor in understanding free-kicks in soccer.
Understanding what a free-kick is, takes you a step further towards enjoying and appreciating soccer so much more.
To carry on this journey, I recommend checking out one of my previous articles: