What is the High Kick Rule in Soccer?

Soccer is most famous for its “no hands” rule. However, that doesn’t mean that players are allowed to just wildly or recklessly kick around the field in the hopes of coming into contact with the ball.

For the safety of the players and to ensure fair play, soccer has a high kick rule.

It’s a source of confusion and you may have come across inaccurate information about it. I’ll explain it here, supported by my own training as a licensed referee.

Learn more about the high kick rule and discover what penalties or fouls could be assessed if you don’t follow this rule.

The Definition of a High Kick

Where your foot goes when you kick determines whether it is a high kick or not. A high kick is defined as when a player swings or kicks their foot so that it goes near or above the height of the waist of the opposing player.

What Does the Rules State About a High Kick?

The Laws of the Game, which are the set of rules created by an independent board that outlines to keep the game of soccer fair, does not have a rule that specifically addresses high kicks. Instead, high kicks are covered under Law 12 which covers fouls and misconducts.

Under The Laws of the Game, performing a high kick is considered playing in a dangerous manner.

When Does a Referee Make a High Kick Call?

Since there is no specific rule that outlines when a high kick call should be made, it is completely up to the individual discretion of the referee as to when to make this type of call.

Referees will often consider several things when determining if a high kick call should be made:

  • Age of the players
  • Experience level of the players
  • Intention – was the player trying to make a play and unaware that another player was nearby or was it done in a purposeful and reckless manner?
  • Position of the other players on the field

Another common misconception about high kicks in soccer is that contact needs to be made with the opposing team’s player. A referee can make a high kick call regardless of if the foot comes into contact with a player. A referee can make a high kick call if there was a possibility that any player in the surrounding area could have come into contact with the swinging or kicking foot.

High Kick Calls and Youth Soccer

Many youth soccer leagues are taking initiative to improve the safety of the game especially when it comes to dangerous or reckless plays. As part of this initiative, they are encouraging referees to be more aggressive with making high kick calls. These leagues believe by penalizing players for this type of play, it will encourage them to play safer.

What Happens After a High Kick Call?

After a referee has made a high kick call, the goal is to safely resume gameplay. The type of kick that is awarded to resume play will depend upon where the foul occurred and whether contact was made with another player.

An indirect free kick is given when a high kick has been done and no contact was made. Players cannot directly score from an indirect free kick. They must pass the ball to another player on the field before a goal can be scored.

A direct free kick, which allows a player to directly score from the kick, can be awarded in the event that contact was made with another player.

If a high kick occurs in the penalty area and makes contact with a player, it could result in a direct penalty kick being awarded. For a direct penalty kick to be awarded for a high kick, the defending team must commit the foul against a player on the offensive team. Contact must be made with the player and the kick must have occurred within the defending team’s penalty area, the large box that is around the goal.

It is important to note that because high kicks are based on the discretion of the referee, the penalty that is awarded can vary. For example, a referee may have seen a high kick but not noticed that contact was made when in reality it was so they award an indirect kick when it should have been a direct free kick.

Additional Penalties for a High Kick: Yellow Card or Red Card

Referees are given the ability to penalize individual players who perform a high kick. Penalties are given in the form of a yellow card or a red card.

A yellow card is a like an official warning to the individual player. It means that they have committed a serious foul and should be careful with how they play in the future. If a player receives two yellow cards, they are immediately ejected from the game.

A red card is for serious fouls that have been committed. When a player gets a red card, they are immediately sent off the field and are unable to play for the rest of the game. The player may not be able to play in future games depending upon the rules of the league.

Red cards are often given only when a referee had determined that a player has taken part in serious foul play or if the player willingly or purposely engaged in violent, unsafe conduct or play.

Whether or not a player is given a yellow or red card will depend upon the referee. Referees have the ability to award these penalties at their discretion.

Bicycle Kicks and Scissor Kicks: Are They Considered High Kicks?

Spectators are always impressed when a player performs a bicycle kick or a scissor kick. However, these plays often require a player to jump in the air and kick their legs high. How does the high kick rule apply to these types of plays?

Bicycle kicks and scissor kicks are currently still considered legal moves in the game of soccer. If a player were to perform them during gameplay, they often would not be penalized with a high kick call.

However, it is totally up to the referee. If the referee feels that a bicycle kick or scissor kick was performed and put other players’ safety at risk, they would be within their rights to make a call for an indirect kick if contact was not made and/or direct kick if contact was made.  

Neymar was (in)famously yellow-carded for a bicycle kick attempt in a Barcelona vs Ajax match.

Some soccer leagues are taking additional precautions to protect their players and have since ruled that bicycle kicks and scissor kicks are dangerous and should be disallowed. Currently, there is no official rule on this. Before performing a bicycle kick or scissor kick, it is important to check the rules in the league where you are playing so you can avoid being penalized.

For the most part, you know a high kick when you see it. However, to make the game of soccer fair and provide clear guidelines on what is and is not allowed, the high kick rule has been made.


Are high kicks allowed in soccer?

Only if they are performed safely without the possibility of harming another player. If the referee decides the kick was dangerous, a free kick will be awarded to the other team, and the offending player may get carded.

Is a high kick a red card?

This is up to the referee’s discretion. High kicks are covered under the rules against reckless and dangerous play. If the referee decides it was dangerous enough, they can decide to issue a red card. In other cases they will use the yellow card, or only award a direct free kick to the other team.

More soccer rules to learn: