What Is A Free Kick In Soccer?

A typical game of soccer consists of multiple different events. One of these, which you’ll see in every game, is a free kick.  

Knowing exactly what’s involved in both the award and process of taking a free kick can be confusing for many, especially in fast-paced matches where the decisions are made in a split second. 

Therefore, this guide will aim to provide you with all the information you need to confidently understand the important set-play in soccer.  

What Is A Free Kick In Soccer

It will take an in-depth look at the free kick, including some of the basic rules surrounding the set-play, offenses for which free kicks are commonly awarded, and the difference between direct and indirect free kicks. 

What Exactly Is A Free Kick? 

A free kick is essentially a method of restarting play in soccer. It’s awarded after an infringement from the opposing team, and can be one of the most exciting parts of a match. 

Some of the most iconic goals in soccer history have been scored from free kicks, such as Roberto Carlos’ swerving strike vs. France and Juninho’s stunner vs. Bayern Munich. 

Despite legendary goals such as these, free kicks can also be a reasonably mundane moment in a game where everyone takes a little breather and a player takes a short free kick to get the game going again. 

Whenever a player commits an offense on the field, the referee will immediately stop play and award a free kick to the team which the offense has been committed against. 

Depending on the offense, you can either have a direct strike on goal or you’ll have to touch/pass the ball before shooting towards the goal.

These two different scenarios are termed either a “direct free kick” or an “indirect free kick”. 

Direct Free Kick 

Direct Free Kick 

As mentioned above, the type of free kick awarded to a team depends on the kind of offense committed. After analyzing an offense, the referee will then decide on which type of free kick should be awarded.

If a direct free kick is awarded the referee will signal this by blowing their whistle and extending their arm horizontally.

When players see the referee making this signal, they’ll know that a direct free kick has been awarded and they can take a direct shot at goal without having to first touch or pass the ball to anyone else. 

What Causes A Direct Free Kick? 

Direct free kicks are far more common than indirect ones due to the fact that the most common offenses lead to direct set-plays.

There are a long list of offenses in the rules of soccer which lead to direct free kicks, but we’ll now take a look at some of the most common. 

  • Use of unnecessary excessive force (such as pushes, trips, kicks or attempts to kick, charges, holding on to an opponent, biting, etc.) 
  • Handballs (except for goalkeepers within the penalty area)
  • Imprudent behavior (such as spitting, headbuts, and tossing an object at the referee or an opponent) 
  • Unlawfully interfering with play (such as entering the field without the referee’s permission) 

Indirect Free Kick

Indirect Free Kick

Indirect free kicks are signalled by a referee blowing their whistle and extending their arm vertically above their head.

These are far less common than direct free kicks, and require the ball to touch another play before any player can score a goal. 

Teams often get around this rule by having the player who first makes contact with the ball roll it a short distance to another player on their team to then take a shot on goal.

This remains a permissible action due to the fact that the ball has made contact with another player before the strike towards goal.

It’s worth noting that many free kicks are better positioned for a crossing opportunity, so the fact that it’s been awarded as an indirect set-play is often of little significance. 

What Causes An Indirect Free Kick? 

As with direct free kicks, there are a long list of potential offenses that can lead to an indirect free kick being awarded. Listed below are some of the most common. 

  • A player being caught offside
  • Verbal offenses such as dissent or insulting/abusive language
  • Impeding the progress of an opposition player without any contact

Another potential offence is illegal handling of the ball by a goalkeeper. So, a referee will award an indirect free kick if a goalkeeper:

  • Controls a backpass directly with either their hand or arm 
  • Controls the ball with their hands or arms for longer than a period of six seconds
  • Touches the ball straight away again after releasing it, before it’s touched another player

Furthermore, infringements related to a penalty kick can also lead the referee to award an indirect free kick.

These infringements include a penalty failing to travel forwards and an illegal feint used by the taker to distract the opposition goalkeeper. 

Rules Of A Free Kick

Having understood the different types of free kicks in soccer and what they’re awarded for, it’s now important to take a look at some of the workings and rules of the set-play. 

  • The ball must be stationary on the ground and in the exact position where the offense occurred. 
  • If the offense occurs off the field of play, the free kick is taken from the nearest possible spot 
  • Opponents defending the free kick are permitted to stand at least 10 yards away from the spot of the free kick 
  • The player taking the free kick is only allowed to touch the ball once until another player touches the ball 

These basic formalities must be followed – independent of what type of free kick has been awarded – otherwise it’s likely that the referee will demand for the free kick to be retaken or award a free kick to the opposition instead. 

The latter may be awarded because the team taking the original free kick have committed an offense themselves by not following the rules. 

It’s also worth noting here that any player on a team can take a free kick. There’s no requirement for one particular player or position to take the free kick.

Most teams decide beforehand or in training who their designated taker will be. 

However, due to the fact that free kicks are often an excellent opportunity to score a goal, most teams will make sure they have one of their best strikers of the ball over the kick. 

Free Kicks Inside The Penalty Area 

Another important piece of information is that indirect free kicks can legally be taken inside the opposition’s penalty area. 

You may find this confusing as the majority of people believe that a penalty kick is the only set-play to take place in the penalty area. This, however, isn’t the case.

The difference between penalties and free kicks awarded in the penalty area is that a penalty is a result of a direct free kick offense within the area.

On the other hand, a free kick is awarded for an indirect free kick offense within the area.

For free kicks inside the penalty area, a player must take the set-play from the location the offense took place.

Furthermore, the same rules apply to the kick as they do to any other free kick on the pitch. 

While a free kick inside the penalty area may sound like a golden scoring opportunity with the ball only a few yards away from the opposition’s goal, these set-plays can often prove challenging as the opponents will typically bring all their players back behind the ball. 

Final Thoughts 

Despite the global popularity of soccer, the terminologies and rules related to the sport can often confuse people, none more so than the complexities associated with free kicks. 

Hopefully after reading this guide, you’ll have a much clearer understanding about what free kicks are, as well as how they’re carried out during play. 

It may take a little longer to fully grasp the differences between direct and indirect free kicks, but once you’ve learned the basics explained in this article, you’ll be well on your way!