What Are The Goal Kick Rules in Soccer?

In comparison to many other sports, soccer is generally classified as very simple in terms of the rules associated with the game and the terminology used around the sport.

The basic premise of soccer is of course very simple; to score more goals than the opposition.

However, actually executing that is not as simple as it appears.

The first significant element of achieving that objective requires a team to have a shot on goal, a skill that can be executed in a myriad of ways.

Whilst every player that is shooting towards goal wants to hit the back of the net, probability says that far more shots on goal will be missed, than will be scored.

Should a player miss the target and the ball go out of play behind the goal, without any opposition player touching the ball, a goal kick is awarded.

What is a Goal Kick?

In essence, a goal kick is a restart – once the ball has gone out of play at the dead ball line (behind the goal).

Differing from a corner, where the defending side had the last touch before the ball went out of play, a goal kick is given if the attacking side were the last team to touch the ball.

Once the goal kick has been awarded by the referee or the linesman, it must be taken unopposed by the goalkeeper, from the six-yard line.

In general, goalkeepers are responsible for taking the goal kick and efficient distribution is a huge part of playing in goal.

However, any outfield player can take the goal kick and no opposition player can attempt to block the goal kick from being taken.

soccer goalie holding ball

Goal Kick – The Key Rules

The whole ball must cross the line

As with any incident that takes place on a soccer pitch, the whole ball must cross the line in order for a decision to be given.

Whether it be a nondescript throw-in or an important goal that trickles over the goal line, only when the ball crosses the line can a decision be made.

When it comes to awarding a goal kick, the officials are always looking to see if the whole ball has crossed the goal line.

This rule applies whether the ball is on the floor or in the air and whilst it can occasionally be contentious or controversial, generally it is one of the easier decisions to make for referees in any given game.

The attacking team has to have the last touch

The aforementioned aim of the game is of course to score as many goals as possible but that is a concept that is easier said than done.

Should an errant shot from an attacker cross the goal line, then a goal kick is instantly awarded.

Objectively, this is a very easy rule to follow, however in the modern game with the ball moving at breakneck speed, deciphering which player touched the ball last can be a challenging occupation at the top end of the professional game.

Understanding the difference between a goal kick and a corner is essential when processing how each action is awarded:

  • Goal Kick – The last touch of the ball before the ball went out of play was made by an attacker.
  • Corner – The last touch of the ball before the ball went out of play was made by a defender.

soccer goal kick

The goal kick must be taken from inside the penalty area

Once a goal kick has been awarded, the referee will blow their whistle and point towards the six-yard line (the smaller of the two boxes in the penalty area).

From there, the goalkeeper generally places the ball on the line and then takes the goal kick.

This action is always unopposed, and opposition players are not allowed to stand in the penalty area when a goal kick is being taken.

Players on the defending team can stand in the penalty area should they wish, however the majority of goal kicks are sent long from goalkeepers, as they look to move their team up the field and away from the dangers of having the ball so close to their own goal.

Goalkeepers can score from goal kicks

When taking a goal kick, keeping possession, or clearing the danger is the principal objective for a goalkeeper.

However, should a goalkeeper be able to kick the ball the length of the field, in theory they can score from a goal kick.

Instances of this are few and far between in footballing history and goalkeepers generally have to be aided by some wind assistance, a particularly hard or bouncy pitch and/or some calamitous goalkeeping at the other end of the field to score from a goal kick.

That said, it can be done, so the opposition need to be on the ball when a goal kick is being taken.

Players cannot be offside from a goal kick

One of the niche advantages of a goal kick, is players on the defending side cannot be offside when their goalkeeper is taking a goal kick.

Generally, the goal kick is a defensive action, with a goalkeeper looking to get the ball away from their goal area.

However, with progressions in the game, players are now seeing goal kicks as an opportunity to stand further up the field their goalkeeper is taking a goal kick.

With no offside rule in play, a player can stand anywhere when their team is taking a goal kick, which can be used as an attacking advantage and stretches the opposition defense.

Any player can take a goal kick

Whilst the vast majority of goal kicks are taken by the goalkeeper, in theory any outfield player can take a goal kick.

Tactically, very few teams or managers would see this as hugely advantageous, but should a goalkeeper pick up an injury, being able to use an outfield player to take a goal kick can be hugely useful for a side.

soccer goalie

The goal kick taker can’t touch the ball twice

As with all set pieces on a soccer pitch, the person who takes the set-piece cannot touch the ball twice consecutively.

Meaning the goal kick taker must not dribble the ball when taking the goal kick and can only receive the ball back once another player (on the same team or the opposition) has touched it.

As one of the most frequent actions on a soccer field, the goal kick is a relatively simple action, however there are a few accompanying rules to consider with every goal kick that takes place.

Using the goal kick effectively can be an attacking tool but in the main, it is a defensive action on the soccer pitch, as sides look to clear the ball away from their goal and move their team up the field of play.