Free Kick in Soccer – All You Need to Know

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In a game of soccer, there are multiple rules that, when broken, will have you penalized. A free kick is one of the major penalizations that a team can face in case of committing a foul. 

The process of executing a free-kick can be tricky at times. There are multiple rules regarding where you will take a free kick from, and if there is a wall of players in front of you, what will be the distance between the wall and the ball? These are just the basics of taking a free kick.

What is a Free Kick in Soccer?

In soccer, a free kick is awarded against the team that commits any foul on the pitch. The game is resumed with a free-kick that is taken exactly on the spot where a foul is committed. The play officially starts again when the ball visibly moves from the point of free-kick. 

Free kicks can be taken in multiple ways depending on the distance between the goalpost and the player taking the kick. A player may directly shoot at the goal or take a short free-kick where they pass the ball to someone close to them. 

If a player makes a tackle and, as a result, takes away the ball illegally, the team losing possession is awarded a free-kick.

This gives them back the possession of the ball. Mostly, free kicks are awarded in case of physical contact during a tackle. Or if a player illegally brings another player down in an attempt to take away the ball. 

However, illegal tackles aren’t the only ways a team can get a free kick. Multiple offenses can result in free kicks. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Handballs.
  • Kicking another player (prominent physical contact).
  • Pushing opposing players.
  • Tripping another player.

Although these aren’t all the offenses in soccer, they are some of the most common ones occurring on the field. 

How Does a Free Kick Work?

Here are a few rules for taking a legal free kick:

  • The ball must not be moving on the ground.
  • The free kick is taken at the exact location where the foul has occurred. 
  • At the time of a free kick, all opponent players must keep a distance of 10 yards from the ball.
  • The player taking the free kick can only touch the ball once. He can’t touch it again until another player touches it.

In case a player fails to follow any of these steps, the referee will mostly ask him to take the free kick again. In rare cases, the referee can also award the opposing team a free-kick.

Free-kick takers are mostly decided before the match begins. Although any player on the team can take a free kick, it usually is the best shooter that takes the kick. For example, if you have Leo Messi on your team, there is no question left about who is taking that next free-kick!

Direct Free Kick

In soccer, there are two types of free kicks: direct and indirect free kicks.  Direct free kicks are taken when a player commits a physical foul on another player. Or when a handball is committed.

As a result, the referee blows the whistle and points at the location from where the free kick is taken. 

In direct free kicks, a wall of opposing players is created at about 10 yards from the ball. These players are the first line of defense in case the kicktaker directly shoots at the goal. The referee also makes a straight line in front of the wall that the players are not supposed to cross. 

Some of the common fouls that result in direct free kicks are:

  • Players tripped from behind. 
  • A player committing a handball. 
  • A player is pushed while jumping or is in the air. 
  • A player shows unnecessary use of force to win the ball over.

A handball always ends up in a direct free-kick, even if it is unintentional.

In case the free kick is awarded higher up the pitch, most players take a direct shot at the goal. If the location of the free kick is on the defensive side, players play long aerial balls to feed the forwards. 

If the foul is committed within the penalty box, things get serious. Committing a foul in the penalty box awards the opposition a penalty kick. This is a special kind of direct kick that is taken from 12 yards only. In such cases, it is a 1 on 1 battle between the kick taker and the opposing goalkeeper. No other player from any team can be inside the 12-yard box.

Indirect Free-Kick

Indirect free-kicks are awarded as a result of unintentional fouls. Referees can indicate indirect free-kicks by pointing their hands straight up in the air. 

Unlike direct free kicks where the player can directly score from the free kick itself, indirect free kicks work in a slightly different fashion.

Although, even in indirect free kicks, you can directly shoot at the goal, but it must touch another player before crossing the goal line. This can be a player on your team or one from the opposition. 

Some common fouls that can get you an indirect free kick include

  • A player slide tackled by an opposing player.
  • When a player tries to win the ball by raising their foot to a dangerous height. 
  • A goalkeeper touches the ball with his hands after it has been last touched by the foot of one of his teammates. 

Note: Indirect free-kicks higher up the pitch can be great to set up a strategy of passes that end up in a goal. But, these free-kicks can also make you vulnerable to counterattacks if you lose the ball upfield. 

Indirect vs. Direct Free-kick

A player can directly score a goal from a direct free kick, while from an indirect free kick, the ball must first touch another player before it can legally cross the goal line.  

Both types of free kicks are awarded from different fouls. Here is a brief comparison of direct and indirect free kicks.

Direct Free KicksIndirect Free Kicks
Awarded when a player commits handball or is tripped from behind.Awarded when a player is slide-tackled from behind.
A player is pushed while he is jumping or is in the air.Awarded when a player passes the ball to his/her goalkeeper and the keeper picks the ball in his hands.
The kick taker can directly shoot at the goal.The kick taker can not directly score from the free kick. The ball must come in contact with another player before it can legally cross the goal line.

What is The Difference Between a Penalty and a Free Kick?

The major difference between a penalty and a free kick is the location of the foul. If a foul is committed inside a penalty box, a penalty kick is awarded. But if a foul is committed anywhere else on the field, a free kick is awarded. 

A penalty kick is itself a direct free kick, but only from a much shorter distance. A penalty kick is awarded when a player commits an offense inside the penalty box. Some common offenses that can result in a penalty kick include:

  • Handball inside the penalty box.
  • Aerial push on a player going for a header.
  • Physical tackle by excessive strength.
  • Tripping a player from behind. 

What are the Rules for Taking a Free Kick Quickly?

With so many rules and possible fouls, soccer is a game of complexities. These rules can become confusing at times in terms of their implementation. For example, the rule of off-side. It totally depends on the referee on the sidelines if an off-side is awarded. 

Another such rule that can be confusing is that of quick free kicks. To study this rule in detail, let’s start from the very fundamentals. 

A free-kick is awarded to a team when one of its players is fouled by the opposition. In this case, the possession is given back to the team on the receiving end. And the game is resumed again by taking a free-kick. 

Now, this can take place in two ways. A conventional free kick where players get time to make a wall and set up their defenses and offenses. However, in a quick free kick, things are a little different. 

In a normal free kick, if there are any violations from the defending side, the free kick is retaken. For example, if the defense wall crosses the white line drawn by the referee, a retake of the free kick will take place. 

When taking a quick free kick, you can surprise your opponents and catch them off guard. However, there is a catch: other normal rules don’t apply here. You will have to give up your right to retake the free kick in case of any violations from the opponent. 

For example, if the ball hits an opponent 4 yards away from you, you can’t claim that as illegal anymore as you have taken a quick free-kick. 

So, the bottom line is that you don’t need to ask the referee. As long as the ball is stationary and at the location of the foul, you can take the free kick as quickly as you want.  

However, there is a tricky concept here. People easily confuse a quick free-kick with a ceremonial free-kick. You can take a quick free kick anywhere, anytime on the pitch. You don’t have to wait for the referee’s whistle. 

A ceremonial free kick, however, can only be taken after the referee’s whistle and after a distance of 10 yards is established between the ball and the wall. 

A ceremonial free kick can only be taken in the following cases:

  • A card penalty had been awarded before the free-kick.
  • An external member of the team (trainer, physician) had to come to the pitch.
  • The opponent demands a distance of 10 yards to be ensured before taking the free-kick. 
  • Referee vetoes to slow the game down.

Note: The referees in Europe believe that the attacking side should be asked if they want to play quick, or slow before making any decisions. 

Free Kick Inside The Penalty Area

Although this might come as a surprise to many, some fouls don’t result in a penalty even if committed inside the penalty box. 

The free kicks awarded inside the box are always the indirect ones. For most serious fouls that include some sort of harsh physical contact, indirect free kicks inside the penalty box are mostly awarded for less harsh fouls. In most cases, these include fouls without any direct physical contact between the two players.

Since it’s an indirect free kick, the player can’t directly shoot at the goalpost. Rather, he has to first pass the ball to another player. 

An indirect free kick inside the penalty box is mostly awarded due to some sort of goalie error. Here are some of the fouls from the goalkeeper that result in an indirect free-kick in the box. 

  • The goalie touches the ball with his hands for a 2nd time after he has released it once already.
  • The goalie touches the ball with his hands when the last touch on the ball is from the foot of one of his own players. (This rule doesn’t apply if the player passes the ball to his goalie from his chest or head).
  • The goalie touches the ball with his hand after his teammate throws it directly to him in a throw-in. 


Free kicks are an important part of soccer. Some of the most entertaining moments in a match can be those from an extraordinary free kick. Free kicks can be direct or indirect, depending on the nature of the foul.

Direct free kicks allow the player to take a direct shot at the goal. On the other hand, indirect free kicks demand a 2nd touch by a player before the ball can be shot at the goal post.

A direct free kick awarded inside the penalty box can be called a penalty kick, Which is taken from 12 yards. However, there are also indirect free kicks awarded inside the box for less serious offenses.

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