Goal Kick in Soccer: Rules and Meaning

A goal kick in soccer takes place multiple times throughout every game. If you’ve watched even one game, I’m sure you will have seen one. Understanding why a player takes a goal kick and knowing what is involved is essential to appreciate this part of the game. But when someone talks about a goal kick, what do they mean?

A goal kick is a method of restarting play after the ball has left the field by crossing the goal line without a goal being scored. The referee will award the defending team a goal kick if the ball was last touched by an opposition player. A player must take the goal kick from within the goal area.

In this article, you’ll discover:

Definition of a Goal Kick in Soccer

There are several different set-pieces in soccer that all focus on restarting the game after the ball has gone out of play. There are rules and meanings that apply to each set-piece, but today we’re going to look at what a goal kick is and answer all the questions you may have about it.

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When the referee awards a team a goal kick, it means they must take an unopposed kick from within their goal area.

A goal kick is a means of restarting the game after the ball has gone out of play. In soccer, a game is restarted in a number of ways depending on where the ball left the field.

When the ball goes over the goal line at either end of the field, then the only way to bring the ball back into play is through a corner kick or goal kick.

A team gets a goal kick when a player on the attacking team was the last person to touch the ball before it went out of play over the goal line.

The same applies whenever the ball goes off the field in soccer. The last team to touch the ball before it goes off loses possession of the ball, and the opposition team will bring the ball back into play.

The rules of soccer restrict a defending team to only taking a goal kick from within a team’s goal area as well. In the image below, you can see the small box next to the goal. This is the goal area.

soccer field penalty area

Aerial view of soccer field penalty area

As with anything in soccer, it’s vital you understand the rules. So, let’s look at the rules for a goal kick now.

Goal Kick Rules

The organization that governs the laws of soccer – the International Football Association Board (IFAB) – has dedicated a whole section of the rules to the goal kick. Law 16 gives you all the details about what can and can’t happen.

But to save you having to read through all the intricate details, I’ve summarized all the essential facts here.

The Rules of Soccer: A Beginners Guide.

1. The Whole Ball Has to Pass Over the Goal Line

The first rule for a goal kick is that the whole ball has to have passed entirely over the goal line at the end of the soccer field for the referee to award a goal kick.

soccer field

Soccer field with goal line at either end

The fact is, this is the same for any boundary line on a soccer field. Whether you’re talking about a corner kick, a goal, or a throw-in, none of these will occur unless the whole ball has completely crossed over the line.

If you look at this image of a soccer field, you will notice that the goal line is the line at either end of the field that the soccer goal and net are placed upon.

When the referee, or the referee’s assistant, sees the ball go across the goal line, they will stop the play and signal that the defending team must take a goal kick.

A referee’s signal for a goal kick is their arm straight, parallel to the ground, and pointing towards the goal where the defending team will take the goal kick.

It also doesn’t matter how far off the ground the ball is at this moment. Whether the ball is in the air or on the ground, it is out of play when it crosses the goal line.

2. A Player on the Attacking Team Must Have Touched the Ball Last

As soon as the ball has gone out of play, the first thought a referee will have is, “who touched the ball last?”.

This is important because the referee can only award a goal kick if the last player to touch the ball was on the attacking team. If the last player to touch the ball was on the defending team, the referee would award a corner kick.

3. A Player Must Take the Kick From Within the Goal Area

Having been awarded a goal kick, there are several rules the kicker must follow when taking the kick.

One of the most important rules is that a player must take a goal kick from within the defending team’s goal area.

Although you will often see a goalkeeper take a goal kick from near the edge of the goal area that runs parallel to the goal line, the kicker can take the goal kick from anywhere within the goal area.

It often makes sense to take the kick from the location nearest to where you want the goal kick to go.

The ball also needs to be stationary at the moment it’s kicked. A goalie can’t roll the ball out in front of them and then kick it while it’s still moving. If this happens, the player will have to retake the goal kick.

4. Opposition Players Must Stay Outside of the Penalty Area Until the Ball Is Kicked

Another important rule to be aware of at a goal kick is:

No opposition player can enter the penalty area until the kicker has taken the goal kick and the ball has clearly moved.

There are no exceptions to this rule. If an opponent of the player taking the goal kick does enter the area before the defending player takes the kick, the goal kick will have to be retaken.

You’ll also have noticed that the rule only says opposition players can’t enter the penalty area.

In 2019 the IFAB introduced a new goal kick rule that removed the requirement for defending players to stay outside the penalty area at a goal kick. The ball is now in play once the ball is kicked. Only the opponents of the kicker must remain outside the penalty area. 

This rule enables a goalkeeper to pass the ball to a teammate within the penalty area at a goal kick.

5. The Goalkeeper Can Score From a Goal Kick

One question many people have about goal kicks is whether a goalkeeper can score a goal from one.

goalkeeper cheering after goal
Goalie cheering after goal

A goalkeeper can score a goal directly from a goal kick. A goal kick is a “direct” kick in soccer, which means any player can score a goal directly from that kick. 

Although it is rare to see a player score directly from a goal kick, occasionally, it does happen. Mostly when a gust of wind catches the ball and takes it further up the field than expected, but sometimes when the opposing goalie makes a mistake.

In soccer, the rules of the game designate some kicks as “direct” and others as “indirect”. You can find out more about these differences in my article about free-kicks in soccer, but basically, a player can score directly from a direct kick but cannot score directly from an indirect kick.

6. A Player Can’t Score an Own Goal From a Goal Kick

Although a player can score in the opposition’s goal at a goal kick, it’s a different story if the ball ends up in their own goal net.

A goalie cannot score an own goal from a goal kick. If a goalkeeper scores an own goal from a goal kick, then the referee disallows the goal and awards a corner kick to the opposing team.

It is incredibly rare to see a player score an own goal from a goal kick and I can’t remember ever seeing it happen. Something extraordinary would have had to have happened for this scenario to play out!

7. Any Player Can Take a Goal Kick

Throughout the list of rules so far, you may have noticed that I have often referred to a “player” taking the goal kick and not just the goalie.

The reason for this is because it isn’t only the goalkeeper that can take goal kicks.

Any player on the defending team can take a goal kick. The rules of soccer permit the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders, and forwards to take a goal kick. 

It is unusual to see any player other than the goalie or a defender take a goal kick. Both the goalkeeper and defenders are the primary defensive players on the team and play in the positions closest to their team’s goal.

 Soccer Positions; A Complete Guide.

When a team is in a position to kick the ball up the field, they want their attacking players to be there, ready to receive the ball. Because of this, it is the goalkeeper or defenders that often take goal kicks for a team.

Can Defenders Take Goal Kicks?

8. The Kicker Can’t Touch the Ball a Second Time After Kicking It

The last rule for a goal kick concerns when the kicker can touch the ball again.

A player cannot touch the ball again after taking a goal kick until the ball has touched another player. If a player touches the ball again after they have kicked it and before another player has come into contact with the ball, the referee will award an indirect free kick to the opposing team.

This rule is common throughout every set piece in a soccer game. Just take a look at my article about free-kicks in soccer, and you will discover the same rule applies there.

The rules prevent the kicker from touching the ball a second time to prevent a player from taking a goal kick to themselves and then attempting to move further up the soccer field with the ball before passing it to a teammate.

By simply kicking the ball a few yards in front of them, outside of the goal area, before kicking the ball up the field, a player could gain a five to ten-yard advantage.

Goal Kick Vs. Corner Kick

When they first start watching soccer, many people are confused about the difference between a goal kick and a corner kick. If that’s you, let me take a moment at this point to explain the difference between the two.

There are three differences between a goal kick and a corner kick:

  1. The location a player takes the kick from
  2. The team that takes the kick
  3. The team that was the last to touch the ball before it went out of play
player taking corner kick
Player taking corner kick

The difference between a goal kick and a corner kick is that a goal kick is taken from within the goal area by the defending team. A corner kick is taken from the corner of the field by a member of the attacking team.

A referee will award the defending team a goal kick when the ball goes out of play across the goal line, and the last player to touch the ball was a player from the attacking team.

The referee will award the attacking team a corner kick when the ball goes out of play across the goal line, and the last player to touch the ball was a player from the defending team.

If you want a greater understanding of what a corner kick means and what is involved in one, then check out my article – Corner Kick in Soccer: Everything you need to know.

Further Information

Having understood what is involved in a goal kick, you will appreciate the importance of being familiar with the rules of soccer.


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