Kick-Off In Soccer: Meaning, Rules & Strategies

The official start of a soccer match takes place with a kick-off. It’s thought of as a ceremonial part of the game, and not much happens right off the bat. However, for some people, they may not even know much about kick-offs in general.

We dive a little deeper into kick-offs in soccer at various times during the match, trying to explain everything so that no one is in the dark. By better understanding, the rules for kick-offs and everything else associated with it in soccer, fans and players can feel more confident overall.

What is kick-off in soccer? A kick-off in soccer is when the ball is officially put in play to start the match at some point in time. Kick-offs occur at the start of both halves, as well as any extra time halves. Kick-offs also take place after each goal, signifying that play is ready to start again.

What Are The Rules To Kick Offs In Soccer?

Even though it might seem pretty ceremonial more than anything, a soccer match doesn’t start until a kick-off occurs. When lining up for a kick-off, each team has to stay on their respective half of the field. The only two players involved in the kick-off are inside the center circle, which allows for everything to be pretty tame at the beginning.

If a player taking the kick off touches the ball again before it has touched another player – an indirect free kick is awarded.

Apart from that, once the ball is put into play, there are no special rules that say teams can’t play a certain way. Some teams will try to catch the opposition by surprise and go for a goal right after kick-off. The same can be said for defenses, as some will try to do a sneak attack right away to see if the ball can be stolen for a counterattack.

The ball can be moved forward or backward, as long as it starts inside of the center circle. More often than not, teams will pass it back towards their side of the pitch, setting up any potential attacks in time.

The Kick Off Procedure

  • Except the players taking the kick off, all players must be in their own half of the field of play
  • The ball needs be still on the centre mark
  • The opponents of the team taking the kick off – must be at least 10 yards (9.15m) from the ball until it’s in play
  • The referee gives a signal (whistle)
  • The ball is in play when it’s kicked and moving

Kick Off Positioning

Whenever kick-offs occur, the players on either side should be on their own half the soccer field. Opponents need to stay at least 10 yards from the ball until it is in play, marked by the center circle.

The ball during the kick-off needs to be stationary on the center mark of the field in the middle of the circle. Even if the ball is moving just a little bit, or is slightly off, it is technically not allowed. Some leagues might not care about that too much, but others take it pretty seriously.

Can Someone Score off The Kick Off?

Technically speaking, a soccer player can score a goal directly from a kick-off. According to official rules, this is 100% permitted. The odds of that happening are very rare, but it could happen if everything aligns correctly.

If the kick goes the opposite way and an own goal is scored off the kick-off for some reason, it doesn’t actually count. Instead, the opposing team gets a corner kick.

Kick Off Strategies

While kick-offs might seem pretty ceremonial to start play, plenty of teams use certain strategies to set things up. Whether a team wants to be conservative or really go for a certain type of move, strategies can actually make a difference in the match.

1. Playing The Ball Back

The conservative and traditional option during a kick-off is to play the ball back to another player on the team. It’s an easy way to keep possession and set up something a bit more complicated off of the kick-off.

More often than not, this is the play that teams will use. It might not be flashy, but it prevents any big mistakes.

2. Playing The Ball Sideways

Passing the ball sideways on the kick-off is a way to be a little more attacking, while still being somewhat conservative. This can start to push the match’s pace a little bit more right after the kick-off.

A sideways kick takes a little bit of precision, but most players at a high level can pull this off.

3. Playing The Ball Long

A risky move that is only used occasionally, playing the ball long and over opponents can come with great reward. The good news is that the ball is near the opponent’s goal, but the opposition will also be ready for it.

If they defend well, this can be easily stopped. That’s why it is not seen too often at the highest level. If a team is physically superior to their opposition, this could be a move to try.

4. Playing The Ball Outside

Some teams will align a player out wide to get a lot of width to a play. It’s a bit riskier because the pass is long, but teams can still be pretty conservative with their approach once it arrives to the player.

Having the ball outside can space everything and help tremendously with the right clientele. 

5. Playing The Ball Forward

This is so infrequently used that the strategy might not even seem like it’s legal. However, playing the ball forward is pretty much giving the opponents the ball in their half of the field.

It can end up being successful in certain situations. Instead of necessarily doing anything with the ball, kicking the ball forward but out of bounds puts the team in a position where they have to throw the ball in near their goal.

If they are not ready for it, there might be an opportunity for a counter-attack, which could be a perfect situation to succeed.

6. Chipping The Ball Forward

A small chip forward is a way to put the team in an attacking position instantly.

It’s a very controlled and short chip, increasing the odds of holding onto possession. It’s a bit risky for some, but teams that practice a lot will be able to handle it.

Why Kick Offs In Soccer Matter More Than Most Realize

As mundane as kick-offs are at times, they do matter in a lot of ways. Strategy plays a role in setting up scoring opportunities at times.

The next time it seems like just another kick-off, try to see if there are any moving parts from the beginning that seem like a set play. It might just end up being surprising.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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