Soccer Offsides Explained: Laws of the Game

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Written by Daniel Pena, Bachelors in Kinesiology and footballer: Learn More

What is the soccer offsides rule? Soccer is called the beautiful game because it is one of the most simple games with easy-to-follow rules and minimal equipment needed to start playing.

However, one rule that all beginning players and fans of the game seem to have trouble understanding is the offside position rule. That is why in this blog I will be going over one of the most basic, but complicated rules of the world’s most popular sport, the offside rules.

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The Offsides Rule in Soccer

In the most simple terms, a player is in an offside position if they’re closer to the opponent’s goal line than the ball and the second to last defender when the ball is passed forward. But just being in that offsides position alone does not mean you are offsides.

To be called offside you must actively get involved in the play, meaning if you touch the ball or get in the way of the play, then you will be called offsides. When a player is called offsides, the opposing team will get an indirect free kick from where the offside was called. In the modern game a player’s head, body and feet can all be caught in an offside position but the hands and arms of players are not typically counted.

This is an official statement by the makers of the Laws of the Game, “For the purposes of determining offside, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.” Also, the assistant referees, who are positioned on the sidelines, are the ones in charge of calling out an offside player by raising their flag straight up in the air and notifying the on field referee.

Exceptions to the Offside Rule in Soccer

The offside rule is very important but there are certain exceptions to this rule. As mentioned before, you can stand in an offside position and not be committing an offense if you do not get involved with the play, interfere with an opponent, or gain an advantage if there is a rebound, save, or deflection.

There are also specific scenarios where the offsides rule does not apply such as during a goal kick, corner kick, and a throw-in, or if you receive the ball from an opponent who has deliberately played the ball. Also, if you are in your own half when the ball is played, even if you get to the opponent’s half by the time you get to the ball, then there are no offsides.

Consequences for Being Offsides

An offside offense is not a serious offense and does not lead to a yellow or a red card, no matter how many times it is committed, but it does lead to an indirect free kick for the opposing team.

When was the Offside Rule Introduced?

The offside rule in soccer has changed a lot over the years and it was first introduced in 1863 by the Football Association (FA) of England, which states that a player is offside unless three players from the opposing team are in front of him.

In 1925, the rule changed from three players to two players and most recently in 1990 the rule was changed again to look more like the offsides rule of the modern game. This most recent change states that a player is an onside position if they are level with the second to last opposing player.

The Controversy Behind Offside Calls

The offside rule is one of the most important rules of the game, but it is also one of the most controversial because there is such a small margin between being in an offside or onside that mistakes can happen even at the highest level of professional soccer.

Although FIFA has established rules for offsides, the rules are not so clear and not totally black and white so there is a degree of subjectivity between different referees. Due to this subjectivity, FIFA has introduced new technology to the beautiful game, such as V.A.R (Video Assistant Referee), to help referees make better decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the offside trap?

The offside trap is a soccer skill that the defending team uses to push players up the field to put one or more players from the opposing teams in an offside position.

What is a classic example of a controversial offsides call during a World Cup?

There were a lot of examples of controversial moments surrounding offsides and VAR during the 2022 FIFA World Cup such as Griezmann being disallowed a goal against Tunisia. Check out this article for a full list of offside rule controversies.

When is a player offside in soccer?

A player is in an offside position if any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. The offside line starts at the second to last player, so if the goalkeeper is upfield, the second to last defender guarding you is where the offside line starts,


In conclusion, the offside rule is one of the most important, but complicated rules in soccer. Although it can be confusing to understand at first, once you see it multiple times you will begin to understand it better and even be able to teach others.

In this blog, I covered everything you need to know about the soccer offsides rule.

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