Parents often get upset when a goal is scored and a player is in an offside position but isn’t involved in the play. In addition to the common misconceptions email we send each season, we have started to work on offside education as well. To try and answer some of their questions and to give them some common examples, we send the following offside primer to them every season.

We wanted to share some additional information regarding offside, one of the most misunderstood laws of soccer.

The FIFA Laws of the Game state in Law 11:

It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if:

  • he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

A player is not in an offside position if

  • he is in his own half of the field of play or
  • he is level with the second last opponent or
  • he is level with the last two opponents.

A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.

There is no offside offence if a player receives the ball directly from:

  • a goal kick or
  • a throw-in or
  • a corner kick

The FIFA actually says a lot in as few words as possible.

The one easy thing about offside is determining when a player is in an ‘offside position’ If an attacking player without the ball is in his opponents half of the field and there is no defending player between them and the keeper and they are not even with that defender – that is an offside position. Note they keep it generic and say opponent. If the keeper comes far out of the goal but a defender hangs back in goal, the attacker must stay even with the keeper. If the last defender and goalie are standing next to each other and the attacker is even with them, that is not offside. Note the rule talks about the ball. If attacking player A dribbles up the field past the 2nd to last defender and Player B sprints past them (and the ball) – they will be in an offside position.

That’s the easy part. Now for the fun. The law makes clear that being in an offside position is not an offense. You are called offside if you gain an advantage from being in that offside position. This is where it gets tricky.

Note they state ‘is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team’ Offside is determined when the ball is kicked, NOT when the ball is received by the offside player. Take this example. Player A is even with the 2nd to last opponent (onside) when their teammate kicks the ball ahead of them. Player A darts past the opponent into what appears to be an offside position when they reach the ball. This is legal because they were onside *when the ball was kicked to them* In other words, if a player is already in an offside position when the ball is kicked to them, then they get called for the foul.

The last three bullets are what often make offside confusing. Lets go through them one by one, but in reverse.

  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.

This is very important. If a player goes into an offside position and stands there away from the action – they gain no advantage – thus they are not called offside. But supposed a player is standing offside on the left while their teammate drives to the goal on the right. The teammate drills a shot into the post and the ball ricochets to that player who is still in an offside position. NOW they get called for offside because they gained an advantage (ball possession) by being offside.

  • interfering with play or an opponent

This is often applied in combination with the first bullet. A player can gain an advantage an never touch the ball. Consider this. Player A gets the ball onside and runs toward the goal up the right side of the field. Player B is up ahead on the left, in an offside position and starts running towards the goal as well. Player A never passed, but instead drills a shot into the net as the keeper shifts left to cover Player B who is running at the goal at high speed. By distracting the keeper and affecting the play (i.e. the keeper defense) Player B has gained an advantage from their offside position and thus can be called for offside without even touching the ball.

Another scenario would be Player A is offside directly in front of the keeper. Player B takes the ball towards the goal, using Player A as a screen, darts around Player A and scores. This is offside because by screening the keeper’s view of the ball, Player A gained an advantage, again, without ever touching the ball.

FIFA released a clarification (Decision 2) which highlights some of these very scenarios.

  • Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
  • Interfering with an opponent means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.
  • Gaining an advantage by being in that position means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.

One scenario that happens more often than you think can also cause the most controversy because the scoring player is often clearly offside when they score.

Player A is standing near the goal in an offside position. Player B dribbles up field and passes to the offside teammate, but the ball deflects off a defender before reaching the offside player. The offside player scores and the goal stands. A player cannot be offside if they receive the ball from an opponent.

Finally – note the exceptions. With our short fields, it is quite common for keepers to punt the ball well into the far penalty box. A player may be in an offside position to receive the goal kick.

As with many Laws of the Game, the decision to call offside is at the discretion of the referee and the referee only!

Hopefully this clears up some common misconceptions about offside. FIFA has an excellent Flash animation regarding offside on their website. It takes about 10 minutes and a broadband connection. Many scenarios and examples are given. Simply click ‘Launch Flash Version’ at the bottom of the Law 11 web page (

offside is a tough rule to understand, for parents and players alike. So if you have a question about a given call – ask your coach after the match or even the match official. After the match 🙂

How do you handle offside education in your league? Do you have some good online resources for parents you’d like to share? If so, by all means include them in the comments below!