Kickoff in Soccer: Meaning, Rules, and Strategy

image of player taking a kick off

The kick-off in soccer is an integral part of every game. But if you are unfamiliar with it, or you have questions over what some of the rules are regarding it, then it can be hard to understand what is happening. I’m going to answer these questions for you in this article.

Let’s start with a definition of what a kick-off is.

In soccer, a kickoff is used to start each half of a game and to restart the game after a goal. The opponents of the team that start the game will take the kickoff to begin the second half, and when a team score a goal, their opponents take a kickoff to restart the game.

Every soccer game begins with a kick-off, but there are specific rules that each player on the field must follow at a kickoff. As well as explaining what these rules are, I’ll also give you some great strategies that you may see used at a kick-off.

Kick-Off Rules in Soccer

The rules of soccer are decided on by the International Football Association Board(IFAB). FIFA (the governing body for world soccer) is part of this organization and works alongside the IFAB to adapt and create new rules as necessary. [source]

The rules for a kick-off in soccer are laid out clearly in the Laws of the Game.

Let me give you an overview of the rules first, and then we’ll break them down, so you feel confident that you know exactly what they all mean.

The kickoff rules in soccer are as follows:

  • A coin toss decides the team that will take the first kick-off 
  • The team that didn’t take the kick-off in the first half will take the kick-off for the second half
  • After a team scores a goal, the game restarts with a kick-off taken by their opponents

At every kickoff:

  • All players, except the player taking the kick-off, must be in their own half of the field,
  • The opponents of the team taking the kick-off must be at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the ball,
  • The ball must be stationary on the center mark,
  • The ball is in play when it is kicked and clearly moves,
  • A goal may be scored directly against the opponents from the kick-off.

Let’s look at each of these.

How a Soccer Game Starts

A soccer game always starts with a kick-off from the center of the soccer field. Before the game begins, the referee will toss a coin to decide which team gets to kick the ball first and take the first kick-off of the game.

The team that wins the coin toss has two choices. Either they can take the kick-off, or they can choose what goal to attack in the first half. They can’t do both.

Depending on what choice the team makes, their opponents either take the kick-off or their opponents will decide which goal they want to attack in the first half of the game.

Most times, a team will choose to take the kick-off, but sometimes a team may decide to start in one half of the field rather than the other, meaning the opposition will take the kick-off.

There are several reasons a team may make a choice not to take the kick-off. It may be due to the weather conditions of the day – the wind may be blowing strongly in one direction, for example, and they want to take advantage of that. Or they may wish to play towards their own fans and supporters who may be based at one end of the field rather than the other.

Whatever the reason is, the team that is not taking the kick-off can decide.

How the Second Half of a Soccer Game Starts

The second half of a soccer game starts with the team that did not take the kick-off at the beginning of the first half, taking the kick-off.

For example:

If Team A decided to take the kick-off at the beginning of the first half, then Team B will take the kick-off at the beginning of the second half. And if Team B decided to take the kick-off at the start of the first half, then Team A will take the kick-off at the beginning of the second half.

How a Soccer Game Restarts After a Goal Is Scored

After a team scores a goal during a soccer game, the game restarts with a kick-off by the team that conceded the goal. The kick-off is taken from the center mark in the middle of the soccer field.

When a player scores a goal, possession of the ball always goes to the team that conceded the goal.

Check out my article – When Is the Ball Out in Soccer? Explanation with Examples – for more examples of what happens after the ball goes off the field.

Soccer Kick-Off Positions

No matter what team is taking the kick-off, there are certain positions that every player has to be in at the time of the kick-off.

All players, except the player taking the kick, must be positioned in their own half of the soccer field at kick-off. The opponents of the team taking the kick-off must also be at least ten yds (9.15 m) from the ball until it is in play. The center circle marks this distance.

soccer kick off positions

At the kick-off, whether at the beginning of either half or after a goal, you will notice that all the players return to their own half of the field. The idea of this is to reset the field of play and return the position of the players back to an equal starting point.

If you have seen a soccer field, you also have noticed the big circle in the center of the field. This circle has a radius of 10 yds (9.15 m) from the center mark in the middle of the soccer field.

The reason this circle is on the field is to show the players the distance away from the ball they need to be at kick-off. It also shows the referee if any player is too close to the ball. There are no excuses for getting it wrong!

To find out more about soccer field markings, sizes and dimensions, go to my article – How Big is a Soccer Field?

Location of the Ball at Kick-Off

The rules of soccer are clear that the ball must be stationary on the center mark at the moment a team takes the kick-off. The ball can’t be moving and isn’t permitted to be even an inch away from the center mark.

When the Ball Is in Play

At kick-off, the ball is in play when a player kicks it, and it has clearly moved.

As soon as the player taking the kick-off makes contact with the ball, and the referee can see that the ball has moved, then the ball is considered to be in play. At this point, any of the other players on the field can move towards the ball as the restrictions on their positioning are lifted.

You may have noticed that there are no restrictions on the direction the ball has to move at a kick-off.

At kick-off, the ball does not have to go forward. The ball may move in any direction. A player can choose to pass the ball forward at kick-off, but there is no requirement for them to do so.

This is a relatively new change to the kick-off rules. Up until 2016, the ball had to go forward at a kick-off. The rules changed to allow a player to kick the ball in any direction at a kick-off. Now the only requirement is that the ball must move. [source]

Can a Player Score From Kick-Off?

A soccer player can score a goal directly from a kick-off. Law 8 in the rules of soccer specifically permits this. However, a player cannot score an own goal from a kick-off. If that happens, then the referee will award a corner kick to the opponents.

Have a look at this example of a player scoring directly from a kick-off:

'They're not going to shoot directly from kick-off, are they?'
Scoring a goal directly from kick-off

There is nothing in the rules of soccer to stop a player from scoring a goal from a kick-off. The kick-off in soccer is a direct free-kick, and because of this, the player taking the kick is permitted to score directly from the kick-off.

One thing that the rules of soccer do not allow is for a player to score an own goal from a kick-off.

It’s tough to imagine a situation where this would happen. I certainly couldn’t find any examples of a player scoring an own goal from a kick-off. But if for some reason it did, then the referee would award a corner kick to the opponents of the team taking the kick-off.

Kick-off Offenses

One more thing to be aware of at kick-off is what is considered an offense.

Firstly, if the player taking the kick-off does not follow any of the kick-off rules correctly, then the referee will make the player re-take the kick-off.

It is also an offense if the player taking the kick-off makes contact with the soccer ball again before the ball has touched another player on the field. In this situation, the referee will award an indirect free kick to the opposing team.

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Soccer Kick-off Strategies

Hopefully, you now feel as though you understand what a kick-off is and what the rules are regarding the kick-off in soccer. I wanted to leave you with six kick-off strategies you may see used, or you may want to use yourself in a soccer game.

6 Soccer Kick-Off Strategies:

  1. Play the ball back to another player on your team. This is the safest option as it keeps possession of the ball within your team, allowing you the ability to use the ball as you please.
  2. Play the ball sideways to another player on your team nearby. This strategy enables your team to keep possession of the ball but puts your team in a more attacking position than the previous option.
  3. Play the ball long, over the heads of your opponents. Although this strategy moves the ball up the field nearer to your opponent’s goal, it is a risky move as there is a high chance that your team will lose possession of the ball, and the opposition will attack.
  4. Chip the ball forward, but only a short distance. This tactic moves the ball forward on the field into a more attacking position for your team but not so far forward that your team is likely to lose possession of the ball.
  5. Play the ball out wide to another player on your team. If a team has a player out wide that is in space away from any opposition players, then the player taking the kick-off can play the ball over to them. That player can then take the ball forward.
  6. Play the ball forward and over the sidelines in the opponents half of the field. This strategy is rarely seen but was used in France by Olympique Marseille in 2018. The idea of this strategy is to kick the ball straight out for a throw-in in your opponent’s half. This puts pressure on the opponents as they have to take a throw-in near their own goal.


A kick-off in soccer is a straightforward play when you understand the rules and procedures that the players have to follow.

If you want to improve your soccer skills, then I highly recommend this soccer training course on It has the potential to be the catalyst that takes your game and skills to the next level. It contains hours of high-quality training at a great price. Click the link and take 2 minutes to check it out.

If you want more info about how different parts of a soccer game work, then have a look at one of my other articles on this website.

All of the rules of soccer that are referred to in this article can be found in the official Laws of the Game of soccer.

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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