If and when a player can use their shoulder during a soccer game has caused confusion for a lot of people. I used to be one of those people. But having found out the answer to this question I wanted to let you all know and give a clear explanation of when a soccer player can use their shoulder.
You can use your shoulder in soccer. The rules of soccer permit the use of the shoulder to touch the ball during play and you can also use your shoulder to lean into another player as long as it is a fair challenge.
These are two main ways that the shoulder can be used during a soccer game.
- To make contact with the ball
- or to make contact with another player.
In this article, we’ll look at why it’s ok to touch the ball with your shoulder and if you can score this way, and then we’ll look at how to use your shoulder towards another player.
Is Using Your Shoulder Handball?
Have a look at this short video below of Portuguese soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo using his shoulder to pass the ball during a soccer game.
Using your shoulder in soccer is not a handball offense and is therefore permitted within the rules. If a player clearly touches the ball with their shoulder and not their arm, the referee will allow play to continue.
Although it is uncommon to see a player make a pass this way or even touch the ball with their shoulder there is nothing within the laws of soccer that restrict a player from doing this. And, as you can see above, it does occasionally take place.
The reason for people’s confusion over whether a player can touch the ball with their shoulder in soccer is because of the restriction on touching the ball with either the hand or arm.
Most people are unclear on where exactly a person’s arm ends and the shoulder begins and because of this many people are concerned that touching the ball with the shoulder is considered to be using the arm.
During a soccer game, it is left up to the referee to use their judgment and decide. When the ball hits the player in this area the referee will determine if they believe the ball has made contact with a player’s shoulder or the upper arm. As the referee is in charge of the game, the players and spectators must accept the referee’s decision.
The official laws of the game of soccer are governed by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). Every professional soccer game around the world abides by these rules.
In these rules, there are a number of references to not using the hand or arm. In fact, this is what the rules of soccer say about not a player not using their hand or arm during a game:
In soccer it is an offense if a player:
- deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball
- gains possession/control of the ball after it has touched their hand/arm and then:
- scores in the opponents’ goal
- creates a goal-scoring opportunity
- scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper. [source]
As you can see this list of offenses only refers to the hand or arm.
In soccer, it is not a handball if you use your shoulder. A handball offense occurs only if the ball touches a player’s hand or arm. As the shoulder is considered to be a different part of the body to the hand or arm it is not a handball if the ball touches a player’s shoulder.
There is nowhere in the rules that restrict a player from using their shoulder to pass and as you saw in the video above it can be done and the referee will decide if the shoulder was used legally.
Can You Score With Your Shoulder?
Now you know it is permitted in soccer to touch the ball and pass with your shoulder you may be considering if a player can score with their shoulder.
The answer is yes!
In a game of soccer, a player is allowed to score with their shoulder. The rules of the game of soccer permit this as long as the ball does not also touch the arm of the player.
Have a look at this video below showing Mario Balotelli scoring with his shoulder for Manchester City.
As you can see the player makes sure that only his shoulder touches the ball and not any of his arm. If his arm had touched the ball the goal would have been disallowed by the referee.
As you may have noticed it is not common to see a player scoring with their shoulder during a soccer game. The reason for this is that it is a risky tactic to use and there are a variety of things that could go wrong.
It can be hard to accurately direct the soccer ball with your shoulder. It is a bony part of your body that the ball can fly off in a different direction to what you intended. It is also hard to get a lot of power behind the attempt at goal and unless you are very near the goal, or the ball hits you at considerable speed, the goalie will probably be able to stop the shot.
However none of these reasons make it an illegal move and if you get the opportunity to try it in a game, why not give it a go!
Is Using Your Shoulder a Foul?
Ok, so touching the ball with your shoulder is ok in soccer, but is it ok to touch another person with your shoulder?
The answer to this question is a little more complicated as it relies on the judgment of the referee.
A player can use their shoulder in soccer to make contact with an opponent, such as with a shoulder charge, as long as it is done in a manner that is not considered dangerous, careless, reckless, or using excessive force. Fair contact is acceptable. [source]
As I mentioned before, the referee is in charge of the game and they will use their judgment to decide on the outcome of any action throughout the game.
When it comes to a player shoulder charging another player or using their shoulder against another player it is up to the referee to decide whether that contact was fair, or not.
To help the referee decide, the rules of soccer give specific guidelines on what type of force is considered dangerous, careless, reckless, or excessive.
Dangerous force is:
“any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player themself) and includes preventing a nearby opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury.”IFAB Laws of the Game
“When a player shows a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or acts without precaution.”IFAB Laws of the Game
“When a player acts with disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, an opponent and must be cautioned”IFAB Laws of the Game
and using excessive force is:
“When a player exceeds the necessary use of force and/or endangers the safety of an opponent”IFAB Laws of the Game
As long as the use of the shoulder doesn’t fall into any of these categories then a player is permitted to use their shoulder to tackle or make contact with an opponent.
Because of this, a shoulder to shoulder challenge in soccer is not a foul as long as it is done in a manner that is not considered dangerous, careless, reckless, or using excessive force. Going shoulder to shoulder with an opponent in a dangerous, reckless, or excessive manner may get a player cautioned or sent off.
I hope you now feel you understand how the shoulder can be used in soccer and when it cannot be used.
If you would like to know more about the rules of soccer then check out my Simple and Easy to Understand Rules of Soccer Guide.
Find out when a player may be cautioned or shown a yellow card or when they will be shown a red card or sent off.
And if you’re unsure what soccer equipment you should be buying go to my Recommended Soccer Equipment page where I give all my top recommendations from soccer balls to soccer bags.