Knowing when the ball is out of bounds in soccer is crucial to understanding how the game works. Specific requirements define what it means for the ball to be out, and I’m going to clearly explain them to you here.
The ball is out in soccer when the whole ball has completely crossed the goal line or touchline on a soccer field. The ball is also out of play when the referee stops play, and in certain circumstances, the ball is out when it touches a game official and remains on the field of play.
Sometimes it can seem as if the ball is out even when it isn’t. And sometimes, it can take an eagle eye to see the difference.
In this article, I want to give you the confidence to tell the difference between when it’s in and when it’s out.
I’ll do this by:
- Explaining the circumstances that lead to the ball being out,
- Showing you some examples of each situation,
- And revealing what exactly happens when the ball is out
What Is Considered Out of Bounds in Soccer?
The rules of soccer make the game what it is today. It is popular and loved all around the world.
But players can only compete while the ball is in play and not out.
There are three scenarios where the ball is considered out of bounds in soccer:
- When the whole ball has passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air,
- When the referee stops play,
- Or when the ball touches an official, remains on the field and:
- a team starts a promising attack or
- the ball goes into a goal or
- there is a change in the team in possession of the ball.
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) set these rules. Along with FIFA, they are responsible for ensuring soccer is played in the same way worldwide.
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. The Ball Is Out When It Has Passed Over the Goal Line or Touch Line
Every soccer pitch, or field, is the same shape and has the same lines and markings on the ground. As a reminder of this, take a look at the image below.
The ball is considered out of bounds when it is outside of the perimeter lines marked on a soccer field. The whole ball must have crossed the line for the ball to be out.
In soccer, the perimeter line is “in play” and is part of the playing field.
This is one way soccer is different from other sports such as football or basketball. In both of those sports, the line itself is out of bounds.
In basketball, for instance, if the ball touches the line, or a player touches the line while in possession of the ball, the ball is out of bounds.
In soccer, if the ball is touching the line or is in the air and hasn’t completely crossed the line, the ball is still in play, and the game continues.
Let me give you two examples of this.
Examples of the Ball Being in or Out of Play on the Touchline
If a player is running up the edge of the field with the ball and the ball rolls onto the touchline as they are dribbling, then play continues as the ball is still in play.
However, if the entire ball had moved fully over the touchline, the referee would stop play as the ball would be out of bounds.
In another example, if a goalie catches the ball before it crosses the goal line but their feet are outside of the field of play, the referee will allow play to continue as the ball has not crossed the goal line and is still in play.
In soccer, the position of the ball is what matters, not the position of the player.
2. The Ball Is Out When the Referee Stops Play
The second situation where the ball is out of play is when the referee stops the game.
Knowing when the ball is in or out of play is vital if you are to understand the decisions the referee and players are making throughout a game.
How do you know when the ball is in and out?
The ball is in or out whenever the referee says that it is in or out. In soccer, the referee has control over a game and has full authority to enforce the game’s rules as they see fit. This authority applies to the position of the ball at any time.
Examples of the Ball Being Out When the Referee Stops Play
There are too many situations to list here where a referee may stop play.
But the most common circumstances would be:
- When the ball has gone out of bounds,
- When a player has committed a foul,
- or when a player has scored a goal.
In each of these scenarios, the referee would stop play, and the ball would be out.
3. The Ball Is (Sometimes) Out When It Touches an Official and Remains in Play
The third scenario where the ball is out in soccer is far less common than the previous two. You will rarely witness it.
The official laws of the game state:
The ball is out of play when it touches a match official, remains on the field of play and a team starts a promising attack, or the ball goes directly into the goal, or the team in possession of the ball changes.IFAB Laws of the Game
In most situations, when the ball touches one of the game’s officials, play simply continues as if nothing had happened.
However, this rule exists to prevent either team from gaining an advantage from the official’s contact with the ball.
As you would have noticed, the three circumstances listed all provide one team with an advantage that they would not have otherwise had enjoyed.
- They are now able to start a “promising attack”,
- They will have scored a goal,
- or they will now be in possession of the ball when they were not before.
If this happens, then the referee will stop play, and the ball will be out.
What Happens When the Ball Goes Out in Soccer?
Once you understand when the ball is out of play, the next step is to understand what happens next.
How does the ball return to play?
When the ball goes out in soccer, a team will restart play by taking either a throw-in, a corner kick, a goal kick, or a kick-off. The location the ball went out determines which option a team can use. The referee may also restart play with a dropped ball after the ball goes out.
Let me run through each of these five options to help you understand when they are used.
1. Play Restarts With a Throw-in
A throw-in is a way of restarting play after the ball has gone out over the touchline of the field. A player must throw the ball over their head with two hands while both feet are touching the floor. A throw-in is taken from the location the ball left the field.
The lines that run down either side of a soccer field are also known as touchlines.
If the ball goes out over either of these lines, then the opponents of the team that last touched the ball must throw the ball back in from the location the ball went out.
The player can throw the ball in any direction and to any player.
For more information on throw-ins, check out my post – 11 Soccer Throw-in Rules: All You Need to Know – or – Can You Score From a Throw-In in Soccer?.
2. Play Restarts With a Corner Kick
A corner kick is a way of restarting play after the ball has gone out over the goal line of the field. A player must kick the ball from the corner of the field nearest to where the ball went out. Corner kicks are always taken by the attacking team.
The lines that run along either end of a soccer field are also known as goal lines.
If the ball goes out over either of these lines and the last player to touch the ball was on the defending team, then the opponents of the team that last touched the ball must take a corner kick from the corner nearest where the ball went out.
At a corner kick, the player can kick the ball in any direction and to any player.
For more information on corner kicks, check out my post – Corner Kicks in Soccer: A Complete Guide.
3. Play Restarts With a Goal Kick
A goal kick is a way of restarting play after the ball has gone out over the goal line of the field. A player must kick the ball from anywhere within the defending team’s goal area. Goal kicks are always taken by the defending team.
If the ball goes out over either of the goal lines and the last player to touch the ball was on the attacking team, then the opponents of the team that last touched the ball must take a goal kick from within their goal area.
The goal area in soccer is also known as the 6-yard-box, as it extends 6 yards into the soccer field.
Any player on the defending team can take a goal kick, and they can kick the ball in any direction and to any player.
Check out my post – Goal Kick in Soccer: Rules and Meaning for more information on goal kicks.
4. Play Restarts With a Kick-off
A kick-off in soccer is a way of restarting play after a team has scored a goal or after the halftime break. A soccer game also starts with a kick-off.
After a team scores a goal and the ball is out of play, the team that conceded the goal takes the ball to the center of the field and takes a kick-off to restart the game.
A player takes the kick-off from the center mark in the middle of the center circle and can kick the ball in any direction and to any player.
Every game of soccer also starts with a kick-off. Before the game, the referee and the two teams decide which team will take the kick-off. The opposite team will start the second half with a kick-off.
For more information on kick-offs, check out my post –Kick-Off in Soccer: Meaning, Rules, and Strategy.
5. Play Restarts With a Dropped Ball
Lastly, after the ball has gone out, play is sometimes restarted with a dropped ball.
The referee restarts play with a dropped ball when the ball touches an official, remains on the field, and a team starts a promising attack, or the ball goes into a goal, or there is a change in the team in possession of the ball.
If the ball touches the official on the field and one team gains an advantage due to this contact, the referee will pause the game and restart with a dropped ball.
The referee will drop the ball from around shoulder height in front of a player from the team that last touched the ball.
To understand more about the dimensions of a soccer field and what the different lines and markings mean, check out one of the previous posts: