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Can You Push in Soccer? Some Knowledge for You

Can You Push in Soccer? Some Knowledge for You

There has to be a fair bit of contact when 22 players jump on a 100 yards field to fight for possession and score goals!

Pushing in soccer is a common part of the game. You see players pushing, pulling, and tripping others quite often in every match, even the professional ones.

But not all of them get called out for a foul by the referee. At times, the referee gives the advantage play with a warning. And at others, he lets the players go off without even a warning.

Now that makes you wonder what the extent of pushing is in soccer? Can you push at all in a soccer match? If yes, when is it considered legal and when illegal?

It took me quite a while to wrap my head around how soccer is a contact sport. But even more to figure out the clean ways to push another player off the ball without hearing the whistle.

Being a defender, you have to master the art of legal pushing in soccer more than any other position. You break an opponent’s run towards the goal and obstruct clinical passing in dangerous areas.

But being artsy in pushing at other positions gives you a serious advantage in soccer over others. Ibrahimovic, Cantona, and Suarez are a few examples of aggressive forwards with an intense pushing ability.

So, let’s start off today by learning how soccer looks at pushing during a game. And how pushing in soccer is different from other sports?

What is Considered Pushing in Soccer?

Soccer differs from other contact games like football, rugby, and hockey when it comes to pushing. While using your hands and elbows is a common part of the later mentioned games, it is near blasphemous in soccer.

But for the part where soccer does allow pushing, it is strictly limited to body-body contact. That is when you’re shoulder-shoulder with an opponent and only use your body to push another player.

Van Dijk use his shoulder to push the opponent

Though the rules of soccer only consider a tackle or a push legal if it’s not “careless,” “reckless,” or involves the “use of excessive force.”

However, the Laws of the Game governing soccer globally fails to clarify the nature of these three types of challenges. Now, how do you then interpret when a push might be reckless, careless, or has used excessive force?

This domain is left entirely to the interpretational authority of the referee in the game. He considers the age, experience, and physical capabilities of both the players and makes his decision.

So as long as you satisfy the referee that your push doesn’t fit either of the three criteria above, you’re good to go. But if the referee sees that your push wasn’t exactly a clean one, he’ll blow the whistle and stop the game.

The Penalty for Pushing in Soccer

Messi prepare to do a free kick

The decision to penalize a player after an illegal push is again referred to the Rules of the Game. And it comes out as follows:

Careless: A mere miscalculation of the collision or the push by the player is considered irresponsible in soccer judgment. And it is penalized by awarding the opponent’s team with a free-kick from the spot.

Reckless: Reckless challenges are when you push another player off the ball without putting soccer rules in mind. Use of elbows or hands or pulling an opponent are all reckless challenges. And such a push is penalized by booking the conceding player with a Yellow Card along with awarding a free-kick.

Excessive Use of Force: Complete gross misconduct or a violent act needs the player to be sent off from the remaining game by awarding a Red Card.

Running too rapidly at a player possessing the ball is one situation of excessive use of force. But for a more specific scenario, think of Zidane’s majestic headbutt against Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup finals.

The referee gives a player in white a red card

Can You Push in Soccer?

Simply put, yes! You can push other players off the ball in soccer. But realistically, it’s a tad more complicated than that!

Soccer is a sport played dominantly with your feet. It’s literally called football in the rest of the world. And the use of hands and elbows is strictly forbidden for both the ball and other players.

Considering that you generally use your hands or elbows to push, pushing in soccer becomes a delicate subject. And so, the only way left to push another player is the body-body contact.

Adaman Traore try to escape from the takle of the opponent in soccer 2

Now, the Rules of the Game are set in place to ensure the physical safety of the players on the pitch. Since most soccer players appear 2-3 times a week in matches, these rules become paramount.

And so, the body-body pushes aren’t left entirely in a grey area either. To ensure the safety of other players, a push is legal only if it does not have the potential to harm others.

Or, in the words of the lawmakers, if it isn’t “careless,” “reckless,” or has a “use of excessive force.”

However, slight pushing and fair tackles are a crucial part of the game. There is no way a player doesn’t come into contact with another through the 90 minutes of play.

So, to get the better of these contacts during a soccer match, here’s a more detailed perspective on the types of pushes!

Adama Traore use his shoulder to shield the ball

Can You Push People with Your Body in Soccer?

A body push is perhaps the only legal push in soccer. Other pushes like a shoulder-shoulder or a back-back are just variants of the same.

Though you already may know, it’s good to clarify first what exactly accounts for a body push.

A body push is when you have your arms and elbows tucked to your sides, close to your body, and push an opponent away from the ball either by using momentum or a slight push/lift from your legs.

Such body pushes pack a lot of force and can sway an opponent off of his feet. But that too comes with a relative complication.

You can only push against an opponent by making contact with his side. That is either the other player’s shoulder or his arms if he too has them tucked close to his body.

If your push comes at an angle slightly to the front or back, the referee may still let it go. But if it goes deeper and your push is against either the spine or the chest of the opponent, it’s a foul!

Can You Push People with Your Arms in Soccer?

The use of arms in soccer is the most controversial. The only times you’re allowed to use your arms are when you’re either a Goalkeeper or are taking a Throw-in.

You can also set the ball with your hands for a free-kick, penalty kick, or corner kick. However, they’re not considered a playing part of the match, so they barely count.

And to use your arms to push or pull another player is strictly forbidden and will get you sent off from the game. But there is a cheeky way around using your arms to push another player!

man pushing his opponent with his arm

If your arms are tucked closely and not away from your body at all, you can use your arms to push off another player. It wouldn’t get called out because this technically falls under the body-body push.

However, it is a thin line between fair and foul play, as you never know when you instinctively push an opponent solely using your arms. That is when they’re not closely tucked into your body anymore.

During a corner kick, you can also use your arms to position yourself in the opponent’s penalty area. This pushing is relatively common during free-kicks, and corner kicks as it lies in the grey area.

But be mindful that using too much force will catch the referee’s eye and may have you booked since it isn’t exactly legal by the book!

Can You Push People with Your Shoulder in Soccer?

A shoulder barge is a legal push in soccer. And it’s considered one of the most effective ways to push your opponent off the ball.

Unlike a body push, shoulder tackles come in handy more when running and sprinting with the ball. Since you cannot come to a stop to align your body with another player, a gentle push off of your shoulder clears some space up.

However, a shoulder push doesn’t involve the use of arms. If you don’t lean your body towards your opponent, it will likely become an elbow tackle, which is illegal.

soccer player pushing his opponent with his shoulder

But the legality of shoulder tackles still isn’t unconditional. The rules of a careless, reckless, and excessive use of force still apply to shoulder tackles.

A shoulder push should be strong enough to push your opponent away and gentle enough not to topple him over. After all, soccer is about playing the ball and not the player.

A referee has to consider the size and strength of players before calling a shoulder push a foul. When a taller player shoulder-pushes a shorter one, it usually makes an elbow contact. And so, it counts as a foul.

Also, charging into your opponent at high speed is a foul, too, regardless of whether or not you used your shoulder or not.

Moreover, you cannot shoulder charge an opponent from the front or the back. It has chances of injuring the other player, which makes it illegal too.

The idea you see of a shoulder push in soccer is to merely push an opponent away from the ball. Anything more than that is foul and illegal.

How to Push in Soccer?

Now that we’re clear on how not to push another player, let’s go over the allowed pushes in soccer.

(To gain a deeper understanding, I encourage you to read the article ‘How to push in soccer?‘ This will provide you with further insights into the topic.)

1. Get a Shoulder-Shoulder Contact

Getting shoulder-shoulder contact is essential for a legal push in soccer. This happens when you’re either fighting for a common aerial ball or when you’re running at high speed. It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

You align yourself adjacently to your opponent such that you’re both facing, more or less, the same way.

After you establish contact through your side by touching your shoulder with the opponent’s, you can then push against the player with all your might.

two soccer players with shoulder shoulder contact

It is very easy to extend your hands and elbows to support your push. And that’s why you must keep your arms closely tucked into your body.

Shoulder pushes pack a lot of energy and can make you use your balance on contact, so it’s essential to make sure both of your feet are firmly set on the ground before charging at an opponent.

Though it’s an effective way of clearing out some space for yourself or taking over possession, you still run the risk of conceding a foul.

Since it is so easy to overpack your push and tackles, you never know when you obstruct the rules of playing. And not just conceding a freekick, you can get sent off for a very unintentional mistake.

2. Give Your Back to Your Opponent

Common terminology used for giving your back to your opponent is “shielding” the ball.

You can see players doing this when they usually reach the end of the field. This is a valuable tactic to force your opponent to kick the ball out of play or concede a free-kick.

You start by slowing down before coming to a stop and bring your body between the ball and your opponent. Bend your knees to activate your legs and stiff up your back to avoid toppling over with a push.

kid shielding his soccer ball

Since the opponent cannot establish a clean contact with the ball, he must try kicking it from either side. And as he shifts his weight, you can move to the opposite side and keep him away from the ball.

Do this for as long as you can’t see a teammate standing in the clear to pass the ball to. Or until your opponent gets aggressive and either commits a foul or kicks it out of play while attempting to gain possession of the ball.

However, giving your back to your opponent exposes a blind spot. This means you’ll no longer be aware of the situation around you or the attempts of the defender.

If the defender really knows what he’s doing, he can end up stealing the ball and leave you at a disadvantage of a slow start.


Pushing is an integral part of soccer. Without the laxity to push another player, it would’ve been nearly impossible to gain possession other than poor passes by your opponent.

The leniency to legally push other players exerts pressure on your opposing team. And this pressure makes them commit errors and switch possession easily.

However, a push must be clean according to the Rules of the Game by FIFA. It describes a push that is not careless, reckless, or using excessive force as legal.

And with dos and don’ts mentioned above, you can get to training starting today to perfect your pushes. Learning to legally push another player significantly increases your confidence and performance on the pitch. But always be careful not to overdo things. Use just enough force as is necessary!