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Can You Use Your Shoulder in Soccer? Is It Allowed?

Can You Use Your Shoulder in Soccer? Is It Allowed?

A well-timed shoulder charge is one of the most iconic moves of soccer for defense. But since soccer is an explicitly no-hands and no-arms sport, the shoulder usually stands its trials for fair play.

When you see the notoriously aggressive players like Pepe, Cantona, and Ibrahimovic get away with sleazy shoulder barges.

And then you see the game-changing free kicks awarded for a fairly moderate shoulder push. You, too, may wonder if you can use your shoulder in soccer.

And if so, what is the extent of the shoulder-to-shoulder charge that you can get away with without a booking?

Getting down to brass tacks right away, you can use your shoulder in a soccer match. You can use your shoulder to pass the ball, score a goal, and also push another player for a common ball.

And it is a sight worth watching when a player craftily uses his shoulder to do either of the above maneuvers! Pushing another player away from the ball with a strong shoulder barge is the heat that fans need in a match.

And while passing the ball with a shoulder touch is a cheeky way to boast control, a goal scored with the shoulder surely lifts off the roof of the stadium!

Now, here’s a little more detail on whether you can use your shoulder in soccer before we get carried away with glorifying shoulder touches!

Virgil Van Dijk is marking Harry Kane

The rules of soccer make quite a bit of room for shoulder contact. Since we’ve already established the allowance for shoulder touches in soccer, we’ll now dive straight into “when” you can use your shoulder in soccer!

  • Passing the Ball

Passing is a key element of soccer. If it hadn’t been before, it sure is after Guardiola’s Barcelona introduced the Tiki-Taka play. The first touch passes, when well-timed and placed, often have match-shifting capabilities.

And what’s more unexpected and spectacular than a shoulder-touch pass?

When an incoming ball doesn’t make it straight to your head, and you don’t have enough time to control it on your chest either, you can flick your shoulder to pass the ball to a fellow teammate.

Women player use her shoulder to pass the ball

  • Juggles and Skills

You don’t often see players pulling out smooth juggles and skills in a professional soccer match. But when they do, it undoubtedly makes for the next day’s headlines!

And if you want to step up your skills game even further, you can juggle the ball with your shoulder.

While bouncing the ball from one shoulder to another when rushing through a team’s defense is nothing short of magic in a soccer game, it is also extremely difficult to put together.

But hey! If it were easy to juggle the ball on your shoulders, everyone would do it!

  • Tackle, Push, or Charge

You can also use your shoulder to push, charge, or barge into an opposing player in soccer. This is most common to observe when two players are making a run for a common ball.

You can touch, repel, or even slightly push a player by making shoulder-to-shoulder contact.

Van Dijk use his shoulder to push the opponent

A shoulder push is more in the court of a defender who makes every effort to prevent a goal. Shoulder pushes also are the top reason for conceding a freekick at threatening positions.

But that’s where “taking one for the team” comes in!

  • Scoring a Goal

Scoring a goal with your shoulder might sound right out of a Kung Fu soccer feature. But it has happened, and more than once!

One recent example of such a goal is when Balotelli hit the back of the net by flicking the ball into the goal with his shoulder.

However, the circumstances may not always be in your favor. You cannot generate a lot of power with a shoulder touch.

And though you are allowed to score a goal with your shoulder in soccer, it is not very likely to go in.

Does Shoulder Count as A Handball?

In the book, a shoulder touch does not count as a handball. But it gets much more complicated when judging on the field. Since we already know that shoulder touch is allowed, let’s now see when it is considered a handball.

It is a handball when a player:

  • Intentionally moves his hand/arm toward the ball and touches it.
  • Scores, creates a goal-scoring opportunity or gains possession after touching the ball with his hand/arm.
  • Scores a direct goal off his hand/arm. (If you think no player is stupid enough to try that, look up “Hand of God” and see two legends of the sport giving it a go!)
  • And some other more complicated cases!

Coming back to passing a judgment, whether it is clean touch or a handball, referees still have a hard time deciding on that.

The general understanding of soccer’s rules regarding handball is that it’s a foul if it touches your hand or arm. You can only touch the ball with the topmost part of your arm (making the shoulder joint).

If you can maneuver the ball rightly on your deltoids, you’re good to go, and it won’t be flagged as a foul.

Soccer referee

Is a Shoulder Charge Legal in Soccer?

Soccer rules make it clear that a player may use the flat of their shoulder to push another player to gain possession. However, it is provided that the charging player has to have his arms down.

Though it is a rare sight to catch a glimpse of, it is considered a clean tackle or a “Legal” tackle. And that brings us to the natural question, when is a shoulder charge illegal?

One of the major differences Soccer draws against American Football is the safety of its players.

To stop teams from wreaking havoc on the field and injuring each other, the soccer rules have defined the following shoulder charges as illegal:

  • When a player shoulder charges an opponent without the ball within the playing distance.
  • When a player touches his shoulder against an opponent’s Back or Chest.
  • When a player should push an opponent with both feet in the air. (Both the players must have at least one foot on the ground for a clean shoulder charge)

To put it in plain words, a shoulder charge is only allowed if it is a shoulder-to-shoulder contact. And that too when the ball is within the playing distance and is common.

Shoulder charging a player to obstruct his sprint line, push him away for the ball, or charge from behind are not legal in soccer and can have you sent off to benches.

Adama Traore use his shoulder to shield the ball

Can You Shoulder Charge in a League?

Shoulder charging is a part of soccer on all levels. Whether you’re playing at World Cup Finals or in your local league, you can shoulder charge your opponent as long as you don’t intend to harm him.

A shoulder charge is the only physical contact allowed in soccer. The MLS in the US, Premier League in the UK, La Liga in Spain, and similarly, every other league allows for a shoulder tackle as long as the ball is within the playing distance.

However, an allowed shoulder push in the league shouldn’t mean you necessarily have to do it. You can end up giving the opposing team a free kick in a threatening position and face the music in the locker room later.


Physical play has always been an exciting part of soccer. As much as players and fans credit skillful play, everyone loves a well-timed clean shoulder push.

As said above already, shoulder touches make the most controversial headlines in soccer. Whether it is to score a goal, pass the ball, or push another player, it is only up to the referee to decide if it is fair play or not.

And aggressive players in the past have been taking advantage of this human error to get away with nasty tackles. But the VAR technology today makes sure that a legal shoulder touch is considered legal, and vice versa.

The sport may have grown more tactical, and the physical strength of players has clearly topped up. But if you can still manage to use your shoulder in the game, you truly express complete control over that moment!