Skip to Content
The Pitch is Ours is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read more

Direct vs Indirect Kick Soccer: Similarities and Differences

Direct vs Indirect Kick Soccer: Similarities and Differences

Soccer is a sport that prioritizes players’ safety above every other thing that happens on the soccer pitch. This is the reason why insensitive and aggressive players often end up in the bad books of referees.

In soccer, a free kick is awarded to a team after an infringement, according to the laws of the game. Free kicks are exciting to watch and present teams with exceptional soccer players with the opportunity to score stunning goals.

Key Takeaways

  • Direct  kicks are awarded for major offences while indirect kick is awarded for mild offences
  • The position of the referee’s arm can tell you if the awarded kick is direct or indirect
  • Players can kick direct freekicks into the net but goals from uninterrupted indirect freekicks will not count

There are two types of free kicks in soccer namely direct and indirect free kicks. Both types of free kicks are awarded in different instances.

Some soccer fans have a hard time understanding the difference between a direct and an indirect freekick or when either of them should be awarded by the referee.

Certain free kicks are intense—they trigger a slow buildup of emotions in the mind of players, officials, and fans hoping for something magical. The outburst of joy in the soccer stadium after free kicks are scored is something beyond explanation, especially when it’s a victory-deciding goal.

Knowing the rules of soccer and how they are applied will help you to understand why the referee makes certain decisions on the pitch. Also, as a soccer player, it will guide your conduct during gameplay.

Let’s take a look at the types of free kicks in soccer and when they are applicable.

What is a direct kick?

Messi are preparing to do a free kick

Before explaining what a direct free kick is, let’s talk a little about just free kicks. After a team commits a foul in soccer, a free kick is used to restart the game. Players from the opposing team are expected to stand 10 yards from the ball before a free kick can be taken.

While standing away from the ball, opposition players often form a kind of wall to stop the ball when it is played. During free kicks, players have ample time and space to strategize smart ways of getting the soccer ball into the net.

A direct free kick is issued by the center referee depending on the type of foul committed by a soccer player. More serious offenses like handball, a push, kicking, spitting on an opponent, etc. can lead to a direct free kick when spotted by the referee.

When a direct free kick is issued, the player shooting the ball can score goals directly without necessarily passing the ball to a teammate. Legendary soccer players like Jay-Jay Okocha, Ronaldinho, and Ronaldo are known for scoring quite a good number of direct free kicks during their soccer careers.

What is an indirect kick?

kevin de bruyne and Riyad Mahrez doing the free kick

An indirect free-kick is usually awarded by the center referee against subtle fouls and offenses committed during soccer matches. When an indirect free kick is taken, a goal can’t be scored directly without another player touching the ball.

Smart players often get a close teammate to roll the ball towards them during an indirect free kick so they can try scoring a goal directly without making any further passes.

Sometimes, when an indirect free kick is taken, the ball might not be touched by another player before it manages to find the back of the net. In such a situation, the goal will be disqualified and a goal kick will be awarded afterward.

Numerous actions can cause an indirect free kick. Some of such activities include an offside position, abusive language or gestures by players, playing carelessly and aggressively, etc.

Direct vs indirect kick soccer

Direct and indirect free kicks are similar. However, the conditions for which either of them can be awarded are different. In other words, it takes different degrees of offense for each type of free kick to be awarded during a soccer match.

In most modern soccer matches, the center referee awards more direct and less indirect free kicks to soccer teams. We believe this is so because soccer is becoming more fast-paced and physically demanding.

Penalty kicks, corner kicks, and goal kicks are all direct kicks that players can utilize to their advantage. Let’s now dive into the major similarities and differences between direct and indirect free kicks to further understand when they are awarded and how they are played.

Split stance free kick

Rules for playing direct and indirect free kicks

The following rule stated below must be adhered to by players when direct or indirect free kicks are awarded. Disobeying any of the rules can get the free kick canceled and retaken.

  1. Players can directly aim for the goal

This rule only applies to direct free kicks. When a direct free kick is awarded to a soccer team, they will need to appoint a player to take it. Most teams will leave it for their free kick specialist to curve the ball into the net.

It is OK to score goals in this kind of free kick without necessarily passing the ball to a teammate—a law that is not applicable during an indirect free kick. During indirect free kicks, goals can’t be scored until the ball has touched another player.

Players taking direct free kicks aren’t prohibited from passing the ball to a teammate if they are not capable of taking direct shots to the goalpost. Only players who are skilled, confident, and accurate with shots can score direct free kicks.

  1. The ball must be played from the spot of the foul   

Referees usually take note of the spot where fouls were committed during soccer matches. That exact spot will become where the ball will be positioned for a free kick to be taken.

Oftentimes, such spots are marked by the center referee using a vanishing spray for easier identification. This is also done to maintain fairness and avoid arguments on the soccer pitch.

  1. The free-kick taker is only allowed to kick the ball once

When the whistle is blown for the free kick to be taken, the free kick taker can only kick the ball once. The next time they are allowed to touch the ball is when another player has kicked or touched it.

  1. A 10-yard distance must be given to the ball by opposing players  

Referees often measure the distance in which opposing players can stand during a free kick to make sure it isn’t less than 10 yards. This is done to create enough space for the free-kick taker to strategize how to get the ball into the back of the net.

  1. Only stationary balls can be used for free kicks

If you are a soccer enthusiast, you must have seen players positioning the soccer ball before taking a free kick. They usually do that because if the ball is rolling on its own before a free kick is taken, the referee will cancel it and request a retake.

A goal scored during a wrong take will be disqualified by the referee and he or she will call for a retake. The referee will award a goal kick if such a mistake occurs more than two times.

Messi prepare to do a free kick

Offenses that can attract a direct free kick

The events that can cause a direct free kick in soccer are often more common than those that usually attract an indirect free kick. The rules of soccer have clearly stated the circumstances in which direct free kicks can be awarded to a team.

Direct free kicks are mostly awarded when players commit serious offenses that can cause harm to other players. The listed below can attract a direct free kick if players do them recklessly using excessive force on the soccer pitch.

  • Grabbing or dragging the jersey of an opponent
  • Deliberately committing a handball offense—goalkeepers aren’t exempted from this punishment when they are outside their 18-yard box
  • Spitting on or biting an opponent
  • Rough tackles
  • Pushing your opponent
  • Head-butting, striking, or attempting to strike another player
  • Aggressively charging at an opponent
  • Jumping on another player
  • Tripping or trying to cause an opponent to trip
  • Kicking or attempting to kick another player on the pitch
  • Attacking players while they are taking set pieces like a free kick

Offenses like spitting on and grabbing an opponent aren’t debatable—such offenses will always attract a direct free kick anytime and every time they are spotted by the referee. Committing the above-mentioned offenses in your team’s penalty area can attract a penalty kick.

Virgil Van Dijk is marking Harry Kane

Offenses that can attract an indirect free kick     

Although indirect free kicks aren’t as common in modern soccer as direct free kicks, they can sometimes be witnessed during matches. The offenses that lead to indirect free kicks occur less often on the soccer pitch.

The offenses listed below are according to IFAB rules of the game, they must be avoided if you don’t want to attract an indirect free kick from the center referee.

  • A high-foot challenge on an opponent
  • Playing in an offside position
  • When the goalkeeper receives a back pass using their hand or arm
  • If the goalkeeper handles the ball for more than 6 seconds inside their 18-yard box
  • Trying to kick the ball away from the goalkeeper while they are about to take a goal kick
  • Using abusive or provoking language/gestures on other players and the referee
  • Impeding the progress of other players even without making any contact
  • Playing dangerously on the soccer pitch
  • When a player kicks the ball into the air just to head it toward their goalkeeper to catch
  • If a goalkeeper handles the ball from a throw-in by their teammate

During indirect free kicks, players are expected to position themselves properly to gain a higher chance of scoring goals. When an indirect free kick is awarded inside the 18-yard box, the same free kick rules will apply, except that the 10-yard rule will be adjusted.

Ways of figuring out if a free kick is direct or indirect

Certain things can indicate if a referee has awarded a direct or an indirect kick to a team. The most common way to know is by watching the referee’s arms.

If the kick is indirect, the referee will raise their arm vertically above their head and keep it that way until the free kick has been played. You should be expecting a direct free kick when the referee extends their arm horizontally.

You can also tell if a free kick is direct or indirect by simply observing the way teammates arrange themselves when a free kick is about to be taken. When it is an indirect kick, opponent players will closely mark the other team—not even exempting the free kick taker.

This is because, by the existing rules of the game, the ball must be passed to a teammate before a goal can be scored. During direct kicks, most players are often concerned with covering the goalpost as much as possible.

Direct kickIndirect kick
RuleGoals can be scored directlyThe ball must be passed to an opponent before a goal can be scored
SignalThe arm is extended horizontally by the refereeThe arm is raised vertically above the head
Intensity of offenseCriticalMild
Scoring chancesHighAverage
Player’s skill levelHighAverage

Kevin Debruyn prepare to do a free kick 2


Direct and indirect free kicks offer numerous advantages and limitations as well. A team like Barcelona with a handful of talented dead-ball experts will always make good use of direct free kicks.

Many skilled soccer players have extremely high success rates when it comes to taking direct free kicks. Such players are often called upon to create easy goals for their teams anytime a direct free kick is awarded.

Indirect free kicks are often well-utilized by soccer teams with a high level of communication and accurate passing skills. The potency of goalkeepers is often tested when a free kick is awarded especially when the ball isn’t positioned very far from the goalpost.