The Ball In and Out of Play – Law 9



The shortest rule in soccer, Law 9 of the Laws of the Game, “The Ball In and Out of Play,” addresses the status of the ball being “in play,” when it is within the perimeter lines of the field, or “out of play,” when it is fully outside of the boundary lines (perimeter lines).

Ball in or Out of Play

Ball in or Out of Play

The boundary lines, or the outer-most lines that bound the field, are the two Goal Lines (the “end-lines,” where the goals are located) and the two Touch Lines (the “side-lines”).  (See:  The Field of Play – Law 1.)

After a proper kick-off, the ball is in play for the duration of a match when it is within the boundary lines (field of play), including when:
– The ball rebounds off a goalpost, a crossbar, or a corner flagpost and then the ball stays within the field; or,
– The ball touches a Match Official, as long as they were standing within the field when the ball hit them, and the ball stays within the field.

The ball is out of play when:
– The whole of the ball crosses over a Goal Line or Touch Line, whether on the ground or in the air, including into the Goal; or,
– Play has been stopped by the Referee; or,
– 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.

In all these cases, play is restarted with a dropped ball.  (Law 8.)

The first thing for coaches to note about this rule is that it does not address all of the various stoppages that occur in a game when the ball might be considered to be “dead” or otherwise not in play.* These situations all fall under the clause that “play has been stopped by the Referee” and are addressed elsewhere within the Laws. As such, the majority of Law 9 actually speaks to whether or not the ball is “in bounds” or “out of bounds.”

Unlike American football or basketball, where the position of the players’ feet in relation to the perimeter lines determine whether or not they are in bounds or out of bounds, it is the spatial relationship of the ball to the boundary lines that makes the determination in soccer. In this regard, coaches must teach their players three things:

1. The full width of the lines that are used to mark the perimeter of the field are part of the field itself. In other words, the lines are part of the area that they bound.
2. There is a thin imaginary plane that extends from the outermost edge of the lines vertically up into space.
3. Once the entire ball passes through the imaginary plane, whether on the ground or in the air, the ball is immediately out of bounds.  (There is no curving back in.)

*See article on ball “live” versus “not live” at®, Ball “Live” or “Not Live.”

Soccer Coaching Tips:

– The re-starts after a ball is out of play are: throw-in; misconduct resulting in an indirect free kick; penal fouls resulting in a direct free kick; kick-off; goal kick; penalty kick; corner kick; and, dropped ball.
– Players need to be taught to continue to play until play is stopped by a flag or a whistle. This is also known as “playing to the whistle.” Players should also be reminded that “advantage” may also be applied.  See®, Advantage Rule.
– Assistant Referees are usually directed to stay off of the field (outside of the boundary lines) so that if the ball hits them it is known to be out. However, sometimes Assistant Referees will get inside the field of play.
– Referees can’t call a “foul” while the ball is out of play, but they can still issue verbal warnings and yellow and red cards. Play is restarted based on the original stoppage.
– Substitutions may not occur while the ball is in play.
– The two Goal Lines and the two Touch Lines combined are also known as the “Perimeter Lines” or the “Boundary Lines.”
– Defenders should never let a ball just go into the goal uncontested. They should always strive to kick it out. Frankly, the referee or assistant referee may not see that the ball has completely crossed over the line.
– Demonstrate that a player’s feet may be out of bounds while the ball is in bounds. It is only the position of the ball that matters.  Show them by dribbling the ball along the line with your feet outside the line.
– Another way to demonstrate whether the ball is in or out is to have players look straight down over a ball in its relative positions to the sideline.
– Players should be reminded that it is not their job to determine that the ball is out of bounds. This is another way to remind players that they must keep playing, both on offense and defense, until the ball has been called out.
– Players should be shown that balls may not curve back into bounds once they have gone out, either on the ground or in the air.  Since this is hard to demonstrate, the ball may be pushed along the ground with a hand.
– A throw-in where the ball does not break the plane and go into bounds in any way is to be retaken. A throw-in where the ball goes briefly over the line and then curves out, without otherwise touching anyone, first went into play and is therefore to be awarded to the other team.
– The ball becomes dead at its position at the start of the sound of the referee’s whistle.
– Coaches need to physically demonstrate rebounds off the posts, crossbar, corner flags, and the referee (and assistant referees in the field of play) in order to reinforce that the ball is still in play.
– Many American fields have “combination goals” which are both American football and soccer goals in one unit. Local rules generally make it clear that, if the ball hits any part of the American football sections of this unit, the ball is out of play and that the game is to be restarted in a manner consistent with what would have happened if the American football bars had not been there (i.e., a goal kick or a corner kick).
– Parents and fans should be taught that players may run outside the perimeter lines and to stand back from the lines accordingly. Many local rules do not allow fans to congregate behind the goal lines.
– Very young players may pick up the ball in anticipation of it going out of play. They must be taught that this is handling and must not be done.
– Parents have been known to also anticipate a ball going out and either pick it up or stop it with their foot in bounds. This is an act of “outside interference” and should result in a dropped ball. Parents must be instructed not to be “helpful” too soon.
– A dog or non-player running on to the field or touching the ball inside the field also represents outside interference and should result in a stoppage of play and a dropped ball. Similarly, balls have been known to be kicked into overhanging tree limbs which should also result in a dropped ball.
– A corner kick is often a case where the ball may curve out and then in. Coaches should demonstrate that on a path like this the ball is out.
– Coaches should demonstrate that players getting ready for a throw-in should not toss the ball to a teammate who is in bounds in order for them to make the throw. They should just put the ball down on the ground outside the sideline so there is no mistake on the part of the referee that a foul throw did not occur.
– Consistent with the definition of how a goal is scored, the whole of the ball must go between the uprights, under the crossbar, and completely over the goal line. Technically, this means that the ball is out of bounds, and no longer in play, in accordance with Law 9.
– There are many occasions where the ball is put into play without having to wait for a referee’s whistle. These usually are throw-ins. There are other times where the referee will just give a hand signal to resume. These usually are indirect free kicks. Still other times, the referee will indicate that play is not to resume until he blows the whistle. These usually are shown by the referee tapping his whistle or holding up his hand like a stop sign.
– There has been the particularly odd occasion of the ball rolling along the top of a flat crossbar. Until the ball falls one way or the other, it is still in play and remains so if it falls into the field of play.
– The ball is out of play if it deflates or explodes.  (A goal can not be scored with a defective ball.)
–  The goal-line (end-line), not inside the goal itself, is also commonly called the “bi-line” (by-line or bye-line).  This distinguishes between a goal having been scored versus the call for a corner kick or a goal kick.
Local Rules may require fans to stay back a certain distance from the touch-lines and to not position themselves behind the goal-lines at all.

NOTICE:  This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB).  As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in whole or in part.  Supplemental wording presented by® should be provided in brackets.  Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected.  Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game.  If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at

© Copyright, John C. Harves