Introduction to Offensive Goal Kicks



The primary objective of the offensive goal kick in soccer is to retain possession of the ball after the kick and then to create an effective attack.  The defense has just successfully won the ball back, so it would be most unfortunate to immediately return it to the opponent right at the doorstep of your own goal.

In soccer, a “goal kick” is taken when the ball is kicked over the defenders’ end line (goal-line or “bi-line”), having been last touched by an attacking player. The kick is taken from anywhere within the “Goal Area.”  On a full-sized field, the goal area is marked six yards outside each goal post and six yards into the field.  The ball must be stationary when it is kicked.  All players of the opposing team should be outside the “Penalty Area” until the kick is taken.  (The kicker can take the kick even if they aren’t.) On a full-sized field, the penalty area is marked eighteen yards outside from each goal post and eighteen yards into the field.  See the “Field Diagram.”

A goal kick may be taken by any player on the now-attacking team.  The ball is live and in play as soon as it is kicked and visibly moves.  (In the past, under old rules, the ball had to be kicked out of the penalty area to be in play.)  At this point, the opponents may enter the penalty area.  Any player from either team may now kick the ball, except for the original kicker.  All of this is in accordance with Law 16 of the Laws of the Game. See “The Goal Kick – Law 16.”   For very young teams, field dimensions are usually made smaller and the rules affecting goal kick are often modified.  At higher youth levels, the goal kick is often taken by the player with the strongest instep drive.  For adults, the kick is usually taken by the goalkeeper.

Youth (Generally 10 and Under) – The Concept of “Build-out Lines”

For the youngest players first starting team play that introduces goal kicks, it is extremely difficult to get the ball into play and away from their own goal without being swarmed by the opponents.  This caused great consternation because of the literal inability of little players to physically kick the ball far enough. This was first helped when changes to field dimensions for younger age groups were introduced as part of “local rules.”  Downsizing the size of the field, and proportionately reducing the areas of the interior markings, allowed kicks to make it out of the penalty area.

The second help for youth came in the form of the introduction of a “build-out line” or “retreat line.”  A build-out line is a marking on each side of a youth game field, from sideline-to-sideline parallel to the goal line, identifying an area within which defenders who have just won the ball may not be challenged.  The new defenders must get behind (retreat past) this line (closer to midfield) before they can resume going for the ball.  It is not only intended to encourage successfully playing the ball out from the back, but also to address the problem of getting defenders far enough away to allow for successful goal kicks.  Build-out lines are often used for 10-year-olds and younger.

Implementation of a build-out line rule usually comes with a prohibition that the defending team that has just won the ball may not kick the ball long but is forced to begin passing, or “building-up from the back” to create an attack. As such, the simplest approach for a goal kick at the youngest level is to have a designated goal-kicker place the ball at the outermost corner of the goal area (thus keeping it as far away from the goal as possible); and kick the ball to the best dribbler on the team, who is standing next to the designated kicker.

The dribbler then dribbles the ball as fast and efficiently as possible toward the nearest sideline and upfield to find a teammate open for a pass.  The next approach is to:  1.) have a designated kicker place the ball at the outermost corner of the goal area; 2.) set up a target receiver parallel to the ball inside the nearest sideline; 3.) establish a secondary player to receive the ball up the sideline, inside of the build-out line; 4.) once the ball is stationary, have the designated kicker kick the ball strongly to the target receiver; and, 5.) then the target receiver begins dribbling up the sideline.

When the target player receives the ball and starts dribbling, he now has the option to continue dribbling upfield or to pass the ball to the secondary receiver up the sideline.  If the teammate is not covered, then this pass is probably best.  If the teammate is covered, the teammate is taught the option of either breaking down the line or moving toward the middle of the field.  If the teammate loses his defender, the pass is made.  If the defender remains with the teammate, the original target player continues to dribble upfield.  (In most build-out line local rules, defenders are allowed to move past the line on a goal kick as soon as the ball leaves the penalty area.)

All of this introduces players to the goal-kick rule, targets, options, secondary receivers, and essentially goal-kick “plays.”  If the secondary receiver is not covered, the player taking the goal kick may even be given the option to kick the ball directly to him, as long as the receiver ensures that he remains inside the build-out line. This activity is further intended to reduce the risk of the ball being stolen by the defense.  By way of reinforcement, the kicking team should be made aware of two additional concepts at this age.

First is the concept of keeping the ball “wide and upfield” when coming out of the back.  Second is the concept of “never send the ball across your own goal” in the defensive end.  As usual, coaches need to teach these concepts to all players equally but for competition, they should properly select individuals for each of the positions who are best suited for the tasks.

The kicker is responsible for ensuring that everyone is properly positioned and all defenders are outside of the build-out line (or the Penalty Area, as appropriate) before taking the kick.  The kicking team must allow the defenders time to retreat if they want to take advantage of this part of the rule.  Otherwise, if not modified by local rules, and the ball is legally put into play, the game is on because it is not mandatory for the defenders to be outside of the Area if the kicking team chooses to go ahead and take the kick.

All possible target players (and everyone) must be properly positioned and fully prepared to receive the kick.  A minor lapse in concentration – or looking around for the location of teammates or opponents – just as the ball is being delivered, often results in the opponent winning the ball and sending it right back toward the goal. A player should be placed in front of the goal, out in front of the goalkeeper, ready to defend if the ball is stolen.

Youth (Generally 11 and Above)

A logical progression from the approach above is to use the secondary player as a direct target.  The player taking the goal kick may now kick the ball to either the player positioned directly toward the sideline (Target #1) or the player farther upfield (Target #2).  The option of which player to kick to is usually based on the coverage by the defense.  If only one of the two target players is covered, the kick is usually made to the person who is not covered.   If both targets are covered, the goal kick is generally made just short of the target who is farthest wide and upfield (Target #2) so that they can come back to meet the ball.  Kicking the ball just short creates the time and space needed for the target to get away from their defender.  The kicker must learn to send the ball to the proper spot and the Target #2 player must learn to wait for the kick to actually be taken before running to the ball.

The next step is usually to add another player to the mix.  This is a midfielder who would initially move to support Target #2.  If this midfielder is not covered, he becomes another option for the goal kicker as Target #3.  In either case, the midfielder always starts in a position closer to the sideline from the midline.  As a direct receiving option, it is critical that all players recognize that the addition of the midfielder challenges the guidance of not kicking the ball toward the middle of the field in front of the goal.  If the midfielder is covered, the ball does not go to him.  If this option is used, Target #1 runs up the sideline to create a passing option and Target #2 moves toward the midfielder to do the same.

For convenience, the goal kick is usually taken on the same side of the goal area where the ball went over the bi-line.  Since the ball can go over the bi-line to either side of the goal, the coach must teach the kicking and target positions for both the right and left sides of the field, involving both sets of players in their respective positions.  Players should not assume from which side the kick will be taken and must be prepared accordingly.  The goalkeeper may be permitted to announce the side for the kick.  (Since the ball may be kicked from anywhere in the Goal Area, as a tactic the coach may instruct his players to look like they are setting up at one corner and then toss the ball to the other corner in an attempt to create open targets.  If used, this must be drilled heavily and should probably be used sparingly.)  Kicks may still be made to a teammate standing nearby.

At this point in the learning progression, coaches need to add passive and then active defenders.  This is likely to point out that players taking the goal kick probably can’t kick the ball as far as they actually can, and that targets need to start closer to the kicker or dribbler than they realize.  Coaches must position the targets accordingly.  Further, coaches must reinforce that the targets must move forcefully to the ball and not to wait for the ball to come to them.  Otherwise, the ball will be cut off and stolen by defenders.


All options for goal kicks become available to advanced players.  Short kicks may be taken to nearby teammates who advance up the field or look for pre-arranged targets. Deep targets may be established farther upfield.  The goalkeeper usually takes the kick in order to not remove a player from the attack.  Really deep kicks may put the ball up for grabs (50-50 balls).  One of the ways to avoid this is for the kick to be made to a certain spot to which a player is to run.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • A goal kick is a “re-start.”
  • A goal kick is “direct,” meaning that a goal can be scored at the other end of the field without the ball having to touch any other player first.
  • It has happened:   1.) A goal kick has been blown by a strong following wind, bounced in front of, and then over the head of, the opposing goalkeeper and into the goal – resulting in a goal.  2.  A goal kick has been blown directly back into the kicker’s goal by a strong head wind, without having been touched by any other player – resulting in a corner kick for the other team.   3.  A goal kick has been blown back into the kicker’s goal, was touched by the goalkeeper who was trying to “save” the ball, and resulted in a goal being scored.  Players should be made aware of the potential effects of field conditions.

(ORRIN KONHEIM contributed to this article.)

 © John C. Harves