The offside rule

“A player is ‘out of play’ immediately he is in front of the ball and must return behind the ball as soon as possible. If the ball is kicked by his own side past a player, he may not touch or kick it, or advance, until one of the other side has first kicked it, or one of his own side has been able to kick it on a level with, or in front of him.” The offside rule c.1862

One of the biggest concerns of coaches whose teams are about to move from small-sided football to nine or 11-a-side is the introduction of the offside rule.

But it really isn’t as complicated as some people would have you believe and it’s no more difficult to teach than any other youth football topic.

The offside rule (Law 11)

A player cannot be offside from a goal kick, a throw-in, a corner kick or if she is in her own half of the field of play.

If none of these apply, a player is in an offside position if she is nearer to her opponent’s goal line than the ball and the second last opponent (usually the last defender) when the ball is kicked – not when she receives the ball.

If the attacker is level with their second last opponent when the ball is kicked, she is onside.

Key point: It is important to understand that is not an offence to be in an offside position. The referee will only penalise a player who is offside if she is in “active play”, i.e., if one of the following three conditions are met:

1. Interfering with play

This means playing or touching the ball. Attempting to play the ball does not count – she must actually play or touch it.

2. Interfering with an opponent

This means obstructing an opponent’s line of vision, impeding her movements or by making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.

3. Gaining an advantage by being in that position

This means playing a ball that rebounds to her from an opponent, the post or the crossbar. If she does not play the ball from this type of rebound, then she is not penalised for being offside. Nothing else counts as “gaining an advantage”.[1]

How to teach the offside rule

The above explanation of the offside rule is for your benefit. It’s not written in a child-friendly way and I wouldn’t even try to teach nine or 10-year-olds the rule by just reading it to them. You have to show your players what it means to be offside.

Step 1

Explain the basic rule in simple terms by using a tactics or dry wipe board. Show examples of when a player is and isn’t offside.

Step 2

Develop your players’ understanding by walking through the same examples on the field. Allow all your players to take turns in being the attackers and defenders.

Then introduce the concept of “active play”.

But don’t just tell your players “this is offside” or “this isn’t offside”. Ask them to tell you if a player is offside or not and why they think that.

And don’t forget to emphasise that the most important part of the offside rule is the phrase “in the opinion of the referee”.

This makes the offside rule very simple: If the ref says you’re offside, you’re offside!

How to help your players avoid being caught offside

I use an a 4v4 or 5v5 small-sided game (SSG) called “You’re the Ref!”

It’s played on a 40×30-yard pitch with small goals and a five-yard end zone marked out in front of the goals across the full width of the pitch.

A player can only score if he/she receives a pass in the end zone from a team mate, but the player who passes the ball must be outside the end zone when the pass is played.

For the first few minutes, use assistant coaches or parents who understand the offside rule working as assistant referees on the sidelines. Their job is to call players who infringe the rule. Then ask two of your players to take a turn as assistant refs. This not only makes them think about the rule, it also helps them understand how difficult an official’s job actually is!

[1] Keith Hackett, Observer Sport, Sunday, 23 March 2008, retrieved from The Guardian

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