Offside is commonly misunderstood by parents and players, and probably the hardest soccer law to understand. The following explains the most common situations.
The offside law prevents players from hanging out near the goal for easy scores — known in some sports as “cherry picking”. Informally:
If Pat gets a pass from Lee, Pat can’t have been ahead of the defense at the instant Lee kicked the ball.
Below, Pat is ahead of the defense at the instant Lee kicks the ball. If Pat then gets the pass, offside has occurred.
Below, Pat is not ahead of the defense at the instant Lee kicks the ball. Pat can get the pass.
Note: It doesn’t matter where Pat actually gets the pass. Commonly, after Lee kicks, Pat runs ahead, which looks like offside, but isn’t because at the instant Lee kicked the ball, Pat wasn’t ahead of the defense.
A good assistant referee stays lined up with the end of the defense, looking at where Pat is when Lee kicks. Most parents, of course, aren’t lined up, and aren’t looking at Pat but rather Lee. So when Lee passes and everyone looks towards Pat, Pat may have run way ahead, so parents yell “Offside ref!”. That’s a common mistake by parents.
The following 1 minute video illustrates the most common offside and not offside situations.
- Pat being ahead of the defense is called “offside position”, which itself is OK.
- Pat doesn’t have to touch the ball, but just interfere. Ex: If Pat and a defender are chasing a long pass, and no one else on Pat’s team is near, refs may call Pat offside before Pat reaches the ball, for having been in offside position and now interfering with the defender.
- If Pat doesn’t interfere, Pat can’t be offside.
- “Ahead of the defense” is our informal way of the law’s wording “past the second-to-last defender”, which is usually the last non-goalie defender.
BTW, the foul is “offside”, not “offsides” like in American football.
There’s more to the offside law, but hopefully the above helps with the common misunderstandings.