What does “offside” mean in soccer? – Simplest Explanation

One of the most important rules of soccer is the “offside” rule. It is a simple rule in theory but when it comes to game time, it can be challenging for the referees and linesman. Parents, players, and coaches usually disagree with the call unless it’s a really obvious one, and that’s why this rule can make a HUGE difference in a game, even at the professional level.

The players that should be more familiar with this rule are the forward/strikers because they do not want to “break” this rule and give away a free kick for the opponent. Defenders can also benefit from this rule because if all defenders “step up” together, the opponents can be left on an “offside” position.

With a couple diagrams, I’m going to explain what “offside” means in soccer.


Offside – As simple as 1, 2, 3

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Example #1: “Offside” ????

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Example #2: “You are Good to Go!” ????

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How to force an “offside” call? (Defenders)

Defenders should move up quick to make sure that opponents are forced to go away from their goalkeeper. Especially in corner kicks and free kicks close to your goal, you/defenders should step up as soon as the ball is played away from the goal you are defending.

Communication is key to make sure that EVERYONE is stepping up. Remember, it only takes one player to give the opponent “the OK” to keep playing. Work on this during practice and as your coach about his view on stepping up. Some coaches wouldn’t step up right away.

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How to avoid being on “offside”? (Attackers)

As a former striker, I was barely caught offside because I knew how to take care of my positioning on the field. Let’s start by saying that “referees” are human being and they can make mistakes. IF you are “on the border line” between offside and NOT offside, then you are going to be called offside a few times a game.

Always be two-three steps in front (closer to your goal) of the second to last defender. That way you will always be safe.

These extra steps will give you an advantage to “take off” and make a run for the goal. Furthermore, if you are going against big defenders, you don’t want to get physical with them; instead, look for running their back and beat them with speed.

11 thoughts on “What does “offside” mean in soccer? – Simplest Explanation

  1. thanks for the trip down memory lane,

    I was a center fullback as a teenager (or a sweeper sometimes) and I was about a foot shorter than the strikers I came up against so when it came to the high ball catching them offside was about the only weapon I had in my arsenal.

    Back then the rules were as you explained but why do some competitions play the different offside rule: the one that if the striker is inline with the last defender he is still considered onside?

    • It has become very detailed now to whether a player is offside or not. Nowadays, professional soccer games have implemented technology to decide if a player is offside, in case the attacking team scored a goal that may be reversed. It just got a lot more confusing now. However, without technology, it comes down to the referee’s position and the linesman’s perception.

      BTW, sweepers/defenders should learn that from you 🙂

  2. For us Americans that spent our whole life watching America’s version of football, offsides just means encroachment.  Jumping the gun.  While it is similar in soccer, it is hard to understand at first because there’s not as clear of a line.  In football you have the line of scrimmage. In soccer, that mystical offsides line is always moving.  I sure appreciated the diagrams and the clear, concise explanation.  This was a topic that surely needed to be addressed.  Great work.

  3. THANK YOU! I’ve recently been watching more soccer because of my boyfriend and I never understood what he was talking about. I’m an American football kinda gal – offside calls are pretty obvious (except maybe this year, this year it seems like someone sneezes and they get an offside penalty…). So it’s all essentially based around the location of the second last defender? But it only applies to the player you pass the ball to? That seems like that could get hairy based on where the ref is standing at the time. 

    • That’s the challenging component of the “offside” rule. The linesman should be in the right position. Now, if there is no linesman (middle school soccer for example), then it gets even worse.

      And yes my friend, it all happens around the location of the second last defender.

      Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  4. This great advice, both for offense and defense. I’m starting to coach my son’s team, but other than describing what off sides is, now I can discuss different strategies for defending against off sides, and potentially using it to our advantage. I know the other coaches won’t be considering this as a strategy, but maybe we will, ha! 

  5. I’m newly into soccer so I don’t know much of anything about the sport when I’m watching it. Meaning half the time I have no idea whats going on, I just know when people score. 

    Very glad I came across this site, It would help to learn some of the rules that come with the game. 

  6. I had no idea that this was a rule in soccer. I’m pretty into sports but one never been much into soccer. Your diagrams helped explain the concept to me quite easily. I was able to understand it quickly. It’s interesting to me that offsides can happen in many different sports, but it always means something different. This can make things confusing when you’re learning multiple new sports.

  7. That’s a good explanation of offside.  I played the great game for 14 years and my daughter is now heavily involved.  You have no idea how we have tried to explain it to my wife or other daughter and they just don’t get it.

    It’s a beautiful game and we also watch games regularly and scream when we see offside

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