A rule change for better soccer: No goal kicks or punts over the halfway line

It’s the most boring, useless part of any soccer game.

The goalkeeper places the ball at the goal area (known to non-referees as the 6-yard box). Twenty players cluster at midfield, usually veering toward one wing or the other.

“Thud” goes the keeper’s foot on the ball.

“Grunt” go a couple of players who lost the lottery and must now jump against each other in a futile bid to win or maintain possession.

It’s the goal kick. It’s not just a good way to get a concussion in a tangle of arms and heads. It’s also a poor way to maintain possession -- data from American Soccer Analysis shows that the kicking team wins possession far less than 50 percent of the time and gives the defense about as much of a chance of scoring as it does the team whose keeper just blasted the ball as if auditioning to be the next Josh Lambo.

But let’s say for sake of argument that goal kicks offer an advantage. For a team with a size advantage, they might. They’re also helpful for teams with little to offer besides parking the bus.

Either way, the goal kick unfairly punishes good attacking.

Think of it this way: An attacking team takes a shot from a wide angle. If the shooter shanks it badly and sends it out over the touch line, a truly atrocious miss, the defending team has a risky throw-in under heavy pressure. If the shooter misses the post by a millimeter, the ball goes as far away from goal as the keeper’s leg will allow.

Punts are similarly unfair to the attacking team. Why punish a team for shooting on goal by allowing the opposing keeper to send the ball far into the opposing half with one swing of the leg?

Youth soccer has taken steps to encourage defenders to play out of the back. Goalkeepers can no longer punt the ball at U-9 or U-10; in exchange, the attacking team must retreat to a designated “buildout line.” But goal kicks still encourage coaches in search of that all-important parent-pleasing U-9 win to shove the big kid to the back and send the ball bounding to the other side of the field, and by U-11, punting is back in the game. As the game is currently constructed, goalkeepers need to start working on that “distribution” to midfield anyway, so you might as well get U-11s and U-12s to kick for distance rather than accuracy.

Would anyone be offended if we simply took the NFL-style kicks out of the game and forced goalkeepers to play the ball to defenders with a more reasonable kick or throw?

The youth soccer buildout lines might not work. We all love the simple layout of a soccer field, waiting for players to retreat adds an unwarranted delay in the game, and assistant refs have better things to do than watch a bunch of players trying to get a head start on each other to swarm the defender who takes the short pass from the keeper.

Here’s a better idea: Goalkeepers may no longer send the ball beyond midfield on the fly from a punt or a goal kick.

Without the option to send a ball sailing into the attacking half, goalkeepers will be encouraged to try something that isn’t quite as random. Punting the ball into a mass of players and risking an immediate loss of the ball in the goalkeeper’s half wouldn’t be a good idea. A goalkeeper would need to think and then play the ball with some sort of accuracy.

Back-passes wouldn’t change. If a keeper gets a ball from a defender, fine -- blast away. That’s within the run of play. If the defending team has possession already, the option to play the ball long seems fair.

But when the attacking team shoots or forces the defense to shepherd the ball across its own end line, the attacking team still gains the advantage of forcing the defending team to complete at least one pass to get the ball out of its own half. That change will reward attacking play. No more coaches screaming that the ball has been surrendered to a goal kick when someone has the audacity to shoot from distance.

As a fringe benefit, we’ll put fewer craniums in harm’s way. Fewer contested headers. Fewer balls dropping from the heavens onto someone’s skull.

And if the defense is incapable of playing the ball in the back, well, that’s soccer.

(Beau Dure is the author of “Single-Digit Soccer: Keeping Sanity in the Earliest Ages of the Beautiful Game” and the host of the podcast “Ranting Soccer Dad.” He coaches and refs youth soccer in Northern Virginia.)

21 comments about "A rule change for better soccer: No goal kicks or punts over the halfway line".
  1. Mike Mcglynn, May 14, 2019 at 11:38 a.m.

    In 1990 Lake Placid Soccer Centre assisted US Soccer in pre Italy U17 training at the Lake Placid Olympic Training Center - we lined up two matches with good youth clubs in Montreal, Quebec and Albany Ny to TEST the new proposed "NO Offsides" rule which was used at the FIFA U17 Italia tournament. Same should happen with this proposal - FIFA should test goal kicks inside half rule - Also what is your proposed ref decision IF the ball goes over the 1/2 line ?  Mike at Lake Placid Soccer Centre 

  2. cony konstin, May 14, 2019 at 11:39 a.m.

    First of all the Usonian kid should not even be playing or paying for soccer. They should be playing futsal/Streetball king of the court, 24/7/365, for free and especially with no adult interference. Who cares about playing out of the back. Most these can’t even tie their shoes. Listen to kid. That’s where it all must start at. Listen to his pleading for change. We need a revolution not more minutia and gimmicks.

  3. Michael Taddonio, May 14, 2019 at 11:51 a.m.

          This idea has merits. However, it should be tested to see if it is feasible. Any proposed rule change needs to undergo an experimentation period before being put in the rule book as a new or revised rule.

  4. Jack DiGiorgio, May 14, 2019 at 12:55 p.m.

    Sorry, but I'm a little confused. Is this a new rule that USYSA is implementing in ANY age group, or it is world wide? (which I have doubts). The article does not say anything regarding my two questions.

  5. David Decker, May 14, 2019 at 12:59 p.m.

    Well, for one thing, what about goalkeepers who can accurately pass to a streaking forward on the counterattack?  You see this a lot in Premier League action.  DeGea to Rashford,  Schmeichel to Vardy, etc.   

  6. R2 Dad replied, May 14, 2019 at 11:17 p.m.

    DD, weigh the benefits of keeper distributrion vs back line foot skills. Long ball practice may benefit a few future top keepers  vs the dozens of our future top defenders who need the reps as youngsters. Also you're comparing two of the top 10 keepers in the world at that position. I watched part of the  SKC vs DCU kickball-fest last Sunday, and your Distribution was nowhere to be seen. Lastly, the USMNT has had (close to) world class keepers in the past, yet zero world class defenders. So where is the need most urgent?

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, May 15, 2019 at 9:50 p.m.

    Sacrificing the development of some players to favor other players is not a policy that I will support.

  8. R2 Dad replied, May 16, 2019 at noon

    Bob, you sound like an old coach set in your ways--kind of the MO for the entire coaching community in this country. We have tons of talented players in the US, but they are twarted by the coaching status quo. 

  9. George Miller, May 14, 2019 at 1:11 p.m.

    I like it and offer another: DFK NO touch 
    limit.  now there’s no time to argue with the REF, getting in his face, wrestle with opponents, all that holding in the goal area on a corner kick or free kick because the team could just put it down and dribble.( or set up a FK) It would change the game for the better with the OPTION.

  10. James Madison, May 14, 2019 at 2:07 p.m.

    The data as to the odds of retaining possession is accurate, which is why, as teams become more skilled, the long goal kick or punt is used only for specific tactical purposes---increase the distance opposing attackers must cover or begin a "swing for the fences" attack.  The problem with Dure's prposed rle is that it will be too easy to evad:  bowl the ball or send a ground pass goal kick into play and then have the receiving player send a long kick in dynamic play.

  11. beautiful game, May 14, 2019 at 2:51 p.m.

    Youth soccer needs rule modifications...the more youth players handle the ball with their feet and torso the better for safety and technical repetition/development.  

  12. Bradley Rogers, May 14, 2019 at 3:08 p.m.

    I’m fine with your proposal just on the merits of reduced headers from punts. For that matter eliminate long punts past the midline under age 13 and also eliminate heading from punts by rule. They’re the least important headers and often the most dangerous at these ages.

  13. Bob Ashpole, May 14, 2019 at 7:44 p.m.

    Regarding punts, I guess you have never played with a keeper who had excellent distribution. 

    Regarding goal kicks, I don't have a problem with long goal kicks to keep the defense honest and create space for "building out of the back." 

    I really don't see a need to change the laws because some teams are using poor tactics. The purpose of the Laws is to make play safe and fair, not to impose someone's view of good tactics on everyone.


  14. Michael Paule-Carres, May 15, 2019 at 5:38 a.m.

    I'm sorry, but this is a terrible idea, that will stifle even more the decision-making process of players.  Do people think that players from other countries learn to elaborate a collective build-up by enforcing artificial rules on the youth game?  Of course not.  They have coaches who understand the game well enough to TEACH to their players how to offer support when in possession with an aim to opening up pockets of space to progress the play past lines of pressure.  But furthermore, they understand that this is NOT ALWAYS the most viable option, and that playing direct can be advantageous in circumstances (a perfect example would be Sergio Agüero's first goal vs Arsenal in the League Cup final last year, following a "boot" from Ederson).

    There are already plenty of rule changes that are implemented in America that shoot our tactical knowledge of the game and its pacing in the foot (our take on substitutions, for instance).  Let's not encourage this even more but rather hold our coaches and the education process they go through to a much higher standard.

  15. R2 Dad replied, May 15, 2019 at 2:44 p.m.

    This is a bad take. At the youth level, the goal is not to remove decision-making from the players--the goal is remove (bad) decision-making from the coaches, who are mostly sub-par in the youth ranks as it is.

    Part of the challenge in this country is to get more kids to stay in the game. In the bottom half of the teams that play at the youth levels, the build-out line gives those least-gifted players at the back some time on the ball, some touches, some chance for development before they just up and quit. In my neighborhood we already play with the build-out line, and have dabbled in the punts-beyond-centerline regulations. These rules get kids to focus on ball-handling, dribbling and passing instead of instantly relieving pressure by booting upfield. If kids can get more comfortable on the ball, they have a future (ie highschool soccer) in the sport. 

    i would like to get Beau's take on how to prevent all the teams blowing up every year from U14 on. This process is predictable & preventable if the leagues started caring more about the kids than the clubs & coaches.

  16. Bob Ashpole, May 15, 2019 at 10:42 a.m.

    I am very conservative about changes to the laws. The game was greatly transformed by the changes to allow substitutions and to allow coaching from the sidelines. I suspect that it was not intended, but combined they took control of the game away from the players and gave it to the coaches. One change gave coaches the means to control the game and the other gave coaches the means to enforce their will.

    There are always unintended consequences to actions.

  17. frank schoon, May 15, 2019 at 4:30 p.m.

    PLEASE ,Leave it alone!!! As more people get involved in soccer thinking how to improve it , only makes it worse. I remember back in the NASL period, people were complaining about the lack of goals scored and ties were terrible. As a result suggestions were made to make the size of the goal BIGGER. Soccer is a mix of long ball,short ball,dribbling, one-touch passes, passing forward ,passin g backwards, high punts, low kicks all of which certain aspects will be accented more depending on the age, playing experience, and tactics that is suited at the moment's that simple. All these aspects are necessary to learn...
    There was never any talk about rule changes or how kids should learn to play in my days and we had much better players technically, then. In the streets, if we played with goalies , they would punt it long usually not accurate , in case someone is open down the other end of the street or the goalie took the ball part of the way up himself before passing it off or quickly  gave it to his nearest teammate.
    Those who worry about kids needing to learn to build up from the back and therefore goalies should not be punting up. I got a news for you, kids don''t know how to build up, a criticism reflects likewise our MNT, our MLS and WNT level as well...try looking at our WNT build up...clueless...
    You say, how are kids to learn to handle the ball under pressure  in their own backfield. Simple ,that ability is attained by playing Pickup soccer or playing in a small area forcing kids  to learn to react in small spaces or force kids to have to touch the ball at 3times before getting rid of it. That's how you learn it.
    And for those coaches who worry about  kids bumping their heads on long goal punts up to midfield, I would say, don't worry about winning head balls at midfield for don't you don't know where it is going anyway,perhaps to an opponent; those types of head ball have no idea or purpose behind it.
    I tell my players , you head the ball if you're sure it's to the goal or to someone, for the rest ,if necessary.

  18. frank schoon replied, May 15, 2019 at 5 p.m.

    For the rest, if necessary, you can jump up in the air without attempting to head the ball in order to thwart an opponent...

  19. Hugh T, May 16, 2019 at 2:09 a.m.

    The fact that the long kicks are bad strategy is an argument that the rule is unecessary.  Part of soccer's beauty is the simplicity of the rules.  Not needed.  

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, May 16, 2019 at 2:14 p.m.

    Well said.

  21. frank schoon replied, May 16, 2019 at 7:31 p.m.

    Long kicks or short passes can be good or bad depending on situation at hand. 

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