Is Soccer a Contact Sport? A Detailed Answer

A soccer player in yellow and blue dribbles past a defender.

There seems like there is a rather black and white idea of what is defined as a contact sport. But that could not be farther from the truth. There are a variety of sports that fall in a grey area where contact is both inevitable, avoidable, and integral to the sport. One of those sports is soccer.

A contact sport can vary in many definitions, depending on the apparent level of contact between players. If we are to define a contact sport as a sport that includes contact as an aspect that is both inevitable and yet integral to the game, then yes soccer is a contact sport.

In larger leagues, there can be as many as twenty-two players on the field in any given soccer game. When all twenty-two people are focused on one singular object, there are going to be some nudges and taps that happen between players.

Contact in soccer helps to keep it competitive and active, but there are times when contact can be too much and jeopardize player health. So is soccer a contact sport?

What Is a Contact Sport?

The way a sport is defined as being a ‘contact sport’ varies by different levels of contact. In full-contact sports, contact is not only inevitable but integral to the sport. Examples include football (American), wrestling, and hockey–these sports cannot be played without contact. It is simply part of the game.

Even full-contact sports have some legality in terms of force of contact or even the necessity of the contact in the first place. For example, even though hockey is a full-contact sport, cross-checking and boarding are still penalties.

Any penalty in any sport that involves contact is in place to maintain the players’ health and safety, along with keeping the integrity of the sport.

Whether or not soccer (or futbol, if you prefer) is considered a contact sport is a grey area. If we are defining contact sports as a sport in which players come into physical contact with each other, then yes, soccer is a contact sport.

But some other factors enter the conversation. Different types of contact can happen in soccer, just like any other sport. But the severity and the wiggle room for contact is held to a high standard of what is acceptable.

First, there is legal contact and illegal contact in soccer. Further, there are times when accidental contact occurs. When it comes to contact in soccer, a priority is always given to player health.

When contact happens in a soccer match, no matter if it is legal, illegal, or accidental, there is always a chance for injury. Because, unlike football and hockey, soccer players do not have full-body padding to protect them.

Legal Contact in Soccer

Two soccer players battle for the ball.

In soccer, there are legal forms of contact, often termed fair contact. This often happens when two players are vying for the ball or reclaiming possession. This type of contact, and even some tackling, is perfectly legal.

Shoulder to Shoulder pushing and barging is legal. When two players are trying to gain possession of the ball or another player wants to remove the opponent from their position, shoulder to shoulder contact occurs. When looking at shoulder to shoulder contact, it can be easy to spot the forcefulness in determining if it is fair contact or hinging on illegal.

Slide-Tackling is a legal move that seems like it should be illegal. A slide-tackle is performed by sliding on the ground towards the opponent in an attempt to gain possession of the ball. When safely and correctly executed, slide-tackling is not harmful, as the player doing the slide tackle comes into contact with the ball first, and not the opponent.

Shielding is a common dribbling technique that creates contact between two players. Shielding is when the player with the ball uses their body to shield the ball from an opponent. The physical use of their body as a shield leads to the inevitable contact. As long as no illegal moves are made during the contact, this is perfectly legal.

There are also times when contact occurs that is just natural to the game, especially in one-on-one battles for the ball. As long as they are not excessive or harmful, this minor contact is perfectly legal.

Illegal Contact in Soccer

There are just as many forms of illegal contact in soccer. When a player commits any form of illegal contact, a referee will often issue a penalty. This is usually a free-kick to the opposing team from the player that committed the illegal contact.

Depending on the severity of the illegal contact, a yellow card or a red card are also options at the referee’s disposal.

Pulling and Tugging: This happens more in lower leagues, but it has been noticed in the major leagues as well. If you were ever curious as to why players are required to tuck their jerseys in, it has much to do with illegal contact as it does with appearance.

Jerseys are tucked in so a referee can see when a player has grabbed or pulled at clothing in an attempt to get the ball. And in women’s soccer, pulling ponytails or hair is also highly prevalent, and is a form of illegal contact.

Elbows and Knees: In close quarters, sometimes there gets to be a lot of tussling. However, under no circumstances, is intentionally knee-ing or elbowing an opponent legal. This can include jabbing or purposefully clotheslining opponents to win possession of the ball.

Pushing: Forceful shoving and pushing that involves the use of a player’s hands to move an opponent is not legal. Similar to playground rules from elementary school–no pushing, plain and simple.

Holding: Similar to pushing, a player cannot withhold an opponent from the ball. A big tell can be the jerseys becoming untucked if the hold is desperate in an attempt. Otherwise, it can use various limbs of a player’s body to actively keep a restraint on an opponent.

Tripping: Tripping is using one’s feet to tangle an opponent up and cause them to fall intentionally. And while it may seem easy to spot a trip, there are accidental trips that happen from sheer momentum. Usually, the accidents are called as well, despite the intention not being there.

Tackling: Any other tackle besides a slide-tackle is illegal. And even the slide-tackle can be deemed illegal if the tackling player comes into contact with the opponent first and not the soccer ball. Any other form of tackle or an improper slide tackle can result in serious injury.

Striking: A player cannot strike an opponent at all. Ever. With any part of their body. This includes throwing punches or kicks, or any attempt to do either. Also included is intentional head-butting, but this is rather rare.

There are a variety of offenses that are not included above. The referee determines these offenses based on a demonstration of excessive or unnecessary force, or in general being reckless or careless. These illegal contacts are in place to prioritize player safety and health and to keep serious injuries to a minimum.

Accidental Contact in Soccer

Two soccer players battle for possession of the ball.

Accidents happen in any sport–and soccer is no exception. There are times when things are just not aligned right or a miscalculation occurs. These accidental contacts are not challengeable or punishable, as they are entirely accidental.

50/50 Challenges often lead to contact, but not intentionally. This can include a collision when trying to reach the ball, hitting an opponent at high speed while dribbling or otherwise concentrated on the ball, and accidentally heading an opponent while going for an airborne ball.

Contact with the Ball happens frequently. That is the whole point of the sport! But sometimes, the ball can take a weird bounce off a shin guard and hit an opponent in the face. (Not speaking from experience or anything…. but it does hurt.)

This type of contact is purely accidental in many ways and is uncontrollable by any player, and the victim often does not have enough time to react.

Bumping or Tripping can be accidental as well. Oftentimes, teammates will accidentally run into each other, or a huge huddle ends up with someone on the ground after all the legs are entangled. These are simply part of the sport at times.

There are other occurrences of accidental contact that may seem malicious. And these occasions may be penalized or interpreted as accidental, depending on the referee’s point of view. And while not every call may seem fair, the players’ best interests and health are top priorities when making such calls.

Injuries from Contact in Soccer

No one likes to see a player hurt on the field. It can bring a game to a crashing halt in seconds. This is why many leagues and officials are as stringent as possible about contact when it comes to the sport of soccer.

Soccer players do not wear much more than shin guards and other minor protective equipment, so their risk for injury can be rather high if it is not prioritized. No matter the type of contact, legal, illegal, or accidental, an injury is always possible.

Injuries can occur from player to player contact, such as tackling or accidental head-butting. These are rather obvious in determining a cause, as two objects collide with each other. And these can be minor bruises or larger broken bones and concussions.

Another way that injuries can happen is from player-to-ground contact, which is the case for tripping and pushing. Rarely do injuries happen from the contact between players, but more from the victim coming into contact with the not-so-forgiving ground. These injuries can be sprains, broken bones, concussions, and even joint dislocations.

These injuries can range in severity, which is why contact is so closely monitored in the sport of soccer. However, not every official can catch everything, so it’s possible fouls are missed. This is human nature. Similarly, not every injury is ‘faked’ by a player to draw a foul. Players get injured in any sport, and it is crucial to treat all injuries as such to avoid any costly calls.

What Is a High Contact Sport?

Similar to a full-contact sport, some sports are considered to be high contact, where contact often happens between players. Of all the types of contact sports, soccer is mostly a high contact sport. There are times when it may border into being full-contact, and other times when it goes into the low contact category. The lines are fuzzy and not determinate, so there exists a grey area for sports to move through different levels.

What Is a Low Contact Sport?

A low contact sport is where there is minimal contact between players throughout a match or game. This would include sports like baseball, softball, and volleyball. Contact can, and does, occur in these sports, but it is not consistent or intense. Low contact sports are not free from any injury, or even malicious intent to harm. But these occurrences of intending to harm an opponent are rarer.

What Is a No Contact Sport?

A no-contact sport is exactly what it sounds like–there is no contact between players. Swimming or gymnastics are great examples. There is not any contact between these athletes during a competition. While there is no contact between athletes, that does not immune these sports from injuries or from being physically competitive–they are simply just different sports that are played in different ways.

Soccer is a fantastic sport, and there are rules and regulations to keep the game both safe and fun for everyone involved. These definitions of legal and fair contact in soccer help keep the game competitive while protecting players’ safety and the integrity of the game.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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