What is Charging and Tackling?

Revised: Apr 5, 2021

In general, “charging” is a foul; while “tackling” is not. Here’s the difference.

What Is Charging?

This post is meant to help clarify some questions that came up in the meetings regarding the “charging” rule change.

An intentional collision with another player as part of the play action involving the ball is called “charging” in soccer. It is penalized with a direct free kick (or a penalty kick if the foul happens in the infringing player’s own penalty box at age 7 or older). When the ball is not a part of the play, charging is called “unsporting behavior” and is actually much worse: An official may caution (yellow card) or send off (red card) a player for that, depending on how bad it is.

By contrast, “incidental” contact with another player just comes with the territory, and is not penalized. This is when players collide unintentionally or as a natural progression of the play action — like when players crowd the ball, forming a clump, they’re going to make contact. That would not be a penalty.

The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.

It is an offense to charge an opponent:

  • in a careless manner
  • in a reckless manner
  • using excessive force

Let’s look at some real world examples.

Scenario #1: Dangerous Play Leads to Unfair Charging

Commentary: In this video, notice two things. First, Red #11 kicks high; White #5 falls onto his back to avoid taking one to the face — the natural reflex of a seasoned soccer player. THAT should have been called a dangerous play against Red #11 (an indirect free kick penalty). Just a few seconds later, White #11 charges Red #8 — colliding with him intentionally and drawing a penalty — a direct free kick for red.

Scenario #2: Two Subsequent Charging Offenses with Advantage

Commentary: This video shows older players in a competitive league, where game play is very rough and very physical. White #9 charges Blue #19, but because Blue maintained possession of the ball, there was no penalty. This is called the “Advantage Rule” in soccer, where the team against which an offense has been committed will benefit from such an advantage (ie, the continuation of play), and the original offense is penalized only if the anticipated advantage does not ensue within a reasonable period of time. Because Blue retained possession, play was allowed to continue. However, Blue #11 got charged very dramatically a few seconds later drawing an immediate penalty.

What Is Tackling?

Understanding a Fair Challenge for the Ball

In soccer, a “tackle” simply means the taking away of the ball from the feet of another player. A “clean tackle” is when you do that without making any contact with the opponent and is very difficult to do in soccer. When contact is made, it’s can be called either incidental (i.e., unintentional) or intentional (i.e., charging, tripping, pushing and so forth). This is a matter for the officials to decide, but coaches are welcome to correct their player’s behavior even if the officials had allowed them to get away with it!

Let’s take a look at a tackle situation on video.

Commentary: This video shows an attacker do something that isn’t permitted in our recreational soccer program: The “slide tackle.” This is permitted in competitive soccer programs, especially for older players, but it is not allowed in recreational soccer. Because the defender made first contact with the ball, there was no penalty here. In reality, this is a beautifully executed “slide tackle” — we just don’t allow slides in recreational soccer. What’s more, is if you look very carefully, the attacker and defender never made direct contact — making the tackle “clean.”

The narrator mentions a second issue raised in this video: Faking an injury or exaggerating a fall to draw a foul. In FIFA’s Laws of the Game, a player may be penalized for unsporting behavior if he “attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled” and a player so doing may be cautioned (yellow card), at the discretion of the officials.


The takeaway is that recreational soccer is not competitive, and play should be kept as safe as possible. Thus, consistent with FIFA’s laws of the game, intentional charging and tackles with intentional contact with the opponent will draw a penalty.