Offside (sport)

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Offside is a rule used by several different team sports regulating aspects of player positioning. It is particularly used in field sports with rules deriving from the various codes of football, such as association football, bandy, rugby and field hockey, as well as in ice hockey.

Offside rules provide a deterrent against the positioning of players in a manner such as to offer an unfair advantage or in a way that might result in a significantly change in game-play.

Offside rules may be used to encourage players to play together as a team, and not consistently position one or a few players near the opponent's goal just waiting to receive a pass for an easy shot on goal (Cherry Picking).


The word "offside" comes from a military term for a man trapped behind enemy lines, where he is said to be "off the strength of his side". Offside rules date back to codes of football developed at English public schools in the early nineteenth century. These offside rules were often much stricter than in modern games. In some of them, a player was "off his side" if he was standing in front of the ball. This was similar to the current offside law in rugby, which penalizes any player between the ball and the opponent's goal. By contrast, the original Sheffield Rules had no offside rule, and players known as "kick throughs" were positioned permanently near the opponents' goal.

Offside in different sports[edit]

Notable sports without an offside rule[edit]

  • Australian rules football
  • Gaelic football
  • Many versions of association football with fewer than 11 players a side, including futsal, beach soccer, five-a-side football, and indoor soccer
  • Basketball - with just five players, a team with one player significantly ahead of the opposing team can be easily scored against by the other team. However, there is a three seconds rule ("3 in the key") which helps prevent players from lingering near the opposing basket.
  • Net sports such as volleyball and tennis - the net acts as a barrier between the opposing teams or players. However, volleyball does have rules about which players can "spike" the ball (hit it downward when it is above net height) and where.
  • Squash and racquetball - opposing players are often very close to each other and a "let" may be called if a player interferes with an opposing player's ability to have a fair chance to hit the ball.