What is a tackle in soccer?

  • A tackle in soccer is a defensive move
  • The best defenders in the world make timely, important challenges
  • A poor tackle can result in a red card
Here is what a tackle is in soccer.
Here is what a tackle is in soccer. / David Ramos/GettyImages

A perfectly timed tackle in soccer has the power to change the momentum in a game, especially when a team needs a big defensive play.

The term "tackle" in sport is most often associated with football, where players literally tackle each other to the ground to stop the other team from progressing down the field. The tackles are hard-hitting, brutal, and engage the full bodies of both athletes.

In soccer, though, tackles are wildly different. The level of contact between the opposing players is much less violent, and solely concentrated on the lower body. The best soccer defenders in the world, like Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk, have all-but perfected the art of stopping a side's counter attack or making a game-saving play with a single, clean tackle.

So, what exactly is a tackle in soccer?

Amine Adli, Gianluca Scamacca
Atalanta BC v Bayer 04 Leverkusen - UEFA Europa League Final 2023/24 / Harry Murphy/Offside/GettyImages

What is a tackle in soccer?

A tackle in soccer is when a player uses their feet to dispossess the ball from their opponent. The most common tackles occur when a player makes a sliding challenge to get the ball away from the opposing player.

A successful tackle will result in the challenger gaining possession and/or the opponent losing possession. Any player on the pitch can challenge someone on the other team, but center backs and fullbacks are the most skilled at elite tackles.

There are rules, though, to a proper tackle in soccer. One cannot simply just slide into anyone on the field; the opponent must have full possession of the ball before a player can legally execute the defensive move. Players also must make contact with the ball (and not their opponent) for the tackle to be considered "clean."

An athlete can successfully win the ball while colliding with their opponent as long as they get the ball first and the contact is considered incidental.

Poor challenges, like going in studs up or completely missing the ball, lead to fouls, injuries, and even yellow or red cards.