Indoor Soccer vs Outdoor Soccer [Comprehensive Guide]

​​It isn’t as simple as just determining you want to play soccer – you also have to determine what type of soccer you would like to play. Two of the most popular styles of the sport that many consider are indoor soccer vs outdoor soccer. While both involve the same basic soccer rules and skillsets, the two styles are very different. We walk you through the similarities and differences in outdoor vs indoor, and highlight the advantages of each one.

​An Overview of Indoor Soccer

​For starters, indoor soccer doesn’t actually have to be played inside. It can be played both indoors or outdoors. Confused yet? We’ll walk through what the term “indoor soccer” actually means.

​What Makes it Indoor?

​Indoor soccer actually refers to how the field boundaries are set up. In indoor, the edges of the soccer field have walls, very similar to the way an ice hockey rink is set up. These walls create an “indoor” feel to the soccer field.

Typically, the walls will be 7-8 feet high at the corners of the field and by the goal, and they’ll be 3-4 feet high near the middle of the field. Each team will have a bench near the middle where they can make substitutions through gates.

These walls keep the ball in play for a majority of the game. Unlike outdoor soccer, where the ball can be kicked out of bounds with ease, these walls keep the ball in play when the ball is kicked off of them.

Field view of an indoor soccer stadium

Above the walls is usually netting. Unlike the walls, the netting is out of play – when the ball strikes any part of the net, it is considered out of play and a free kick is given to the opposing team.

These walls and netting are what characterizes this style of soccer as “indoor”. Many of these fields are inside or warehouse, making them truly indoors. However, it is just as common to have this indoor style setup on an outdoor field.

This is one of the biggest distinguishing factors for indoor soccer: the walls create a completely different style of play, with the ball going out of bounds quite a bit less. This makes the indoor game quite a bit faster.

​Field Type

​Indoor soccer is usually played on some type of turf. Whenever the indoor field is truly located inside, turf is always used. Even outdoor venues that have indoor soccer fields will often use turf.

The style of play in indoor soccer means that there is a lot of running and cutting, which can really chew up a grass field quickly. Indoor fields are often used a lot more frequently too, with some hosting 6-8 hours of games every single day of the week. The difference in the two mediums is the reason why there is such a thing as youth soccer shoes for turf fields.

These are just some of the reasons that most indoor soccer fields are turf.

​​What is Unique about Indoor Soccer?

​Indoor soccer fields are a lot smaller than outdoor fields, usually ranging from 30-50 yards long and only 15-20 yards wide. This smaller field creates a fast paced game where every player has a lot of interaction with the ball.

Indoor soccer typically has smaller goals than outdoor soccer. These goals can range in size unlike outdoor, where the size of the goal is fixed. The goal size in indoor can range from 6-8 feet wide and 6-8 feet high.

Indoor fields also have smaller penalty boxes and lack the traditional 18 yard box that an outdoor field has. The penalty box usually resembles more of an arc, similar to what you would find on a basketball court.

As such, an indoor soccer goalie has a lot less space to operate in and use their hands. In essence, goalies act like an additional player on an indoor team.

Indoor doesn’t have throw ins like outdoor does. If the ball ever does go out of bounds, the team that lasted touched it loses possession, and the other team gets a free kick.

Two men playing with a white soccer ball on an indoor soccer field

Indoor soccer games usually field anywhere from 4-7 players per team. Teams can make rapid and quick substitutions, resembling the game of hockey in how teams will make complete “line changes.” Because the ball rarely goes out of bounds, these substitutions are often made while the game is live.

​Indoor Soccer Characteristics

​There are several things that make indoor soccer unique and separate it from outdoor soccer. All of these things seem to relate back to one core difference: indoor soccer is much more fast paced than the outdoor soccer game. Here are a few of the reasons:

​Field Size

​Indoor soccer creates a very fast paced style of play. With so many bodies on such a small field, there is very little opportunity for a high possession style of play where a team can spend time building up an attack.

Instead, the ball is passed around quickly, with a lot of through balls and counter scoring opportunities. This means that players do a lot of running, and typically sub in and out and lot quicker than in outdoor soccer.

​Walls

​The game is also very fast paced because the ball rarely goes out of bounds when compared to outdoor. The walls mean that the ball stays in play a lot longer. Indoor soccer requires a good deal of fitness, endurance, and stamina.

Having the ball bounce of the wall also creates a new element to the game. Similar to hockey, rebounds and ricochets are a big part of the game. Teams can pass off the walls and use it to their advantage. For this type of game, practicing with a top rated soccer rebounder might come in handy.

​Positions

​Because of the speed and style of play, soccer positions are not as important in indoor as they are for outdoor. Players will often rotate between defense and offense throughout the game. Communication is key so that teams can maintain players at each end of the field.

The fast paced nature also means that you don’t have as much time with the ball before needing to make a pass or take a shot. Quick touches and good ball control is essential, as you’ll have a player on you quickly when playing indoors.

Players scattered around the indoor soccer court

Now that you know what defines and characterizes indoor soccer, lets move to talk about the more traditional game of outdoor soccer.

​An Overview of Outdoor Soccer

​Unlike indoor soccer, which can be played either inside or outside, outdoor soccer is an outdoor sport only. This is perhaps the typical style of soccer you think of when you picture a soccer game. We’ll go through the different aspects that make it outdoor soccer.

​What Makes it Outdoor?

​Outdoor soccer is played on a large field with no walls or nets to restrict the field. The field has lines drawn on the ground to make the field, and if the ball moves out of these lines, play stops and the games pauses.

An outdoor soccer field resembles a football or field hockey field. As a matter of fact, they are often played on the exact same field, using similar lines and markings.

Unlike other sports like football, there is no specific or defined length and width that a soccer field has to be. This rule is similar to baseball, where the outfield walls can be placed at different distances. Similar to baseball, though, outdoor soccer fields are usually pretty similar in their size.

Outdoor soccer fields are at least 100 yards long, and often times coming in closer to 110-120 yards in length. They are typically right around 60-80 yards wide.

This makes for a very large field to play on. Possession is much more important in outdoor soccer, and teams can move the ball around to build up play. While outdoor soccer is fast paced, it isn’t nearly as quick as the frenetic indoor style of play.

​Field Type

​Outdoor soccer is most often played on a natural grass surface. Traditionally, this is the preferred method of play, with many professional leagues such as the English Premiere League requiring grass for all of their surfaces, while wearing quality cleats for grass. However, if you’re one who suffers from overpronation, there are specificed soccer cleats for flat feet.

However, especially in recent years, turf fields have started to replace natural grass in outdoor soccer. Turf is a lot more durable and resilient, and can be used for a variety of sports.

Close up of soccer field grass

Major League Soccer, the American professional soccer league, has quite a few turf fields.

The ball moves a lot quicker across turf, and you need specialized indoor soccer shoes so that you don’t slip on the rubberized surface.

Most players still prefer a grass surface. The soccer ball has a nice pace to it on grass, where the ball can move really fast and be difficult to control on turf. In addition, grass is still a lot easier on the body, resulting in fewer injuries to players.

​What is Unique about Outdoor Soccer?

​Outdoor soccer is played with 11 players on each team, meaning that there are a total of 22 players on the field at any given time. Each team plays with a goalie and 10 positional players.

Speaking of positions, they are very important in outdoor soccer, much more so than in indoor. In outdoor soccer, positions are assigned to players and are usually fairly regimented.

For example, a team typically plays with several defenders, several midfielders, and several forwarders. These positions each have certain duties that they need to perform for the team. Positions all work together to help a team move the ball around, defends its goal, and score on the opposing team.

A player needs to have a wide range of soccer skills in outdoor, ranging from dribbling to passing to shooting. A player will likely need to use their head on the ball at times and will play through balls to teammates.

Outdoor soccer goals are larger than indoor goals, and a goalie has a lot of work to do to cover it. In addition, the goal keeper has a large penalty box and even larger 18 yard box to work within. This large area means that the goalie has a lot of work to do, and can actually participate in dribbling and passing at times.

Goalie in goalie gloves trying to catch the ball

There are a number of ways for play to stop in outdoor soccer. When the ball is kicked out of bounds on the sidelines, the opposing team gets a throw in. Corner kicks and goal kicks are awarded when the ball goes out of bounds at the end lines. Free kicks are given for penalties that occur on the field.

Substitutions can only be made when the play is stopped. As such, players typically play for a good amount of time being subbed out.

In professional soccer games, the total number of subs a team can make is limited, with the usual number being a total of 3 in a game.

​Outdoor Soccer Characteristics

​Compared to indoor, outdoor soccer is a slower game that is more strategically and positionally focused.

Strategy

​In outdoor soccer, the way a team lines up and plays is very important. Positions are assigned, but there are many different formations that can be used.

These formations give the team a more offensive, attacking shape or more of a defensive, contain style of play. These formations can really alter the style and make up of the game.

You’ll hear terms such as “playing out of the back” and parking the bus”, with styles of play often being referred to as “possession oriented” and “score on the counter.” These are all references to how a team plays strategically and positionally.

A soccer match in a stadium

​Free Kicks

​The field is very large in outdoor soccer, and this puts an emphasis on elements of the game such as free kicks. These dead ball kicks are really helpful to a soccer team, and result in a lot of goals.

As such, there is a strong emphasis on winning free kicks and turning them into goals. Often referred to as “set pieces”, these opportunities give the soccer team a chance for a shot on goal, or a cross that a teammate can use to shoot.

This is also what creates diving in soccer. Diving is when a player alludes to a foul being committed against them in order to win a free kick.

​Game Length

​Outdoor games are typically 90+ minutes long, broken up into two 45 minute halfs. The clock never stops in soccer – it keeps running even when the balls goes out of bounds, when a foul occurs, and even when there is an injury.

As such, stoppage time is awarded at the end of each half to account for this time. The amount is at the discretion of the referee, but usually amounts to a few extra minutes.

This means that, in the end, an outdoor soccer game can be right around 100 minutes of playing time. Outdoor soccer players need to have good fitness levels with high levels of endurance to play for such a long period of time.

​Major Differences

​While both versions of soccer embody the same general principles, rules, and skillsets, there are several major differences:

​Field Size

​An indoor soccer field is much smaller, typically less than 50 yards long, and also less wide. An outdoor soccer field is large, running longer than 100 yards and 60+ yards wide.

As such, indoor soccer usually fields 4-7 players per side, whereas outdoor soccer has 11 players per side.

​Out of Bounds

​Indoor soccer has walls around the entire field, and this keeps the ball in play for the majority of the game. Walls can be used for passes, rebounds and crosses, ​factoring into the game in a large way.

Soccer field's out of bounds line

In outdoor soccer, the field is defined by lines, and the ball can go out of bounds quite a bit.

​Positions

Outdoor soccer has clearly defined positions for each of the 11 players on the field, and requires each player to do their specific job for the team to succeed.

Due to the speed of play and fewer number of players, positions are not nearly as important in indoor soccer. Players will rotate through the game, making runs on goal to score at times, while at other times playing more of a defensive position.

Style of Play

Outdoor soccer has a lot more strategy baked into the style of play. Depending on a variety of factors, teams use this strategy to score goals and defend their own.

On the other hand, indoor soccer is fast paced and much more reliant on skill sets and teamwork than it is on strategy and positions.

​Indoor Soccer vs Outdoor Soccer

​Both popular versions of the game of soccer embody the same principles of ball control and possession, and both require similar skill sets focused around dribbling, passing, and shooting.

Indoor soccer is great if you’re just learning to play soccer, as it isn’t as complicated. The walls that keep the ball in play help beginners whose ball control isn’t quite as good yet.

Indoor is also great to play as you get older, and is more typical in adult recreation leagues.

Indoor soccer is also great for year round play (if you find an field that is truly indoors).

Outdoor soccer is the purest form of soccer, and the most popular and globalized. It is a beautiful blend of style and endurance, with strategy and tactics playing a large role. You can find a position that suits your skillsets well in outdoor soccer.

​Conclusion

Either way, both versions of soccer are extremely fun and will employ the key elements of soccer. Whichever version you choose, enjoy!

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