Indoor Soccer vs Outdoor Soccer [Comprehensive Guide]

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​​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 skill sets, the two styles are different. We walk you through the similarities and differences between outdoor and indoor soccer and highlight the advantages of each one.

​An Overview of Indoor Soccer

Despite the name, indoor soccer doesn’t actually have to be played indoors. People can play this style of soccer both indoors and outdoors.

​Indoor soccer refers to how the field boundaries are set up. In indoor soccer, the edges of the soccer field have walls, similar to how 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 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 the majority of the game. Unlike outdoor soccer, where the ball can be easily kicked out of bounds, these walls keep the ball in play.

Field view of an indoor soccer stadium

There’s usually a net above the walls. Unlike the walls, hitting the net is considered 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 net are what characterize this style of soccer as “indoor.” Many of these fields are inside a warehouse, making them truly indoors. However, it is just as common to have this indoor-style set up on an outdoor field.

One of the biggest distinguishing factors for indoor soccer is that the walls create a completely different style of play, and the ball can’t go out of bounds. This makes the indoor game quite a bit faster.

​Field Type

​Indoor soccer is usually played on some type of turf. 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, with some fields hosting 6-8 hours of games every single day of the week.

This difference in the two styles of field is the reason why there is such a thing as youth soccer shoes for turf fields.

​​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 soccer, where the size of the goal is fixed. The goal size in indoor soccer 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 resembles more of an arc, similar to what you find on a basketball court.

As such, an indoor soccer goalie has a lot less space to operate 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 last 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

​Several things make indoor soccer unique and separate it from outdoor soccer. All of these things seem to relate to one core difference: indoor soccer is much more fast-paced than an 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 many 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 compared to outdoor soccer. 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 off 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 them 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 soccer as they are for outdoor soccer. 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 reasonable ball control are essential, as you’ll have a player on you at all times.

Players scattered around the indoor soccer court

Now that you know what defines and characterizes indoor soccer, let’s 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. An outdoor soccer field resembles a football or field hockey field. They are often played on the 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, outdoor soccer fields are usually pretty similar in size.

  • Outdoor soccer fields are at least 100 yards long
  • They often come 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

Traditionally, natural grass is the preferred playing surface, 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 suffer from overpronation, there are specific soccer cleats for flat feet.

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

Close up of soccer field grass

Major League Soccer, the American professional soccer league, have quite a few turf fields. The ball moves a lot quicker across the turf, and you need specialized indoor soccer shoes, so 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 fast and be difficult to control on turf. In addition, the 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 22 players on the field at any given time. Each team plays with a goalie and 10 positional players.

Outdoor Soccer Positions

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

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

A player needs to have a wide range of soccer skills in outdoor soccer, 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

Outdoor soccer goals are larger than indoor goals, and a goalie has a lot of work to cover them. In addition, the goalkeeper 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 participate in dribbling and passing at times.

Goalie in goalie gloves trying to catch the ball

There are several 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 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. Players typically play for a reasonable 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 soccer, outdoor soccer is a slower and more strategically and positionally focused game.

Strategy

​The way a team lines up and plays in outdoor soccer is very important. While positions are assigned, many different formations can be used.

These formations give the team a more offensive, attacking shape or more of a defensive, contained style of play. These formations can alter the style and makeup 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 emphasizes elements of the game, such as free kicks. These dead ball kicks are helpful to a soccer team and result in many 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 a 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 to win a free kick.

​Game Length

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

As such, stoppage time is awarded at the end of each half to account for this time. While the amount is at the referee’s discretion, it 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.

​Major Differences

IndoorOutside
Natural grass fieldSynthetic grass
Spacious fieldSmall field
Eleven playersUp to six players

​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 less wide. Having this less space would also mean that the players are constantly moving at a faster pace. Because the players’ movements prove to be more intensive on an indoor soccer field, most photographers preferably use a Nikon lens for sports events to capture sharp action shots.

An large outdoor soccer field runs over 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, which keeps the ball in play for most of the game. Walls can be used for passes, rebounds, and crosses, ​factoring into the game largely.

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 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 playing more of a defensive position at other times.

Style of Play

Outdoor soccer has a lot more strategy baked into the style of play. Depending on various 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
  • shooting

Indoor soccer is excellent 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 age and is more typical in adult recreation leagues.

Indoor soccer is also great for year-round play (if you find a 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.

Related Questions

Here are some related questions about indoor and outdoor soccer.

Are Indoor Soccer Balls Heavier?

No, indoor soccer balls are not heavier than outdoor soccer. This is a common misbelief. However, FIFA regulations dictate that both balls weigh less than 16 ounces.

Is Indoor Soccer Harder Than Outdoor?

In some elements, indoor soccer can be more complicated than outdoor. This is because indoor soccer needs to be played on a small field with tight spaces, which is more complex than playing on a spacious field.

However, outdoor soccer can be more demanding regarding stamina and endurance. After all, players need to run longer distances over ninety minutes.

Is Indoor Soccer Played in a Grass Field?

Contrary to most outdoor soccer fields, indoor soccer is played on synthetic turf. However, some indoor fields don’t have any type of grass, just a hard surface.

​Conclusion

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

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.