Soccer is, without a doubt, the most popular sport in the world. FIFA estimates that more than 240 million people worldwide play soccer. We explain the basic soccer rules if you are new to the game.
Soccer originated 3,000 years ago in ancient Mesoamerican cultures when people played with rocks and sacrificed the losing team’s captain to the gods. Chinese, Roman, Greek, and Central American cultures were the first to play the ball game.
In the 19th century, the United Kingdom became the birthplace of modern soccer. An organized version of football, called Association Football, was created by the English Football Association in 1863. FIFA was founded in 1904 as the global governing body for the game.
As the level of play increases, the rules become more complicated and technical. Despite this, they are pretty simple, even at the professional level. FIFA, the International Federation of Football, governs soccer’s official rules.
The Basic Rules Of Soccer
Teams & Officials – Two Teams Of 11 Players
i. Offense – Whichever team has the ball and tries to score a goal is considered on offense.
ii. Defense – Whichever team tries to protect their goal from the opposing team is considered on defense.
iii. Three to four people referee each match. One referee is in the center of the field, and one is on each sideline. The center official is the match’s leading official, and the sideline officials are the assistants. (When there is a fourth official present, they usually stay on the sidelines in between the team benches and manage the substitutions)
Basic Soccer Positions
i. Forward/Striker – (Anywhere from one to three players per team)
Usually, they play most of the game in the opposing team’s half of the field, closest to the opposing team’s goal. Their job is to score goals.
ii. Midfielder/Halfback – (Anywhere from three to five players per team)
Usually play in the center of the soccer field, between the forwards and the fullbacks. They help direct the ball up to the forwards and assist the defenders when the other team tries to score. The outside halfbacks take a very offensive roll, while the center halfbacks help a little more on defense. Their ultimate job is to help control and direct the ball and, ultimately, the game’s tempo.
iii. Fullback/Defender – (Anywhere from three to four players per team)
Usually, play in the area closest to their own goal; their job is to keep the opposing team forwards from scoring.
iv. Goalkeeper – (One per team) This is the person who stands in the goal and is the only person on the field to use their hands within the goal box area. This person is a purely defensive player whose sole job is to keep the opposing team from scoring a goal.
The Soccer Field
i. Regulation-size soccer fields are typically 50-100 yards wide and 100-130 yards long. Depending on the age and skill level of the players, the field can measure any combination within the above measurements. (An international match will measure 110-120 yards in length and 70-80 yards in width)
ii. The field itself is a grass surface. Sometimes an Astroturf material will be used. However, astroturf is not well-liked by many players.
iii. The midfield line separates the field into halves, with a goal on each end line. There is a circle around the center point of the soccer field, which measures 20 feet in circumference and is called the Center Circle.
iv. There is an 18 x 44-yard box around each goal called the Goalkeepers Box. The goalkeeper can touch the ball with their hands as long as they are within this area. If they go outside this box, they cannot use their hands.
v. The Penalty Kick spot is 12 yards out from the center of the goal
Scoring & Substitutions
i. A goal is scored when one team puts the ball into the opposing team’s goal.
ii. Any player on the team can score a goal. Therefore, even if a defender accidentally puts the ball into their own goal, the other team will receive the score (This is referred to as an “own goal”).
iii. One goal is equivalent to one point, and the team with the most goals at the end of the game wins.
iv. Each team is allowed a certain number of subs per game (depending on the tournament or league rules). The coach will alert the officials that they want to take a player off the field and replace them with a new one. When the play has stopped, usually the ball has gone out of bounds, or a foul has been called, the center referee will waive on the sub, and the exiting player will leave the field.
i. When a foul is called, the referee whistles the players to stop, and the fouled team will receive a free kick at the spot where the foul occurred.
ii. Tripping, pushing, or kicking a player is not allowed and should be whistled by the referee.
iii. Touching the ball with your arms and hands is not allowed unless it is the goalkeeper and they are within the goalkeeper’s box (see diagram).
All other body parts, including the head, thighs, chest, and back, can be used.
iv. Slide tackling is when a player slides (similar to a baseball player sliding into the second base) across the grass and pushes the ball away from the player that currently has the ball. This is a very technical maneuver that, if done correctly, can be very productive. However, a foul will be called if done incorrectly, and the sliding player takes out the player with the ball.
v. Grabbing another player’s jersey, even though this often occurs, is a foul.
vi. If a player commits a “Hard Foul,” meaning they jeopardize the safety of another player, they can be given a warning by the referee, and the flashing of a Yellow Card notes this to the player by the referee. (Two Yellow Cards in one game equals an automatic Red Card, and the player is ejected)
vii. If a team loses a player to a Red Card, the team cannot bring another player into the game to replace the ejected player. Therefore, the team must play one player short for the remainder of the match.
viii. If the player commits an absolutely dangerous play, such as slide tackling a player from behind on a breakaway or is involved in a fight, the player is given a Red Card and ejected from the game immediately.
Regulation and Overtime
i. Regulation soccer matches consist of two – 45-minute halves totaling 90 minutes.
ii. Halftime is one 15-minute break between the two halves.
iii. If the teams are tied after the 90-minute regulation period, they will go into a 15-minute sudden-death overtime; whichever team scores first wins.
iv. If tied after the sudden death overtime period, Penalty Kicks will decide the game. Each team gets five Penalty Kicks against the other team’s goalkeeper. If still tied after each team takes five kicks, each team takes another kick until one team makes it and the other misses.
Common Terminology Of The Basic Soccer Rules
i. Corner Kick- The ball goes out of bounds along the end line (behind the goal) and is last touched by a defensive player. The offensive team gets to kick the ball from the small circle in the corner of the field.
ii. Goal Kick – The ball goes out of bounds along the end line (behind the goal) and is last touched by an offensive player. The defensive team gets to kick the ball from the 6-yard line in front of their goal.
iii. Throw in – The ball goes out of bounds along the sidelines. The team that was NOT the last to touch the ball will be granted a throw-in.
iv. Direct Kick – When a foul is called, the team that is awarded the free kick, if close enough, can shoot for the goal without anyone else needing to touch the ball before it goes in.
v. Indirect Kick – When a foul is called, the team awarded the free kick can shoot on goal. However, at least one other player on the field, offensive or defensive, must touch the ball before it goes into the goal.
vi. Penalty Kick – If a foul is called on the defense inside the goalkeeper’s box, the offensive team will elect one player to take a shot from the Penalty Kick spot against only the goalkeeper. All other members of both teams must wait outside the goalkeepers’ box until the kick has been taken.
Who Changes The Soccer Rules
The International Football Association Board (IFAB) maintains and updates soccer’s rules and regulations annually. Eight members make up the board, four of whom come from FIFA and four each from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Therefore, it is ambitious for a casual player, parent, or coach who is becoming acquainted with the game to read FIFA’s most recent rule book, which is 140 pages long. Hopefully, our simplified version of the basic soccer rules has helped you.