Basic rules of soccer (football)

The sport known as soccer in North America and Australasia is argubly the world's most popular sport played between two teams (in many countries, including England, it is known as football).  However, as would be expected for such a sport, there are many rules.  However, there are a few key rules which are all that is necessary to get an understanding of the game so that it is posisble to enjoy it.

Rule 1. The aim of the game

The basic aim of the game is to be on the team which has scored most goals by the end of the match.  A team scores a goal by getting the ball into the opposition's goal (also called the net).

Rule 2. The Pitch 

There are specific regulations surrounding the pitch.  As these were first decided in the UK many years ago, all measurements are in yards.  The pitch can vary in size for a regulation game.  The length of the pitch can be between 100 and 130 yards, with the width being between 50 and 100 yards.  The corners of the pitch are marked using corner flags.  However, certain aspects of it have to be a constant size.  This includes the penalty area (18 yard box) and the six yard box.  The exact dimensions of all of the different aspects of a soccer pitch can be seen in the picture below. 

Regulation sizes for all aspects of a soccer pitch.
Regulation sizes for all aspects of a soccer pitch.

Rule 3. The players

The first rule of a full sized soccer game is that there are eleven players on each team.  Ten of these are classed as outfield players, with the remaining one classed as the goalkeeper.  The goalkeeper is the only one who is allowed to touch the ball with any part of his (or her) body.

An assistant referee signals a throw in to the team attacking from right to left.  Photo by Rob Gale and distributed under Creative Common Attribution 2.0.
An assistant referee signals a throw in to the team attacking from right to left. Photo by Rob Gale and distributed under Creative Common Attribution 2.0.

Rule 4. The officials

There is one referee who oversees and has control over the game, and enforces all of these basic rules of soccer, as well as many others.  The referee has the final say on all major decisions, from whether goals have been scored to when a match should be called off due to climatic conditions.  However, he does have some assistance.  There are two assistant referees (aka linesmen) who do not enter onto the field of play but instead run along the side of the pitch (aka run the line).  Each assistant has a flag, and they use this to get the referees attention and to signal to the referee their intentions (a bit like semaphore).

Rule 5. Timings

The game last 90 minutes, broken into two halves of 45 minutes each.  At halftime teams swap ends for fairness to mitigate for any advantage provided by playing in one direction.  The referee can however add on additional time at the end of the game.  This is to make up for time lost when there was stoppages in the game.  The additional time is added on after 45 minutes for additional time accrued in the first half and after 90 minutes for time accrued in the second half.

Rule 6. No hands

One of the most basic rules of soccer is aside from the goalkeeper, no other players are allowed to touch the ball with their hands when the ball is in play.  They are however allowed to use any part of their body other than their hands and forearm, and as such the most common part of the body which is used is the foot (hence the name football).  

Rule 7. Punishments

As this page is about the basic rules of soccer, this is a simplified explanation of the punishments.  When the rules of the game are broken, there are a series of punishments.

Firstly, when the rules are contravened the opposite team to that which the person breaking the rules is situated on get a free kick.  This is a situation in which the ball is stopped still (this is why free kicks can also be known as a dead ball), and the team which is taking the free kick get to kick the ball wherever they wish.  Before the ball is kicked, the team which carried out the foul is made to stay away from the ball by at least 10 yards.  Free kicks are given for most fouls.  However, should a team concede a foul in the penalty area (aka penalty box) at the end they are defending, the opposition gets a special free kick, known as a penalty.  For this the ball is placed on the penalty spot, regardless of where the foul happened.  Only two players are allowed in the penalty area before the ball is kicked, the goalkeeper who tries to stop the goal and the penalty taker.  Generally the penalty taker should score a goal from a penalty.

For a video of a penalty click here.

In addition, the person who commits a foul can be punished.  Either he can have a verbal warning, or be shown a red or a yellow card.  A red card means that particular player has to leave the game immediately, and cannot take any further part in this particular game.  As a result the red card is shown for the most serious of fouls, such as those which could result in an injury.  There is also the option of being shown a yellow card.  Whilst a single yellow card is only really a formal warning, if a yellow card is shown to the same player twice during the same game it becomes a red card.

Rule 8. Fouls

It was previously mentioned in rule 7that punishments are levied for fouls.  In the game of soccer there are many different fouls with different punishments, however as this is only the basic rules of soccer only the most common fouls will be included, along with a guide to the potential punishment:

  • Stopping a goal or a goal scoring opportunity.  If any player commits a foul, regardless of what it is, which prevents a goal or likely goal from happening, the player is automatically shown a red card.  This supersedes the punishments listed for the fouls below.  
  • Using hands.  If an outfield player (eg anyone apart from the goalkeeper) touches the ball deliberately with their hands then a free-kick/penalty is awarded and a yellow card is shown.  There is a similar punishment if a goalkeeper uses his or her hands outside of their penalty area.  A free-kick, or penalty if inside the penalty area, is given.
  • Swearing.  The referee can punish an individual for swearing or abusive language.  The referee decides the punishment depending on the severity of the language.  
  • Dangerous play.  Dangerous play involves any activities which can reasonably be expected to injure the opposition player such as using elbows, punching and kicking.  The degree to the punishment depends on whether there was any intent, but generally a red card is shown.  However, it is worth noting that not all physical contact is classed as dangerous play.

Rule 9. The kit

When playing soccer in proper matches, a specific kit (uniform) needs to be worn.  The outfield players on one team wear one kit, which has to be different from the colour worn by the opposition team (this is why major teams have both home and away strips).  The goalkeepers then wear a colour which is not the same as what any of the other players are wearing.  In organised matches, held on grass, there is also the need to wear studded boots, shorts, and shin pads covered by long socks.  Every player on each team has a unique number on the back of their shirts as well as on their shorts, this is to assist with identifying individual players.

Rule 10. Starting the game

At the beginning of each game the match is started by one player kicking the ball which has been placed on the centre circle.  The player who kicks off in the second half is from the opposite team to the player which kicked off in the first half, to ensure fairness.  This kick off is also used after a team has conceded a goal.

Rule 11. If the ball leaves the field

The final entry on this list of basic rules of soccer concerns what happens when the ball leaves the field of play (defined by the white lines around the edge of the pitch).  If the ball goes out of the side of the pitch (on the long sides) the team which didn't touch the ball last takes a throw in.  In this, they stand behind the line off of the pitch, and throw the ball over their head, using two hands and with both feet on the floor back into the field of play.

If the ball goes out behind a goal then an alternative method is used.  If the team which is defending the goal at the end in which the ball went out was last to touch it, the opposition team gets to take a corner kick (like a free kick but from the corner of the pitch).  However, if the attacking team was the last to touch the ball, the goalkeeper on the defending team gets to take a goal kick (like a free kick from within the penalty area).

Rule 12. The Offside Rule

In the UK there is an ongoing joke that the offside rule is hard to understand, although I personally understand it easily and don't understand why people don't understand it.  However, because of this uncertainty, I missed it off of this list of the basic rules of soccer until it was requested.

Basically a player is offside if he is in the half of the pitch in which the goal which the opposition are defending with less than two opposition players between himself or herself and the goal-line when the ball is passed to him/her.  Practically this generally means there is the goalkeeper and one outfield player.  

Any questions?

If you have any questions, or feel I have missed out one of the basic rules of soccer from this list, please let me know by using the comment section below.

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Comments 67 comments

Singular Investor profile image

Singular Investor 7 years ago from Oxford

Good explanation. I didn't realize the pitch could be 100 yards wide ! That would certainly make them run about a bit.

You don't seem to have mentioned the offside rule ?

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 7 years ago from Bristol Author

Thansk for commenting Singular Investor. It is unusual how big the pitch can be, guess that is part of the reason why some teams perform better on some grounds than others. I deliberately avoided mentioning the offside rule as thought it may be rather confusing as even many British people don't understand it and considered it to not be one of the basic rules of soccer (a bit like pass backs), but should more people request it I will include it!

skye2day 7 years ago

Bristol Boy Hi how are you. I can see hubbing is keeping you busy, Nice hub, I think we should play this way in the states. Nice Hub Thank You I am going to show my husband

Gods Blessing check my new hub

patti 7 years ago

Hi Bristol Boy How are You. Wow we should try this in our states. Nice Hub. Love your widget. I will return.

BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Did I miss the famous offside rule?? Couldn't see it.

BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Just read your reason for not including the offside rul, missed it on the first pass. I think you have to have a go, can't be that hard can it?

JPSO138 profile image

JPSO138 7 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

Now I fully understand how this game is played. Thanks for sharing this.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 7 years ago from Bristol Author

Thanks for replying everyone! I shall add the offside rule then BrianS and Singular Investor, as out of 5 people who have commented I have had two requests already! Watch this space for the offside rule to be added!

Alan Lee 7 years ago

Here are a few corrections:

Rule 3: the goalkeeper can use his or her hands ONLY while within his or her own penalty area.

Rule 7: there are two categories of punishments: fouls and misconduct. If a foul occurs, the punishment is that the fouled team gets a free kick (or a penalty kick). Examples of fouls: kicking, tripping, pushing, holding.

If misconduct occurs, the punishment is that the player who committed the misconduct is cautioned (yellow card is shown) or sent-off (red card is shown). Examples of cautionable misconduct: unsporting behavior, dissent, delaying the restart of play. Examples of send-off misconduct: serious foul play, violent conduct, spitting, 2 cautions in same game, denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, bad language.

Rule 8: first, read my comments about fouls versus misconduct above under Rule 7. "Stopping a goal or a goal scoring opportunity" is misconduct, not a foul. "Swearing" is misconduct, not a foul. "Using hands" is a foul, but does not necessarily mean a caution. "Dangerous play" (to be accurate: "playing in a dangerous manner") is playing in a manner that is unsafe to oneself or to an opponent AND which prevents an opponent from making a normal play on the ball. The most typical example of dangerous play is attempting to kick a ball at head level (a "high kick") while an opponent is trying to use her head to hit/control the ball.

Rule 12: an important ingredient needs to added. The offside infraction has occurred if an attacker is in offside position at the moment a teammate plays or touches the ball AND the player in offside position gets involved in play by 1) receiving the ball; or 2) interfering with an opponent's vision or movement; or 3) receiving the ball from a rebound off an opponent or the goal structure.

The rules of soccer are known as the Laws of the Game. You can read them all here: (in the Laws of the Game, see Law 12 regarding Fouls and Misconduct and Law 14 regarding Offside).


A soccer referee and instructor

guidebaba profile image

guidebaba 7 years ago from India

Excellent article. Great Job. Keep up the good work.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 7 years ago from Bristol Author

Alan thanks for clarifying all of that! I must admit I tried to make the rules of soccer simple to fit in with the title basic rules of soccer, but perhaps I made them too simple! Also thanks for posting that link - it is so good I have added it to the article itself!

Thanks for the compliments Guidebaba.

Ur Baby Love 6 years ago

I have just one question... how do you end a soccer match.

nd great article

enjoyed it

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Hi. A soccer match generally ends when the time is completed (90 mins plus any additional time) and the referee indicates that the game is over generally by blowing a whistle three times. However, if there is extra time/penalties the rules are slightly different but since this is an article on the basic rules of soccer I won't go into that now!

FC Barcelona News 6 years ago

I think theonly people who don't understand the off-siderule are the referees.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Thanks for taking the time to comment FC Barcelona News. I don't suppose by any chance your team has been on the wrong end of an offside decision?

Mr. Cool profile image

Mr. Cool 6 years ago from United Kingdom

Very good article, one small point however.The offside rule is impossible to understand, and I'm a big football fan. There's all the ambiguity over a player being 'active' or 'passive' for starters, and if the ball deflects off a defender then it's not offside. Then there's the Van Nistelrooy type striker who will make it even more difficult for the referee by starting in an offside position and run onside, thereby being onside by the time the ball is played. It's impossible for the linesman to take all these factors into consideration in a split second, which is why we need technology introduced into football.

Other than that, keep up the good work. :)

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

I agree Mr Cool - it is impossible for linesmen to make the right judgement every time with regards to the offside rule! I am glad you found the rest of this article the basic rules of soccer to be useful though!

Fresh_Flower profile image

Fresh_Flower 6 years ago from London

I think that the worst offside player in history must be Inzaghi in AC Milan... he's definaetly got som problems with that rule. Great hub!

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Fresh_Flower I cannot comment directly on that player but there are many players who don't seem to know the offside rule, or several other basic rules of soccer either!

eleni otr 6 years ago

well good that's i can say because hello peoples!!! football it;not for girls

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Thanks for commenting eleni otr even if it was a rather weird comment!

iyad mansoor 6 years ago

cool page helpful info

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

I am glad you found this article on the basic rules of soccer useful iyad mansoor!

wissentransfer profile image

wissentransfer 6 years ago

Good to know haha.

KICK OFF in less than one hour ;-)

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

wissentransfer I am assuming you are referring to the World Cup 2010 which has now already started and before we know it it shall have ended!

altemoebel profile image

altemoebel 6 years ago

What world cup? :D

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Very funny altemoebel!

burning bush profile image

burning bush 6 years ago

Great explanation of the rules. Well written and informative. For those who are not familiar, they should note that the term soccer was the name given to the game by its founding group.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 6 years ago from Bristol Author

Burning bush - most people refer to it as football. The original name was association football, and as a shortened version some called it football and others soccer!

HomeInsights profile image

HomeInsights 5 years ago

I think you should have added somewhere in the referees rules that more times than not they get their decisions horribly wrong!

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Homeinsights I agree that referees often get decisions horribly wrong - but that can be good or bad depending on what side you are on!

saifhayel profile image

saifhayel 5 years ago

The only reason FIFA don't wont to use technology instead of referees, is Sepp Blater, he thinks that football is more "beautiful" with no technology, trust me, as soon as they replace him, they will use technology to manage football matches.

Martyv25 5 years ago

Great Hub, I agree explainig the offside rule would be a nightmare, there is a different argument about it every week. Is the player involved is he not involved, he's offside, simple!

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Saifhayel, I agree that Sepp Blatter is a large reason for there being such little use of technology in the game. Martyv25 I am glad you agree that the offside rule is very hard to explain!

Phl Azkals 5 years ago

This is the world's most popular sport and lots of people doesn't even know the basics of the game. Really informative post!

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Phl Azkals I agree that it is amazing that many people don't know the basics of the game of football/soccer and that was what encouraged me to create this page on the rules!

SpiffyD profile image

SpiffyD 5 years ago from The Caribbean

I just wanted to clarify a misconception stated by Mr. Cool 17 months ago. If a ball deflects or rebounds off an opponent, the attacker who was in an offside position in the phase of play can commit an offside offence. This is because the attacker becomes involved in active play by "Gaining an advantage by being in that position." As such, deflections or rebounds off opponents are treated like rebounds from the goal posts/crossbar.

However, if the ball was deliberately played(in the opinion of the assistant referee or referee) by a defender to an attacker in an offside position, the attacker should not be called for an offside offence. Why? Because the definition of offside in FIFA's Laws of the Game stipulates that it must result from a ball that is "played or touched" by a teammate of the attacker (ruling out deliberate plays by opponents). Key word: Deliberate.

phlsportstoday 5 years ago

i love watching football especially when my favorite football team has a match but i really admit that i don't know the basic rules of football.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

SpiffyD thanks for clarifying that there!

belinda 5 years ago

when are you not off side, is it a coner kick and a throw in

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Belinda you are correct - at corners and throw-ins you are not offside.

fuad abdulla 5 years ago

what does the rules state in respect of the following scenario:

If a game starts with 7 players and duing the game 1 of the players get injured and has to leave the field and is unable to continue, doea the game have to be abended and does it warrant a replay

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Hi Fuad Abdulla. The rules of football state that there should be 11 players on each team, therefore it is unlikely that scenario will ever happen!

pete 5 years ago

can a ref give the opposition a penalty for a player swearing at his own player

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 5 years ago from Bristol Author

Pete. The laws say a ref can give an indirect free (or penalty if in the box) if any player swears or uses foul and abusive language whether directed at any person (including opposition players, referee, spectators etc).

ansar abbas 4 years ago

if a team has less than 7 player it lose by default

samtenabray profile image

samtenabray 4 years ago from uk

Hard to describe the offside rule isn't it, you have made it sound quite complicated but i am not sure i could come up with a better way to describe it. Good article for someone with absolutely no knowledge of the game.

Katlego jerry gaobusiwe 4 years ago

Can i use any language to make the opponents to leave ball for me? E.g leave it for me, it's my ball while they dnt c me,

Lisa 4 years ago

Can you tell me if there is any truth in a statement made recently that 'a team is MOST likely to give away a goal shortly after it has scored a goal'. Your detaled analysis of this would be informative and helpful. Many thanks and appreciation, Lisa

chris 4 years ago

omg. The offside rule is still confusing. you didn't put commas and made it into one long run-on. I'm gonna read it again to try and understand. Thanks for the rules :)

arrow watcher 4 years ago

thanks that was just what i needed for my school report!!!

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 4 years ago from Bristol Author

Hi Lisa. That is a well said phrase - certainly I know there is more likelihood of a goal being scored after another one and my own experience would say a team is more likely to concede straight after scoring a goal but then maybe that is just a feeling!

mmo-games profile image

mmo-games 4 years ago from MMO World

Today we have more assistant referees in some competitions such as Europa League. It's good to have two extra by the goal line.

Alanah 4 years ago

If the goalie is outside of his goal box, and an opposition player is in front of the other players ( as if he's offside) does that still count as being offside? Or did the goalie now make him offside?

Alanah 4 years ago

Of did the goalie now make him on*side

David Malone 4 years ago

Did linesmen used to run the full length of the pitch?

laide 4 years ago

if a throw-in is throw and it enter the net without touching any player is it awarded as a goal

nwachief muorah 4 years ago

pls i want to knw if they is any ball to hand in game?

CCahill profile image

CCahill 4 years ago from England

I found the pitch marking distances very helpful, i'm trying to mark one at the moment, so thank you

Bubble Girl 4 years ago

THANKS!!!! that's just what i needed for my phys ed report

Brianna 4 years ago

this is the best site that explains rules of soccer, i went through many sites, and this is the first one that i understand. :^)

Dr. Jimmy S. Juntilla 3 years ago

Thanks, these rules about football helped me in my ambitions to put up a youth team, here in the Philippines. I made a print-out of these, and was satisfactory.

nipun mittal,kalluganj,najibabad,bijnor,up,india 3 years ago

it is useful rule but introductin is also there

hannah 2 years ago

this helps but not as much you have too much info !

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 2 years ago from Bristol Author

mmo-games, that is correct there are now in some circumstances two extra officials but as at the moment this is limited to elite leagues I decided not to include it.

Alanah, in the circumstance you mention the player would still be offside.

Nwachief, there is such thing as ball to hand. It is generally when a ball is kicked at a players hand from such close range they wouldn't have a chance to react and remove their arm from the way.

Everyone else, thanks for your comments!

katlego guptar Gaobusiwe 18 months ago

since I've been waiting for my answer about 3 years ago... please help me out.

BristolBoy profile image

BristolBoy 18 months ago from Bristol Author

Katlego, apologies for not answering sooner! You can use any language, obviously assuming your team mates understands it!

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