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Basic Soccer Rules for Beginners

Updated on October 6, 2012

I have played soccer since I can remember, and did so all over the United States. After High School, I came very close to playing in college (I had full scholarships) or internationally. Instead, I played on multiple teams at one time, and coached. I really enjoyed coaching, but the age group (U14, as in 13-14 year old girls) proved to be more trying than anything. The girls did not have the heart that I had at their age. I stepped down rather quickly.

I also was a referee for a few years, starting when I was twelve or so. I still play soccer recreationally, and hope to coach once again sometime in the future.

Soccer is a wonderful sport for a child to play. Not only does it teach and foster teamwork, it keeps kids in shape, and is great for people of all abilities and skill levels. If you feel as though your child is not ready to play on a team, coaches, schools, clubs, YMCA's, and other organizations offer one-on-one training and soccer classes.

Whatever your age (or your child's age), soccer - as with anything - does take practice. Along with practice, one must have perseverance, and a knowledge of the basic rules of the game.

Rules of the Game - Before it Starts

Below are the basic rules to soccer, along with some helpful information to better understand the game.

The game consists of two halves. The time of the halves depends on the age group. A standard adult game is 90 minutes long, with two 45 minute halves. Half time is typically 5 or 15 minutes, also depending on the age group and league.

Teams are comprised of at least eleven players (this, too, depends on the age group and league), as eleven players must be on the field at all times, for each team. To have more players is beneficial, as it allows for substitutions.The eleven players will include a goal tender, defense, midfield, and offense.

Players must be in full uniform. Team uniforms must match. Each player must have shin guards and cleats, which can not have metal spikes. Goalies may wear a different colored shirt than the rest of the team, but cannot match the other team. Also, goalies are permitted to wear gloves. As with cleats, they may not be made of materials that could be harmful to other players.

Each team has a designated side of the field for the entire first half of the game. Teams switch sides for the second half of the game. Their designated side is the side in which they play defense. The starting side is chosen during a coin toss prior to kick off. A captain from each team will meet the referees in the middle of the field, or on the sidelines (somewhere away from the teams). One will call the coin in the area. The winner decides which side of the field his/her team will defend.

There are usually three referees. One is the center. He/she has the whistle and the final say. The other two are linesmen or assistant referees. They are allowed flags, for providing directions (by pointing the flag) to the center. Linesmen advise the referee of off sides, if the ball is out of play (if so, who is awarded possession), and anything else that the center may miss, like a blatant foul. Referees wear distinct uniforms that come in a variety of colors, to easily distinguish themselves from players.


Simplified Positioning Terms

Forward = The front-most offensive line.

Midfield or Halfback = A position in between the forward and fullback. This person plays both offense and defense.

Fullback = Defense (right or left side of the field).

Goalie = The person that tends the goal; is allowed to use his/her hands.

(There are many more terms and more detailed positions. For a list and summary, go here.)

Rules of the Game - During Play

The game starts with a kick-off. To kick-off, two players from the offensive team stands inside of the circle, which is at the half-field point. No one else is allowed in the circle until the ball has been touched by the offensive team. One person touches the ball so that it moves forward at least one rotation. The second player may then do what they wish with the ball (pass or dribble). The game has begun.

Throughout the game, the ball tends to be knocked out of bounds. The soccer field is lined with white paint. A regulation soccer field is 60 yards wide and 100 yards long. If the ball passes over the outer border (white line) of the field then it is considered out of play. There are a few different rules to what happens next:

  • Whomever touched the ball last forfeits possession to the other team.
  • If the ball is out of bounds along the length of the field, the ball must enter the field by a throw-in. The player must throw the ball (both hands on the ball) overhead, with both feet planted on the ground.
  • If the ball is out of bands along the width of the field (the goal line), then either a goal kick or a corner kick will bring the ball back into play:
  1. If the offensive team is the last to touch the ball, the defensive team will place the ball on the goal box (which surrounds the goal, 20 yards across and 6 yards out from the goal), and kick it. This is called a goal kick. All other players (besides the one kicking the ball and the goalie) must remain outside of the outer goal (aka penalty) box, which is 44 yards wide, and 18 yards deep. No player, including the one that kicked it and the goalie, can touch the ball again until it has reached the 18 yard (penalty box) line.
  2. If the defensive team was last to touch the ball, the offensive team gets to do a corner kick. The ball is placed in the very corner of the field, inside a small box. It is then kicked into play. This is seen as an advantage, as the offensive team can set up a play to attempt to score a goal.

Substitutions are allowed at the referee's discretion, while the ball is out of bands and prior to being thrown/kicked back in to play. This can only be done before a throw in or goal kick. Substitutions are not typically allowed on a corner kick.

A goal is scored any time that the ball crosses the goal line.

If the defensive team attacks the offensive team within the defensive team's penalty box, the referee may award a penalty kick to the offensive team. (There are a few factors that play into what would warrant a penalty kick. This is just a basic overview of what it is.) Just as with a goal kick, no one can be inside of the penalty box, other than the kicker and the goalie. The ball is placed 12 yards away from the goal, directly in front of it. The goalie may move horizontally along the goal line prior to the ball being kicked. One offensive player is chosen to kick the ball. If the ball crosses the goal line, it is a goal. If the goalie catches the ball, the game resumes as normal. If the goalie hits the ball out of bounds, the offensive team will have a corner kick. If the ball is deflected, the game resumes immediately. Any player can then kick the ball. If the ball is kicked directly out of bounds by the person taking the penalty kick, the defensive team will resume play with a goal kick.

If an offensive player is between the last defender and the defensive team's goalie on the offensive side of the field, he/she may not receive the ball from a player on the offensive team. This is called offsides. So, if an offensive player runs behind the last defender, and a teammate passes him/her the ball, he/she cannot continue the play (a linesman will notify the referee and the referee will blow a whistle to stop play). If the ball is deflected off of a defender (if a defender is the last to touch the ball), though, the play resumes. If the referee blows the whistle to stop play, due to an off sides, the defensive team will resume play by kicking the ball forward, from wherever the off sides occurred. *See the video below for a visual explanation.

Players may not deliberately touch the ball with their hands, other than the goalie. This is called a handball. If a player does touch the ball with his/her hands, the referee will stop the play, and award the other team the ball to kick.

A goalie may only touch the ball with his/her hands within the penalty (18 yard) box. If the goalie has the ball in possession, he/she may punt (drop kick) the ball, throw or roll it, or put it down and kick it. Outside of the penalty box, the goalie becomes just another player, and may play without using his/her hands.

There are two types of free kicks: indirect and direct.

  • Indirect kicks are awarded when a non-dangerous foul has occurred. An indirect free kick cannot directly result in a goal. As in, another player must touch the ball, after it is kicked, prior to it entering the goal.
  • Direct kicks are awarded of a dangerous foul or a handball, and can result in a goal (directly).

Offside Rule Explained

"There's room for boys' and girls' football in the world-that's what I believe." David Beckham

Basic No-No's for Players

As there are many detailed rules that determine how serious an offense is and what the the result will be (free kick, indirect or direct kick, yellow or red card, etc.), it would take a rather long time to explain. There are books designated to explaining more in-depth rules! Here are some basic things that players should not do during a soccer game:

  • Deliberately touch the ball with hands, if not a goalie.
  • Slide tackling (sliding on the ground in an attempt to win possession of the ball) from behind, with legs high in the air, when the opposing player does not have the ball, or in an attempt to hurt another player.
  • Leaving the field unless during a proper substitution, or unless directed to by the referee.
  • Lifting feet during a throw in.
  • Retaliating after a foul.
  • Intentionally tripping another player.
  • Talking back to the referees.

Anyone Can Play!

I have refereed and played with people of all ages. Anyone - and I do mean anyone - can play soccer. Here in the US, there are outdoor and indoor leagues for people of all ages and skill levels. Get involved!

For us adults, the average person runs 5-7 miles every single game! You probably will not even realize it, because you will be too busy having a ball! (shameless pun)

Other Hubs from VeronicaFarkas

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    • Alex Houghton profile image

      John Palmer 

      3 years ago from Liverpool

      Brilliant hub! Have you heard of premier league football?

    • Yaning Xian profile image

      Yaning Xian 

      4 years ago

      Not bad, informative and helpful hub.. And I always get a lot of soccer info here, share with you all

    • Yaning Xian profile image

      Yaning Xian 

      4 years ago

      Not bad, informative and helpful hub.. And I always get a lot of soccer info here, share with you all

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      VERY cool. You should write a hub about your experience! :) I blew mine out freshmen year of high school, along w/ multiple tears & injuries to ankles, fingers, my nose, etc. Soccer is way more brutal than people think! lol

      I did ODP for a few years. It was very, very fun, & I'd considered playing professionally in Scotland. My husband was lucky enough to have played internationally. I played with people from all over the world once -years ago- while in Canada. It's one of my fondest memories of playing soccer. Hmm... that'd make for a good hub! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • GlstngRosePetals profile image


      8 years ago from Wouldn't You Like To Know

      Love the FIFA rules better than the AYSO where it is intended for the younger youth and halves are broken into quarters. With AYSO rules everyone plays that's the upside. As a ref. you are more the teacher as you explain the rules as you go on the field. If there is a rule broken the ref. takes the time to explain the rule and then moves on. Great for the begginer. But i like the FIFA way much better. Varsity soccer letter from 2 schools blew knee out durring pro indoor tryouts. :0( Verry informative. Voted up!!

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Thank you very much for your comment and feedback, Anjo!

    • Anjo Bacarisas II profile image

      Anjo Bacarisas II 

      8 years ago from Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

      very nice, informative and helpful hub.. thanks for this wonderful view of soccer rules. blessed!

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Lol. Thank you for the clarification. The purpose of the hub was to provide basic rules for beginners, parents, and on-lookers. I appreciate your input, and am well aware of the rules (as I was a referee, player, and coach). I recommend writing a hub about the laws of the game. You've got a good start here!

      Thank you for your comment. :)

    • SpiffyD profile image


      8 years ago from The Caribbean

      Veronica, this is a decent attempt to cover the Laws of the Game for those who need a basic overview. It's very difficult to capture 17 laws in one article, but you certainly made a good attempt. However, I noticed a few things to which I thought I should draw your attention.

      Any number of players from the team taking the kick off may be inside the centre circle. Law 8 only prohibits opponents from being inside the circle. It is, therefore, incorrect to state that no one else is allowed inside the centre circle (since this statement includes teammates).

      From a kick off, the ball is in play when it is kicked and moves forward. It does not have to move forward at least one rotation in the modern game. Those were older, dated laws.

      The proper term for the rectangle immediately surrounding the goal is the goal area - not the goal box. In the same vein, it's the penalty area - not the penalty box.

      There is no box that defines the corner of a soccer field. It's the corner arc.

      Substitutions are allowed during any stoppage in play. If a team requests it before a corner kick, penalty kick etc. the referee can allow it once the ball is not in play.

      "A goal is scored any time that the ball crosses the goal line."

      This statement is not complete, since it implies that a goal is scored once any part of the ball crosses the goal line (even for corners and goal kicks). The proper statement is that a goal is scored "when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed by the team scoring the goal."

      The explanation of the offside lacked clarity, since the Laws of the Game refers to opponents - not defenders and goalies. This distinction is necessary because there are occasions where a player may be level with the last two opponents, or level with the last opponent - who may not even be the goalkeeper. The restart for the offside offence is an indirect free kick. The ball does NOT have to be played forward - it can be kicked in any direction.

      Indirect free kicks can be awarded for dangerous play. Since dangerous play threatens injury (without contact) it should be considered a dangerous foul. To say that indirect free kicks are for non-dangerous fouls is not accurate.

      Direct free kicks are not necessarily only awarded for "dangerous" fouls. Fouls like holding are not dangerous. In addition, other fouls in the group of seven may only be committed carelessly. It is only correct to say that direct free kicks are awarded for any one of ten infringements defined under Law 12.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Very good point, Jools99! Thank you for sharing this, and for your comment! =]

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      8 years ago from North-East UK

      This wil be useful to you Americans now that the Euros are underway, voted up and shared.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      LOL Well, I appreciate that, Beth!! =]

      Thanks for commenting, especially w/ not particularly liking the subject!! ;)

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 

      8 years ago from Tennesee

      Veronica, I tell you what- I HATE soccer, but if I needed a rule book for my kids or other children interested in the game I will most definitely refer to this astutely written Hub!

      And yeah, I'm voting much as the anti-soccer part me screams NOOOOOO!

      Great job :)

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Thank you, sweetie1. That's interesting that it was mostly played by guys! Is it still like that?

      The offside rule is a bit intimidating to explain.

      Thank you for your comment!

    • sweetie1 profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Hi veronica farkas, in our school times it was mostly played by guys. Football as we call it is second most popular game in India after Cricket. Offside rule is somewhat of a problem as every kid would fight the refree ( it was usually some other kid in our school) when given offside. You have really explained this very nicely.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Right. I played this fall. I remembered that change once I read your comment! =]

      You should write a hub about your experience!

      Thanks again!

    • hlynnstephens profile image


      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      No problem, as a referee for twenty years the laws do change once in a while, plus even without a law change sometimes the interpretation of the law is changed. Still thought it was a very good article.

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      I can relate to that! It took me a few years to learn what was going on (I started playing when I was 4 or 5). =] Thanks for taking the time to read it. It's a bit long! lol

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Hahaa, I wish I had read this as a kid before I joined my first soccer team! I found it all to be quite confusing...

      Great overview!

    • VeronicaFarkas profile imageAUTHOR

      Veronica Roberts 

      8 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Alocsin - Thank you for your comment & votes, as always! =]

      Steph - Yes, indeed! It was difficult for me to explain the rules easily and in as few words as possible. lol I agree! I love soccer! Thank you for your vote!

      hlynnstephens - Thank you! I can't believe that I did that. lol I know that! Silly mistake. =] Thank you for your comment!

    • hlynnstephens profile image


      8 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Just one thing, the rules have been changed on the coin toss. The team that wins the coin toss decides which side to defend, and kicks off in the second half. Good article.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I can see why this hub got so long! Many rules for the game of soccer/football. All my kids play the game, and I thoroughly enjoy watching and cheering them on. Its probably my favorite spectator sport. Rated up!

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Thank you for enlightening those of us who know nothing about the game. Voting this Up and Useful.


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