Basic Rules of Soccer

Learn the basic rules of soccer and enjoy a hugely popular game for little kids in the U.S. today. These simple rules include everything you need to know if you are new to the game and modifications for different age and ability groups. Learn how to play soccer in no time!

Basic Rules of Soccer

Soccer is a ball game played by 2 teams of 11 players each. The object is to get the ball into your opponent's goal. The winner is the team that scores the most goals by the end of the game.

Playing Area

Soccer field dimensions

soccer field dimensionssoccer field diagram

The field is rectangular in shape and must be 50-100 yards wide and 100-130 yards long. There is a goal located at each end of the field.

Soccer Positions

There are 11 players on the field at a time. There are a variety of ways the positions can line up on the field, and some positions are called by several different names. 

The basic players positions are listed below:

  • 1 goalie - Protect the goal
  • 4 fullbacks (1 left, 1 center, 1 right, 1 sweeper) - Defensive players who help goalie protect the goal
  • 3 midfielders (1 left, 1 center, 1 right) - Play the middle area of the field, helping on defense and offense
  • 3 forwards (1 left wing, 1 center striker, 1 right wing) - Offensive players who try to score

Basic Rules of Soccer

You need a soccer ball and a goal to play a game. The age of the players and the level of competition determine what type of soccer ball is used. To find the appropriate size ball for your situation, see soccer ball sizes.

It is highly recommended that every player wear shin guards to protect their lower legs when they inadvertently get kicked. A pair of soccer cleats with rubber studs are recommended to help players get better traction on the field.

The goalkeeper must wear different colors than her teammates to distinguish herself from the other players. Goalies may also wear protective goalie gloves. 

soccer ball

Soccer balls

soccer cleats

Soccer cleats

soccer socks

Soccer socks

soccer shinguards

Shin guards

soccer goal

Soccer goals

goalie gloves

Goalie gloves

goalie jersey

Goalie jerseys

Basic Rules of Soccer

There is usually a referee who runs up and down the middle of the field and controls the game along with 2 linesmen. The linesmen are positioned on each sideline holding a flag. The referee:

  • keeps the time.
  • keeps score.
  • enforces the rules.
  • stops and starts the game.
  • cautions or removes players from the game.

The linesmen raise their flags to indicate:

  • when the ball is out of play.
  • which team takes the ball on the throw-in, corner kick or goal kick.
  • any infringement of the rules.

Basic Rules of Soccer

The game is divided into two 45-minute halves. Teams change ends at the end of the half. The game clock is a running clock, and time doesn't stop until the end of the half.

The referee will add on additional time for time lost due to injuries, time wasting, etc. Time is also added to allow for a penalty kick to be taken at the end of regulation time.

Starting Play

A coin toss determines which team will kick off first and which goal teams will defend. To start the game, the ball is placed in the center of the circle at mid-field and teams are lined up on their respective sides of the field. Only the kicker may be in the center circle for the opening kick, and all other players must remain outside the circle until contact is made with the ball.

Once kicked, the ball has to travel at least one full roll, and the kicker can't touch it again until another player kicks it first.

After a goal is scored, the ball is reset in the center circle again for a kick-off by the team that was scored on. The second half begins with the same type of kick-off by the team that did not open the game with the kick.

Basic Rules of Soccer
Playing the Ball

Except when throwing the ball in from out-of-bounds, no players are allowed to touch the ball with their hands except the goalie. Players can use any other part of their body to contact the ball. They may use their feet, head, thigh, chest, or back to stop, control, or pass the ball.

A penalty (free kick) is assessed when a player touches the ball with any part of their hands or arms. 


A goal is scored when the whole ball crosses the goal line under the crossbar and between the goal posts.

A goal is worth 1 point. If the score is tied at the end of the game, the following events may happen:

  • the game is left as a tie.
  • an overtime period is played (usually two halves of 15 minutes each).
  • there is a shoot-off with each team getting to shoot a series of penalty kicks.
  • a coin toss determines the winner.

US Youth Soccer is a great resource for coaches, players, and parents. It provides details for game length, ball size, field size, and number of players for different age groups.

Have young players, beginners, or players with disabilities? Check out some easy modifications to help players of all skill levels have success and enjoy the game. Everyone can learn how to play soccer!

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