How a Soccer Game Starts (And Re-starts After a Stoppage)

Every sport, including soccer, has specific rules they follow to start a game. Thankfully, the procedure for starting a soccer game is not hard to understand, and I’ll lay out all the details for you here in this article.

A soccer game starts with one team taking a kick-off from the center of the soccer field. As soon as the referee blows their whistle to start the clock, the designated team can proceed with the kick-off, where one player will pass the ball to another player on their team.

A kick-off is the first kick in a soccer game, but there are several steps a team and the referee must take before the game is ready to begin.

In this article, I’ll explain:

  • The procedure for the start of a game
  • Which team starts the game in possession of the ball
  • The position of the players on the field when the game begins
  • and how a game restarts after a stoppage
how a soccer game starts post title and image

Procedure for the Start of a Soccer Game

When you’re new to the game of soccer, all the rules and requirements may seem confusing, especially if you’re more used to sports such as basketball or baseball.

However, once you take the time to understand soccer, you’ll realize that it is actually reasonably easy to follow.

I know I found this to be true.

One of the essential things to understand in soccer is how a game begins.

How a soccer game starts:

  1. Before a game begins, the referee will toss a coin
  2. The team that wins the coin toss decides which team will take the kick-off
  3. Both teams stand in their correct positions on the soccer field
  4. The referee will blow their whistle to start the clock
  5. A player from one team will take the kick-off from the center mark
  6. The game is now underway

The moment a player kicks the ball at the kick-off is when the game really begins.

But the reality is that there is a process before either team is ready to take the kick-off.

The first step is the coin toss.

Step 1: Coin Toss in Soccer

When the teams first come onto the soccer field after a warm-up, the two captains and the referee will meet in the center of the field.

The referee will produce a coin and ask one of the captains to choose “head” or “tails” before tossing the coin.

According to Law 8 in the rules of soccer, the team that wins the coin toss can decide if they want to take the kick-off or choose which goal to attack in the first half.

The team that loses the coin toss will have to do the opposite of whatever the other team decides.

referee tossing coin for start of soccer game
Referee tossing a coin for the start of a soccer game

The team that starts a soccer game and kicks the ball first is the team that the captains designated would take kick-off at the coin toss before the game.

At this point, you may think that a team captain who wins the toss would always choose to take the kick-off.

But this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes, the weather conditions mean a team wants to play in one specific direction at first, or maybe it’s more important for a team to start the second half in possession of the ball. (More on that in a moment!)

Either way, the captain that wins the coin toss gets to decide.

Step 2: Position of the Players on the Field

Once the teams know who is taking kick-off, the players will stand in the appropriate positions on the field.

Apart from the player taking the kick-off, all players must be in their half of the field at the start of a game. The players on the team not taking the kick-off must be at least 10 yards (9.15 m) from the ball. 

A team’s half of the soccer field is the side of the field that contains the goal they are defending.

A center circle is marked on the field to help the referee and players know how far 10 yards (9.15 m) is from the center mark.

Soccer field markings
Soccer field center circle

Once the ball is kicked and the game is underway, every player is free to move around the field into any position they choose.

Check out my article – Soccer Positions: A Complete Guide – to find out where each player stands on the soccer field.

Step 3: The Referee Will Blow Their Whistle

Once the teams and referee have decided which team is taking the kick-off and the players are in the correct position on the field, then the referee will blow their whistle to start the clock.

The referee is responsible for keeping time during a game and will indicate the beginning of play by blowing their whistle.

The clock works differently in soccer than in many other sports. You can discover why soccer uses a running clock in my article – The Clock in Soccer: Why it Keeps Running and Never Stops – and understand why soccer doesn’t have any timeouts.

Once the referee has blown their whistle, the players are free to take the kick-off.

Step 4: One Team Will Take the Kick-off

In my article – Kick-off in Soccer: Rules, Meaning, and Strategy – I explain all the details involved in taking a kick-off. But I will give you a brief overview here.

The start of a soccer game is called the kick-off. At kick-off, one player will kick the ball from the center mark on the field so that the ball clearly moves.

A player can kick the ball in any direction and to any player they want, but the ball is not in play until the ball has clearly moved.

A player can score a goal directly from kick-off if they wish, as kick-off is a direct kick.

However, you will rarely see a player attempt this as it is extremely hard to see success with this type of attempt on goal!

The ball must be stationary before the player kicks it, and the player taking the kick-off cannot touch the ball again until the ball has touched another player on the field.

If the player taking the kick-off does touch the ball again before another player, the referee will award an indirect kick to the opponents.

Player taking kick off
Player taking kick off

How a Soccer Game Re-Starts After a Stoppage in Play

Now you understand how a soccer game starts, I want to explain how the game restarts after a stoppage in play.

After a stoppage in play, a soccer game will restart in one of seven ways:

  1. A kick-off
  2. A goal kick
  3. A corner kick
  4. A penalty kick
  5. A throw-in
  6. A free-kick
  7. or a dropped ball

Let’s briefly look at each of these to help you understand what is going on throughout a soccer game. Then, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the game even more!

A Kick-Off

We’ve already looked at how a team takes a kick-off to start a game, but there is one other situation when a team takes a kick-off during a game. This happens after a player scores a goal.

After a soccer player scores a goal, the game restarts with the team that conceded the goal taking a kick-off. 

The same rules apply to this kick-off as applied to the kick-off at the beginning of the game. However, there is no coin toss to decide which team takes this kick. It is always taken by the team that conceded the goal.

A Goal Kick

If the ball goes out of play over the goal line and a player on the attacking team is the last person to touch the ball, the referee will award a goal kick.

A goal kick is a kick taken by the defensive team from the goal area in their penalty box.

The goal area is the smaller rectangle box at either end of the soccer field.

Goal area on a soccer field
Goal area on a soccer field

If the attacking team knocks the ball out over the end goal line on the field, then possession of the ball transfers to the defending team.

They restart the play by taking a goal kick.

Discover much more about goal kicks in my article – Goal Kicks in Soccer: What it means and how they work.

A Corner Kick

If the ball goes out over the goal line of the field and a defender is the last player to touch the ball, then the referee will award a corner kick to the attacking team.

Once the game has stopped due to the ball being out of play, a player will take a corner kick from the corner of the field nearest to where the ball went out.

For more information on corner kicks, check out my post – Corner Kicks in Soccer: A Complete Guide

A Penalty Kick

If the referee stops play for a foul committed in the penalty area by the defending team on an attacking player, then the referee may award the attacking team a penalty kick to restart the game.

soccer ball on penalty mark
Soccer ball on the penalty mark

Not every foul in the penalty area leads to a penalty kick, even if the offense is committed against the attacking team.

But rather than go into too much detail here, check out my post – Penalty Kick in Soccer – to find out more.

A Throw-in

Play is restarted with a throw-in if the ball goes out along the touchline of the field.

The lines that run along the sides of the field are also known as “touchlines.”

A player must take a throw-in from the location where the ball left the field. They must throw the ball over their head with two hands while both feet are touching the floor.

The referee will award a throw-in to the opponents of the team that last touched the ball before it left the field.

To discover more about throw-ins, check out my post – 11 Soccer Throw-in Rules: All You Need to Know – or – Can You Score From a Throw-In in Soccer?.

A Free Kick

When a player commits a foul on another player anywhere on the field, the referee may restart the game with a free kick.

The team on the receiving end of a foul will take the free kick from the location where the opposition committed the offense.

Soccer player taking free kick
Soccer player taking a free kick

Like the penalty kick, a player may commit many types of offenses that lead to the referee awarding a free kick.

Rather than going into a lot of detail here, if you want to find out more, check out my article – Free Kicks in Soccer: All your questions answered.

A Dropped Ball

The last option for restarting a soccer game is with a dropped ball.

In this scenario, the referee will drop the soccer ball from about shoulder height in front of one of the players. A player from the team that last touched the ball will receive the dropped ball.

All other players must stand at least 4.5 yards (4 m) back until the ball is back in play.

I hope you now feel you have a much better understanding of how a soccer game starts and how it restarts after a stoppage.

For more soccer info, I recommend you check out one of my previous articles below:

Ben Clayfield

Hi! My name's Ben. I've played, watched, read about, and enjoyed soccer throughout my life. I really enjoy finding out more about the game I love and sharing it with you all. Find out more about me here - Ben Clayfield

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