Playing soccer doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, a big reason for soccer’s popularity is down to its simplicity and how straightforward it is for almost anyone to play.
I’ve played and enjoyed soccer for years, and I want to share with you what you need to know to be able to play soccer and play it well!
To play soccer, you need to know the game rules and how the game is structured. You also need to learn the necessary skills and positions of the players on the field. It’s also important to spend time on the soccer field playing soccer when you’re learning how to play the game.
I’ve created this guide to give you a detailed description of all the foundational information you need to play the game. And this guide can also be used if you’re a coach or a parent looking for a road map to teach someone else how to play soccer.
Here is how to play soccer in 9 simple steps:
1. Know the Rules
Knowing the rules for soccer is the basis for being able to play the game. If you are not aware of what is acceptable and what isn’t, it may all seem very confusing!
If you want to find out about the rules of soccer in more depth, have a look at my article – Easy to understand guide to the rules of soccer. But let me give a quick overview of the basic rules here.
Basic rules of soccer:
- The team with the most goals wins
- To score, the ball must cross the goal line
- A game lasts for 90 minutes
- A game is divided into two halves of 45 minutes
- Maximum of 11 players on each team
- Minimum of 7 players on each team
- Only the goalie can touch the ball with their hands
- If the ball goes out of play, the opposition team bring it back on
- Any play that is considered careless, reckless, or using excessive force is an offense
- An offense will result in a free-kick to the opposition [source]
These are the rules of soccer at their most basic. To really understand how to play soccer, I encourage you to explore the rules in more depth. But this basic overview should get you started.
2. Know the Positions
The second thing you need to be aware of to play soccer is the players’ positions on the field.
As you will have seen in the rules, the maximum number of players a team can field at once is 11. And almost 100% of the time, a team will start a game with 11 players.
The only exceptions to this are in a youth soccer game.
Soccer games involving youth players are often played on soccer fields smaller than a full-size field. Because of the small space, fewer players are on the field at one time. Have a look at my article all about youth soccer positions here for more info.
There are four main positions in soccer:
- and Forwards
Each of these areas can be broken down into more specific positions. If you want to know what those are, check out my article – Soccer Positions: a complete guide – but for the purpose of this article, let me explain these four areas.
How to play goalkeeper
The goalkeeper is the player ultimately responsible for preventing the opposing team from scoring a goal. They are positioned in front of their team’s goal and mostly stay within the penalty area.
To play goalie, a player needs to be willing to put themselves between the ball and the goal they are defending in any situation. A goalkeeper must also have excellent reflexes and the ability to distribute the ball effectively to the other players on their team.
How to play defense
A defensive player is responsible for protecting their team’s end of the field by preventing the ball, or the opposition team’s players, from getting close to their team’s goal.
To play defense, a player needs to be strong and confident when making a tackle. They should be acutely aware of where all other players on the field are at all times. They should also be prepared to provide cover for another player on their team when called upon.
How to play midfield
A midfielder is a player responsible for connecting the defense and forward players.
The ball usually comes through the midfield players as it travels from the back to the front of the soccer field. The midfielders are often responsible for setting up an attack.
To play midfield, a player needs to have a high level of fitness. They usually cover more ground than any other player on the team.
A midfielder also needs to have a high level of passing ability as they have the responsibility to move the ball around the field.
If you want to see how to play in one specific midfield position, I recommend you check out my guide on how to play as winger in soccer.
How to play forward
The forward on a soccer team is ultimately responsible for scoring and creating goals for the team. They are positioned close to the opposition’s goal and attempt to take every opportunity to score.
To play forward in soccer, a player should try to create opportunities to take a shot at goal. They should always be looking for and moving into space to maximize their chance of receiving the ball and taking a shot. They should also be aware of where the other players are on the field, specifically the goalie.
3. Understand the Structure of a Game
The next thing you need to know to play soccer is how a soccer game works.
The structure of a soccer game is similar but not exactly the same as other team sports.
To start with, a soccer game last for a total of 90 minutes. This is split into two halves of 45 minutes each. Some sports use quarters, soccer divides a game into halves. Find out more about this article I wrote here.
There are no timeouts during a soccer game; only the occasional drinks break if the referee decides the weather is hot enough to warrant this.
Unlike in other team sports, the clock in soccer doesn’t stop running. If there is an injury or another stoppage in play, the referee will keep track of how long the game has paused. The referee will then add this time to the end of the half.
This is why you will sometimes see a game-ending after 92, 93, or 94 minutes rather than stopping at the 90-minute mark. I’ve explained this in more detail in this article here if you’re interested.
During tournament games, there is also the possibility of extra time being added onto the end of the game if the game has ended in a tie. This is due to the need for a winner to be decided on in a knockout competition.
If this happens, then the referee will add an extra 30 minutes of playing time to the end of the game. If the scores are still tied at the end of this, then a penalty-kick competition, or penalty-shootout, will take place until a winner is established.
For more on the foundational elements of soccer, check out my article – The Basics of Soccer: A Beginners Guide.
4. Own the Right Equipment
The next thing you need to play soccer is the correct equipment. You can’t play soccer without the right equipment.
And the one piece of equipment that is more important than anything else is a soccer ball. Without a soccer ball, you would just have a group of people running around a field!
When you are starting out with soccer, you don’t need to purchase a top-of-the-line ball. You will be fine starting with a good quality ball such as one of these from Amazon.
After you have a ball, you need to think about what you’re wearing.
When you are just practicing or kicking a ball around with friends, then wear something you are comfortable in. Clothes that allow you to move around freely and don’t restrict your movement will be great.
However, when you play in a structured game, there are usually specific requirements on what you wear.
In most soccer games, a player will be required to wear:
- The team’s jersey
- Long socks
- Shin guards
- appropriate footwear
If you join a soccer team, then the jersey, shorts, and socks will often be provided for you. This is because each player on a team must wear a matching uniform so the players, fans, and the referee can quickly identify each team’s players.
Outside of an official game, it is worth having these items of clothing yourself. This gives you the option of playing soccer whenever you feel like it.
The two items you have to provide yourself are shin guards and footwear.
Most soccer players choose to wear cleats. Soccer cleats give support and protection to your feet. They also provide extra traction to the foot, and the field as a player moves around the field. For a more in-depth look at what soccer cleats are, have a look at this article, I wrote explaining the benefits of wearing them.
There are hundreds of different soccer cleats you can choose from when you are looking to purchase them. This can feel overwhelming, and that’s why I put together a list of soccer cleats I recommend here if you want to check that out.
To play soccer, you will also need to get hold of a pair of shin guards. In fact, all soccer players are required to wear shin guards, as I explain here.
Players wear shin guards to protect their shins from injury as they play the game. From experience, I can tell you that getting hit at full force by someone else’s foot or shin when you are not wearing shin guards can be incredibly painful!
If you want full shin covering shin guards, I recommend you get these from Amazon. As you will see, they have hundreds of great reviews. If you want something smaller and lightweight, then these are also a great option.
5. Learn the Basic Skills
At this point, you are well on your way to understanding how to play soccer.
You have a good understanding of the rules; you know the soccer positions; you understand how a game works, and have the equipment you need to play.
Now, it’s time to learn the basic skills necessary to be effective on the field.
While there are numerous different soccer skills you can learn, I want to quickly show you three foundational skills to get you started.
Passing the ball
Being able to pass the ball effectively is one of the most basic and essential skills in soccer.
If you can do this well, then you have the potential to be one of the most influential players on a team.
To pass the ball accurately, you should use the inside of your foot.
This part of your foot provides a relatively flat surface that allows you to push the ball towards another player without the ball going in a direction you don’t want.
The best way to practice this is to find a second player and pass the ball backward and forward between the two of you. If you can’t find someone to practice with you, then bouncing the ball off a wall works.
The more you do this, the more comfortable you will become with the ball. You will begin to understand how the ball moves, how much force you need to kick it, and how it feels to receive it.
Scoring a goal
The next skill to learn is how to score a goal.
Playing soccer is all about scoring goals. The team that scores the most goals wins the game!
This is the second most important skill to master as you don’t want to waste any opportunity to give your team an advantage.
The best way to practice this is to get in front of a goal and start practicing. This goal on Amazon is an excellent option if you need an easy to set-up goal for your backyard.
Five things to remember when you are taking a shot:
- Decide where you are aiming for before shooting
- Point the toes of your standing foot in the direction you want the ball to go
- Strike the ball on the top of your foot for most power
- Strike the ball with the inside of your foot for the most accuracy
- Keep your arms up for balance
For more information and tips on how to score, have a look at this article I wrote all about how to score.
Looking for space
In my experience, I find many new players forget about this skill. But it can make a huge difference in how well a player performs and how effective they are.
What I mean by “looking for space “is about being aware of where the space is around you and occupying that space.
This applies when you have the ball and when you don’t.
When you have the ball at your feet, you either want to move with the ball into space around you or pass the ball into space on the field where another player on your team can receive the ball.
Too many players are so focused on themselves, or the ball, that they are unaware of where the space around them is and end up just running into the opposition players around them.
A better player will already be aware of where space is around them before they receive the ball. They will quickly move into that space before an opposition player.
Also, try to move into space when another player on your team has the ball. This gives that player an option of somewhere to pass the ball that they wouldn’t have if opposition players surrounded them.
For more skills and drills, have a look at my article – 10 best soccer drills for beginners.
6. Improve Your Fitness
For soccer to be enjoyable and to play effectively, you need to have a certain fitness level.
If you run out of energy part way through a game, then not only will the rest of the game be hard work, but you won’t be as useful a player for your team.
No matter what level of fitness you have, there is always room to improve.
There are several ways you can stay fit, or improve your fitness, for playing soccer. But the best way I’ve found to do this is to follow what the professionals do.
The methods that professional players and their coaches use to improve fitness levels are formed over decades of experience and evidence. They know what works best, and it will pay off to follow their lead.
I recently wrote an article called “How soccer players train.” In it, I explained how the pros use mainly anaerobic exercises such as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to increase and maintain their fitness.
This method is great as it simulates the type of activity that you will use during a soccer game.
To play soccer well, I would recommend using some of the specific workouts I’ve listed in my article about how soccer players train.
Alternatively, I’d recommend signing up for an online fitness course such as this one and accessing a whole range of personalized workouts that will set you up perfectly to play soccer well.
7. Find a Group to Play a Game With
Once you understand the game, have the equipment you need, and have worked on the basic skills, the best thing you can do is play!
At this stage, it’s best to find some friends or family who will take the time to go out onto a field with you and play a game. It doesn’t matter if they don’t know much about the game or are not the best. The important thing is that you are getting the chance to put into practice what you are learning.
The more you practice your skills in a game setting and become comfortable actually playing soccer, the quicker you will improve.
I also know from experience that the more you improve, the more you will enjoy playing. This is mostly down to feeling comfortable and capable on the soccer field.
When you feel like you do not have to struggle to do what you want to do, you relax more. You can focus on the bigger picture and not just on every little move you are trying to make.
And it’s the same when your level of skill increases. When you don’t have to focus on how you make every little move, then you can enjoy your ability to achieve what you set out to do.
8. Join a Competitive Team
At this point in your journey of learning how to play soccer, and play it well, you will probably be at the stage where it is time to join a team.
Now, this step may not apply to everyone. It may be that you just want to know how the game works and simply enjoy playing with friends. And that’s great!
That’s one of the things I love about soccer. You don’t have to wait for an official game to play soccer, and you don’t need anything apart from a flat piece of ground and a ball.
However, if you really want to play soccer well and take your game to the next level, it will be helpful to join a team.
Joining a team means finding out what teams are open for tryouts in your area (a simple google search should answer this question) and then joining up.
This does involve some level of commitment. You will be expected to be available to take part in a game most weeks and required to be there for at least one training session during the week. But the rewards of this should be worth it!
Playing competitive soccer encourages you to improve. As you play against better players and observe what they do and how they do it, you will see how you can play better yourself.
Joining a team can also be a lot of fun.
I know for myself, this is one of the things I enjoy most about playing soccer. Being part of a group that all have the same goal in mind and challenge in front of them—and then working together to achieve the win!
It can be incredibly satisfying and rewarding.
9. Reflect and Improve
The last step for playing soccer and playing it well is taking a step back and reflecting on how you are doing.
If you’re really serious about playing soccer, then you will do what you can to improve. One of the best ways to do this is to honestly assess how you’re doing.
There are many ways to do this. As I just mentioned in the previous step, observing better players than yourself is a great way to develop your own skills. Notice what they are doing and then do the same. Or an even better option is to ask them to show you how to do what they are doing.
In reflecting on and assessing my own performance, I find it helpful to ask someone I trust to give me their opinion on where I need to improve.
This person should be someone who has seen you play and has the knowledge and experience to know what is important in a soccer player. They should also be willing to help you improve.
Your soccer coach is the ideal person for this, and many coaches already do this well. But not all coaches have the time to spend time with each player individually. If this is the case, try and find that person who fits this description and will help you get to the next level.
I would also strongly recommend enrolling in an online soccer course to develop your soccer skills and abilities.
The considerable benefit of an online course is that you can learn from it whenever it suits you. Day or night, if you have some time in your schedule, simply set it up, and away you go. You don’t always need to be waiting for your next session with the coach or team.
I really like this one. It has all the information and teaching you need to see you become an even better player than you are now.
Knowing how to play soccer is the starting point for becoming a great player. With the information I’ve provided above, you should be out on the soccer field, enjoying the game in no time at all!
If you’re here as a parent looking to understand soccer for the sake of your kid then I recommend checking out my article – 11 tips to be a great soccer parent – for some great tips and advice on how to support your child while they are playing soccer.