Soccer is a fantastic game to play and to watch. But to really appreciate it for all its worth, you need to understand the basics. Having played soccer for many years, I’ve seen numerous people arrive at a game without a clear understanding of what is happening. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, I’ve put together this article to clearly explain soccer basics.
At the most basic level, soccer consists of one team trying to beat another team by scoring more goals than the other team. Each team must score as many goals as they can within a set amount of time, a limited playing area, and follow specific rules during the game.
Throughout this article I’ll give you all the essential information you need to know.
Among other things I’ll cover:
- The aim of the game
- The players and their positions on the field
- The basic rules of the game
- What equipment a player needs
- What the field of play looks like
Let’s get started!
The Aim of the Game Is To Score the Most Goals
The aim of the game of soccer is to score more goals than the opposing team. The team with the most goals scored at the end of the game is the winning team.
At it’s most basic level, there is nothing else to it than this.
Every action or move a team makes is to either increase their chances of scoring a goal or decrease the chances of the opposition scoring a goal.
You may see several different scores at the end of a game, but most end with between 0-4 goals scored by one team and a similar amount by the other.
Occasionally, you will see more goals than this scored in a game, but you’re unlikely to see a similar number of goals to the 149 goals that one team scored in the highest-scoring game ever!
A Goal Is Scored When the Whole Ball Crosses the Goal Line
If the aim of a soccer game is to score goals, then you should understand how a goal is scored.
For a goal to be scored, the whole of the soccer ball must pass over the goal line, between the goalposts, and beneath the crossbar, at either end of the soccer field.
Essentially the ball needs to go into the goal!
A player can score a goal with any part of their body except the hands or arm. In fact, touching the ball with your hands or arms at any point is not permitted and is considered a handball offense.
If a player (other than the goalkeeper) deliberately touches the ball with their hands or arm at any time throughout the game, they will be penalized.
The most common thing you will see is a player scoring a goal with their foot or head. Occasionally, you will see a goal scored with a player’s knee, shoulder, or even back!
Players and Positions Give a Team Structure
Each team is permitted to field up to 11 players at one time and no fewer than 7. One of these players must be a goalkeeper.
At the youth soccer level, you may see fewer players on a team. The exact number will depend on the specific competition the game is a part of. For more information about youth soccer teams, have a look at my article – Youth Soccer Positions.
Each player on a team will be allocated a different position on the field.
The most common soccer positions used are:
- Right Fullback
- Left Fullback
- Center Back
- Center Back (or Sweeper, if used)
- Defensive/Holding Midfielder
- Right Midfielder/Winger
- Central/Box-to-Box Midfielder
- Attacking Midfielder/Playmaker
- Left Midfielder/Wingers
The players in each of these positions perform different roles, and each carries a unique responsibility.
The numbers you see on the back of the player’s jerseys identify each player and their position.
A team can substitute a player during a stoppage in the play.
The individual competition rules for that game will determine the number of times a team can make a substitution during a game. At a professional level, each team is permitted only to make three substitutions throughout a game.
The Rules of the Game Must Be Followed
In my recent article – The Rules of Soccer: A Beginners Guide – I went over the rules of soccer in more detail. But here I want to give you just a basic overview of the rules.
That way, you can understand the essentials now and go back and dig into the details later if you wish.
The basic rules of soccer are:
- The team with the most goals wins
- To score, the ball must cross the goal line
- 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 or penalty kick to the opposition
- 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
Each of these rules has multiple factors and nuances that are important to understand as you spend more time watching or playing soccer. Still, these basic rules will help you know enough to enjoy the game in front of you.
As I just mentioned, if you are interested in finding out more about the rules of soccer, check out the article above.
The Game Is Split Into Two Periods of Play
It’s also essential to understand how the game is structured.
The professional soccer game lasts for a total of 90 minutes. This time allocation is split into two halves of 45 minutes each, with a 15-minute break allowed between the halves.
At youth and high school soccer, the games are often slightly shorter to account for the players’ younger age and their lower fitness capacity. But at every level, the games are split into two halves, and there is always a half-time break.
In many league games, it is acceptable for a game to end in a tie. The teams will share the points for the game and move on to the next game.
But in some tournament competitions, there has to be a winner to progress to the next round.
In these situations, the referee will add an extra period of play to the end of the game. This additional period is known as overtime or extra time.
If the scores are still level after overtime, a penalty kick competition will take place.
For this, each team will take turns to try and score a goal by kicking the ball from the penalty mark towards the goal. This continues until one team has scored more goals than the other team.
How the Game Restarts Depends on What Has Just Happened
The next thing to look at is how the game starts and restarts after the ball goes out of play or there is a stoppage of any kind.
At the beginning of a game, at the beginning of the second half, and after every goal, the game restarts with a kick-off.
A kick-off is taken from the center spot of the field. The opponents of the team taking the kick cannot be nearer to the ball than the edge of the center circle.
One team will take the kick-off at the beginning of the game, and the other will take the kick-off for the second half.
After a goal is scored, the team that conceded the goal will take a kick-off to restart the game.
When the ball goes out of play along the side of the field, then the referee will award a throw-in.
If you want to know more about the through in, check out my article – 11 Rules for a Throw-in in Soccer, but the basic rules are:
- The opponents of the team that last touched the ball before it went out will take the throw-in
- The player taking the throw-in must have their feet outside of the field of play at the moment they take the throw
- The player taking the throw must throw the ball with both hands from behind and over the head
- The throw-in must be from the place it left the field of play
A free-kick is a kick taken by a team from the position a player was fouled.
If one player commits an offense against another player, the referee will stop the game and allow the team on the receiving end of the offense to have a free-kick.
The opposition players must stay 10 yards or more away from the ball at a free-kick until the player has kicked the ball.
A penalty kick
A referee will award a penalty kick when a player has been fouled within the opposition team’s penalty area.
At a penalty kick, the ball is placed on the penalty spot. Only one player from both teams is allowed in the penalty area until the kick is taken.
The goalkeeper must stay on their goal line until the kick is taken.
Penalty kicks are a great opportunity for a team to score a goal as there is only one player between them and the goal net.
The Goalkeeper Has Unique Freedoms and Responsibilities
Now let’s talk about the goalie.
The position of goalkeeper is the most unique on the team and deserves their own section in this guide.
They are the only player permitted to use their hands and arms to touch the ball. But they can only use their hands and arms when they are within their own penalty area, or “goalkeepers box”.
Even then they can only use their hands to pick up the ball when:
- It was last touched by an opposition player
- When it was last touched by the head or chest of a player on the same team
- Or when the last touch was a deflection off a player on the same team.
A soccer goalie can never pick up the ball from a deliberate back pass from the foot or leg of a player on their own team.
If they use their hands or arms outside of their penalty area they will be penalized and probably cautioned.
Every Player Needs 6 Pieces of Equipment
The first 5 are compulsory under the laws of the game. They are:
- a jersey with sleeves
- shin guards – these must be covered by the socks
- And footwear – usually cleats
The 6th piece of equipment that is needed is – a soccer ball! You can’t play a game without this!
There are various requirements a player must follow regarding each of these items. The main ones that are important for you to know are:
- Every outfield player on a team must wear matching jerseys, shorts, and socks.
- The goalie must wear a different color uniform to enable the referee and fans to identify them easily
- A players shin guards must be covered (This is why players wear long socks)
- Players can wear metal cleats as long as the referee doesn’t consider them dangerous.
The Field of Play Is Rectangular and Has Specific Markings
You’ve probably already noticed that a soccer field is rectangular and in many ways similar to a football field. But you may be unaware of how big it actually is.
The requirements for the dimensions of a soccer field at a professional level allow for some flexibility and variation. The rules provide the minimum and maximum measurements that a field must be between and then leave it up to the individual teams to decided how big or small they want they field to be. As long as the width and length are within the range provided, that’s OK/
The table below shows what the dimensions permitted are.
These measurements mean that although a soccer field is similar length to a football field, it is much wider than a football field.
However, it is important to remember that at a non-professional level or youth soccer level you may often see smaller soccer fields used.
This is due to the fact that non-professional and younger players don’t have the stamina to cover such a large area for such a long period of time. In these situations, the quality of the game is maintained for longer if a smaller playing area is used.
You can find out about youth soccer fields in my article – Youth Soccer Dimensions.
There are also certain requirements regarding the markings on the field as you can see in the image of the soccer field above.
The large rectangle around the edge of the field is the boundary of the field and when the ball crosses this line it is out of play.
The small rectangular box in front of the goal is called the goal area and goal kicks must be taken from within this box.
The larger rectangular box in front of the goal is called the penalty area. The goalie is permitted to use their hands anywhere within this box and most fouls against the attacking team that take place within this box result in a penalty kick.
The white spot in the penalty box is where a player places the ball to take a penalty kick.
The circle in the center of the field contains the center spot where the kick-off is taken. The outer edge of this circle marks the distance players must be from the ball at kick-off.
The quarter circle or corner arc at each corner of the field mark the area where a corner kick is taken from.
Find Out More
Now we’ve covered the basics of soccer the only thing to do is find out more! As you learn and understand more, I’m sure you will find you appreciation and enjoyment of the game increase.
For more helpful information check out one of my previous articles:
- How to play soccer: A step-by-step guide – now you understand the game, learn how to play it.
- A complete guide to the offside rule – This is one of the most confusing rules in soccer, but I clearly explain the rule in this article.
- 12 Do’s and don’ts for using your arms in soccer – When and where can a player use their arms?