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The 17 Rules for Soccer from the Laws of the Game

The official soccer rules are called the "Laws of the Game" and are revised annually and published by FIFA, which is the world soccer governing body. Youth organizations usually adjust the rules to fit children. For instance field sizes, ball sizes, length of games & rules vary by age group. The FIFA rules do not require separate teams for girls and boys, but many soccer clubs and associations have separate leagues for boys and girls. For current rules check the "Laws of the Game" at www.fifa.com.

Currently there are 17 specific key items that determine the rules of soccer:  Field of play, the Ball, Number of Players, Player's Equipment, Referee, Assistant Referee, Duration of Match, Start and Restart of Play, Ball In and Out of Play, Scoring, Offsides, Fouls and Misconduct, Free Kicks, Penalty Kicks, Throw In, Goal Kick and Corner Kick.

1. The Field of Play

The field of play is simply the surface where the soccer game is played.  Regulations determine the surface, size and markings of the field as well as goal position, size and construction. 

For instance matches must be played on natural or artificial green surfaces.  The field of play must be rectangular shape and marked with lines to determine the boundaries. The two longer boundary lines are called touch lines. The two shorter lines are called goal lines. The field of play is divided into two halves by a halfway line, which joins the midpoints of the two touch lines. The centre mark is indicated at the midpoint of the halfway line.  A circle with a radius of 9.15 m (10 yds) is marked around it.  

The official field size can range from 50 to 100 yards wide by 100 to 130 yards long. However, the rules allow field sizes to be reduced for women, players with disabilities and for players under 16 and over 35 years of age. Field sizes used by youth leagues vary greatly. Approximate dimensions for youth recreational teams might be as below:

Age (% Adult Size)

Field Size (in yards

U-14 (100%)

60 x 100

U-12 (80%)

50 x 80

U-10 (70%)

40 x 70

U-8 (50%)

25 x 50

U-6 (25%)

15 x 30

2. The Ball

It is required that each player have a spherical, stitched ball made of leather or other suitable material and it is of proper size. The ball circumference can not be more than 70 cm (28 ins) and not less than 68 cm (27 ins). The weight, at the start of a match, can not be more than 450 g (16 oz) and not less than 410 g (14 oz). 

 Rules again allow for younger players. Soccer balls come in 3 different sizes: 3, 4, & 5. The ball size is shown on the ball. U-6 & U-8 use a size 3; U-10 & U-12 use a size 4; and U-13 & older use a size 5 ball.  It is important that the ball have a stamp stating "official size & weight" or "FIFA Approved".

3. The Number of Players

The official soccer rules state that a match is played by two teams, each consisting of not more than eleven players and not fewer than seven players including the goalkeeper.  Most youth leagues play with fewer than 11 players until the age 12 or 14.  A team may have substitutes on the bench but the number and frequency of substitutions allowed vary with the type of game being played. For instance, in official matches only 3 substitutions are allowed, with 5, 7 or 9 players on the bench. The referee must be informed before any proposed substitution is made by the coach.

4. Players Equipment

The rules of soccer say that the basic equipment of a player comprises the following items: a jersey or shirt with sleeves, shorts, stocks, shin guards, and footwear.  Socks must entirely cover the shin guards.  Each team must have different colors so that they can easily be distinguished from each other on the field during play.  Goalkeepers must wear colours that distinguish him from the other players.  Jersey's usually they have the club's name and badge imprinted on the front, as well as the  player's number and in some cases on the back.

5. The Referee

The referee is the person who controls the match and enforces the Laws of the Game. They make sure player's respect the official rules for soccer and to penalize for the breaking of a rule.  The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.  The center referee is the one doing most of the running on the field and therefore calling the decisions but he is helped from each sideline by an assistant referee. Most 3v3 leagues do not use a referee.

6. Assistant Referees

The assistant referees also assist the referee to control the match in accordance with the Laws of the Game. The assistant referees are placed one on each side of the field. The assistant referee's main job is to signal offsides but they can also intervene when an offense takes place near their side of the field and the main referee needs their opinion. The assistant referee does not have any decision power.  He/she has the ability to to signal a game issue such as offsides, foul, handball etc.. but it is the center referee who must make the decision.

7. Duration of the Match

Adult games are limited by the official soccer rules to two halves of 45 minutes each, with a 15 minutes break. Youth leagues can range anywhere from two 20 min. halves up to 45 minute halves depending on the age level.  All youth leagues require a half time break.

In situation, like some tournaments, where they must have a winner if a tie occurs then two extra periods of 15 minutes each, with no break between them are added. If the match is still tied at the end of overtime, the players go on for a penalty-shootout that will eventually decide the winner.

8. The Start and Restart of Play

Each period starts with a kick off which is taken at the center spot and is determined by a coin toss and the game is also restarted with a kick off if a team scores a goal. The ball has to move forward to start the half. Each player must be in his or her half of the field and at least ten yard away from the ball.

Play stops if the ball goes out of bounds. If it goes out on the sidelines, a throw in is required to restart the game.  The team that caused the ball to go out loses the ball and the throw in goes to the opposite team.

The goal kick is awarded to the defending team, if the attacking team sends the ball over the defending team's goal line. The game is restarted with the goalkeeper placing the ball in the goal box, and he/she or another player on the team kicks the ball upfield. 

If the defending team kicks the ball and it goes over their own goal line, outside of the goal itself, then the attacking team earns a corner kick and they will be required to restart the game from the corner nearest to where the ball went out. The attacking player hopes to kick the ball high and set up a teammate for a possible goal.

Other common penalties include charging from behind, hand ball (touching it with hands or arms), holding, kicking, tripping, pushing, hitting, or charging an opponent, and kicking the ball while it's held by the goalkeeper. Breaking these rules means your opponent is awarded a free kick.  A free kick can be indirect or direct.  A indirect kick is a kick that cannot be taken towards the goal it must go to another player in the hope of setting up a goal.  If a player scores directly from an indirect free kick, without another player touching the ball, the goal won't stand.   A direct kick is where the kicker can score without first passing to another player.  A free kick is taken where the penalty took place.

A penalty kick is a direct free kick from the penalty spot and is awarded for a major foul  or handball committed by a defensive player in his own penalty area.  The game is restarted with one of the attacking team's players shooting for goal from the penalty spot (11 meters, perpendicularly from goal), with just the goalkeeper defending the goal.

The last way to restart the game is will a drop ball. The dropped ball occurs when the referee stops the game for a special reason like an injured player, or the ball becoming defective. If a referee has to do a drop ball, he/she will drop the ball from shoulder height in front of two players, the play resumes when the ball hits the ground and the players battle for possession.

9. Ball In and Out of Play

The official soccer rules state that a ball is in play during the entire match except when the has entirely crossed the goal line or touch line whether on the ground or in the air or the play has been stopped by the referee. 

10. Methods of Scoring
 
 
A goal is scored from action, direct free kicks or penalty kicks.  It is considered to be a goal the ball goes completely across the line into the goal provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game had been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.


11. The Offsides Rule

The offsides rule is one of the trickiest rules of soccer and it is difficult for most bystanders to understand.  The basic concept is that a player must have at least one defender (not including the goalie) between him/her and the goal when the ball is played to him when he is on the opponents side gaining advantage.  Click here for Offside rule for soccer MOMS.

In the diagram below, the red player closest to the goal is offsides because there weren’t two defenders between him and the goal when the ball was passed to him.

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12. Fouls and Misconduct

Misconduct is where a player deliberately targets a player and then pushes, holds, kicks him/her away.  Fouls occur when the action is accidental when the player is trying to get the ball from his/her opponent.

Fouls occur only when the ball is in play and misconduct can occur any time.   At the youth level most fouls are due to pushing, tripping,  holding which result in a free kick.   In addition, handballs or charging are called at this level as well.  If the foul is really serious or a player has been warned several times for offenses the referee can penalize with a yellow or red card in addition to a free or penalty kick.

13. Free Kicks

There are two types of free kicks: direct and indirect. .  A free kick can be indirect or direct.  A indirect kick is a kick that cannot be taken towards the goal it must go to another player in the hope of setting up a goal.  If a player scores directly from an indirect free kick, without another player touching the ball, the goal won't stand.   A direct kick is where the kicker can score without first passing to another player.  A free kick is taken where the penalty took place.  At the youth level most free kicks are classified as indirect.

14. Penalty Kicks

A penalty kick is a direct free kick from the penalty spot and is awarded for a major foul  or handball committed by a defensive player in his own penalty area.  The game is restarted with one of the attacking team's players shooting for goal from the penalty spot, which is 12 yards out from goal, with just the goalkeeper defending the goal. Everyone else must sit outside the box and can only move towards the ball once it is kicked. So if the penalty is saved by the goalkeeper or strikes the bar, a player could run from the edge of the box and gain possession 

15. The Throw In

A throw in occurs when the balls goes out of play over the side lines.  The opponent of the player who last touched the ball will get the throw in to restart the game.  It is important that the player keep both feet on the ground, two hands on the ball and the throw must come from behind the player's head.  Failing to follow these rules could result in the opposing team getting the ball.  Some leagues don't enforce this rules or give the player two chances.

16. The Goal Kick

The goal kick is awarded to the defending team, if the attacking team sends the ball over the defending team's goal line. The game is restarted with the goalkeeper placing the ball in the goal box, and he/she or another player on the team kicks the ball upfield.   The goal kick must be powerful enough to pass the penalty area and the kicker may not touch the ball again until it has left the penalty area and has been touched my another player on either team.  The goal kick acts as a direct free kick, so if a player would kick the ball so hard that it would reach the opposing team's goal and score, the goal would count

17. The Corner Kick

A corner kick is awarded when the defending team kicks the ball over their own goal line. A goal may be scored directly from a corner kick.  If the ball passes the line on the left of the goal, the corner is taken from the left corner and if it passes on the right, the corner is taken from the right corner.  The ball be placed in the corner arc before kicking. The player taking the corner kick may score directly from the kick and the kicker can't play the ball a second time until it's touched by another player.

For a visual view of each of these laws click here:  Basic Soccer Rules with Animation