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The Rules of Soccer & Responsibilities of Players

Instructor: Thomas Higginbotham

Tom has taught math / science at secondary & post-secondary, and a K-12 school administrator. He has a B.S. in Biology and a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction.

Soccer is the world's most popular sport. Its rules and the roles of soccer players are easy to learn and coach. In this lesson, learn about the details that frame 'the beautiful game.'

The Basic Game

Soccer is simple. One team of 11 players tries to get the soccer ball into a goal more times than the opposing team does within two 45-minute halves. Soccer regulations are authorized by FIFA, the official international soccer federation, in a 130-page rule book. This lesson covers the essential rules of FIFA soccer, though many regional organizations, especially kids' leagues, amend these rules.

The Field

The soccer field (or 'pitch' if you're feeling jaunty and British) is rectangular, as seen in the diagram.

Soccer Field Dimensions and Markings
Soccer Field Dimensions

International matches (e.g., The World Cup) require fields be 110-120 yards long and 70-80 yards wide, bounded by the touch lines and the goal lines.

Start of Play

Play starts at the beginning of each half with a kick-off. Kick-offs are direct kicks (described later) from the center mark, the middle of the center line. Kick-offs occur at the beginning of each half and after a goal has been scored. During play, the clock runs continuously. However, referees add extra time at the end of each 45-minute half, depending on how much time has been used for injuries and the like.

Stoppage and Restart of Play

Play is continuous until one of the following occurs:

  • Rules offense

Soccer's rules ensure a flowing, safe game. Offenses include using reckless or excessive force against another person (e.g., tripping, pushing, and grabbing), unsportsmanlike behavior, and other procedural violations.

Players who commit serious offenses may be either cautioned (yellow card) or sent off the field (red card) by the referee, depending on the degree of severity. Any player receiving two yellow cards within a single game will be automatically sent off.

A player is in an offsides position if there are less than two opposing players between that player and the opposing team's goal line. A player can not be offside when receiving the ball directly from a out-of-bounds restart, nor is a player offsides in their own defensive half of the field or if they are 'even' with the second-last player.

Offenses result in stoppage of play by the referee and a free kick to the offended team, unless stopping play would burden the offended team (e.g., a team is about to score a goal but one of its players away from the ball is pushed). When the referee allows play to continue in this manner it is called playing the advantage.

Free kicks can be either direct or indirect. Direct free-kicks are awarded for more serious offenses. Indirect free-kicks are awarded for more procedural offenses, such as offsides, obstruction, or delay of game. Direct free kicks may be kicked into the goal without the ball touching anyone else, while indirect kicks must touch at least one other player before a goal can be scored.

Generally, free kicks occur from the spot of the offense. However, if a team commits a direct free-kick offense within its own defensive penalty area, a penalty kick - a direct free kick from the penalty spot 12 yards from the goal - is awarded to the offense. A vast majority of penalty kicks result in goals.

  • Ball out of bounds

Play stops when the ball goes entirely out of bounds, and the last team to touch the ball before it goes over the line concedes the restart to the other team.

Illustration of Soccer Ball Bounds
Soccer Ball Bounds

Throw-ins restart play for balls over the touch line, while goal kicks and corner kicks restart play for balls over the goal line (but not in the goal). Goal kicks result when the offense is the last to touch the ball before crossing the end line, while corner kicks result when the defense touches it last. Goal kicks are taken from the edge of the goal box, while corner kicks are taken from within a yard of the corner flag.

  • Injury

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