Lesson 2: Youth Soccer Rules
Soccer is essentially an easy sport with pretty simple rules to understand (except for offside!). The object is to score in the opponent’s goal without using your hands are arms, more often than your opponent does in yours. That’s it! However, over the 100+ years that organized soccer has been played, rules have been added to change aspects of the game as well as how the game is played. The most important ones to know are:
Length of Game
A full professional game is 90 minutes long, broken into two 45 minute halves. A halftime is given for each team to get water and talk about what they want to do differently for the 2nd half. There are no ‘timeouts’ in soccer, and coaches have no way of stopping the game until halftime. For youth soccer, the length of the game varies by age and the league you are playing in.
A normal, professional field looks like this. However, it can vary by age and the league your team is playing in:
- Center Circle: this circle is 10yds (on a professional field) from the center spot. It keeps opponents 10 yds from the ball when a kickoff happens.
- Halfway Line: this line separates the field into two equal halves. It is important because a player cannot be offside when they are on their own half of the field when a pass is played to them (more on offside late)
- Penalty Area: This rectangle is the space that the defending goalkeeper can use any body part (including their hands and arms) to touch the ball. If they use their hands or arms outside of this area, it is considered a handball.
- Goal Area: This space is where a goalkick can be taken. The ball can be placed anywhere in this area when taking a goalkick.
- Penalty Spot: If a direct foul happens in the Penalty Area, a “penalty” is awarded by placing the ball on this spot. Only the opposing goalkeeper and one shooter are allowed in the Penalty Area during a Penalty. The goalkeeper must stand on their goalline until the ball is kicked. The shooter is only allowed one touch of the ball to score from a penalty.
- Penalty Arc: If a penalty is awarded, all players (on both teams) must be outside the Penalty Area and behind the Penalty Arc. The Penalty Arc is 10yds from the penalty spot (in a professional game), which is the distance opposing players have to be during all kickoffs or freekicks. It’s also important to know that players outside the Penalty Area have to be behind the perpendicular line of the Penalty Area (the long side of the area), and are not allowed to sand behind the parallel (short) sides of the area.
Kickoff happens at the center-point of the field, and occurs to start each half, as well as after a goal is scored. All opposing players must be on their half of the field and outside their half of the center circle. Once the ball is touched, the opposing players may enter the center circle and the game begins. The person taking the kickoff is only allowed to touch the ball once before someone else touches it. For example, it is customary to start the game with a pass to a teammate. The person cannot dribble the ball forward, because that would be taking more than one touch to start the game.
The ball is considered out of play when it fully crosses over either the endline or sideline of the field. Unlike basketball or football, the ball is considered out even if it crosses this plane in the air. For example, in basketball you can catch the ball out of bounds and throw it back in as long as you don’t touch the ground. In soccer, the ball is out no matter if it touches the ground or not.
- Throw-in: A throw-in is when the ball goes out of bounds on the sidelines (long sides of the field). The last team that touched the ball concedes the throw-in, and the opponents get to throw the ball in. In order for a throw-in the be legal, the player has to have both feet touching the ground when throwing, have both hands on the ball, and the ball has to be thrown forward over their head.
- Goalkick: This happens when the ball goes over the line behind the goal your team is defending, last touched by the attacking team. Play restarts with a goalkick inside the goal area. All opposing players have to be outside the penalty area on a goalkick, but the team with the ball can be inside the area. Once the ball is passed, the opponents can enter the penalty area.
- Corner: This is when the ball goes over the line behind the goal you are defending, last touched by the defending team. Play restarts with a corner, where the ball is placed on one of the corners of the field closest to that goal. All opposing players have to be at least 10 yards from the corner (in a professional game) prior to the ball being kicked.
Fouls and Freekicks
There are two different types of freekicks in soccer: Direct and In-Direct. A direct freekick means that the restart can be shot and go directly into the opposing goal without having touched by anyone else. An indirect kick means the shot has to touch at least one other person on the field before going in.
Direct freekick happens when one of the following happens:
- A foul (I recommend reading the full FIFA rules to see all the definitions of this!)
- A handball
- Fighting, or attempting to fight
- Spitting at an opponent
An in-direct freekick happens when a player:
- Plays in a dangerous manner
- Impedes the progress of an opponent
- Prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his/her hands
- An offside is given
What is offside in soccer?
Of all the rules in soccer, offside is the most difficult to understand. We’ve included a few diagrams to help explain it, but basically offside is “when a player is in the opposing team's half of the field and also nearer to the opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent when a pass is played to them.” Phew. Ok, here are some examples:
Offside Example: The attacking player is nearer to the goal than the 2nd to last defender (includes GK) when the ball is played.
Onside Example: The attacking player has two defenders between the goal and them when the ball is played.
Offside Example: The attacking player is in the opposing team’s half and nearer to the goal than the 2nd to last defender (includes GK) when the ball is played.
Onside Example: The attacking player is in their own half when the ball is played. You cannot be offside if you start from your own half.
Onside Example: The teammate is in-line, or behind the passer, when the ball is played. You cannot be offside if you start in-line, or behind, the passer of the ball regardless of how many defenders there are.
Onside Example: The opposing team passed the ball the attacker. You cannot be offside if the other team passes it to you, regardless of where you are on the field.
Onside Example: You must make an attempt to play the ball to become offside. For example, in this scenario even though a teammate is offside (only one defender between them and the goal when the ball is played), they don’t try and get the ball. The person who did get the ball WAS onside, so play is allowed to continue.
Offside is a tricky to understand when first learning the game, and can be difficult for referees to call because play moves so fast. In order to fully understand the intricacies of the rule, I recommend reading FIFA’s offside rule guide here.
It’s also important to note, that:
- You CANNOT be offside from a throw-in
- You CAN be offside from a freekick or goalkick
- You CANNOT be offside from a corner
- You CANNOT be offside from a kickoff
That’s it in a nutshell! There are many more very specific rules to soccer, and Soccer Drive recommends reading the FIFA Laws of the Game to fully understand the intricacies of the sport. However, it’s most important to read the official rules of the league your team is playing in. Almost every league has particular rules relating to field size, how many players on the field, how long the game is, and substitutions, so it’s important to familiarize yourself to the rules your team will be expected to follow foremost.
Good luck out there, coach! If you are confused about any specific rules relating to a game, it is a good practice to ask the referee BEFORE the game so everyone is on the same page.