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How to Play Soccer

By Jeff Gordon

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, played by some of the fastest and most acrobatic athletes on Earth. It is also an excellent introductory team activity for youngsters. It is a highly tactical sport at the international level, and yet a very simple game for beginners to learn. You can develop the basic skills needed by kicking the ball around with friends, learning to dribble, pass and shoot with your feet.

Playing Field

The soccer field is a rectangle on grass or an artificial surface, 100 to 130 yards long and 50 to 100 yards wide. There is a halfway line with a center circle with a 10-foot radius, from where a kick-off starts the game and restarts it after each goal is scored. There is one goal centered on each goal line, the back line at either end of the field. Goals stand 8 feet tall and are 24 feet wide with netting. The boundaries of the goal box extend 6 yards from each goal post along the goal line and 6 yards out into the field, perpendicular to the goal line. The penalty box extends 18 yards from each goal post along the goal line and 18 yards out into the field, perpendicular to the goal line.

Teams, Equipment

Regulation games feature 11 players a side, including one goalkeeper. Games are 90 minutes long, with two 45-minute halves, a 15-minute halftime and stoppage time added at the end. Players wear jerseys; shorts; shin guards; socks, completely covering their shin guards; and cleats. Goalkeepers can wear catching gloves. High-level international matches allow only three player switches per match, but youth leagues typically allow unlimited substitutions. Soccer balls are round, 27 to 28 inches in circumference and made of leather or comparable substance. Leagues for young players may use smaller balls.

Object of the Game

Each team tries to advance the ball downfield by dribbling and passing it with their feet. Players cannot deliberately touch the ball with their hands. Using your torso to stop the ball is legal, as is using your head to direct it. You can use feet and legs to intercept passes and steal dribbles, but you can't push or tackle opponents with your hands. You score goals by kicking or heading the ball past the goal line and into the goal. The goalkeeper is the only player who can catch the ball and throw it while it is in the field of play.


You cannot receive a pass on the offensive side of the field if you are past the second-to-last defender, leaving only the goalkeeper or another opponent between you and the goal. This rule prevents you from hanging out beyond the defense, waiting for a long pass and an easy scoring opportunity. But you can run past the final defenders to chase down a loose ball or catch up to a lead pass that is already past them.

Out of Bounds

When you kick the ball out of bounds, the other team gains possession. If you kick it past the sidelines, called "touch lines" in soccer, your opponent gets a two-handed throw-in. If you kick the ball past the goal line on offense, your opponent gets a goal kick by any player from any spot inside the goal box. If you kick the ball past your own goal line while on defense, your opponent is awarded a corner kick from the small half-circle at the nearest corner.


The referee may call fouls on players for deliberately handling the ball or for kicking, tripping, charging, jumping at, striking, pushing, tackling, holding or spitting at an opponent. Victims are awarded a direct free kick for fouls outside the penalty area. Fouls inside that area result in a penalty kick. In both cases, victims can kick a stationary ball toward the goal. Referees also award indirect free kicks for lesser infractions, allowing you to kick a stationary ball toward your teammates but not at the goal. .

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