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Rules Review – Taking A Look at the 17 Laws of Soccer

Are you struggling to understand the game of soccer? While it may look complicated, it’s quite simple, much less complex than sports like football or cricket.

You may not have known this, but FIFA actually has a list of the 17 fundamental laws of soccer.

Each law encompasses a certain area of the game, and today, we’ll be going through all of them along with a brief overview of the entire game at the end.

The Laws

Soccer1. The Field of Play

A soccer field is rectangular in shape, and the touch line (length) must be longer than the goal line (width). Acceptable dimensions for the touch line are anywhere between 90-120 m (100-110 in international competition), and dimensions for the goal line must be within 45-90m (64-75 in international competition).

These dimensions are quite flexible, but professional fields usually adhere to somewhere around those used in international competition. After all, it would be a bit strange to see a soccer pitch that was almost square.

There is a center circle along with a center mark in – you guessed it, the center of the pitch. This is where kickoffs occur. Flagposts may also be placed here, although it’s not very common to see them.

The field is divided in two by the halfway line, each side having a goal (8 ft tall x 8 yds wide), two corner flags, and all the parts within the penalty area. The penalty area is made up of two lines ( the goal area and the penalty area itself) along with a penalty arc outside.

The penalty area is 18 yards long, and it is often termed the 18-yard box. The penalty spot is 11 yards away from the goal.

All fouls committed within the penalty area (not including the arc) will result in a penalty or an indirect free kick, normally the former. The goal area designates where the keeper can set the ball down for a goal kick. The penalty arc is a line that designates a boundary for anyone besides the goalkeeper or the penalty taker. When a penalty is being taken, anyone besides those two is not allowed to infringe on that boundary.

While this may all seem very complicated, I assure you it’s not. Just think of it as a large grass pitch. Corners are taken from the corner arcs, penalties on the penalty spot, and goal kicks in the goal area. Know those three things, and you’re pretty much set.

Soccer2. The Ball

Soccer balls are spheres, and prior to being used in match play, they must be approved by FIFA. Here are a couple of specifications that the ball must fall under:

  • Made of leather or another suitable material
  • Circumference between 68-70 cm (27-28 inches)
  • Weight between 410-450 grams (14-16 ounces)
  • Pressure between 0.6-1.1 atmosphere at sea level (8.5-15.6 pounds/sq. inch)

Soccer balls aren’t anything special. Just your ordinary sphere.

Soccer3. The Number of Players

Eleven players from each team are allowed on the pitch. In official matches, each team is allowed a maximum of three substitutions. In international friendlies, each team is allowed six substitutions.

Should you expand all three and one of your players suffers an injury or is sent off, you would have to play with a man in less. The minimum amount of players you can have is seven. If a team were to fall under this limit, they would be forced to forfeit the game.

Soccer4. The Players’ Equipment

Players must have the following equipment in order to participate in play

  • Jersey – should undergarments be worn, the color of the sleeves must be the same as the jersey’s
  • Shorts
  • Stockings
  • Shin guards
  • Footwear/cleats

The two teams in question must have jersey colors that distinguish them from each other and the referees. The same applies for the goalkeepers, who must have different jerseys than the rest of the players and the referees.

It is not allowed for players to remove their jerseys in celebration or otherwise. That would result in a yellow card. There have also been problems with sponsorship in the past. Should your normal equipment or any of your undergarments display any type of message or advertisement, the player shall be fined.

Soccer5. The Referee

The referee manages the game and ensures that play is fair. From keeping the time and determining fouls to handing out cards, the referee is the most powerful figure on the pitch.


All of the referee’s decisions are final, and only he has the ability to overrule himself. He may consult with his assistant referees or even the VAR (Virtual Assistant Referee) to determine if his decision is correct, but he may only overrule if play has not restarted.

Soccer6. The Assistant Referees

Assistant referees are some of the most important figures in soccer. While they do not have as much power as the head official, they make most of the decisions regarding offside, corner kicks and throw-ins, and any other minor details that the referee may have missed.

The referee often consults with them, and they also have the ability to call fouls or other offenses if they are in a better position than the head referee. Keep in mind that only the head referee’s decision is final and that he has the power to overrule any decisions made by the assistants.

Soccer7. The Duration of the Match

Soccer matches are divided into two halves, each of which is 45 minutes long with a half time break in between. Half time intervals must not exceed a 15-minute duration.

If the game in question does not allow teams to draw (knockout stages), there will be two 15-minute periods of extra time followed by a penalty shootout to determine the winner. Similarly to the half time break, there will also be a brief break between the normal game and the beginning of extra time and before the penalty shootout.

The referee has the ability to alter the time at his discretion, and according to how much time has been lost via fouls, substitutions, etc., he can add injury time to the end of any of the normal or extra time periods.

Soccer8. The Start and Restart of Play

At the beginning of the game, following a goal, or at the beginning of half time or an extra time period, a kick-off is used to commence play. The initial kick-off and the direction in which teams attack are all determined during the initial coin toss. All players must be on their side during a kick-off, and they must maintain a certain distance from the ball.


After the referee gives the signal for play to commence, the player is allowed to kick the ball. Note that he is not allowed to touch the ball afterward unless another player has touched it as well.

Dropped balls are rare, but they do happen sometimes. Whenever the referee is forced to stop play for an injury or something else that does not have a procedure to follow in the rules, he is entitled to award a dropped ball. The referee drops the ball where play stopped beforehand, and the ball is normally returned to the opposite team or used to start play again. Goals are not allowed to be scored off drop balls, and they will result in either a goal kick or a corner.

The most common instance of this occurring is when a team kicks the ball out of play because one of their players is injured. The referee then awards the opposing the team with a dropped ball, which they promptly kick back to the other team.

Soccer9. The Ball In and Out of Play

The ball is out of play when play has been stopped by the official or when the entirety of the ball crosses the goal line or the touch line, regardless of whether it is on the ground or in the air.

If any part of the ball is still within the dimensions of the pitch and play is still going, the ball is considered live and in play, regardless of whether it has rebounded off a referee or a corner flag.

Soccer10. The Method of Scoring

Goals are only valid if the ball completely crosses the goal line and goes through the goalposts, barring that all other rules have been followed correctly. The introduction of goal-line technology also allows for referees to determine whether the ball has crossed the line, normally indicated to the official via watch.

The team with the most goals at the end of the game is declared the winner; if both teams have the same amount, the game is drawn or it goes to a tiebreaker. The most common tiebreakers are based on away goals, extra time, or a penalty shootout near the end.

Soccer11. Offside

A player is considered offside when he is closer to the opposition’s goal line than the last opposing defender and the ball. If he is in his own half, then he cannot be considered offside.


Players are not offside if they are level with the last opposing defender or if the ball is ahead of them at the time the pass is made. The referee has the ability to determine when a player is offside, and if he believes that an offside player is not interfering or affecting play in any way, they will not be called for offside.

Keep in mind that this does not apply to goal kicks, throw-ins or corner kicks. The player in question is judged offside whenever the last touch has been made, not based on where he is when he actually receives the ball. This is probably the most complicated rule in soccer, and if you’re having trouble understanding it, here’s a more in-depth guide.

Soccer12. Fouls and Misconduct

Should a foul be committed, there are three ways that the referee will restart play. Those will be explained in the following rules.

Kicking, tackling, tripping, or any other form of physical abuse of an opposing player before making contact with the ball is normally considered a foul. Verbal abuse is also subject to the same punishment.

The referees have the power to whistle for a foul, although it is the head official who makes the call. If he deems the foul was reckless or dangerous, he has the right to book or send the player off by awarding them a yellow or red card. Two yellow cards translate into a red, meaning that the player can no longer be around the pitch.

Some other common offenses include taking your jersey off, verbally abusing/arguing with a referee, wasting time, and spitting on an opposing player.

Soccer13. Free Kicks

There are two types of free kicks – the direct free kick and the indirect free kick.

Direct free kicks are the more common type, and they are what you will usually see when a player commits a foul outside of the box. They are much easier to score with, and they can occur anywhere on the pitch. Players can shoot directly from the spot of the foul, unlike indirect free kicks.

Indirect free kicks are a much less common sight, usually occurring when a goalkeeper picks up a kicked pass from his own player or when the referee deems an action as dangerous within the penalty area. This is the only instance where a free kick can be taken within the penalty area. Keep in mind that these are much harder to score as two players have to touch the ball prior to being able to shoot.

In both variations of the free kick, opponents are required to stand at least 10 yards away from the ball, and the free kick taker is not allowed to touch the ball twice consecutively.

Soccer14. The Penalty Kick

Penalty kicks are awarded when a foul that would result in a direct free kick occurs inside the penalty area. It is one of the easiest ways to score as the player is much closer to the goal and cannot be impacted by opposing players besides the goalkeeper.

Anyone besides the goalkeeper and the penalty taker must remain behind the penalty arc prior to the ball being kicked; otherwise, the penalty will be retaken. The goalkeeper must also stay on his line, although they often jump ahead without any punishment.

The penalty kick taker is allowed a run-up, but he may not come to a full stop or delay too long in an attempt to deceive the keeper. He is also not allowed to touch the ball twice consecutively without another player touching it as well.

Ryan Shotton

Soccer15. The Throw-in

Throw-ins are the most common way of restarting play. Throw-ins occur whenever the ball goes out of play through either of the two touch lines. They are the only instance in which outfield players are allowed to touch the ball with their hands.

The throw-in taker must have both feet touching the touch line or behind the touch line, and he must make sure to take the ball completely behind his head before starting the motion. He may also not score directly from the throw in, nor can he touch the ball twice consecutively. The offside rule is not in effect on throw-ins.

Soccer16. The Goal Kick

A goal kick is awarded any time a player causes the ball to go over the enemy’s goal line. Along with the throw-in, it is one of the most common ways to restart play.

Any player can take goal kicks, although the goalkeeper is most often the goal kick taker. Goal kicks can be taken anywhere within the goal area depending on the taker’s preference. The offside rule is not in effect during goal kicks.

The ball must exit the penalty box prior to being in play, and if a player touches the ball while it is still inside the penalty area, the goal kick will be retaken. Opponents are not allowed to enter the penalty area prior to the ball being in play.

Similarly to all other times of restarting player, the goal kick taker cannot touch the ball twice consecutively.

Soccer17. The Corner Kick

The final law regards the corner kick. A corner kick is awarded when a player causes the ball to cross his own goal line.


They are taken from an offensive position, and goals are common, often scored with the head. The corner kick taker must place the ball inside of the corner arc, and similarly to free kicks, opponents must stand at least 10 yards away from the ball at the time is it kicked.

The taker cannot touch the ball twice consecutively as with all other instances of restarting play.

The normal corner kick delivery takes two forms. One is a simple cross into the box, hoping that a teammate can get their head on it and score. The other is a short pass to a teammate, who can then cross it or try to get into a better position within the box.

So How Does It Work?

Now that we’ve reviewed all 17 laws of the game, you should know most of the fundamentals that go into soccer. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know all of them. In fact, most of these don’t even apply most of the time. Let’s go through a brief overview of the how the game really works.

The soccer pitch is a rectangle, longer than it is wide, and there are two halves of soccer, each being 45 minutes long. The referee has the ability to extend these two periods how he sees fit, and should the game not be allowed to draw, there will be two 15-minute periods of extra time and finally a penalty shootout to decide the winner.

There are eleven players on each team, and teams are allowed a maximum of three substitutions each in official competition. All players must wear the necessary equipment to ensure safety. Goals are scored by kicking the ball into the net. The entirety of the ball must cross the goal line in order for it to be considered a goal.


The referee enforces the laws of the game and makes sure that play is fair. He has the final say in all decisions, and his final decision cannot be overruled for any reason. He also has a team of assistants who he can consult with and who help him manage the game.

If the ball goes out of play, there are three ways to restart it: a goal kick, a throw-in, and a corner kick. If the ball is kicked out via the touch line, it is a throw-in. If it kicked out via the goal line, it is a goal kick or a corner kick, depending on who touched it last. As with goals, the ball must cross the entire line before being deemed out of play.

Should a foul be committed, the referee will stop play and give according punishments. If he believes the foul was reckless and/or dangerous, he has the right to give out yellow and red cards, which can result in the expulsion of a player or even a manager.

The offside rule is probably the most complicated rule in the game. If a player is closer to the opposition’s goal than the last opposing defender and the ball, and he is also in the opponent’s half, he is in an offside position. The offside position is considered as soon as the ball is kicked, not when the player in question actually receives the ball. As long as he does not interfere with play, however, the referee has the right to not call a foul.

Free kicks and penalty kicks are the two most common ways to restart play following a foul. Free kicks normally occur outside the box, unless it’s an indirect free kick, which can occur anywhere on the pitch. Direct free kicks can be scored directly from the spot of the foul while indirect free kicks must touch two players beforehand. Indirect free kicks are an extremely rare sight to see.

Penalty kicks are awarded when a direct free kick offense is committed within the 18-yard box. The penalty kick taker can then face the goalkeeper one-on-one, and it is considered the best scoring chance in the game.

At the end of the game, the team with the most goals scored is the winner.

Sure, all those laws may seem daunting, but the brief summary above is all you need in order to understand soccer. The offside rule is probably the most complicated out of all of them, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not that difficult.

Reading all these laws may help, but the best way to learn how the game works is to actually watch and play. Once you immerse yourself into the sport, you’ll find it’s much simpler than you originally thought.

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