Soccer Rules: the ultimate guide to playing the beautiful game correctly

Just like any other sport, there are a set number of rules of soccer – 17 to be exact – that govern how the game is played. Otherwise, there would be huge confusion on the pitch. These soccer rules are designed to make playing safe, fair, and ultimately enjoyable for all those involved.


The main goal of soccer is, wordplay intended, to score goals, at least more than your opponent for ninety minutes (in a normal regulation game featuring 11 v 11). Goals are scored when a team sends the ball to the back of the opposition’s net. To do this, outfield players cannot use their hands, but can use their feet or their head. In this regard, goalkeepers are special as they are the only players who can touch the ball with their hands, and only if they are inside their box.

The referee is the one who officiates a game under FIFA rule. He is in charge of calling if a goal stands or disallowed, if any players infringe on any rule, among other things that need mediation. In order for the referee to make justified calls, he must base his decisions in the rules of soccer.

17 basic rules and regulations of soccer

1. The Field of Play

rules of soccer - the pitch
The field of play is as illustrated above. The dimensions of the field vary according to league – eg if it’s an 11v11 or a 5v5, or if it’s for adults or for children.

2. The Ball

The ball used in a standard game is called a number 5 ball. For children, it can be a number 4 or a number 3 ball, depending on how young the players are.

3. Number of players

The standard number of players per team in a game is 11. Team-mates are usually identified by their kit colour; however, the goalkeeper should have a different kit colour from the rest of the squad. The minimum number of players in a squad should be seven.

4. Player’s Equipment

As mentioned in the previous number, players in a team must wear the same-coloured jersey. Apart from the kit, shin guards are also required.

5. Referee

The referee is the one who imposes the rules of football in a game. The referee has the power to stop, suspend, or terminate a match based on his sound judgment. This could be because of a foul, outside interference, or player injury. Referees also have the power to keep the play going despite any of the three mentioned stipulations happening – this is called the “advantage”.

6. Other Match Officials

Also called assistant referees or linesmen, the other match officials are there to call if a ball has gone offside or out of play. They are also called in to assist if a certain infringement was made and the event was not seen by the referee. It is important to note, however, that it is the referee who has the final say regarding any decision during the game.

7. Duration of the Game

The standard football match for adults is played for 90 minutes, divided into two equal periods called a “half”. This is called “regulation time”. Depending on how many times the play was stopped during each half, the referee can add additional time after the regular 45, called “extra time” or in popular lingo, “stoppage time”. The amount of extra time added is solely the decision of the referee.

8. Start and Restart of Play

Games are started via the “kick off”, where two players from a team proceed to the centre spot and kicked into play. The kick-off is also the method of restarting a game when one team has scored – in which case the conceding team takes the kick-off.

Another way to restart a game is via a “dropped ball”. If the play was stopped due to an injury, outside interference, or a defective ball, the referee picks the ball upon resumption of play and drops it onto any point on the pitch he deems fair and just.

9. Ball-In and Ball-Out

A ball is deemed out of play if the ball leaves the field (crosses either the touch line or the goal line) or the referee stops the play. To restart the game, the ball is put back into play in one of four ways:

a. Via a dropped ball – usually because of injury
b. Via a throw-in, if the ball crosses the touchline
c. Via an indirect-free kick, or
d. Via a direct free kick

Items c and d are discussed in the succeeding rules.

10. The Method of Scoring

The method of scoring is called a “goal”. It is deemed scored if the ball crosses the goal line, between the goalposts, and under the crossbar. The scorer must not be offside when he kicked the ball into the net, and no foul must have been committed in the process leading to the goal.

11. Offside

Arguably the most controversial rule in football, the offside rule simply states that a player in an offside position must not become actively involved in the game. To be in an offside position, you should be beyond the last defender of the opposing team, if outside the penalty box. If inside the penalty box, then going beyond the goalkeeper is considered an offside position.

12. Fouls and Misconduct

According to the FIFA guidelines, a foul is an “unfair act by a player deemed by the referee to contravene the game’s laws.” Meanwhile, a misconduct is an act warranting a disciplinary sanction, called a “booking”. In this sense, a foul can also be a misconduct.

Fouls are divided into major and minor categories. Major fouls can be awarded a red card, or “sending off”, while minor fouls can be awarded a yellow card.

Major fouls include: kicking a player, jumping up at a player, roughly charging at a player, charging a player from behind, tripping a player, hitting or spitting at a player, pushing a player, holding a player, and handling a ball.

Minor fouls include dangerous play, charging with the ball out of playable distance, illegal obstruction (obstructing a player even if away from the ball), charging the goalkeeper in the goal area, intentional time wasting.

13. Free Kicks

There are two types of free kicks: Direct free kicks and indirect free kicks.

Direct free kicks are when the ball can be kicked directly towards the goal for a score. If awarded outside the penalty area, it is called a direct free kick and can be blocked by a “wall” of players. If awarded inside the penalty area, it is called a “penalty kick” and cannot be blocked by a wall

Indirect free kicks cannot lead to a direct goal, unless, the ball has first been touched by at least two players from either team – after which the ball is then deemed in play.

14. Penalty Kicks

As mentioned, the penalty kick is given when a player is fouled inside the penalty area. During this case, only the goalkeeper can defend, and he must stay standing on the goal line. A further rule of soccer that would see the opposition side penalised further would be if a handball was committed inside the area.

15. Throw Ins

As mentioned before, throw-ins are given when the ball is placed out of play when it crosses the touchline. At the point of exit, any member of the opposing team of the player who last touched the ball can do the throw-in.

16. Goal Kicks

As mentioned earlier, the goal kick is one of two ways to resume play. This is usually employed when the ball is placed out of play by an attacking team and the ball crosses the goal line without getting scored. The goalkeeper is the one who does the goal kick, with none of the outfield players able to enter the penalty area. The goal kick is done on the penalty spot.

17. Corner Kicks

The stipulation for corner kicks is essentially similar except that the ball is placed out of play by the defending team. When a defender tackles a player cleanly and was the last person to touch the ball before it goes out of play, a corner kick is called – usually on the side (whether right or left of the goal) where the ball crossed out of play.


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