Basic Soccer Rules: The Oversimplified Guide

You might have watched a game recently or played a soccer game yourself and have a boiling desire to know about the rules of soccer.

Although playing soccer is fairly simple, some rules don’t make sense to you…like that famous offside rule or the recent VAR decisions that make us question what are we doing (VAR slander detected).

Unless you want to read the 144 rule book that FIFA released, I took everything from the rulebook and presented it to you in an oversimplified yet still accurate version.

Let’s dive in (not literally, diving is a yellow card offense). 

How To Play Soccer? Basics

  • No hands. Only Feet.
  • 2 goals.
  • 2 halves of 45 minutes, separated by a 15-minute intermission.
  • 11 players per team. 
  • The goal is to put the ball in the net. Once a goal happens, play restart at kickoff.
  • Pushing, holding, tripping, jumping, and pulling are not allowed…these are fouls.
  • Fouls result in a free kick in the whole field except the penalty area, where it’s a penalty.
  • Unsportsman behavior is a yellow card. 2 yellow cards result in a red card (ejection). 
  • The straight red card is a 3-match ban, while 2 yellows=1 red is a match ban.

The 17 Soccer Rules

The 144-page booklet by FIFA displays the 17 rules of soccer deeply, including free-kick, corner-kick, offside rule, and all that good stuff.

Here is the oversimplified version of it.

The Basics-Rule 1 and 2

Rule 1 of soccer talks about the soccer field and its required characteristics. Here are the important regulations to follow:

The field must be played on artificial or natural grass. It should be marked with white lines, and the whole area should be green (the color of grass).

Of course, futsal rules do not apply here. Visit What is Futsal to know more.

picture of field dimensions

Some numbers on dimensions:

  • The center circle should have a diameter of 10 yards (9,15 m).
  • The field length should range from 90m to 120m (100-130 yards).
  • The width of the field should range from 45m to 90m (50-100 yards).
  • The penalty area is 18 yards wide and 44 yards long.
  • The ”6-yard box”, a small box within the box, is…6 yards.

Also included in the first rule is the dimensions of the soccer net are shared: 8 yards by 8 feet.

soccer net dimension according to soccer rules

Rule #2 talks about the soccer ball.

The ball must have the following dimensions:

  • Between 68 to 70 cm of circumference (size 5)
  • Between 410g and 450g in weight
  • Between 8,5 and 15,6 psi for pressure

Visit Best Soccer Ball for more details about soccer balls, size guides, quality standards, and suggestions for the best balls in 2024.

The Players- Rules 3 and 4

Rule #3 talks about the number of players.

As we know, a team can only place 11 players (10 outfield and 1 goalkeeper). The game is forfeited if a team provides less than 7 players.

Recently changed, a team is usually allowed 5 substitutions per game (1 on for 1 off). The number can change depending on the competition and level. 

For subs, they must be done:

  • By informing the referee first
  • By entering only when the replaced player gets off
  • By entering the field through the halfway line

Of course, when receiving a red card, the ejected player cannot be replaced.

Rule #4 covers soccer gear. Although players wear soccer gear for training, this is what they’re allowed in-game:

things allowed or not in a soccer game

Concerning the shin guards and how they are worn, they must be fully covered by stockings, must be from rubber or plastic, and must offer minimal protection (unlike those premier league players with miniature shin guards…).

The Referees- Rules 5 and 6

Concerning the main official or referee (Rule #5), he has full authority over anybody else on the field. The list of things he has control over is long, but the most important ones are:

  • Full enforcement of the game according to his judgment
  • Ensures the quality and basics are all met (rules 1 to 4)
  • Can stop and resume play…ie control time
  • Can send off anybody he wants

Although all decisions by referees are final, they can contested (VAR or assistants) or overturned (if a team appeals to the governing body).

placement of the 4 referees during a soccer game

His assistant referees (Rule #6), advise and assist the referee. They stand on the touchlines, and they control when the ball gets out of play, if a foul has been committed in the area, offsides, penalty kicks and their executions, corner kicks, and free-kicks.

The 4th official stands between the 2 benches of the teams, oversees substitutions, coaches, and team staff, and ensures they stay civilized.

The Duration- Rule 7

Rule 7 covers the duration of play, which is fairly straightforward.

The game is played in 2 halves of 45 minutes. There is added time at the end of each half for the time lost during play.

Fun fact, a game once lasted 3 hours and 23 minutes…

Throw-In7.5 minutes
Goal Kick6.03 minutes
Corner Kick4.14 minutes
Free Kick10.29 minutes
Penalty0.33 minutes* (this is average, and not every game has a penalty)
Injury4.10 minutes
Goal Celebration2.55 minutes
Substitution3.03 minutes
Average Time Wasting Stats. Data taken from Football Stadiums

A player can get a yellow card for time wasting. This is done to discourage this behavior and allow the game to flow naturally.

The Play- Rules 8 and 9

Rule 8 addresses the start and restart of the soccer match, which happens in the middle of the field through the kickoff. This happens before periods or after a goal has been scored.

Despite what anyone says, you CAN score directly through kick-off!

There is also a drop-ball, where the referee drops the ball and players resume play when it touches the ground.

This procedure happens when the referee has to stop the ball for reasons other than that of the laws of the game (a player emergency, an outsider entering the pitch, or any other infringement).

Rule 9 covers the ball in and out of the play.

visualization of when the ball is considered out

There are two ways the ball is considered out of the play: Either if the whole ball crosses the goal or touchline, or if the referee whistles.

Concerning the referees, if the ball hits them, generally the ball is still in play. However, if the ball hits the referee and it results in the other team gaining the ball, then the referee whistles and performs a drop ball.

 Again, it all depends on his judgment.

Scoring- Rule 10

Rule 10 talk about the reason we watch and play soccer…to score a goal!

Similar to outs, a goal is only valid when the whole of the ball has crossed the goal line.

Since 2014, there has been a new technology (goal-line technology), that confirms whether the ball went fully through the line. But that’s only in high professional leagues.

For other leagues, it’s usually the linesman (assistant referee) who confirms that.

The All Mighty Offside- Rule 11

Concerning offside, it is fairly simple but easy to get lost.

The rules and regulations state that a player is offside when, at the moment of the pass, a valid part of his body exceeds the second-to-last player on the other side.

A valid part is a part of the body that is allowed to play soccer. If his hand is exceeding, it doesn’t count.

visual of offside rule

A player can never be offside in his half. The rule starts at the halfway line.

There are no offsides on throw-ins and corners.

Fouls and Consequences- Rules 12 to 14

Now, let’s cover Rule 12, which is fouls and misconducts. Aggressive play is good, but there are limits.

Fouls are given when a player:

  • Other than the goalkeeper touches the ball with his hand (handball).
  • Plays dangerously.
  • Kicks, trips, jumps, holds, holds the shirt, strikes, pushes, or hurts an opponent.
  • Spit or insult an opposing team player or referee.
  • Dangerously tackles an opponent (from behind, cleats are showing, with no intention of getting the ball).
explanations of yellow and red cards

Usually, a player gets a warning after one offense. After that, he gets a yellow card. A second yellow card results in a red card and ejection. He misses one match. If he makes a serious offense, he could get directly 1 red card and get ejected and a 3-match ban.

On the field, a foul results in a free kick (Rule 13), or a penalty (Rule 14) in the goalkeeper’s box.

There are two types of free kicks:

  • Direct Free Kick:
  • Indirect Free Kick

The simple difference between the two is that you can score from a direct free kick, but not in an indirect one-you must pass before one can score.

Before kicking a free kick, the player can call for distance, where the defending team’s players must stand 10 yards behind the ball.

difference between free kick and penalty

A penalty kick is awarded when the fouls are committed in the goalie’s box. The shot is taken from the 12-yard spot (penalty spot).

Concerning the penalty:

  • Nobody other than the player who kicks the ball and the goalie is allowed in the box.
  • The player who is shooting only has one touch.
  • The goalkeeper cannot step out of his line until the moment the ball is touched by the kicker.

If any of the rules are impeded, the referee can order the penalty to be retaken.

Ball Out Of Play- Rules 15 to 17

Now, let’s talk about what happens when a ball goes out of play.

The ball can enter the field in 3 ways:

  • A Throw-in (Rule 15)
  • A Goal Kick (Rule 16)
  • A Corner Kick (Rule 17)

A throw-in has to be taken by hand. The player must be behind or on the touchline, facing the field, and must throw the ball over his head from behind with both hands.

If he fails to do so, then a foul throw is called, and the opposing team gets the throw-in. 

The player making a throw-in cannot touch the ball again immediately. He must wait until another player touches it. If a throw-in never enters the field, it has to be retaken.

Goal kick, throw in and corner kick

A goal kick occurs when the offensive team is the last team to touch the ball before it goes out through the goal line (obviously, not through the goal).

The ball can be kicked anywhere in the goal area (small 6-yard box), by anyone. The opposing team is not allowed to be in the whole box before the kick.

The kicker cannot handle the ball after it has been kicked…someone else has to touch it. If this happens, an indirect kick is awarded.

And finally, a corner kick happens when the defensive team is the last team to touch the ball before it goes out through the goal line.

The kick is taken anywhere in the corner circle, and the kicker cannot touch it before it hits someone else.

You cannot (no matter how annoying it is), move the corner flag. 

The defending team has to stand at least 10 yards from the ball.

The Enforcing Of The Rules

The rules are created and maintained by FIFA, through the international football association board. They are enforced by the 4 referees in the soccer game.

Since 2018 (the introduction of VAR), we have had the luxury of having a 5th referee: the video assistant referee.

There is a group of referees in an office watching the game through the screens, in direct contact with the main ref.

If a play needs to be reviewed, they are the ones to review it. In extreme cases where the foul is not easy to call, they call the ref to go re-watch the play on the on-screen TV.

VAR, however, only reviews:

  • Red Card Offences
  • Goals
  • Fouls In The Penalty Box

Despite the accuracy the VAR provides, the reason why it is not as successful in the big leagues is because of their lack of consistency in the same foul plays, as well as taking too much time. I feel the VAR is a good addition, but the implementation is problematic. We should focus on time efficiency and call the same fouls every game.


What is the offside rule in soccer?

The offside rule in soccer is a rule that states a player is in an offside position if they are nearer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender when the ball is played to them.

What happens during a corner kick?

During a corner kick, the ball is placed within the corner arc and a player from the attacking team takes a kick to restart the game after the ball has gone out of play over the goal line and not resulted in a goal.

What is a free kick in soccer?

A free kick in soccer is a method of restarting play after a foul has been committed, where the opposing team is awarded a direct or indirect free kick depending on the nature of the foul.

What is the role of the referee in soccer?

The referee in soccer is responsible for enforcing the rules of the game, making decisions on fouls and misconduct, as well as controlling the overall flow of the match to ensure fair play by all participants.

What is a penalty kick in soccer?

A penalty kick in soccer is a kick taken from the penalty mark, 12 yards in front of the goal, and is awarded following a foul committed by the defending team within their own penalty area.

What happens during a goal kick in soccer?

A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball goes out of play over the goal line after being last touched by an attacking player, and the defending team takes a kick from within the goal box to put the ball back into play.

What is a substitution in soccer?

A substitution in soccer is when another player from the team replaces a player during the game, and is typically used to bring fresh legs or tactical changes to the match.

What are some basic soccer rules that every player should know?

Some basic soccer rules that every player should know include the offside rule, fouls and misconduct, playing the ball out of bounds, the method of scoring goals, and the roles and responsibilities of each position on the field.

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