If you’re hosting a friendly game of soccer down the park, it can last as long as everyone’s having fun, but if you want to add some structure to your games or enter a league, you’ll need to learn about official running times.
You may already be aware that a professional soccer match, as played in the Premier League or the United Soccer League, is always 90 minutes long. On the other hand, when kids first start out kicking the pigskin, a full match might only last 20 minutes.
Along with pitch sizes, match lengths increase incrementally as players grow and their skills develop. If you’re a parent of a promising player, a coach taking on the local team, or a player yourself, it’s great to know how match lengths will evolve with the team.
So, to make sure you’re fully clued-up on the parameters of the beautiful game, I’m going to run through all aspects of soccer game lengths, starting with the pro leagues.
How Long Does a Professional Soccer Game Last?
Within the “Laws of the Game”, there are seventeen fundamental rules of soccer, the 7th of which pertains to match duration. This rule states that a full-scale professional soccer match should be composed of two equal 45-minute halves, amounting to a 90-minute full-time.
These halves are to be played continuously with no clock stopping when the ball goes out of play. As there should be plenty of replacement soccer balls at the ready, it really wouldn’t make much of a difference if the referee did stop their watch when the ball was knocked to touch.
You may already be aware that between these 45-minute halves, half-time will occur. It’s essentially soccer’s version of a timeout, but it cannot be called by the coach.
This period provides the players with a chance to take on fluids, have a rest, and get rallying feedback from their coach and each other.
What you may not know is that in the pro leagues, half-time has a set duration. Strictly a 15-minute period, half-time isn’t long enough for players to completely recover from the physicality of the first half, but long enough to discuss tactics and rehydrate.
How Long is Additional Time?
Declared by the referee, additional time can be added on top of the 45 minutes of a half. Where has this time come from?
Well, although the ref’s watch keeps ticking when the ball goes to touch, if there are any other significant hold-ups such as an injured player being stretchered off the pitch, they will stop their watch.
The sum of any time accrued during these halted moments is what is added to the total duration of the half they occur in. Here are some more reasons the clocks are frozen during a professional soccer match…
- Substitutions - Multiple substitutions can be time-consuming.
- Time Wasting - If a team is holding on to a slim lead, they may try to play out the clock by, say, kicking the ball away from the area of a foul. Any referee worth their salt won’t allow this sort of unsporting behavior.
- Disciplinary Reasons - If the referee has to give players a warning or even brandish a yellow or red card, they may pause their watch.
- VAR (Visual Assistant Referee) - Should there be an event in the game that the referee didn’t have good visuals of, they may check the VAR to help with decision-making.
- Drinks Breaks - A one-minute drinks break in each half is steadily becoming the standard.
- General Delays - Any other extended delay may also lead to a stopped watch. For example, the ref might stop their watch if a player wishes to do an elaborate celebration after they score a goal à la LuaLua of Newcastle United’s 2000 squad.
Additional time is communicated by a sideline official by holding up an electronic board with the allotted time displayed, so players and observers alike know what to expect. That said, additional time can be added during this extra period if need be.
There is a little bit of wiggle room within additional time so that certain events can play out.
A penalty kick, for example, may be awarded seconds before the whistle should be blown, but a player can still take their time and finish their attempt on goal.
Once the penalty kick has been scored or missed, the whistle will be blown by the referee signaling the end of additional time.
What’s the Difference Between Additional and “Extra” Time?
Whereas additional time is added to the end of a half by the referee to make up for delays in the standard 45 minutes of play, extra time is enforced if full-time ends in a draw, and there needs to be a definitive result.
Say, you’re watching a final or even the semis. For the tournament to progress or finish, there needs to be a clear-cut winner. If after 90 minutes, it’s a 1-1 draw, the game goes into extra time.
Extra time consists of two 15-minute halves with a 5-minute half-time period between them, so all in all, extra time lasts no longer than 35 minutes.
Should extra time end in a draw, the game moves into a penalty shootout. Taking turns, the teams shoot five penalties each, and whoever scores the most wins the game. If it’s still even-Stevens after the 10th penalty is kicked, it goes into sudden death.
In this scenario, the first team to miss a penalty while the other scores, loses the game. Hypothetically, sudden death could last forever, but a player is bound to miss eventually.
Are These Timings Just for Professionals?
It’s not just professional-level soccer that abides by these timings, but most adult teams, pro or otherwise.
Smaller, non-professional soccer clubs may have trouble sourcing a full-sized pitch to play on, so although they play the same innings as the pros, the game isn’t quite as physically demanding.
As for younger teams, they won’t be expected to play quite as long. It’s not uncommon for young adults to play 70 or even 60-minute games with a slightly short half-time period. Let’s discuss these variable times in more detail.
How Long Do Kid’s Soccer Games Last?
Unfortunately, I can’t give you such a concise and definite answer to how long a kid’s soccer game will last. What you’ll find is that game length varies from league to league and place to place.
If you need to know how long a particular league’s games are, I'd recommend contacting them directly. However, you can glean a basic understanding of youth match length by checking the recommendations of the United States Youth Soccer Association, or the Football Association if you reside in the UK.
USYSA - Match Length Recommendations
The USYSA uses a table with multiple durations depending on the age of the players in the team. It provides a progression that teams can stick to as the players get older and more competent.
To ensure the health and safety of our future soccer stars, the very youngest of teams may split their games into quarters rather than halves, and each break usually lasts for 5 minutes.
6 - 8U
4 - 10-Minute Quarters
2 x 25-Minute Halves
2 x 30-Minute Halves
2 x 10-Minute Halves
2 x 35-Minute Halves
2 x 10-Minute Halves
2 x 40-Minute Halves
2 x 15-Minute Halves
2 x 45-Minute Halves
2 x 15-Minute Halves
Now, to illustrate how match durations can change depending on your location, let’s take a look at the UK recommendations.
UKFA - Match Length Recommendations
The UK’s recommendations on match length follow the exact same principles as our own. Simply put, the match equipment, location, and duration should be tailored to suit the ages of the players in the team.
Just like in the U.S. suggestions, as teams get older and develop their fitness and skills, they move onto larger pitches, larger soccer balls, and longer games.
Minimum Play Per Half
Maximum Play Per Half
As you can see from the table, the FA in the UK uses an almost completely different metric to determine appropriate match duration. Rather than giving specifics, they provide general guidelines allowing for greater flexibility when it comes to league rules.
If you live in the UK, and you’re about to get involved with a local team, as durations can differ significantly, it’s a good idea to keep up with rules and regulations as the team progresses.
There you have it, folks — all the information you could ever need about the length of a soccer game, laid out in plain English. Now no matter what level your child or team is at, you know exactly how long they’ll be playing, or at the very least, what to do to find a specific answer.
The length of a soccer match will be set to match the abilities of the teams. This keeps everyone involved safe and ensures that the game remains both fun and appropriately challenging.
Ten to twenty minutes may not seem like a long time for players to really get dug in, but for youth clubs, that’s all that’s necessary. After all, those little legs are still acclimating to the rigors of the sport.
Once your team reaches between 17 and 19, they’ll be expected to be able to play a 90-minute game on a full-sized pitch (or as close to full-sized as possible).
To make sure you’ve got the correct information for your child or team, contact anyone involved with organizing the league, and you’ll be kept in the loop.