The 17 Rules of Soccer Explained (All the Laws of the Sport)

No matter whether you’re playing, coaching, or watching soccer, there’s no denying that the rules can sometimes become confusing.

This is why it is very important that you at least have a basic understanding of the sport in order to really enjoy what’s going on. 

Some people think that the rules of soccer are insanely confusing, but in reality, they are actually pretty simple.

In fact, there are just 17 rules that you need to understand in order to enjoy the sport. These rules are often referred to as the laws of soccer. 

So, if you enjoy watching soccer, but are sometimes confused by the different laws that dictate a game of soccer, then you’re in the right place.

In this guide, we’re taking a look at the 17 laws of soccer to help you get a better understanding of how this sport works. 

The 17 Rules of Soccer Explained (All the Laws of the Sport)

Rule Number 1: The Amount of Players

Without a doubt, one of the most important rules for soccer is the number of players that participate in the game. This is a fairly obvious rule, but let’s quickly go through the basics of what this entails. 

As you probably already know, a soccer game, of any kind, will be played between two teams. Each team should have 10 outfield players, and one goalkeeper, meaning that there should be 22 players on the field at the start of a match.

Of course, this is just for formal soccer games, so if you are just having a kick about with friends, there is no need to worry about the number of players who are participating. 

It is also worth noting that, just because the match begins with 22 players, it will not end with 22. The same players who start the match might not be the same at the end of the match due to substitutions (you are usually allowed 3 per team).

Additionally, some teams will end up with fewer players on the field at the end of the match due to red cards. But a formal soccer match should begin with 11 players on each team. 

Rule Number 2: The Referee’s Job

While there are only 22 players on the field at any time in a soccer game, there is actually a 23rd person on the pitch. That person is the referee. 

You probably already know who the referee is, but just to clear any confusion, they are essentially the person who is in charge of the match.

The referee is the person who officiates the match, ensuring that the game runs smoothly, the players behave, and the rules are followed.

Throughout the entire match, the referee has final authority, and it is their job to ensure players are wearing the correct kit, and the game ball is safe for use. 

The referee signals the beginning of the match with the blow of a whistle. Then it is their job to monitor time, cards given, and goals scored.

The referee is able to stop the match when they think there has been a foul, and they dictate whether any free kicks or penalties should be given (we’ll cover these later on).

So above all, it is important that all players (and observers) are aware that the referee has the highest authority on the pitch. 

Rule Number 3: The Game Ball

One rule that some people often forget about is the rules surrounding the game ball. While there are lots of different shapes and sizes of game balls available, a regulation game ball must be used for any formal matches.

So what is a regulation soccer ball?

Well, a regulation soccer ball looks just like any soccer ball as it is spherical. But, it must weigh between 410-450 grams for it to fit the regulations.

Additionally, the ball must be inflated between 0.6-1.1 standard atmospheres before it can be used in a formal soccer match. While these regulations seem very tight, most soccer balls will fit into these guidelines. 

Depending on the level of soccer that you are playing, different balls will be more suitable. Soccer balls come in a variety of sizes which are measured in numbers.

Generally adults and adolescents will use a size 5 ball, with under 12s using a size 4 ball, and under 4s using a size 3 ball. 

Rule Number 4: The Field of Play

Everything that we’ve looked at so far is very important, but perhaps the most important rule when it comes to soccer is the field of play.

This will differ depending on the type of match that is being played, but let’s take a look at the laws for a standard 11-a-side match. 

In a match that has 22 players on one field, the pitch must measure between 90-120 meters in length, and 45-90 meters in width. The lines must be level, and the touchlines should never be longer than the goal lines.

The outside of the pitch must be marked with thick white lines, and then the pitch is split in two by something called the halfway line. 

Along the halfway line, you will find a circle that is called the center circle, which is where the game begins.

Additionally, there is a flag post on each corner of the pitch to help dictate whether the ball leaving the pitch should result in a corner or a goal kick.

On each end of the pitch, there are the goal posts, in front of which you will find a smaller goal area, and then a larger penalty area.

In these areas, the goalkeeper is able to use their hands to help block any attacks from the opposing team. 

Rule Number 5: The Assistant Referees

Rule Number 5 The Assistant Referees

While only the referee is allowed on the field, they do not work alone. Instead, they have a small team of assistant referees who support their decisions from the outside of the pitch. 

The assistant referees play a very important role in the match, and spend a lot of their time running up and down both sides of the pitch. When the ball goes out of play, it is the assistant referees job to lift their flag and indicate this.

It is also their job to decide which team gets the throw-in, corner, or free kick that is awarded for the ball going into touch.

It is also their job to feed back information to the referee about any fouls or offside offenses that have occurred. 

Finally, the assistant referees are also responsible for letting the referee know when either team wants to make a substitution.

So, the coaches of both teams will communicate with the assistant referees throughout the match. The assistant referees have some influence in the match, but nowhere near as much as the official referee. 

Rule Number 6: The Game Equipment

Something else that people often forget about when it comes to a soccer match is the game equipment, and the rules surrounding this.

These rules not only cover the ball, and goal posts, they also cover the clothing that players should wear during the match.

One incredibly important rule when it comes to players' clothing is that they cannot wear anything that could cause harm to themselves or others.

For this reason, players are unable to wear any watches or jewelry during the match. This also affects the soccer boots that a player can wear as they must wear the correct studs that are appropriate for soccer. 

Finally, these rules dictate that players must wear their team’s shirt, socks, and shorts, alongside shin pads which are worn below their socks.

It also dictates that the goalkeeper must wear a team jersey in a different color to the other players, and goalkeeper gloves throughout the match. 

Rule Number 7: The Length of a Match

Moving on, another important law of soccer is the duration of the match. There is a standard length of any soccer match is 90 minutes, with this time being split into two halves, both lasting 45 minutes each. 

This length is fairly standard across all adult and adolescent soccer matches, but is usually shorter for toddler and children’s soccer matches.

In between each 45 minute half, a 15-minute break occurs to allow the players to refresh, and have a team talk with their coach and captain. 

In soccer, the clock is not stopped for injury time. Instead, the referee will add on time to the end of each half as and when required.

This is the main reason why extra time is added, but time is also sometimes added to allow for substitutions and time-wasting.

Due to this, most matches will be longer than 90 minutes, but this is the standard duration of a match. 

Rule Number 8: The Start (and Restart) of the Match

In the majority of matches, which team begins with the ball is decided with the flip of a coin.

Both captains will call either heads or tails, the coin will be flipped, and the winner will decide if their team should kick off the first or second half of the match. 

However, a kick-off does not only occur at the beginning of each half of the match. In fact, they can occur multiple times throughout the match, including the start of extra time (when this occurs), and after every goal has been scored. 

It is during the start (or restart) of play, that a player can be called out for being offside. This is why it is very important that players are on their own half of the pitch when the referee blows their whistle.

Additionally, the first kick of the ball must send it forward, and the first player to kick the ball cannot do so again until a different player has touched it.

Finally, after each goal, the team which has conceded the goal will then get to take the next kick-off. 

Rule Number 9: When the Ball is In/Out of Play

Another incredibly important rule that you need to be aware of when playing, and even watching, soccer is when the ball is in or out of play. This is actually a pretty easy rule to follow due to the way that the field is marked. 

As you already know, the outside of the pitch is marked with thick white lines. When the ball passes across either the goal line or the touch line, it is officially out of play.

The only time that it is not officially out of play is when the ball crosses the goal line into the goal posts, and a goal has been scored.

The ball is also considered as out of play when the referee blows up. Even if the ball is still in the field of play. 

Aside from this, the ball is always in play. So, unless the referee flags up that the ball is out of play, or the ball physically leaves the field, then you should assume that the ball is in play. 

Rule Number 10: The Offside Rule

Undoubtedly, one of the most confusing rules in soccer is the offside rule. It is something that even soccer players struggle to fully understand, but it really doesn’t need to be that tricky. Not when you look at the definition. 

In short, a player is considered to be offside if they are closer to the opposition’s goal post than the ball is.

They will also be considered offside if they are closer to the opposition’s goals than the opponent’s second to last player when they influence the game. In theory, this doesn’t seem like a very complex rule. 

However, when you consider the speed at which most soccer games are played, then you can understand why this can be difficult to follow.

Not only for the players and the observers, but also for the referees and assistant referees as well. This is the main reason why mistakes can be made when it comes to the offside rule, and why it is often considered so confusing. 

To make the offside rule easier to understand, it is important to remember that a player cannot be offside if they are in their own half.

So if the ball is played backward to them, or they are level with their last opponent, then they cannot be considered as offside. 

Rule Number 11: The Free Kick

Now, let’s take a look at the first of a few different kicking rules in soccer. Beginning with the free kick. Free kicks can be both direct and indirect, so let’s take a look at how they work. 

A free kick is given in response to an offense, so to begin with, the ball is placed at the location of the offense. The ball must be placed, and it must be stationary, before the free kick can be taken.

Once the free kick is taken, the same principle applies as at kick-off. So, the player who takes the free kick cannot then touch the ball until another player has touched it. 

Depending on where the free kick is taken, players might play it a little differently. If it is a direct free kick, then the player will likely take a shot at goal in an attempt to score another goal.

In a direct free kick this would be allowed. But, in an indirect free kick, the player will not be able to shoot at goal until the ball has touched another player's foot.

Otherwise, the goal will not count. In response to a free kick, the opposing team is allowed to form a wall (and this is very common), but they must be more than 9 meters away from the ball when the free kick is taken. 

Rule Number 12: The Penalty Kick

Some people get a free kick confused with a penalty kick, but these are actually two very different things.

A penalty kick is only taken when a penalty has been given against the opposing team for an offense in their penalty area. We will cover what these offenses could be shortly. 

It is the referee’s job to award a penalty, and there is only a reward to the penalty if the player scores directly from it. Due to this, there are some rules surrounding penalties, these include:

  • The goalkeeper must remain on their goal line and between the goal posts until the strike has been made. 
  • The player must kick the ball forward, and cannot touch it again until another player has touched it. 
  • No other players (apart from the goalkeeper and penalty taker) are allowed in the box. 
  • The ball must be placed on a spot and the penalty taker must be clearly identified, no other person (aside from this penalty taker) can kick that ball.  

Once the ball has been struck by the player, it is then considered back in play, so other players can enter the field.

If the penalty kick results in a goal, this is usually rewarded, unless an infraction has been made by the penalty taker and their teammates. 

Likewise, a goal that is missed will not be retaken, unless the goalkeeper or the opposing team are found to have done something wrong. 

Rule Number 13: The Goal Kick

The Goal Kick

Another type of kick that you might be rewarded is a goal kick. This is something that can confuse a lot of people, simply because it is different from both a penalty and a free kick.

But, the easiest way to tell it apart is that a goal kick is only awarded if the attacking team puts the ball out of play behind the goal line. Without scoring a goal. 

So, when this occurs, the opposition team can then kick the stationary ball from anywhere within the goal area to restart play.

It is classed as a goal kick, as the same rules apply here as with the other types of kick we have looked at. 

So, the player who takes the goal kick must get the ball out of the penalty area. If they do not do this, they cannot touch the ball again unless another player has touched it. 

Additionally, when the goal kick is taken, no opposition players are allowed in the penalty area. This is why a lot of people get goal kicks confused with both free kicks and penalty kicks. 

Rule Number 14: The Corner Kick

Finally, there is one more type of kick that we need to cover, and that is the corner kick. This type of kick is awarded when the defending team knocks the ball behind their own line, without it going into the goalposts.

So, the attacking team is given a corner kick to get the ball back into play. 

In order to take a corner kick, the ball is placed next to the corner flag, and a member of the attacking team is assigned to take the kick.

Up until the moment that the ball enters the field of play, all the opposing players must stay at least 9.15 meters away from the corner. 

It is very difficult for a corner kick to directly result in a goal, but if the kicker should get the ball into the goalposts, then the goal will count.

In most cases, the corner kick will be received by another player of the attacking team, and it will sometimes result in a goal being scored. 

Rule Number 15: The Throw In

Slightly different from the kicks that we have previously looked at, you have the throw in. A throw in is taken to restart play after a member of the opposing team has knocked the ball out of play. 

To throw the ball back into play, the player must stand with both of their feet on the ground with their front facing the pitch, and the ball in two hands held above their head. If anything goes wrong with the throw-in, then a foul might be called by the referee. 

However, in most cases, a throw in will simply restart the game. In most cases, this will not result in a goal being scored, but occasionally it will. 

Rule Number 16: Misconduct and Fouls

As we have already said, penalty kicks and direct and indirect kicks will be given in response to misconduct by an opposing player.

Rule Number 16 Misconduct and Fouls

However, there are some situations where this will not be enough to solve the issue. In which case, the referee might give a red or yellow card.

So let’s take a look at when the referee might reach for their cards.

A yellow card may be given if a player is:

  • Time-wasting.
  • Fouling persistently.
  • Not respecting the distance for a free kick or corner kick.
  • Leaving the pitch without the permission of the referee.
  • Dissenting.
  • Entering or reentering the pitch without the permission of the referee.
  • Showing unsporting behavior.

Alternatively, a red card might be given if a player is:

  • Completing serious foul play. 
  • Spitting at other players. 
  • Deliberately touching the ball with their hands.
  • Using offensive or abusive words. 
  • Being violent. 
  • Illegally preventing the opposition from scoring. 
  • Receiving a second yellow card (two yellow cards = one red card). 

If a player is red carded, they will be sent off the pitch and will not be allowed to return for the rest of the game. Depending on the offense, this punishment might extend to future games. 

Rule Number 17: The Outcome of the Match

Finally, you need to understand how the outcome of the match is decided. In most cases, it is very easy to determine who the winner of the match is, as the team who has scored the most goals will win the match. 

If an equal amount of goals is scored, or both teams do not score, then the match will result in a draw. This is generally the rule, but for some competitions, the rules might be slightly different.

For example, in some cup matches, the game will go to extra time, and then penalties, if no team has scored. 

But, in most games, the outcome of the match is decided by the number of goals scored, and the winning team will walk away with 3 points on the scoreboard for their win. While, the losing team will walk away empty-handed. 

Summary

In short, this has been a complete guide to the 17 different rules that you need to know if you regularly watch or play soccer.

So, if you want to find out more about the rules of soccer, read this guide to find out all you need to know.