Soccer 101

New to soccer? Want to learn the basics? Mystified by some phrase or term you might have heard on the field, but didn't want to ask? Welcome - these pages are for you!

Soccer (or as the rest of the world calls it - football) is, at it's basic level - a simple game to grasp - use your feet (mostly) to get a ball into the net.

That description works well at the U4-U8 level, but watch any soccer match beyond those age ranges and you will quickly realize there is a lot more going on - fouls, throw ins, handballs, goal kicks, corner kicks, direct free kicks, indirect free kicks - and - the most confusing of all - offside!

These pages will try to give you a high level understanding of the intricacies of the game, and provide links for you to explore if you want to learn even more. We hope with this information, you can become a more informed fan and parent, and enjoy the game even more!

The Field

The field (or as it's called everywhere else - the pitch) is where the game is played. Knowing the parts of the field is the first step to understanding the rules of the game. Not all youth fields will have all these markings, but as the field sizes increase with the age of the player, more and more will appear.

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Parts of the Field:

  • Touch line - NOT a sideline - the easy way to remember this name is if the ball goes over this line, the players touch the ball with their hands to restart (throw-in).

  • Goal line - 3 outcomes if the ball passes over this line - 2 if the ball does not end up in the goal:

    • If the offensive team last touches it, then the play is restarted with a goal kick.

    • If a defensive player last touches it, the play is restarted with a corner kick.

    • If the ball completely crosses this line, and it's in the goal, it's a goal!

  • Center Spot - the ball is placed here at the start of the game, start after halftime, and after each goal.

  • Center Circle - the team without the ball at any of the Center Spot restarts cannot be inside the Center Circle until the ball is kicked.

  • Center Line - divides the field in half. Players on opposite teams must not cross this line on restarts from the Center Spot until the ball is kicked.

  • Corner Arc - on a corner kick restart, the ball must be kicked from inside this arc.

The area around the goals have multiple markings. Depending on the age of the players, some or all of these markings may be present. The dimensions will also be different for the various age appropriate sized fields, but many times the full size names may be heard (6 yard box, 18 yard box, etc.) to refer to these areas.

  • Penalty Area - this larger area (on full size fields, 18 yards out from the Goal Line) serves multiple purposes:

    • The area defines where the goalkeeper may touch the ball with his/her hands. The goalkeeper may leave this area to play with their feet like any field player, but if they touch the ball with their hands outside the Penalty Area it is a foul.

    • If the defensive team commits a foul on an offensive player in this box, the referee can award a Penalty Kick.

    • If a Penalty Kick is awarded, all players except the goalkeeper and the kicker must stand outside this area until the kick is taken.

  • Goal Area - this smaller area inside the Penalty Area may not exist on smaller youth fields. It's primary purpose, besides giving goalkeepers a reference point, is that the ball must be placed inside this area to restart from a Goal Kick. Because it extends 6 yards from the goal line, it is commonly referred to as the "6 yard box."

  • Penalty Spot - if a Penalty Kick is awarded, the ball is placed on this spot for the attempt.

  • Penalty Arc - during a Penalty Kick, all players must be 10 yards from the ball. Being outside the Penalty Area is enough in most areas, but in the middle of the Penalty Box, it's actually closer than 10 yards, so the Penalty Arc comes into play only during a Penalty Kick. Fouls in the Penalty Arc do not result in a Penalty Kick.

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Field Sizes

Field sizes are proportional to the size and age of the players. The following chart gives the average size of each field size by age range. These sizes can be larger or smaller depending on local conditions.

For reference, a standard NFL football field is 120 yards long, and 53 1/3 yards (120 feet) wide. A full size soccer field is significantly wider, but many fields built in existing American football stadiums are narrower than the standard because the construction of the stadium predates the need for soccer games to be played on the same field.

The Ball

Soccer balls come in various sizes, proportional to the size of the player using them. Technically, balls come in sizes from 1 to 5, but for organized play, only the size 3, 4, and 5 balls are used. Size 1 & 2 balls are sometimes referred to as skill balls, as they are not used in organized games, but they are useful for developing foot skills. The following chart explains the age ranges for each size:

Hint - especially at younger ages, pay attention to the weight of the ball. While most soccer balls are marked "official size and weight", many cheaper (and sometimes not so cheap!) balls, even from the big names, fall outside the circumference and weight limits. If you have a simple kitchen scale, you can weigh a properly inflated ball. Playing with a ball that's significantly too heavy can hurt a young, growing foot, and make it harder to enjoy the game.

Also - check that the ball is properly inflated. A ball with too much air hurts to kick, while one with too little air makes it harder to control. You should be able to push in about 1/4" to 1/2" inch with your thumbs if you hold it and squeeze. Using a needle gauge to inflate to the lower end of the recommended p.s.i. range as marked on the ball is the most accurate way to inflate a ball.

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The Laws of the game

The rules (technically referred to as The Laws of the Game) are broken up into 17 areas, or Laws. What follows is only a summary of the most important points - for a full reading of the Laws, refer to the FIFA Laws of the Game website. Additionally, BYSA uses some modified rules for youth play as set forth by Middlesex Youth Soccer that may differ from the FIFA laws.

These modifications include:

  • No heading of the ball until U14. If a player heads, or attempts to head a ball, the play is stopped, and the other team is given an Indirect Free Kick from the spot of the foul.

  • When a goalkeeper throws, punts, or drop kicks a ball after he/she picks up the ball, the ball cannot cross the halfway line in the air. If the ball crosses the halfway line in the air, play is stopped, and the other team is awarded an Indirect Free Kick at the halfway line.

  • If the play is restarted by a Goal Kick (U10 and younger), the defending team must retreat beyond the halfway line, and may not cross it until the ball is in play. The kicking team does not have to wait for the opposing team to fully retreat before taking the kick, but it is their option to wait, or play. If they do not wait, the ball is in play per the standard of Law 16: The Goal Kick

  • U10 and younger - No Penalty Kicks (Law 14) shall be awarded. If a foul occurs inside the Penalty Area, the ball will be placed outside the Penalty Area, parallel to the goal line closest to where the foul was committed. A Direct Free Kick from that spot will be awarded.

Law 3: Number of Players

In youth soccer, the number of players increases along with the size of the field, and the age of the players. Currently, BYSA uses the following size teams on the field:

  • Pre-K, K (U4-U6) - 4v4, no goalkeepers.

  • Grade 1/2 (U8) - 6v6, including goalkeepers (1 keeper, 5 field players per side)

  • Grade 3/4 (U10) - 7v7, including goalkeepers

  • Grade 5/6 (U12) - 9v9, including goalkeepers

  • Grade 7/8 (U14) and older - 11v11, including goalkeepers

LAW 9: the ball in and out of play

The ball is out of play when it completely passes over the goal line or touchline. Imagine that the white lines on the field extend up into space - ALL of the ball must be outside that line. A ball resting on the line is considered in play, as is any ball that strikes the goal posts, corner flags, or referee and stays within the goal line or touch line.

Law 11: Offside

For the new soccer fan, the offside rule is the most difficult to understand, and with good reason! With so many moving players and parts, it can be hard to determine offside without training and careful attention to the run of play.

The technical description is: a player is offside if they are on the attack, is ahead of the ball AND the second to last defender (including goalkeeper), on the attacking half of the field, at the time the ball is kicked. Got it? Of course not. It's complicated. Thousands of words have been written to try and explain the offside rule - but 1 or 2 videos are much more effective. Both of these videos are 2 minutes or less: Offside Video 1 and Offside Video 2

LAW 12 & 13: Fouls and Misconduct/Free Kicks

The referee and assistants are the judge and jury on all matters that occur on the pitch, and are tasked with enforcing the laws of the game. Fouls are called when a player or team violates one of the laws that control the play of the game. There are 2 categories of fouls that result in 2 different types of free kicks (Law 13), and on top of that, for serious infringement of the laws, the referee may issue a yellow or red card to a player.

Fouls resulting in an Indirect Free Kick

An goal cannot be scored directly from a Indirect Free Kick without a second player touching the ball first. If the ball enters the goal from an Indirect Free Kick without touching another player, it is no goal, and the other team is awarded a goal kick to restart play. Fouls that result in a Indirect Free Kick awarded to the opposing team if a player, in the opinion of the referee, commits any of the following three offenses without contact to the opposing player:

  • plays in a dangerous manner

  • impedes the progress of an opponent

  • prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands

  • commits any other offense, not previously mentioned, for which play is stopped to caution or dismiss a player

An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, commits any of the following offenses:

  • takes more than four steps while controlling the ball with his hands, before releasing it from his possession (rarely enforced)

  • touches the ball again with his hands after it has been released from his possession and has not touched any other player

  • touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a team-mate

  • touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate

Fouls Resulting in a Direct Free Kick

A goal may be scored directly from a Direct Free Kick - another player does not have to touch the ball before it enters the net. Fouls that result in a Direct Free Kick are usually more serious in nature, and include the following six offenses in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • kicks or attempts to kick an opponent

  • trips or attempts to trip an opponent

  • jumps at an opponent

  • charges an opponent

  • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent (red card)

  • pushes an opponent

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offenses:

  • tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball

  • holds an opponent

  • spits at an opponent (red card)

  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

In addition. a player (or coach) may be shown a Yellow (caution) or Red (eject) card if the following is true:

Yellow Card

A player or coach is cautioned and shown the yellow card if he commits any of the following seven offenses:

  • is guilty of unsporting behavior

  • shows dissent by word or action

  • persistently infringes the Laws of the Game

  • delays the restart of play

  • fails to respect the required distance when the play is restarted with a corner kick or free kick

  • enters or re-enters the field of play without the referee's permission

  • deliberately leaves the field of play without the referee's permission

Red Card

A player or coach is sent off and shown the red card if he commits any of the following seven offenses:

  • is guilty of serious foul play

  • is guilty of violent conduct

  • spits at an opponent or any other person

  • denies an opponent a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

  • denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player's goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick

  • uses offensive, insulting or abusive language

  • receives a second caution (2 yellow cards) in the same match

A player that is sent off for a Red Card cannot be replaced, and his/her team must play shorthanded for the rest of the game.

Law 14: The penalty kick

If a foul is committed in the Penalty Area, the referee may award a Penalty Kick. All the players except the kicker and the goalkeeper must stand outside the Penalty Area and Penalty Arc. The ball is placed on the Penalty Spot. The goalkeeper must remain on the Goal Line until the ball is kicked. Once the kicker starts his/her run to the ball, the kicker must not stop moving until the ball is struck. Once the ball is kicked, players may enter the Penalty Box, and the ball is live.

Law 15: The throw in

If the ball crosses the Touch Line, the game is restarted by a Throw In. A player from the team that did not play the ball over the Touch Line picks up the ball, and with both hands, throws the ball over their head into the field. Both feet must be in contact with the ground, and must remain outside the field - they may touch the line, but may not cross it. The opposing team must remain 2 yards from the player taking the Throw In.

law 16: the goal kick

If the ball crosses the Goal Line after being last touched by an attacking player (and does not go into the goal) then play is restarted by a Goal Kick. The ball is placed anywhere within the Goal Area and is kicked into play, usually by the goalkeeper, but any player may take the kick. The ball may now be played inside the Penalty Area by the kicking team (new Spring 2020), but all opposing players must be outside of the Penalty Area when the ball is kicked.. The kicker may not touch the ball again until another player has touched the ball.

U10 and younger - the opposing team must retreat to the halfway line before the kick is taken, although if the kicking team wants to kick it before all the players have retreated to the halfway line, the ball is in play.

Law 17: The Corner Kick

If the ball crosses the Goal Line after being last touched by a defensive player (and does no go into the goal) then play is restarted by a Corner Kick. The attacking team places the ball within the Corner Arc on the side the ball went over the Goal Line, and kicks the ball back into play. The kicker may not touch the ball again until another player has touched the ball.

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