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How to Play Soccer: Basics, Rules, Positions, & More

soccer ball in middle of soccer field

From England and France to Brazil, Mexico, the United States, and beyond, soccer is the international sport that brings countries together like no other. A spirited competition with a wide-ranging fanbase, soccer’s basic gameplay makes it easy for people of different cultures and backgrounds to follow. If you’ve ever heard the symbolic cry of “gooooaaaaalllll!!!” and wished to learn more, you’ve come to the right place. Tag along, we run through how to play soccer, soccer positions, soccer FAQs, and much more. 

What to Know About Soccer

What is Soccer & How Big is a Soccer Field?  

Soccer, as it's called in the United States, is a dynamic sport played between two teams, each consisting of 11 players, on a rectangular grass or turf field with goals at either end. Regulation soccer fields range in size but are usually 110-120 yards long and 70-80 yards wide. Known as football around most of the world, some version of the game has existed for centuries, with official competitions dating back to the 1800s. The objective has remained the same since then: score goals by maneuvering the ball into the opposing team's net using any body part except the arms and hands. 

How Long is a Soccer Game & How to Play Soccer

A soccer game is divided into two halves, typically 45 minutes each, with a brief halftime interval. If the game is tied after 90 minutes are complete, more time is added on. Each game half starts with a kickoff at centerfield, giving one team offensive possession of the soccer ball. During the game, teams must use ball control, movement off the ball, and spatial awareness to pass, defend, and score the ball. 

When a team is on offense, teammates work together to advance the ball through the field and create scoring opportunities. On defense, players try to stop the opposing team's attempts and regain possession of the ball so they can take their turn trying to score. The last line of defense is a goalie, who stands in front of their team’s goal to block shots with any part of their body, including their hands. If players on offense can get the ball past the opposing goalie, they score a point, or goal, for their team, pushing closer to victory.

diagram of soccer field

Pickleball is another sport that’s all the rage right now. Check out our article, “What is Pickleball and Why is it So Popular?” to learn more about it.

Soccer Positions

Each position has its own set of responsibilities and roles on the field. While formations and player roles may vary depending on team strategies, these are the key soccer positions you'll encounter when watching or playing: 

  • Forwards: Also known as strikers or attackers, forwards are tasked with scoring goals by capitalizing on scoring opportunities, making runs behind the defense, and pressuring the opposing team's backline. Players who are wingers on defense can play a similar role on offense alongside central, left, and right forwards. 
  • Goalkeeper: The last line of defense, responsible for stopping shots on goal and organizing the defense. 
  • Defenders: These players aim to prevent the opposing team from scoring by intercepting passes and stopping attempts. Depending on their role and position on the field, these players are more specifically referred to as center back, fullback, left winger, and right winger. 
  • Midfielders: Situated in the middle of the field, central, defensive, attacking, and wide midfielders serve as the engine of the team, linking defense and offensive attacking, controlling possessions, and distributing the ball to their teammates. 

Baseball is America’s favorite pastime. Want to learn how to play baseball? Check out “Batter Up! A Baseball Guide for Beginners.” 

young child kicking soccer ball and learning how to play soccer

Soccer Words & Lingo

Soccer has its own unique language, filled with terms and phrases that may be unfamiliar to newcomers. Here are terms to help you speak the language of soccer:

  • Pitch: The playing surface where the game takes place. 
  • Dribbling: Players moving the ball with their feet while maintaining control. 
  • Shot: When a player attempts to kick the ball into the net. 
  • Assist: When a player kicks the ball to another player who scores a goal. 
  • Save: When the goalkeeper prevents the ball from passing through the goalposts. 
  • Corner Kick: A set shot taken from the corner of the field, awarded to the attacking team when the ball goes out of bounds over the goal line. 
  • Yellow Card: A disciplinary sanction shown to a player by the referee for unsporting behavior or other infractions. Two yellow cards result in a red card and expulsion from the game.
  • Offside: A rule designed to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage by being closer to the opponent's goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender at the moment the ball is played. 
  • Stoppage Time: Extra time added onto a game to account for substitutions, injuries, and other stoppages, as determined by the game’s officials. 
  • Extra Time: Two 15-minute halves added onto the end of tied games. 
  • Free Kick: When, following a violation, the team that the penalty occurred against gets a direct shot at the goal, with defenders and the other team’s goalie trying to block the shot.  
  • Penalty Kick: When, following a serious violation, the team that the penalty occurred against gets a direct shot at the goal, with only the other team’s goalie able to block the shot. Penalty shootouts are used to determine winners after games are still tied at the end of extra time. 

soccer ball being scored through goal

Learn How to Play Sports Beyond Soccer

Soccer is a popular game that’s enjoyed around the world—and now you know how to play soccer. However, while everyone else calls soccer football, Americans have a football game of their own. Read our post, “Football Guide: What Do All Those Calls Mean?” to get the low-down on American football calls, rules, positions, and more. 

Soccer FAQs

How long is a soccer game?

Soccer games are typically 90 minutes long. They’re split into two 45-minute halves, with extra time added to the end to account for injuries, substitutions, or tie breaks.

When was soccer invented?

The general idea of the game of soccer has existed for centuries, but the modern game was first played in England in 1863. 

Who invented soccer?

The inventor of soccer is a highly debated topic. The earliest evidence of the game dates to second and third-century China, where their military would kick a ball in a game called “Cuju.” 

What is a hat trick in soccer? 

A hat trick is when a soccer player scores three goals for their team in the same game. 

What is offsides in soccer?

Offsides is a soccer violation that occurs when an offensive player is closer to the goal than any defensive player except the goalie when the ball is passed. 

When is soccer season? 

Start dates vary depending on location and league. In the United States, Major League Soccer (MLS) begins in February and ends in December. In Europe, many professional leagues start in August, with some stretching into May of the following year. 

How many players are on a soccer team? 

In professional leagues and tournaments, soccer teams can include up to 23 players. In almost all forms of regulated competition, 11 players are always on the field for each team.