ABC’s of Soccer

Below is a summary of some of the laws (rules) of soccer. There may be some variations for younger age groups. Besides understanding the topics below, it is important to become familiar with the Short-sided guidelines for ages 5-12.

How many players on each team?

11 players (1 goalkeeper and 10 field players) on each full sided team. Short sided games use fewer players depending on the age group.

A full sided game may not be played if there are less than 7 players on any team.

What are the positions on a soccer team?

There are four main positions:

  • Forwards (you may also hear the terms striker, attacker, wings or target players). These players usually score the most goals.
  • Midfielders (also called half-backs). These players work the hardest as they need to support their forwards up front and help to protect the goal on defense.
  • Defenders (certain defenders may also be called sweeper, stopper, left or right back, full back and sometimes even the goalie-helper). These players are usually the last line of defense for their team but they also help start the attack toward the opponent's goal.
  • Goalkeeper (sometimes called the goalie or the keeper). This is the last defender to beat but this player gets to use his hands. All the goalkeeper has to do is stop all shots on goal, risk his body against flying cleats, organize the team on offense and defense, distribute the ball well and start an attack against the other team.

How long are the games?

In AYSO, each game is split into four (4) quarters to guarantee that each player gets to play at least one half of the game. The referee stops the game approximately half way through each half to allow for substitutions.

U-19 * 90 minutes (45 minute halves)
U-16 *
80 minutes (40 minute halves)
U-14 70 minutes (35 minute halves)
U-12 60 minutes (30 minute halves)
U-10 50 minutes (25 minute halves)
U-8 40 minutes (20 minute halves)
U-6 32 minutes (16 minute halves)
U-5 30 minutes (15 minute halves)???

*Due to High School, U-16 and U-19 follow slightly diifferent rules for substitutions. (See your coach for specifics.)

When can a player use his/her hands?

As most people know, the goalkeeper is the only player who can touch the ball with his hands when the ball in the penalty area that he is defending.

The keeper can not use his hands outside the penalty area and must abide by the regular rules when outside the penalty area.

That sounds simple, but there are other conditions:

  • a goalkeeper can not use his hands if his teammate intentionally kicks the ball back to him.
  • a goalkeeper can not use his hands if his teammate throws the ball to him on a throw-in.
  • a goalkeeper must release the ball within 6 seconds after controlling the ball. The keeper will be cautioned if time is wasted.

The other field players can use their hands only when the ball is out of play, such as for a throw-in, or to set up a goal kick, a corner kick or a free kick. If a player touches the ball with his hands at any other time, the opponent will be given a direct kick.

When is a goal actually scored?

A goal is scored when the entire ball crosses the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar.

When is the ball out of bounds?

The ball is out of bounds when the ball goes completely over the sideline (touch-line) or the end-line (goal-line). If the ball is touching the line even a little bit, it is still in play.

(Note: A player may be out of bounds as he plays the ball but the ball must still be in bounds.)

Who get the ball when it goes out of bounds?

The team that last touched the ball as it goes completely over the touch-line, or goal-line, must give the ball up to the other team for the throw-in, goal kick or corner kick.

Touch-line: If the ball goes out at the side-lines, the ball is thrown in by a player of the team opposite the player who last touched the ball as it went out of bounds.


For a throw-in to be legal, both feet must remain on the ground during the throw and the throw must be delivered completely over the head with both hands (one on each side of the ball) in a smooth motion without twisting the ball. The thrower can not throw the ball to himself.

Goal Kicks

Goal-line: If the ball is put over the end-line by the team attacking, such as by a shot on goal that missed, the team that was defending gets to take a goal kick from within the goal area.

Corner Kicks

If the ball is last touched by the team defending as it goes over the goal-line, such as by a deflection by a defender or from a goalkeeper save, the team that was attacking gets to take a corner kick.

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