Over recent years soccer has become the most popular sport for kids in Australia, with some reports suggesting there are now 3 times more participants than that of Aussie Rules Football. And still every year more and more young boys and girls are flocking to their local soccer clubs for the first time to emulate their heroes from the Socceroos and the Matildas (Australia’s senior men’s and women’s teams). While this is great for the game, it also means many parents are having their very first experience with soccer when their kids begin playing, and often have little or no knowledge of the games rules. So, to help parents who may be new to soccer we have written this article to explain some of the most important rules so you can enjoy the game and understand exactly what is happening out on the field.
OK, this first one is probably common knowledge, even for those of you who have never watched a game of soccer in your life. If the ball touches anywhere from the tips of your fingers to your shoulder during a game, a handball foul will be called. It is up to the referees discretion whether a handball foul should be called in instances where the ball accidentally touches your hand as the ball is being kicked. Now there is one player on the field who can touch the ball with any part of their body and that is the goalkeeper. Though there is one caveat. If a player from the same team intentionally passes the ball back to their goalkeeper the “goalie” cannot pick up the ball.
If the ball goes out of play at either end of the field (not the sidelines) it will result in a goal kick or a corner kick. If the attacking team kicks the ball out it will result in a goal kick. Any player from the defending team can take the goal kick from anywhere inside the “goalie box” (the smaller of the two boxes that surround the goal). *Note: If a goal kick does not make it outside the penalty box (the larger of the two boxes that surround the goal) then it must be taken again. When a player from the defending team touches the ball last before it goes over the end line of the field, a corner kick can be taken by the attacking team. The kick must be taken from the corner of the field the ball was closest to when it went out and often allows for another exciting attacking play from the opposition team.
When the ball leaves either one of the two field sidelines it must be thrown in by a player from the opposing team (the team who didn’t touch it last). A proper throw in requires the player to have both feet planted on the ground and to use two hands overhead to release the ball. For junior competitions, when players do not do a proper throw on their first attempt, they are often given a second chance.
When a player kicks, strikes, jumps at, charges, trips, pushes, spits at or holds an opponent, a foul can be called. Of course, most of these things seem pretty practical and one common way of looking at fouls is that if it looks like a foul it generally is. When another player bumps little Jane or little Johnny to the ground, as a parent, we can be pretty biased about what looks like a foul compared to when they actually do the bumping. So we need to keep a calm head and let the referee do their job in this instance. Fouls are one area of soccer where the rules are not so black and white. Even with the rulings listed above soccer can still become quite physical when two players are both competing for the ball. Players can bump and go shoulder to shoulder when going for the ball, only becoming a foul if one of the players raises their arms or elbows. Again, each referee will interpret the rules slightly different but in the end of the day they are always right!
The main difference between a direct and indirect free kick is that a team can kick directly for goal from a direct kick. For an indirect free kick, at least one other player must touch the ball before you can shoot for goal. The way to tell from the sidelines if it is a direct or indirect free kick is to look at the referee. If it is indirect the referee will hold their arm up until the second player has touched the ball, meaning they can now shoot for goal. A contact foul or hand ball will result in a direct kick. All other free kicks will be indirect.
A Penalty Kick is a direct kick that results from an opposition player giving away a contact foul or handball inside the penalty area (the large box that surrounds the goal). The difference being that the kick will be taken from the penalty spot which is directly in front of goal about 12 metres out. The penalty box must not have any defending players in it and the goalie must remain on the goal line until the ball is kicked. This means it’s basically a one on one between the goalie and the penalty taker and is a great opportunity to score a goal.
This is something that can cause many newcomers to soccer confusion. It also often does not apply to very young competitions such as under 8’s and below (but is still important to learn at a young age). First and foremost a player cannot be called offside from a goal kick, corner kick or throw in. Also, a player will only be called for being offside if they are actively involved in the play as determined by the referee…confused yet??? The easiest way to explain offside is that an attacking player cannot be closer to the goal he is attacking than the two nearest opponents. This means that when an attacking player kicks the ball, the defending goalkeeper and at least one defender must be closer to their defensive goal when the ball is kicked. I know this and some of the other rules can be very hard to understand or explain in an article, which is why it’s a good idea to talk to the coaches and support staff at you kids training, games and school holiday sports camps to get expert advice from quality junior soccer coaches who can explain the rules in detail for you.