Soccer Mom Basics…the game of soccer (or “How not to look like an idiot at your kid’s game”)

Soccer (or football or futbol) is a relatively simple game that grows a bit more complicated as the age level increases.  The official rules were devised in London back in 1863 by a group of clubs who formed the Football Association (FA) and they called them “The Laws of the Game.”  You don’t need to know all those rules to be a great soccer mom or dad, but you do need an idea of what is happening.

If you’re just starting out, here are my top 10 basics…

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Soccer is played on a grass field (or pitch) which varies in width depending on the age level.The field size increases at age 10 while the under 10s play on a smaller field. Each side of the field has a goal. Play begins on the half line with one team starting with the ball.

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Soccer balls also come in varying sizes and are usually made of leather over a rubber skin. The under 9s through under 13s play with a size 4 ball.  Over U13 play with a full size 5 ball.

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The only required equipment for players are cleats (or boots if you’re British) and shin guards along with a jersey and shorts.  (Awesome…I don’t know how those Hockey Moms keep track of all that stuff!)

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The numbers vary in different leagues, but for California club (competitive) soccer U9 & U10 teams play eight players on a side, while U11 and above play eleven players on a side.  This means ten field players and one goalie.  Most teams carry 2-6 extra players in order to have substitutes or in case of injury.

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The coach is in charge of the team.  He/she is the only one allowed near the center line of the field and the only one the players should be listening to.  He/she will be in charge of substituting players and telling them what to do.  Coaches are not allowed on the field unless asked by the referee.

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Games (or matches if you want to sound really knowledgeable) are divided into two halves with a half time in-between.  For players under 10, the halves are usually 25 minutes.  By the teenage years and beyond, matches have 45 minute halves.

Unlike American football, there are no time outs or stoppage of play. Sometimes time is added on for injuries, but the clock never stops running during the half.  Also, the clock counts up, not down.

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The aim of the game is to score goals by shooting the ball into the goal. The goalie’s job is to try and stop the ball from going into the goal.  Each goal equals one point.

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Players on the field are not allowed to touch the ball with their hands or arms at any time.  The only person on the field allowed to pick up the ball is the designated goalie who is visible in his/her different color jersey.  Field players do get to pick up the ball and throw it when it goes out of bounds off the other team.

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Is there any more thankless job than being a referee?  Referees keep track of the time of the game and enforce the rules.

On the small fields there is usually just one referee.  On the larger fields there is one center referee with two assistant referees on the sidelines.  Sometimes parents are asked to be the side referees.

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A few experienced soccer mom words to the wise…

As your son/daughter moves up in soccer you’ll see that there are many more rules that can be confusing.  Most difficult to figure out is the offside rule.  You’ll frequently hear parents yelling “She’s offsides!” and many times they have no idea of how the offside rule actually works.  (See that?  If they really knew what they were talking about they would call “offside” rather than “offsides”)  I’m not exactly sure I completely understand the rule myself, but I think that’s a whole different post.

I recommend keeping your mouth shut until you, well actually I recommend always keeping your mouth shut!  Cheering your kid on from the sideline is wonderful…shouting at the referee and coaching is not.  Let your kid play, the coach coach, and the referee ref!  I usually try to abide by this rule…but I cheer REALLY loudly.  So Cal Soccer Dad doesn’t always like to sit next to me.  Be a good example for your kid and let them know that you are their biggest fan…not an insane, crazed parent screaming at the ref- or worse.

Hope this helps you soccer newbees!  Want to read more?  Here’s some great sites…

On the Pitch

Basic Soccer Rules 

Kids Play Soccer

If you’re really serious…FIFA Rules of the Game

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