It takes a number of years to learn how to play soccer. I first played with friends at school and at home and we had our own simple rules – get the ball in the net! Having fun is the most important thing when you are playing soccer, enjoy yourself.
How do I play soccer? You need to know some of the basic rules of the game and then learn the techniques of using the soccer ball – control, kick, tackle, dribble, head and taking a set-piece.
In this article, I will guide you on all of the important skills you need to have to be able to play the game of soccer, plus there are advanced tips that will give you the edge. Videos can show you some things, but words explain it. The article goes into detail for every step, so grab a comfy chair and learn how to play soccer.
- How To Play Soccer: Rules
- 1. Start of a Game
- 2. After A Goal
- 3. Half Time
- 4. End of A Match
- 5. Fouls
- 6. Yellow Cards
- 7. Red Cards
- 8. Pass Back
- How To Play Soccer: Control
- How To Play Soccer: Kicking
- How To Play Soccer: Tackling
- How To Play Soccer: Dribbling
- How To Play Soccer: Heading
- How to Play Soccer: Juggling
- How To Play Soccer: Set Pieces
How To Play Soccer: Rules
1. Start of a Game
Before a match a game start, the direction the teams play needs to be decided. The captains and the referee will get together and a coin will be tossed, the winner will decide which direction they will face in the first half (if there is a strong wind it is best to have your back to the wind and hope it’s not as strong in the second half).
The teams will stand in the half where their goal is, they are defending. The team that lost the coin toss, will kick off the match by placing the ball on the spot in the center of the field – the ball is passed back into your own half.
Note, the old rules had two players in the center circle, one to tap it into the opponent’s half and the other player would continue – now that rule is obsolete, you only need one player starting the match. From there, each team will advance into the opposition half to try and advance with the ball.
2. After A Goal
When a goal is scored and the players celebrate, all players will return to their own half. The kick-off procedure is the same as it is for the start of a game. Sometimes a goal can be scored on the whistle for half time or full time, in this case, there will be no need for a kick-off to take place.
3. Half Time
At half time, the referee will blow the whistle to signal the game has ended for half time. When the referee whistles for a foul or stoppage, there is one blow of the whistle and for half time two. For a pro’s match, there will be a 15-minute break for the players to rest and get instructions from the coach.
4. End of A Match
At the end of the match, the referee will blow the whistle 3 times. This will be after extra time is added on for injuries and stoppages. When the whistle is blown the players will shake each other’s hand, along with the officials as a sign of respect. The players will then return to their coach and be given compliments and advice.
A foul is given against a player when they obstruct, kick or the hand/arm touch the ball. If a player blocks an opponent without going for the ball it is obstruction. If you kick a player when you are trying to tackle, it is a foul (a foot can touch another player’s leg and not be a foul, it needs to be an obvious disadvantage to the opponent.
6. Yellow Cards
General fouls will go unpunished, but if you commit a number of them you can receive a yellow card. Yellow cards are also given if you foul when the opposition is making a promising break to your goal. Pulling a jersey will get you a yellow card along with an intentional handball.
If you show disrespect to the referee/staff/players and fans, this can get your name in the ‘book’. Youth games will normally see fewer yellow cards than a pro match because the referee will be lenient due to miss-timing or not knowing.
7. Red Cards
Two yellow cards will get you a red card and you will have to leave the field for the rest of the game. Players are sometimes fined money and suspended for following games depending on their offense. A red card will be given if you cause a risk to injure a player by being reckless.
This can be if you slide tackle from behind, slide tackle with your studs showing, elbow a player or raise your hand and strike a player’s face.
8. Pass Back
The pass back rule is introduced in most leagues from under 9’s, but this can vary. If a player passes the ball back to their goalkeeper, the GK is not allowed to pick the ball up, they kick the ball but. If the pass was unintentional the GK can pick it up.
This rule was introduced to keep the game flowing because it slowed down the game. If the GK does pick up the ball from a pass by a player on the same team, a free kick is awarded (this will be from wherever the ball is picked up/handled).
For the pros, an indirect freekick is given, which means if you shoot from the free-kick and scored the goal will not be given, so another player needs to touch the ball after the kicker. The indirect freekick rule is not always used in youth soccer – be sure to ask the referee if it happens in your game.
How To Play Soccer: Control
The most simple way is to let the ball hit you and as silly as this may seem, you can do this is many cool ways. One of my favorite players when I was younger, used to let the hit his bum as he bent over it. Another example is from Ronaldinho, he has passed the ball by letting hit his back! He angled his back to get it directed to his teammate.
A couple of simpler methods include putting your foot on the ball but the most used one is by turning your foot so that the inside of your foot cushions the ball. If you keep your leg too stiff the ball will bounce away, so keep your foot a little loose so that your foot becomes like a sponge on skills the ball.
When the ball is coming towards you, it is best that you stand facing the ball with your feet at an angle, which will allow you to move your feet to control the ball when it is a yard or two away and you know where it is going to land. Have your favorite foot open for the ball to hit the inside of your foot, which allows to control it easily or allows you to make a first-time pass.
Trapping a bouncing ball requires good timing. You need to time the trap so that it is when the ball is closest to the ground. If you try to trap the ball any more than three inches from the ground, the ball can easily bounce away from you.
When the ball is close to the ground you need to quickly stamp your foot on it. Practice this at home, simply by dropping the ball – you can trap it on the first or second bounce. To make it harder, throw the ball into the air.
12. In The Air
The foot: if the ball is going away from you stretch out your leg and curl the toes in your cleats upwards – this movement of the toes creates a slight curve which allows controlling the ball easier. If the ball is coming towards you, turn your foot outwards so your inside foot is shown and have your cleats at a 45-degree angle to the ground to trap control it in the air.
With both methods, allow your foot to be slightly loose so that you cushion the ball. The chest: If the ball is coming directly towards you, keep your chest straight and tuck back your shoulders, so that there is more strength to your chest. When the ball is coming from above, get in position to where the ball is going to land at the height of your chest.
Lean your head back and open your chest to allow the ball to land on your chest. The head: A cushioned header is required to stop the ball in the air. This is the same technique required to control the ball with the foot. Get in the correct position under the ball and relax your head and shoulders – this will cushion the power of the ball.
Imagine if the ball was to hit the goal post, it would rebound off, but if the posts were not fixed to the ground it would cushion the power. For all of these steps, after you’ve cushioned it, prepare your next move by getting behind the ball ready to pass it or dribble.
How To Play Soccer: Kicking
The most common and easiest way to touch a soccer ball is with the inside of your foot. This is used for all aspects of the game – passing, dribbling, and shooting. This is done with the ark of your foot – the hardest part. Your leg needs to be at an angle so that you are not just twisting your ankle.
It will take time for your muscles to adapt. When starting out, players use their toes to kick the ball along, but make sure you have strong footwear, otherwise, it can bend back your toenails!
The easiest and most accurate way to pass a soccer ball is with the inside of your foot. Have one foot firmly planted into the ground and the other one will swing towards the ball. The swing of the leg is important – if the swing is loose of going in different directions in the swing, it can cause the ball to go away from the target.
When the foot contacts the ball, keep the ankle and foot firm to get a ‘clean contact’. You need to hit the ball in the center of the ball or just underneath. If you hit the ball at the upper point, your foot will go over the ball and cause the ball to have topspin. Passing can be done with any part of the body.
The most important thing is for the moving part of the body to be aiming in a consistent direction towards the player you are passing too. Image a golf club and the swinger – the angle needs to be aligned towards the hole with a firm grip, for the put to go straight.
To chip the ball, you need to get your foot underneath the ball. There are two ways of doing this. 1. With the inside of the foot, the ball will be connected with the upper end of the toe. So you will swipe your foot, like a side pass but the connection area of your foot will be different for a chip.
The blades of your cleats need to sweep through the turf. (avoid trying to get too much under the ball, you can kick the ground – which is painful!) 2. The laces: Angle your feet towards the ball and swing your leg, so that the toes go towards the ball. Point your toes down slightly, so the foot gets underneath the ball. Again have the studs of your blades brush along the turf to get under the ball.
This is my favorite technique because it makes them do a backspin. Back spins help the ball to float in the air better, plus when a back spinning ball hit the ground if does not run away from the player that you are passing it too, also if you try to chip the keeper, the spin of the ball will pull it down from the air.
The best two ways to shoot are 1. With power and 2. With accuracy. If you are outside of the penalty box, you need power and if there is a good goalkeeper in goal, you need accuracy as well. The most important thing all soccer coaches say is, get it on target. Give the keeper something to think about and there is a possible bonus of a deflection off of the GK, which will give a chance for a rebound.
When you are shooting in practice it is best to aim for the corners. Once you get accurate at shooting, you can increase the power – but first must come the technique. There are some occasions when a power shot will be the best option, when there is a crowd of players or when you are close to the keeper – a power shot will give the GK no time to react.
Place the ball with the inside of your foot and when you become better you can attempt to curl the ball. To curl the ball, use the inside of your foot towards the toes and as you strike the ball the term ‘wrap your foot around it’ is used. As you hit the ball your leg arches around the ball on the right of the ball if you’re a right-footer.
The laces are used mostly getting power into a shot. For this, you need to tilt the foot towards the ball, so that the laces of your cleats hit the ball. Make sure to follow your leg through with a good swing to get the most power.
Clearing the ball is a defensive term for getting the ball away from the danger zone. Any of the ways mentioned will clear the ball, but most commonly you will need power and height. The most important thing is to clear the ball away from the goal area, so there is less risk of a goal threat.
You can simply pass the ball out to the touchline to give the opposition a throw in – this is better than conceding! Ideally, when you clear the ball it will go into an area where the striker is so that you have a chance of a counterattack.
Safety does come first when playing soccer, but if you panic and clear the ball when you don’t need to, you give the ball back to the opposition and lose possession. As a famous commentator said, you can’t score when you haven’t got the ball!
A volley is a term used when you kick the ball that is off of the ground. Two terms for this are, a half volley, this is when the ball has bounced off of the ground and a volley which normally comes from another player. As mentioned in the side foot section, you can volley with a side foot.
This is a great way to pass a ball quickly when it is bouncing and it is easier to put it in the air because you need less power to do so. The most lethal volley is with the laces. Keep your foot straight towards the ball and flick the knee to the ball, keeping your ankle firm to generate power.
To make the volley low, curl your toes down to the ground and to volley like a pro you need to use your arms to give you balance, this allows you to generate power in your volley.
19. Back Heel
This is where you get fancy! A backheel can catch the opponents off guard. Sometimes you’ll be in a situation where your back is to the ball and heeling the ball is the quickest way to play. To heel the ball you need to swing your leg back and connect with the center of the ball.
To generate the most amount of power, connect with the ball when your leg is moving at its fastest point in the swing. For a pro back heel, heel the ball when it is bouncing – this is fun to do as you can generate a surprising amount of power. For a super pro move, heel the ball just off-center and you can actually curl the ball!
How To Play Soccer: Tackling
20. Not Being Afraid
When you are just starting out in soccer, it can seem a bit rough! All is done under the rules and supervision of the referee, so be strong and stand strong. The best piece of advice is to have your feet firmly placed the ground with your legs apart a little and toes pointing outwards.
You may have noticed that in soccer, there are tall players and short ones. People may think that taller players are the strongest, but being short has its advantages. A short player has a low center of gravity, which means they are more stable.
Wear shin pads, this is the place where you feel contact the most – the shin pads I use are ones that have ankle support attached. Some shin pads I think are too short. Be comfortable in your soccer gear and be brave.
A poking tackle is the safest way to tackle but keep your position. With other tackles, you can lose balance, or let the opponent past if you don’t win the ball, but a poke keeps the player on the back foot. When you do a poke tackle, have a look at your opponent and see when they take their eyes off of the ball.
You need to be patient and time it correctly. When the player takes a lookup to see teammates or the goal – now is your time to poke. When you do poke the ball, stretch out your leg and use your toes. For a perfect poke tackle, you will poke the ball to a teammate. If not, you can clear it a little or just enough to put your opponent off, so they have to take the ball backward.
A shoulder tackle is allowed, but a barge is not. So you cannot just run into a player with your shoulder, you need to do it shoulder to shoulder. Some players are too strong to even think of doing this too, but it is possible if you catch them at the right moment. If their feet are set, keep your position and wait until they are relaxed in the upper body or mid-spring in a sprint.
The best way to do a standing tackle is to use the inside of your foot. Make sure you can connect with the ball cleanly. Be in a good position where you are between the opponent and the goal and keep your ankle and foot firm.
If you get a strong connection and you push through there is a chance the ball will be knocked out into open play, making it now a 50/50 ball. A standing tackle is also a poke tackle, but by using the side foot you have more chance of regaining possession.
A few years ago it was easier to slide tackle without being in danger with the referee, but now if you miss time the tackle you can easily be shown a yellow or red card. When you do slide tackle, make sure that you don’t slide towards the player with your studs showing – this can cause an injury to the opponent and get you sent off.
A slide tackle is best done using the laces of your cleats. This can be done when you are side by side a player or just behind them. If the opponent is to the left of you, you need to use your right foot and if they are to your right, use your right foot. When you are running, spring into the slide and sweep your leg towards the ball. Make good contact with the ball to clear it.
For a pro slide that not many players can do, hook your foot around the ball to keep possession and stand up with the ball at your feet while the opponent is on the ground. Be careful if you are slide tackling on artificial turf, it can be painful and cause burns. It is best to do it when you are on a natural turf.
One of the most important ways to tackle is with a block tackle. This tackle is used to block a pass or block a shot. Be on your toes ready for the opponent to strike the ball. Keep an eye on the angle the foot is, this will give you an idea of the direction that the ball will be heading.
The block tackle can be done standing on your feet but also as a slide tackle, in a last-ditch attempt to block by raising your leg if the shot is high.
How To Play Soccer: Dribbling
Use the toes to dribble forward by angling your foot towards the ground a little and pushing the ball forward a little in front of you. Just do it gently at first so that you don’t lose control of the ball.
When you do dribble with your toe, you have the option of going left and right, so it is a good way to face an opponent when attacking. Then when you do decide to go one way or the other, use your inside or outside of the foot to change direction.
27. Inside Foot
The inside of the foot dribble is the easiest one to do. Open your foot out so that the inside of your foot is facing towards the ball. So your standing foot will be straight and the dribbling foot will be angled. Dribble with the inside foot if you are preparing to strike the ball in the same position – this is the best way to get your body in position.
28. Outside Foot
When you dribble with the outside of the foot it is just where your little toe is. This type of dribbling is best for example when you are left-winger, using your left foot so that the ball is a little further away from your opponent. Use the outside of your foot to take the ball away from the defender.
29. Dribble Like Messi
Messi is the best player on the planet at dribbling and the key to it is that he can go in all directions, this is what the defenders hate the most – not knowing where the attacker is going.
To be like Messi you need to master the three dribbling techniques above and be able to quickly tap the ball in the direction you want to go in. Although Messi is short, he has strong powerful legs that allow him to spring in any direction – his center of gravity is low as he bends his knees when dribbling.
How To Play Soccer: Heading
30. Head or Not
If it hurts your head, it is best not to head the ball until you are older – some balls are very heavy and can really hurt! The modern are lighter than they used to be, making it easier to head without any pain. Sometimes the ball is coming to you from high, you can judge where the ball is going to land and get behind it and play with your feet.
31. Without It Hurting
The strongest part of your head is your forehead, so if you get a good connection in the right place it won’t hurt. Practice with a friend some headers – stand close to each other and gently loop the ball in the air.
Practicing will give you the confidence to head the ball without it hurting. A type of header that is unlikely to hurt is a flick, so when the ball comes in you just flick it with the top of your head – causing the ball to go in a slightly different direction.
32. Not Being Afraid
It is important to keep your eyes open when you head the ball so you know where you will connect with it. Use your neck muscles to generate power in the header and practice leaps to increase your jumping height. Develop the muscles in training so that you feel strong and confident – this will ensure you are not afraid to head the ball.
33. Header Types
Clearance: Connect with the ball at the top of your forehead where there is a slight angle. The angle on the top of your head will cause the ball to go up in the air – which is important for clearing the ball.
Downward: Get your head above the ball and connect on the upper part of the ball – this will cause the ball to go downwards. You can use this as a pass or shoot. When you are shooting with a header, pull your neck back and push it forward when the ball reaches you – this will generate a lot of power. It is very hard for a goalkeeper to save a header that is aimed towards the ground.
How to Play Soccer: Juggling
Juggling with your feet in soccer is also known as kick-ups. When you try to juggle, curl your toes towards the ball – this creates a better landing shape on your feet and makes it easier. First make sure to only kick the ball in the air to your waist, if the ball is too high it is harder to control.
This is a drill that players can do on their own, so practice at home. Set yourself targets and count the number of times you do it. Use both feet so that you have to balance between both feet.
Juggling with your knees does come in useful some game games where there ball lands near your knee when you’re competing for a ball. When you juggle, bring your knee up so that the upper leg is horizontal – this will keep the keep straight when you knee it up. Move your knee up and down to get momentum and use your standing leg to twist or hop if needed.
Juggling with the head is the hardest of all – it’s easy when you kick it up to your head and head it back down. To use your head only, throw the ball up in the air and bob up and down with your eyes looking straight up. Keep your head as straight as you can, just enough so that you can see the ball. Use a light ball so that there is less chance of head pain and stop if you feel any pain.
How To Play Soccer: Set Pieces
To take a throw-in you can stand behind or on the line from the sideline. You must use both of your hands. The ball must be released when the ball is behind the head or over it. If the goes over the head and in front of the player when the ball is released, then a foul throw is awarded and the throw is given to the opponents.
Youth referees are not as strict as the pros if you release the ball past your head. You cannot throw the ball to yourself, another player need to touch it before you can, plus you cannot throw the ball at a player. Normally the fullbacks will take the throw-ins and if there is no player free to throw it to, throw it down the touchline towards a teammate.
To throw it as far as possible, take a run-up and release the ball when stop – moving the ball from behind the head on the last step and release when the ball is over the front of the top of your head.
38. Goal Kick
Any player can take a goal kick. Sometimes a defender might have a better kick than the goalkeeper, so they may take the kick or the GK may be injured. A goal kick is given when the ball goes behind the goal, last touched by the attacking team.
The ball is placed inside the goal box/6-yard box and kicked out of the penalty area. The opponents must leave the penalty area when the goal kick is being taken. Some coaches like to play it out from the back, others like to get the ball forward.
Make sure the ball won’t be intercepted by an opponent when taking the kick. If you are kicking long, aim for a tall or strong player up the pitch or an area where your team has more players.
When a foul is awarded by the referee, the referee will point to the place where the free-kick is to be taken from. The opponents must stand at least 10 yards away from the ball. Wait for the signal from the referee for the kick to be taken and whenever the ball is touched, it means the ball is back in play.
Have two players lined up to take the kick to the keeper and do not know where the ball is going. Try and get the ball over the wall or hit it with power to where you can see the goal.
40. Corner Kick
A defending team touches the ball out behind their goal, so the referee awards a corner kick. Again, the opponents are required to stand 10 yards away from the corner. Cross the ball into the box to give your teammates a chance to score.
Aim to cross the ball head height to the edge of the goal area. If the goalkeeper catches it, aim for the penalty spot next time.
41. Penalty Kick
Penalty kicks are taken from the spot marked inside the penalty box. The distance from the goal varies for each age group. The pros take a penalty from 12 yards away. No players apart from the goalkeeper and taker are allowed in the penalty area until the ball has been kicked.
The goalkeeper must stay on the line until the ball is kicked. The GK is allowed to move along when the kick is being taken. The bottom corner is normally the best place to aim the ball. Don’t give the goalkeeper any clues to where the ball is going until it is kicked. Make sure you get it on target with power.
Follow-up from the kick in case of can rebounds. Showing the inside of your foot to one side of the goal and changing it at the last second can make the GK think it is going in the opposite corner.