© 1998 jointly in the following individuals: Jim Geissman, David Graham, Jim MacQueen, Connie Matthies, Jim Meinhold, Chris Mohr, Gary Rue, Ken Smith, Dave Teetz, Ron Tremper, who are together known pseudonymously as the SOCCER-COACH-L LOTG COLLECTIVE

Law 2 - The Ball

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FIFA rules say the ball has to:

  1. be spherical (round, you guys!);
  2. be made of leather or other suitable material;
  3. be no more than 28 inches nor less than 27 inches around (which is the size of what we know as a Size 5 ball);
  4. weigh no more than 16 oz (one pound) nor less than 14 oz at the start of the match;
  5. be inflated to between 8.5 and 15.6 lbs per square inch...approx 1.1 atmospheres at sea level.

If anything happens to the ball during play, a new one must first be approved by the referee and the match is restarted by a drop ball, if it was in play, or by whatever restart would be appropriate if it was out of play. FIFA says a ball has to be approved by FIFA to be used in match play.


There are balls of many sizes. There are small size 3 and size 4 balls for youth play, and even smaller "speed" balls for training. There are weighted balls for indoor play and keeper training. The most important thing is to know which size is appropriate for the use to which you are going to put it! Local rules usually specify which size will be used for given age groups.

Materials also vary. So do methods of construction. It is generally accepted that hand-sewn leather balls with latex internal bladders provide the nicest feel during play, everything else being equal. Weather and skill can affect these things. A more skilled team will generally prefer a "hard" ball--one inflated to FIFA maximum. A team with a low degree of skill will usually prefer a "soft" ball...even one which is under-inflated by the rules standards. Cold weather can cause a ball which was properly inflated to become soft, and it can cause non-hand-stitched balls to feel "hard"...synthetic materials used to make molded balls becomes stiff when cold. In wet weather, a hand-sewn leather ball without a coating can soak up water and soon weigh a whole lot more than one pound...not fun to head! Fortunately, the very best balls are hand-sewn leather with a very thin plastic coating which keeps them from picking up water, but which does not get hard and stiff when cold.

Some people have claimed that the "FIFA Approved" stuff is nothing more than a fund-raiser for the sanctioning body. Manufacturers must meet specifications, but must also pay a fee, to use the approval. By forcing everyone to use "FIFA Inspected" balls, the organization is in effect taxing everyone who plays in sanctioned matches. But it's a small price to pay. It probably doesn't make the balls better, but maybe it helps keep club fees down in the very, very, very long run.

Questions about the ball

2.01 Why do soccer balls have those multi-colored panels?

Because picking up the spin is very important to good play. The multi-colored panels make it easier to see the spin, and they are allowed by the LOTG.

2.02 How can I tell if my ball is properly inflated without a gauge?

If you hold a ball head-high and drop it on firm ground, is should bounce back up waist high. Experienced coaches and referees can tell by squeezing a ball if its inflation is within standards. When pressed, the ball should give about the amount from the tip of the finger to the top of a clipped fingernail -- about 1/8 in -- and feel comfortable without feeling soft. Under-inflated balls also make a characteristic dull sound when kicked---sort of like smacking a piece of meat on a counter.

2.03 How can I tell if my ball is round?

Toss into the air with spin on it. It should rotate evenly. If you detect a wobble, you've probably got an out of round ball.

2.04 We were awarded a penalty in a recent game. When our player took the penalty kick, the ball burst, and even though the deflated ball went into the net, the referee made him retake the kick. He couldn't stop laughing and missed his second attempt, and we ended up losing the game. Was the ref right? It doesn't seem fair.

Unfortunately for your team, the referee was quite right. If a ball becomes deflated or bursts during play, play is stopped and restarted with the new ball at the point where the ball first became defective, which means a goal cannot be scored with a burst ball, i.e., if a player kicks the ball with such force that it bursts but the remains go into the goal, the apparent goal will be disallowed and the game restarted with the new ball at the point where it was kicked. Presumably the referee thought that the ball was not actually in play when it burst, i.e. he thought the ball had not yet moved, because if a ball bursts while in play, the match is restarted with a drop ball.

2.05 We don't have any FIFA approved balls; is it OK to use the ones we have?

As long as your match is not a "FIFA Competition", you can use any ball which meets the specifications laid out in Law 2 (see the Thumbnail or the text of the law for details). In the interests of fairness and safety, you should definitely avoid using balls which are noticeably out of round, have missing or defective panels, are too large for your players or are over- or under-inflated, but other than that, you should feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

2.06 Are there any types of balls that I should specifically avoid using?

Any ball which could be deemed unsafe (see previous questions for examples) should be avoided. Many people try to avoid balls which are produced with the use of child labor by using balls from manufacturers who guarantee that their products are made by adults, but it is very hard to be absolutely sure of the origin of any soccer ball.

2.07 Sometimes as coach, either I or the opposing coach have become dissatisfied with the game ball, either before or during the game. What rights, if any, do coaches or players have to get the game ball changed to a different ball?

So long as the ball in use meets all the standards under the LOTG, none. The referee is the judge of all facts concerning the game, including whether the ball being used is sufficient. Often, local league practice is that the home team provides the ball, which does offer some minor opportunity for gamesmanship as to the "feel" and inflation of the ball chosen. Nevertheless, all decisions as to which ball will be used are up to the referee, not the coaches. Coaches should never attempt to change game balls or change the inflation of the game ball without the referee's prior approval during the game! This could be considered sneaky misconduct which could get the coach expelled from the field if the referee is incensed enough.

Here's some constructive suggestions:

  1. When the referee asks "who has the game ball", even if you are the visiting team, have two or three suitable balls ready for use as game balls. Suggest to the referee that s/he pre-approve at least two different balls to be kept ready along each respective touch line so less time will be lost chasing balls gone down embankments, rolling across the next field, etc. Let some adult or kid spectator chase the old ball, and let the players play with a new ball. Most officials will in any case want a spare ball handy at the half-line on at least one side of the field in order to expedite restarts.
  2. Good referees will look over the proposed ball carefully, testing it by spinning it, bouncing it, and pinching in a bit with the thumb, and use their own pump to do a final adjustment on the ball for inflation. It will not hurt if possible under the circumstances, when the referee asks "who has the game ball", to send an assistant to politely observe the referee ball-testing process and ask to feel the ball for themselves. Most referees will not take offense to comments like "feels a bit hard / soft", and may adjust the air a bit, so long as no one makes a pest out of themselves (not worth it).
  3. If the ball is becoming heavy on a wet field, or the ball appears to be out of round and wobbling, referees are often receptive to a polite suggestion to change balls. Similarly, the referee will often be open to suggestions at half-time that the ball has become a bit flat and will test the ball and apply a few pumps of air if they agree it's needed.

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Law 2

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Updated February 26, 1998