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Teaching The Laws of Soccer

First, you should see the summary that is part of this handbook. That discusses the major points that relate to young players. Second, get hold of a copy of the laws themselves, any local rules specific to your competition, and one of the summaries mentioned below. Third, don't attempt to teach the laws to the players and their parents all at once. Instead, discuss events that happen in your games where people raise questions. Over the course of a season, you will cover most of the laws. Here are a few tips and points that might otherwise be overlooked.

  1. Before starting, determine whether your competition will be using modified laws, or not using all of them. For example, young players often play in small numbers, without goalkeepers, direct free kicks or penalty kicks, on smaller fields with only a subset of the normal markings, and with special substitution or playing time rules.
  2. Involve the parents. They can help you considerably in teaching the laws to their kids. You might want to distribute a copy of the laws or commentary on the laws to them. Suggestions include this group's summary of questions about the laws, the booklet, "The Rules of Soccer Simplified", or the booklet, "The Laws of the Game for Coaches." (the booklets are available from Youth Sports Publishing).
  3. Take the players and parents on a tour of the field. Discuss what the markings are for. For example: Why is this little arc here at the corner? What play takes place here? When does a corner kick occur? How does it work? What's the goal area for? When is the 6-yard line important? (When the defenders give up an indirect free kick in the goal area, the ball is placed on the 6-yard line.) If covering the whole field all at once is too much for the players' attention span, do it over a few practices.
  4. What counts is what the referee thinks about the laws and the game, not what you believe you saw. Right or wrong, the referee's opinion is the one that matters, and loudly criticizing a bad referee will just make the situation worse.
  5. The ball is in play until it goes completely out beyond the outer edge of a boundary line, or the ref blows the whistle. Therefore, play to the whistle -- keep playing until the whistle blows, and remember that the referee may not always be able to see when the ball goes out.
  6. The fouls are quite simple. The main rules are: don't push, hold, trip or kick opponents (and don't even try to); don't use your hands on the ball; play the ball, not the man, and be careful of the safety of all the players. The goalkeeper has a few special rules which you should explain if they apply in your league.
  7. For a goal, throw-in, goal kick or corner kick to be awarded, the ball must pass completely over the line, either in the air or on the ground. A throw-in is in play when the smallest sliver of the ball "breaks the plane" of the outer edge of the touch line.
  8. On goal kicks, the attackers must be entirely outside the penalty area, and nobody can touch the ball until it entirely leaves the area. The ball can be placed anywhere in the goal area or on the line -- it doesn't have to be placed in the hole at the corner.
  9. On free kicks, the defenders can for a wall between the ball and their goal (but they must be 10 yards from the ball), while the attacking team can take the kick quickly, before the wall is set up (unless the referee instructs them to wait). Both teams should watch the referee -- if he's holding an arm in the air, it's an indirect kick, otherwise direct. Just touching the ball with a foot will be considered by most referees to be the same as kicking it, and the ball will then be in play.
  10. A corner kick is simply a direct free kick from the corner arc; in other words, a goal can be scored directly from a corner kick.
  11. A few laws apply specifically to the penalty area. On a goal kick or free kick taken by the defenders from within their own penalty area, the attackers must vacate the area, and the ball isn't in play until it has entirely left the area. If your team commits a "penal foul" (see Law 12's list of direct free kick fouls) within your own penalty area, the opponents get a penalty kick.
  12. To teach offside, set up some situations on the field. Because a soccer ball can be a distraction, get a parent to be "the ball." When you get to the stage of using drills to reinforce the points you've made, 3v2 situations with a single fullback and a keeper can be very useful.
  13. Soccer games often run a little beyond the scheduled length. The referee is supposed to add time to allow for time lost through substitutions, injuries and other unusual situations.
Updated 26 March 1999
Overview | Principles | Resources | Guidelines | Practices | Game Day | Very Young | More Reading