If you want to learn how to play soccer or how to improve your soccer skills, then you’re in the right place. Soccer is a beautiful sport to watch when it’s played at the highest levels. The best advice I can give you if you’re just starting is to read this guide and practice, practice, practice.
Soccer is played by two teams of 11 players on a field, with 2 nets on either side, which the teams must get the soccer ball into, without using their hands, to score a point for their team. The most important elements of playing soccer are ball control, shooting, passing, dribbling, and defending.
Today we are going to go through the fundamentals of soccer. And at the end, I will give you several drills that you can work on at home to improve your skills.
What Is Soccer?
Soccer, also called football, is widely considered the world’s most popular sport. It is played with two teams of eleven players on each side. You can play soccer on a large grass field, or you can play it in your own backyard. The field is set up with two goals on each end. The main objective of soccer is to get the soccer ball into your opponent’s goal.
The tricky thing with soccer is that, except for the goalkeeper, you are not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. Instead, you use your feet, knees, or head to advance the ball or score a goal.
- One of the things we love about soccer is that you don’t need much equipment to get started. Basically, all you need is a soccer ball and a flat open area to play in.
- Soccer is an excellent form of exercise. There is a lot of running involved in the sport. It’s also a great test of dexterity and balance.
- When played at its highest level, soccer is beautiful to watch. It’s impressive to see highly skilled players advance the ball, strategize, and work together as a team.
- Playing a soccer game in your backyard is loads of fun.
The History of Soccer
The origins of soccer go back for centuries. But in America, soccer was first played in the late 1800s. The game that we know today first became popular in the U.S. in the 1920s. Back then, we were in the middle of an enormous manufacturing boom, and many immigrants from Europe were moving here to take factory jobs and they brought the game of soccer with them.
From 1920 to 1960, soccer dropped in popularity. But it briefly gained some of that back in the 1960s when a new professional league was formed. The National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) only lasted for one season because the American public just didn’t get excited about the sport.
That all changed in 1975 when Pele, arguably the best player to ever play the game, came to the U.S.
Pele brought with him a lot of excitement, and people tuned in to see the game. After he retired, interest in the sport waned, but it was brought back to the forefront in 1994 when FIFA decided to host the World Cup in the U.S.
After that, soccer began to catch on fire in the U.S. Major League Soccer was formed after that, and it remains popular today.
You can learn more about the history of soccer here.
Is It Soccer or Football?
To most of the world, the game is known as football. But in the U.S., Australia, Canada, South Korea, and the Philippines, it is called soccer.
The word soccer originally came from England to differentiate between rugby football and regular football. Rugby never got as popular as soccer. So eventually, the name football stood for just soccer.
Americans already had a sport called football. That’s why in the U.S. we call the sport soccer.
The Fundamentals of Soccer
When you are learning how to play soccer, there are two main things that you should focus on: the rules and the skills you need.
Purpose of the Game
In soccer, two teams are playing against each other. Your main priority is to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal to score a point. You do this mainly by kicking the ball. The ball can also bounce off your knee, chest, or head, but you can’t touch the ball with your hands unless you’re playing goalie.
In a regulated soccer game, each team has ten players plus a goalie. The players are divided into defenders, midfielders, and forwards. We’ll talk more about the positions in a minute. When you’re playing soccer in your backyard, your teams can have any number of players you want.
The game is timed and ends when the time runs out. When the game ends, the team with the most points wins.
There is also usually a referee and linesmen to keep the game fair and safe. They call things like off-sides and fouls whenever a player commits an infraction.
That’s the primary purpose of soccer. Now let’s take a closer look at the rules of the game.
You can read the official rules of soccer as put out by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) here. But if you’re someone who’s just trying to figure out the basic rules of soccer, keep reading.
The first rule of soccer is that you can’t touch the ball with your hands.
Here are the other rules that you need to know about:
You start and re-start the game with a kick-off.
The kick-off is when the ball is placed at the center of the field and kicked-off by one of the teams. You use kick-offs at the beginning of the game, after a goal is scored, at the start of the second half or quarter, and at the beginning of each period of extra time. After a team scores a goal, the opposite team will take the kick-off.
If the ball goes out of bounds on the sidelines, you will have a throw-in.
When you throw to get the ball back into the field of play, both of your feet must be planted on the ground off the field. Then you will throw the ball with both hands overhead.
Each team will have up to 10 players plus a goalie.
The team players will typically take on different positions, which we will talk about later.
The game is made up of two periods lasting 45-minute each.
In between the halves of the game, there is a 15-minute rest period. If you are playing with younger kids, then you can divide the game into shorter quarters.
You use a corner kick or a goal kick if the ball goes out of bounds across the goal line.
You will use a goal kick if the offensive team is the last to touch the ball. And you will use a corner kick if the defensive team is the last to touch the ball. A goal kick is taken from inside of the goalie box. A corner kick is taken from the corner that is closest to where the ball went out.
To restart the game after an infraction, you will use a direct or indirect kick.
For these kicks, the opposing team will stand a minimum of 10 yards away. With a direct kick, you can kick the ball directly into the goal to score. With an indirect kick, another player must touch the ball before it can go into the goal.
If a contact foul or handball is called on the defending team, then a penalty kick results.
For a penalty kick, the ball is placed on the penalty mark, about 12 yards in front of the middle of the goal. All the players will stay outside of the penalty area until after the ball is kicked. If the ball is kicked and then touched by the goalie and rebounded out, then the ball is live, and anyone can kick it.
The two-touch rule
The two-touch rule means that a player can’t touch the ball two times in a row when the ball is being put into play. This rule often gets called on kick-offs and corner kicks. It also applies to throw-ins.
Teams are penalized for fouls.
Fouls that could be called include kicking another player, tripping, jumping at, charging, striking, pushing, and holding. Usually, a direct kick for the opposing team is the consequence of a foul. But if the foul is particularly severe, then the group may be punished.
The punishment will be either a yellow or red card. Two yellow cards in the same game are equal to a red card. If you receive a red card, you must leave the game, and your team must play shorthanded.
Off-sides means that an offensive player can’t be ahead of the ball while being involved in the play. An exception to this rule is if there is a defender between the player and the goalie. Basically, it means that you can’t just hang out at your opponent’s goal waiting for the ball.
Here’s a funny video that can help you visualize these soccer rules.
The Player Positions in Soccer
There are four positions in soccer: forwards, midfielders, defenders, and the goalkeeper. There are also sub positions that you can play. Here’s a list of the sub positions and their location on the field.
- Sweeper (SW)
- Center Back (CB)
- Left and Right Full Backs (LB/RB)
- Left and Right Wing Backs (LWB/RWB)
- Defensive Midfielder (DM)
- Center Midfielder (CM)
- Attacking Midfielder (AM)
- Wide Midfielders (RW/LW)
- Center Forward (CF)
- Second Forward (S or CF)
- Striker (S)
The goalie is the one position that allows you to touch the ball with your hands, although you can only use your hands if you are inside of the penalty area. The job of the goalie is to keep the ball out of his goal. The goalie typically wears a different colored jersey than the other ten players on the team.
Goalies must be quick, agile, and flexible. They also have to be able to communicate with their teammates.
Like the goalie, the defender’s main objective is to keep the ball out of his goal. The defender’s primary mission is to stop the opposing team’s attackers from getting near the goal. Defensive players will always play close to the penalty area in front of the goalkeeper.
To stop the other team from scoring, defenders will stay behind the midfield line. They tend to be good at passing the ball, and they usually are physically bigger than the other players.
Midfielders are exactly what they sound like: the players in the middle of the field. Midfielders have both defensive and offensive responsibilities. Sometimes they are on the attack, and other times they help the defenders. Midfielders will help the forwards to score, and they will assist the defenders in keeping the ball out of their goal.
The midfielders do most of the running in the game. They are also very good at passing and holding on to the ball.
If you want to score goals, then you should play the forward position. Scoring is their primary job. During the game, the other players on the field will try to get the ball to the forwards. They are the attackers on the pitch.
Forwards are also called strikers. They need to be agile and quick, and they must be able to shoot with accuracy and power. Typically, the forwards are the fastest players on the team.
The most crucial piece of equipment that you’ll need is a soccer ball. If you’re playing soccer in your backyard, a good ball is all that you will need. We recommend either of these soccer balls as high-quality, durable balls.
Soccer cleats aren’t required, but they are a plus. They help players get sure footing as they run down the field. We recommend these Adidas Performance Men’s Ace for adults, and these Adidas Performance Conquisto Firm for kids; both are highly rated.
You will need some cones to mark off the boundaries of the field. You can also use the cones for soccer drills. A set of about 20 cones should be all you need to train and play games with.
For safety, you may want to invest in some shin guards too. We recommend these Vizari Malaga Soccer Shin Guards from Amazon. They’re light weight, foam padded, and offer excellent protection.
I find it useful to also have a trainer net and soccer goal when practicing in the backyard. To see my favorite soccer gear, check out my Recommended Soccer Gear page. That’s where I list all the equipment I now use after years of trying different things. I’ve spent a lot of time and money finding the best gear, let my efforts save you some money.
How to Play Soccer
When you’re first learning how to play soccer, there are five essential skills that you need to work on: ball control, passing, shooting, dribbling, and defending.
All these skills take practice. But the more you do them, the better player you will be.
Ball control is crucial in soccer. You should be able to take a pass and dribble without losing the ball.
When you have the ball, the opposing team’s defenders will be trying to steal it or get it away from you. This is why ball control is so critical.
This video will give some tips and examples on how to control the ball.
You will also need to use your passing skills in soccer. When you pass, it’s crucial that you can control the ball and kick it exactly where you want it. You should use the inside of your foot to pass the ball. You won’t have as much power with the inside of your foot, but you will have more accuracy.
If you are a beginner, you should work on simple passes. As you progress in the sport, you can work on slicing and hooking the ball when you pass.
You must anticipate where your teammate will be before you pass the ball. If you pass to a player who is running, then you will want to place the ball ahead of them. This way, they can take the pass in stride.
If you want to hook the ball, you will use the inside of your foot, just like a regular pass. But with a hook, you should turn your foot more forward. Aim your foot for a 45-degree angle to your target when you kick the ball instead of the normal 90-degree angle.
Slicing is a more difficult skill to master. It’s harder because you strike the ball with the outside of your foot as your leg sweeps. For slicing, you will kick the ball with a hooking motion.
You can learn how to improve your passing with this video.
Shooting is another vital skill that you will need in soccer. If you are shooting from very close to the goal, you should kick with the inside of your foot, just like you would for passing. This will ensure that your kick is accurate.
In most situations, you will have to shoot from further away from the goal. That means that you will need both power and accuracy.
To shoot from further away, you should kick the ball just to the side of your shoelaces. Keep your foot pointed down when you hit the ball, and keep your toes pointed down as you follow through.
Allow your hips to follow through after you hit the ball. By bringing your foot up and across your body, you will create more power.
This video will give examples of the different kinds of kicks and how to execute them properly.
Dribbling is another skill that you should work on. It allows you to control the ball while you’re running.
When you practice dribbling, it’s a good idea to do it at different speeds. Game situations can require both fast and slow dribbling.
The easiest way to dribble, if you’re new to soccer, is to use the inside of your foot. However, you can also dribble using your toe or even the outside of your foot.
This video will show you some techniques you can practice to improve your dribbling.
Finally, you will need to work on your defensive skills. You will have to practice this skill, but you should be able to protect your goal from an attacker.
In soccer, you must keep your eye on the ball, especially when you’re playing defense. Don’t be surprised if the attacker stops and starts with the ball. They may also try fakes, tricks, feints, or jukes. If you keep your eye on the ball, you won’t be fooled.
Another essential thing to remember when you’re defending is that you don’t want to let the ball get behind you. Always try to keep yourself between the ball and the goal.
You will also need to anticipate the dribble. After your opponent dribbles, that is a great time to step in and tackle or pass the ball toward an open teammate.
Soccer Games and Drills That You Can Play in the Backyard
All these drills will help you to improve your soccer skills. And you can practice all of them right in your backyard.
Soccer Dribbling Drills
Dribbling is one of the most beautiful things to watch in soccer. When it is done correctly, it is something to behold. If you want to learn how to skate through the defense while keeping the ball glued to your feet, then you have to practice.
Dribbling uses several different elements in the game, including ball control, running with the ball, the ability to turn, twist, accelerate, and spatial awareness.
Here are two excellent drills that you can practice in your backyard to get better at dribbling.
One way to practice your dribbling skills is to use the cones. Start by setting the cones up in the straight line with a couple of feet of space between them. Then practice dribbling the ball around and between the cones.
This drill will help to teach you how to control the ball in close spaces.
This video will show you an excellent drill that you can do with both the inside and outside of both feet.
Dribbling around cones is one way to improve your skills and technique. The difference between practicing with the cones and playing a real game is that you will have to react more quickly when you play against real players. You must learn how to move the ball out of reach of your opponent quickly.
This is why you should practice cutbacks. Cutbacks will help you to dribble the ball at tighter angles. They will also keep you from losing possession.
This video will show you some drills that you can do to practice dribbling in tight spaces with tighter angles.
The main objective of a soccer game is to score more goals than your opponent. But scoring is one of the hardest things to do.
When you play in a real game, there are many challenges that you’ll face when you’re trying to score. You’ll have defenders flying at you from all angles, a goalie closing down your window of opportunity, the noise of the crowd, and other players calling out that they are ready for a pass.
When faced with all these obstacles, you will need to know how to adjust your speed, position, and balance before you take a shot.
Here are a couple of excellent exercises that you can practice to get better at shooting.
Lay-offs, Turns, and Chest Control
These are five different drills that you can practice in groups of three. They will help teach you shooting skills, lay-offs, and short passing.
Your forwards will have a better chance at scoring if they are passed balls in the correct position. Therefore, you need to learn how to do a good lay-off. If you do it just right, your forward won’t have to adjust their stride or rhythm before they take a shot on goal.
This video will show you drills to practice for lay-offs.
Headers on Goal
While you can’t use your hands in soccer, you can use more than just your feet to control the ball. You can also use your head. For professional soccer players, around 20 percent of the goals scored are from headers.
The only way you’ll get better at headers is to practice them.
This video will show you an exercise that you can practice on your own at home. All you need is a ball and a wall.
One of the hallmarks of a good soccer team is that they are good at passing the ball. No matter what position you want to play, you will need to know how to pass accurately, even if you are playing goalie.
These drills will help you improve your passing skills.
Ideally, you want to face forward when you pass the ball. But, that’s not always an option in a soccer game. Very often, you will have to make a pass while shuffling sideways.
This drill will help you practice that shuffling while you pass the ball. In this drill, you will use both feet.
The Drive Ball
The other drills that we’ve gone over so far will help you get better at short passes. However, you’ll also need to know how to make long passes or drives. If you do it right, then the ball will go a far way without being intercepted.
This video will show you some drills that you can work on to perfect your drive pass.
It can be a beautiful thing to see a soccer team on the offense, successfully moving the ball down the field. But a great defense can interrupt that flow. The defense is what keeps the game so exciting.
Here are some drills that you can work on to improve your defensive skills.
Sometimes in soccer, pressuring is the best thing that you can do. But pressuring doesn’t work in every situation. When it comes to playing defense, you will have to understand when it’s best to pressure, when you should back off, and when you need to tackle.
Tackling is very important in soccer, but it’s not an easy thing to do. It requires good timing and practice because if you don’t do it right, you could end up giving your opponent a free kick or a penalty kick.
This short video will show you how to execute a tackle properly.
Pressuring is one of the most critical elements of defending in soccer. Tackling is also essential, but you don’t always need to make direct contact to stop an attacker. Often pressuring your opponent and shutting down their angles is enough to force a mistake.
This video will show you some drills you can work on to get better at pressuring.
The Bottom Line
Now that you have read our ultimate guide to soccer, you are ready to get out there and play. The bottom line is that if you want to improve your soccer skills, you must practice. The more time you get working with the ball, the better you will get at the sport.
I went over some good soccer training drills in this article, but there are many more awesome drills to help improve your game. Check out my top 26 Soccer Training Drills to get some more drills you can practice to up your game.