High school soccer can be as enjoyable to watch or compete in as any other level of soccer. But to appreciate it for all it’s worth, you need to understand the rules and know what is happening during a game. I’ve written this article to help out anyone looking for an overview of high school soccer rules.
High school soccer rules are based on the same rules used in professional soccer games. The most significant difference between the two is that high school soccer uses a smaller playing field and shorter games than professional soccer.
A high school soccer student that plays soccer regularly requires knowledge of the rules to perform his best. And anyone watching a game will enjoy the experience far more if they understand the rules.
Whichever camp you fall into, throughout this article, I’ll lay out the basic rules of every high school soccer game, no matter what State you’re in. And you’ll finish this article confident about what is happening in the game ahead of you.
Basic High School Soccer Rules
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the governing body for all soccer games worldwide, publishes the official soccer rules for high school soccer and professional games in a document known as “Laws of the Game”.
The document details 17 fundamental rules that determine how a soccer game should be played.
However, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the vast amount of information in this document. Sometimes just an understanding of the fundamentals of the rules is all you need.
If you are interested in exploring the rules of soccer in more depth, check out my article – The Rules of Soccer: A Beginners Guide. However, for an overview of the rules of soccer used in a High School soccer game, keep reading!
The Goalie Is the Only Player Permitted to Use Their Hands
The first and perhaps most well-known rule in soccer is – a player can’t use their hands or arms to touch the ball.
Soccer is a game where the players use their feet, head, and sometimes legs to move the ball around the field. Using one’s hands illegally during a game leads to a foul known as the ‘handball‘.
However, just because the ball touches your hands does not necessarily mean it is a guaranteed foul.
For example, if an opposition player kicks the ball into a player’s hand, the referee may judge that the touch was accidental contact, and they will allow play to go on.
A handball has to be intentional for the referee to award a free kick.
At other times, a referee may award a handball if he feels that there was a legitimate attempt by the player to gain an advantage by using their hands.
The easiest way for a player to avoid giving away a handball is simply to keep their hands down at all times. They need to avoid waving them around, especially when jumping for the ball.
The only exception to this rule is the goalie.
Both teams have one goalkeeper defending their goal from the opposition team. As long as the goalie is within their penalty area and the ball hasn’t been passed to them by another player on their team, they can use their hands or arms to touch the ball.
For more information on this, have a look at one of my related articles:
Play Restarts With a Corner Kick, Goal Kick, or Throw-In
When the ball leaves the field across the end line of the pitch (the same line the goalposts are on), play will usually be resumed via a goal kick or a corner kick.
The referee will give a goal kick if the attacking team kicks the ball out. A goalie will often take a goal kick and pass to another player on their team or kick the ball as far up the field as possible.
Conversely, the referee will award a corner kick if it is the defending that kicks the ball out.
If the referee gives a corner kick, a player takes it at the corner closest to where the defending player kicked the ball out. A player from the attacking team takes the corner kick and often plays the ball straight into the penalty area to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
When the ball crosses the sidelines, the referee will give a throw-in against the team that kicked the ball out.
Learning how to take a throw-in properly can sometimes be difficult for high school players, and they commit what is known as a foul throw. Occasionally, you might even see professional players commit foul throw-ins.
But essentially, for a throw-in, a player has to be standing still at the sideline where the ball left the field, and they must throw the ball from behind their head with two hands.
For more information on this, have a look at one of my related articles:
The Referee Will Award a Foul for Unfair Play
While soccer is a contact sport, referees may intervene and award a foul if they feel that a player was unfair in his challenge for the ball.
One important thing to consider is that bumping with an opposition player while challenging for the ball is not considered a foul, so long as the hands and elbows stay down.
The straightforward guideline to follow here is that a player should target the ball, not the player. Most of the obvious fouls occur when players kick at, push, trip, or otherwise directly target the opposition player instead of the ball.
A Free-Kick Can Be Direct or Indirect
When a player commits a foul on the field outside of the penalty box, the referee will award either a direct or indirect free-kick.
The simple difference between the two is that you can directly score (hence the name) a goal from a direct free-kick but not from an indirect free-kick.
In other words, for an indirect free-kick, the ball must touch another player before entering the goal net. Otherwise, the goal won’t count.
Referees will indicate an indirect free-kick by raising their arms above their heads. Most of the time, that arm will stay in position until the player takes the kick.
If the arm stays down, then the kick is direct. Something you should be aware of as a direct shot on goal might be the target for the opposing team.
A Player Cannot Touch the Ball Twice When Putting the Ball Into Play
One of the most common rules that I see high-school players mess up on is the two-touch rule.
Simply put, when putting the ball into play (i.e., via a free-kick or corner), a player cannot touch the ball twice. It must bounce off another player before the player can come into contact with the ball again.
You will rarely see this rule broken on the professional stage, but at high-school level, it’s not uncommon to have a kid miss or scuffle a free-kick and then take another swipe at the ball immediately after.
That is classified as a two-touch and will result in an indirect free-kick for the opponent.
The same also applies to throw-ins.
A player cannot throw the ball into the field and then begin dribbling it. It has to take a touch off another player.
This is why you may see a throw-in where a player throws the ball to a teammate who then one-touch passes the ball back to the throw-in taker, allowing him to dribble.
Other methods to get around this rule involve throwing the ball to the back of an unwary opposition player and then dribbling from the rebound. If the referee awards a throw-in, then all players need to stay alert!
Differences Between High School And Professional Soccer Rules
As I mentioned earlier, most of the high school soccer rules are the same as professional soccer, but there are two key differences. These are rules that have been adapted to reflect the lesser physical capabilities of younger players.
The first difference relates to the field of play. When it comes to youth soccer, the official rules tend to allow for smaller field sizes to accommodate the athletics abilities of younger players.
High school’s set soccer field dimensions according to the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) guidelines. A high school soccer field size ranges from approximately 55 – 80 yards wide x 100 – 120 yards long.
This is a small size compared to the standard dimensions set by FIFA of 70 – 80 yards wide x 110-120 yards long.
The second difference is the length of games.
Professional games tend to feature two 45-minute halves, with a 15-minute break in between, known as halftime. But because this can be physically exhausting for younger players to perform for that long, you may see matches that range from anywhere between 20-45 minutes in youth leagues.
High school soccer games are 80 minutes long. The games consist of two 40-minute periods with a 10-minute break between the two. Some High schools may opt for four 20-minute periods if they feel like more breaks are necessary.
Check out my article – High School Soccer Field VS Professional Soccer Field – for more information on this topic.
Are There Any Rules Regarding The Layout Of The Soccer Field?
Teams can play High School soccer games either on real grass or on artificial turf created specifically for the sport.
Real grass, or a “wholly natural field” as is defined by FIFA, takes priority over artificial turfs. But because natural grass can be challenging to maintain, especially in different seasons, most fields will opt to mix a specific type of real grass with artificial components permitted by their corresponding soccer association.
Regardless of whether the field is natural or artificial, the surface of a High School soccer game must always be green in color.
High school soccer can often be improved by simply understanding the basic rules of the game.
Knowing how to avoid giving away unnecessary fouls means giving the enemy team fewer advantages to work with.
Knowing the rules makes high school players more strategic, which is just as important as athletic ability, and also ensures the fans enjoy the game so much more.
For more information about High School and Youth soccer, check out one of my related articles: