Kickoff Guide: Understanding How a Soccer Game Starts and Unfolds

You’re about to step onto the pitch, the crowd’s roar in your ears, the anticipation is palpable. But before you can kick that ball and start the game, there’s a certain protocol to follow. Soccer, like any sport, has its own set of rules and rituals that dictate how the game begins.

From the initial coin toss to the kick-off, each element plays a crucial role in setting the stage for the match. It’s not just about getting the ball rolling; it’s about setting the right tone for the game. So, let’s dive into the exciting world of soccer and uncover the secrets of how a soccer game starts.

Key Takeaways

  • A soccer game commences with a set of processes and rules, including an initial coin toss and kick-off, which are crucial to setting the right tone for the match.
  • Furthering your understanding of soccer’s rules and the roles of each player enhances the viewing experience and cultivates an appreciation for the sport’s technicalities and strategies.
  • Recognizing the different phases of a soccer game – the Opening Phase, Mid-Game Phase, Closing phase, Reopening Phase, Second Half Mid-Game Phase, and End Game Phase – can provide invaluable insights into the strategic aspect of soccer.
  • Familiarity with the protocols for soccer restarts, including throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, free kicks, penalty kicks, and dropped balls, adds depth to your understanding of the game.
  • The referee plays a crucial role in starting a soccer match, performing key duties such as the coin toss, initiating the kickoff, and ensuring all players adhere to the game’s rules. This highlights the value of fairness, respect, and integrity in soccer.

Understanding the Soccer Game Basics

Cementing your soccer knowledge begins with comprehending the rudimentaries of the game. Sustaining an appreciation for the on-field action partially relies on your understanding of the basic rules. Grasping why a referee blows a whistle or why players move in a particular pattern enhances your viewing experience and exponentially increases your passion for the sport.

In soccer, two teams, each constituting eleven players, face off in a bid to score more goals than the opposing team. A match lasts 90 minutes, divided into two 45-minute halves. Goals get scored when a player propels the ball across the opponent’s goal line, within the goal frame. Referees ensure fair play and adherence to rules, making significant decisions on penalties, free kicks, and corner kicks. Familiarize yourself with the field dimensions as well, which measure 100-130 yards lengthwise by 50-100 yards widthwise.

Examining the roles of players on a soccer team furthers your knowledge. Goalkeepers guard the goal area, hinder the opponents from scoring, and are the only players allowed to touch the ball with their hands, but only within their goal area. Defenders, placed right in front of the goalkeeper, protect their goal from the attacking team. Midfielders control the game, recover possession, and distribute the ball to the attacking team. Forwards, or strikers, are the frontline troops seeking to score goals.

Yellow and red cards stand as symbols of misconduct in the game. The referee issues a yellow card as a warning. If a player receives two yellow cards in a single match, they translate into a red card, leading to immediate expulsion.

Soccer thrives on skill, strategy, and a dash of unpredictability. To comprehend the early moments of a match better, gaining a fundamental understanding of these game basics is crucial. So, next time you watch a game, remember these basics and enjoy each kick of the ball.

How does a Soccer Game Start?

Starting a soccer game involves a set of processes and rules sanctioned by the International Football Association Board (IFAB). It’s essential to understand these elements to fully comprehend the game, even before the players kick-off.

First, the referee performs a coin toss. The team that wins the toss decides which goal to defend, and the other team kicks off to start the match. This routine guarantees fairness and impartiality at the beginning of every soccer game.

Second, the starting whistle comes into play. Following the coin toss, a short blast from the referee’s whistle signals the official start of the game, indicating the commencement of the first 45-minute half. The half-time interval lasts 15 minutes. Following this break, the teams switch ends and a second whistle marks the start of the proceeding half.

Third, the kick-off begins in the center circle. The ball must roll forward at least its own circumference and is decided by another team if the first one decided which goal to defend. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the opposing team members must maintain a minimum distance of 9.15 meters during the kick-off, as per IFAB rules.

Fourth, the restarts come into focus. In soccer, certain situations call for a restart of the game, not unlike the initial kick-off. These instances involve goal kicks, corner kicks, free kicks, and throw-ins. For example, a goal kick happens when the attacking team sends the ball over the defenders’ goal line, while a corner kick occurs when the defending team knocks the ball over their own goal line.

Remember, a firm grasp of these starting rules leads to a deeper appreciation for the technicalities of the sport, making you more than just a casual fan, but rather, a true soccer enthusiast. And that’s just the beginning of the match, with so much more drama, skill, and excitement to unfold in the ensuing play.

Different Phases of a Soccer Game

You’ve now gained a solid grasp of the basic elements of soccer and the starting rituals according to IFAB rules. Let’s dive into an often overlooked yet integral aspect of soccer: the different phases of a game.

On a macro level, a typical soccer game comprises two 45-minute halves separated by a 15-minute halftime. You can further break down these halves into certain distinct periods. Recognizing these periods can surely provide you with invaluable insights into how soccer games pan out strategically.

To begin with, there’s the Opening Phase. As the name suggests, this phase indicates the initial part of the match. Teams usually set the tone of the game during this stage. It’s also the time for sizing up the opposition and establishing dominance or control.

Next is the Mid-Game Phase. As the energy from the game’s start starts to wane, teams look to gain the upper hand in this phase. Patterns of the game become clearer, and the tactical acumen of teams is put to test.

The Closing Phase follows, culminating the first half. Teams might adjust their tactics here, considering the game situation. For instance, if a team leads, it could take a more defensive approach trying to maintain the scoreline until halftime.

We then encounter the Reopening Phase. With halftime insights from coaches, teams return to the field with renewed strategies. This stage is notably characterized by changes in the rhythm and dynamics of the game.

Subsequently, there’s the Second Half Mid-Game Phase. This period mirrors the mid-game phase of the first half, as teams continue to maneuver to gain an advantage.

Lastly, as the end of match looms, the End Game Phase takes place. Here, teams push for a win or seek to preserve their lead. This stage is often marked by intense action, exposing the mental mettle of the teams involved.

Understanding these phases lends you, the viewer, an advantage in comprehending the fluidity and tactical changes in a soccer match. Moreover, it enriches your appreciation for the sport, highlighting its similarity to a strategic game of chess coated in physical prowess and skill.

Restarts in Soccer

When the ball goes out of play in soccer, a restart brings it back into the game. FIFA’s Laws of the Game (LOTG) dictate soccer restarts. Known as “set pieces,” these specific situations require different techniques and strategies.


Throw-ins occur when the ball leaves the field on the sidelines. The team not responsible for the ball exiting the field performs the throw-in. Conducting this — both your feet on the ground and both hands on the ball, with an overhead throw — ensures a legal throw-in.

Goal Kicks

Opposition shots missing the goal resulting in the ball leaving the field over the end line, excluding the goal mouth, grant your team a goal kick. Your goalkeeper kicks the ball from anywhere within the goal area.

Corner Kicks

If your team last touched the ball and it crosses the end line, excluding the goal mouth, the other team gets a corner kick. They position the ball inside the arch marking the corner area, from which it’s kicked back in play.

Free Kicks

Free kicks constitute direct and indirect kicks. They’re awarded after fouls or technical infringements. For a direct free kick, the kicker can score a goal without the ball touching another player. Contrarily, for an indirect free kick, another player must touch the ball before a goal.

Penalty Kicks

Infringements within the penalty area by your team result in a penalty kick for the opposition. It’s taken from the penalty spot, with only the goalkeeper allowed to prevent the ball’s direct course towards the goal.

Dropped Ball

A dropped ball happens when the referee stops play due to unanticipated interruptions like injuries, outside interferences, or if the ball becomes defective. Upon resolving the interruption, the referee drops the ball to resume play.

Understanding these restart protocols highlights the fine art and strategic elements of soccer, reinforcing it as a game of tactics, technical skill, and rules. By knowing these, you’ll deepen your understanding and enjoyment of the beautiful game.

The Role of the Referee in Starting a Soccer Game

Revered as the match’s ultimate authority, the referee has crucial duties during the initiation of a soccer game. FIFA, the sport’s governing body, codifies these responsibilities in its ‘Laws of the Game’ document. From these protocols, three key tasks emerge that a referee executes to kick-start a football match: the coin toss, the kickoff, and monitoring the players.

The initial task of the referee involves the coin toss, the determinant of the team that commences the game. Conducted in the center of the field, the toss includes both team captains, and it’s the referee who flips the coin. The outcome gives one team the choice of which goal to attack or whether to kick off first.

Following the coin toss, the referee takes charge of the kickoff. Initiated by a player chosen by the coin toss’s winner, the official ensures that all participants are in their half of the field, with the opposing team keeping a distance of at least 9.15 meters from the ball. Once the referee blows their whistle, the ball’s set in motion, marking the game’s formal commencement.

Lastly, the referee maintains a vigilant eye on the players, ensuring everyone respects the game’s rules. Even before the kickoff, the official checks each player’s equipment, excluding any individual with non-regulatory gear. For instance, a player can’t play with an unsafe piece of equipment, like a watch or a piece of jewelry.

Hence, when you watch a soccer game next time, notice the referee’s authoritative figure right from the get-go. Their pivotal roles ensure the game starts with the right spirit and on a level playing field, encapsulating soccer’s inherent value of fairness, respect, and love for the game.


So there you have it. You’ve now got a clear grasp on how a soccer game kicks off. From understanding the roles of players, the strategic dynamics, to the various restart protocols, you’re now equipped to appreciate the sport on a deeper level. You’ve also learned about the pivotal role of the referee in ensuring a fair and respectful start to the match. All these elements together make soccer a thrilling game of tactics, technical skill, and rules. So next time you watch a match, you’ll not only enjoy it, but also understand why and how each move is made. This knowledge will undoubtedly enhance your love for this beautiful game.

Understanding how a soccer game starts and unfolds is crucial for both players and referees. Newton Girls Soccer emphasizes that the referee ensures fair play by signaling kickoffs and monitoring penalties. The U.S. Youth Soccer Coaching Manual offers guidelines for coaches to refine pre-game preparations and strategies, setting the foundation for a fair and exciting match.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the essence of understanding soccer protocols?

Understanding soccer protocols helps enhance appreciation for the sport as it highlights the strategic components of the game. These protocols govern different aspects of the game, from player roles, game dynamics to restarts like throw-ins and goal kicks, making soccer a unique blend of tactics, technical skill, and rules.

What are the different restarts in soccer?

There are various restarts in soccer like throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, free kicks, penalty kicks, and dropped balls. Each is governed by FIFA’s Laws of the Game and is instrumental in shaping the flow and strategy of the match.

How is strategic gameplay highlighted in soccer?

Strategic gameplay in soccer is highlighted through its various restart protocols. Understanding these allows viewers to see soccer as a game of tactics and technical skills, enriching their enjoyment and understanding of the sport.

What is the role of the referee in a soccer match?

The referee is responsible for ensuring a fair start to the match. Their duties include conducting the coin toss, authorizing the kickoff, and monitoring player behavior throughout the game. The referee’s role reflects soccer’s core values of fairness, respect, and love for the game.