Soccer, also known as association football or simply football, is a sport played with a spherical-shaped ball by two opposing teams whose players' purpose is to drive a ball into the opposing team's goal as many times as possible. Football, called soccer, is different from the football, also called American football, played in the United States and in other countries.


The primary purpose of soccer is to drive a ball into the opposing team's goal so that at the end of the game (match) the team with the most points wins the match. Soccer also helps one to stay in good physical shape and fitness.

Beninese children play a game of soccer in Bohicon, Benin, January 2017. Soccer is a sport that can be played virtually anywhere because it requires very little equipment besides a ball and some sort of goaltender's net or area to defend.

Beninese children play a game of soccer in Bohicon, Benin, January 2017. Soccer is a sport that can be played virtually anywhere because it requires very little equipment besides a ball and some sort of goaltender's net or area to defend.


In the twenty-first century, soccer is considered to be the most popular organized sport played in the world. It is estimated that over 250 million soccer players participate in the game in over 200 countries.


Soccer as it is recognized in the twenty-first century evolved through the ages from games played by kicking a ball. The earliest known kicking game is documented in a Chinese military manual from around the second or third centuries B.C. The modern rules of soccer are founded on the various forms of football played in England as early as the eighth century, and organized formally by the English in the nineteenth century. The “Laws of the Game” for soccer were first developed in England by the Football Association in 1863. Over the years, the game of soccer evolved so that today it is governed internationally by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA, in French stands for the Fédération Internationale de Football Association). The premiere event for soccer in the world is the FIFA World Cup, which is held once every four years.


The field

Soccer is played on a rectangular field with measurements of 100–120 yd (91.4–109.7 m) in length and 60–80 yd (54.9–73.2 m) in width. The middle of the field lengthwise is divided in half by the midfield line. In the center of the field (centered at the halfway point of the midfield line) is a center circle, with a radius of 10 yd (9.1 m). This circle may not be entered into by defending players during the start of a kickoff. The field is composed of natural grass or artificial turf.

PELE (1940–)

Peĺe grew up with a love for soccer. His parents could not afford a soccer ball so he kicked a sock filled with rags. At age eleven, one of Brazil's top players discovered him and trained him in secret. When he was seventeen, Peĺe was the youngest player in the World Cup tournament and he gained global attention by his awesome performance. Brazil had never won a World Cup before, even though soccer was very popular in the country. Peĺe's performance made him a national superstar.

Before his twentieth birthday, Peĺe had scored more than 400 goals. His love of the game was evident. He would shake the hand of the goalkeeper who stopped his shots, or salute the spectators when he scored a goal.

Peĺe's father told him to quit soccer when he was still on top, and Peĺe retired at age 34. He had scored 1,280 goals in 1,362 games.

The ball

The ball, called a football or a soccer ball, is a spherical ball that is approximately 28 in (71 cm) in circumference. Two teams of 11 players play on the field. A captain is appointed each time, whose responsibility is to participate in the coin toss before a kickoff at the beginning of the game or for penalty kicks during the game.


The only player position recognized by the Laws of the Game is the goalkeeper. However, over time, certain informal positions, called outfield players, have been created. Forwards, or strikers, are used primarily to score goals. Defenders have the mission to prevent opponent players from scoring goals. Midfielders try to take the ball away from opposing players when they are in possession of the ball and also attempt to pass the ball to their forwards when their team controls the ball.

These outfielders are also divided according to the portion of the field they play. For instance, the central defenders play the central portion of the field, while the left midfielders play the left side of the middle part of the field. Even though these positions have been created, players are allowed to move between various positions during the match, oftentimes depending if they are trying to score a goal (offensive) or are trying to defend their opponents from scoring (defensive).

All players, except the goalkeepers, are only allowed (during the play of the game) to use their feet to kick the ball or their bodies or heads (what is called “heading”) to hit the ball as it flies through the air. They are not allowed to use their hands or arms except when throwing in the ball when restarting game play, as when it is necessary after a penalty play.

The game
Calf muscle—
The fleshy part of the back of the leg located below the knee.
The most common type of traumatic brain injury.
Groin muscle—
The muscle between the top of the thighs and the abdomen.
One of two main tendons of the muscles behind the knees.
The thigh muscle.
Shin splints—
An aching, painful condition of the shin bone.

The team that scores the most points at the end of the match wins the game. If the score is tied at the end of the regular match, then the game is declared a draw (tie), or the game continues into extra time or will be decided by a penalty shootout—such a conclusion is decided before the game begins.


Warming up before playing soccer is essential. Muscles will be much more prepared to work if they are warmed up before soccer begins. Five or so minutes of light exercise will prepare the body for the demands inherent in soccer. Stretching exercises are also recommended during the warm-up routine. However, stretching should be done after other exercises so muscles are not injured. After playing soccer, spend another five minutes to cool down. Light exercises or walking helps to restore the body to its resting state. Stretching afterward is also recommended.


Soccer injuries range from minor ones (just aches and pains) to more serious ones (such as concussions and broken bones). Some of the most common injuries caused by playing soccer are head concussions; broken arms, legs, ankles, wrists, and noses; and sprains and tears to various muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Injuries to parts of the leg are the most frequent occurring injury in soccer. Specifically, knee injuries are the most frequent injury of the leg, followed by those of the ankle. Lateral (inside ligaments) sprains are more common than medial (outside ligaments) sprains, although both occur on a regular basis. Other injuries include strains to the calf muscles, hamstrings, hip-abductor (groin) muscles, quadriceps, anterior and posterior cruciate ligament (ACL/PCL); and shin splints. Common injuries to the head, neck, and shoulder include concussion; shoulder fracture, separation, or dislocation; whiplash or neck strain; and torn rotator cuff. Overall, injuries in soccer are some of the most frequent of any sport played around the world. Dehydration and exhaustion can also occur while playing soccer.


Playing soccer adds strength to the upper and lower parts of the body. It also improves cardiovascular fitness and endurance. One's speed and agility also benefits from the playing of soccer. When soccer players are physically prepared to play soccer, they are much more likely to reduce their chances of having injuries. Bodies should be well conditioned and at their peak of fitness before the start of each soccer match. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones must be ready to counter the assaults to the body that will take place while tackling, running, kicking, and jumping during the game of soccer.

A three-year comprehensive study has been published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. Heading the research was Drs. Peter Krustrop and Jens Bangsbo, from the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. The project involved over 50 researchers from seven countries. They looked at men, women, and children from the ages of seven to 77 years and their activities of soccer and running, along with a control group. As reported by the article “Soccer Improves Health, Fitness and Social Abilities,” the conclusion of the article was: “Soccer is a pleasurable team sport that provides an all-round fitness and can be used as treatment for lifestyle-related diseases. Men worry less when playing soccer than when running. Women's soccer creates we-stories and helps women stay active.”

Dr. Krustrop concluded: “Soccer is a very popular team sport that contains positive motivational and social factors that may facilitate compliance and contribute to the maintenance of a physically active lifestyle. The studies presented have demonstrated that soccer training for two-three hours per week causes significant cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal adaptations, independent on gender, age or lack of experience with soccer.”




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Hargreaves, Alan. Skills and Strategies for Coaching Soccer, 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2010.

Hornby, Hugh. Soccer. New York: DK Publishing, 2008.

Lisi, Clemente Angelo. A History of the World Cup, 1930–2014. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2015.

Moorman III, Claude T., and Donald T. Kirkendall, eds. Praeger Handbook of Sports Medicine and Athlete Health. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011.


“Beginners Guide to Soccer.” US National Soccer Team Players. (accessed January 23, 2017).

“How FIFA Works.” . (accessed January 23, 2017).

“Soccer Improves Health, Fitness and Social Abilities.” Science . April 7, 2010. (accessed January 22, 2017).


American Council on Exercise, 4851 Paramount Dr., San Diego, CA, 92123, (858) 576-6500, (888) 825-3636, Fax: (858) 576-6564,, .

American Youth Soccer Organization, 19750 S. Vermont Ave., Ste. 200, Torrance, CA, 90502, (800) 872-2976, Fax: (310) 525-1155, .

FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), FIFA-Strasse 20, PO Box 8044, Zurich, Switzerland, 41 0 (43) 222-7777, Fax: 41 0 (43) 222-7878, .

National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, 1150 Connecticut Ave. NW, Ste. 300, Washington, DC, 20036, (202) 454-7521,, .

President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, 1101 Wootton Pkwy., Ste. 560, Rockville, MD, 20852, (240) 276-9567, Fax: (240) 276-9860,, .

SHAPE America, 1900 Association Dr., Reston, VA, 20191-1598, (800) 213-7193, Fax: (703) 476-9527, .

William A. Atkins, BB, BS, MBA

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.