While the basics of soccer are pretty straightforward, there's quite a bit to learn if you want to graduate from playing at your local park with friends to being on a school or professional soccer team. Some of the rules of the game can be quite complex, and there's also vocabulary specific to soccer and how it's played. Understanding common terms used to talk about soccer can be a good first step toward mastering this deceptively simple game.

Advantage Rule: A rule that allows play to continue after a foul if stopping play would benefit the team that committed the foul

Assist: A pass that leads to a goal

Bicycle Kick: When a player kicks the ball backward over their head before falling onto their back

Charging: Bumping into another player's shoulder to throw them off balance

Clean Sheet: A shutout, when a team holds their opponent scoreless

Corner Kick: A kick awarded to the attacking team when the defending team sends the ball out of bounds at their end of the field

Cross: A pass that sends the ball across the field

Direct Free Kick: A free kick from which the kicking player can score a goal

Dribbling: Moving the ball forward using small kicks with both feet

Drop Ball: When the referee puts the ball into play by dropping it onto the ground between the two teams. A drop ball is used to restart play after the game is stopped because of something other than a penalty.

Extra Time: Overtime, an extra period of play to decide the winner of a tied game

Foul: A violation of the rules

Goalkeeper: The person who defends the goal to keep their opponents from scoring. The goalkeeper is the only player who can play the ball with their hands.

Hat Trick: When a player scores three goals in one game

Header: Hitting the ball with the player's head

High Kick: A foul that happens when a player swings their foot above the waist of another player

Holding: A foul that happens when a player uses their hands or arms to obstruct another player's movement

Indirect Free Kick: A free kick from which a goal can't be scored unless another player on the kicker's team touches the ball

Injury Time: Extra time added to the game to make up for time lost when players are injured or substituted

Kickoff: When one player kicks the ball to start each half of the game and to restart play after a goal

Nutmeg: A dribble or pass through an opponent's legs

Offside: A rule limiting the ability of attacking players to receive the ball near the opponent's goal, so that players don't just stand near the goal waiting for a pass

Penalty Area: A rectangular area in front of the goal line, inside of which goalkeepers can use their hands

Penalty Kick: A kick awarded to the attacking team after a defender commits a major foul

Red Card: A penalty call that removes a player from the game and forces their team to play shorthanded for the rest of the game

Referee: The official who enforces the rules during a soccer game

Slide Tackle: An attempt to take the ball from another player by sliding feet first into the ball

Substitution: The act of replacing a player with a different player during a game

Tackle: A move that takes the ball away from another player

Throw-In: How the ball is returned to play after it goes out of bounds on the side of the field

Yellow Card: A warning given to a player for dangerous or unsporting conduct

Volley: Hitting the ball while it's in the air

Wall: A formation of defensive players aiming to block a free kick

Additional Soccer Resources


Learn about the author: Ben Thompson
This information found on Soccer Glossary of Terms: Things to Know Before You Play (