Penalty kick. Goal kick. Throw-in. Where do all of these plays take place on the soccer field?
The first thing to note is the actual name. You might want to say field, but in soccer the playing area is also called the pitch. The soccer pitch is a large, rectangular surface where 11 players from each team compete. Depending on the venue, the soccer pitch is either grass or turf.
However, it’s important for athletes to understand the pitch, its markings and dimensions. Soccer is a technical sport, so knowing your surroundings is of the utmost importance.
What is the corner area and its purpose? Where is the penalty area? How long is a soccer field? What’s the difference between a touchline and a goal line? Pro Tips is here to help you maneuver your way around the soccer pitch with this guide.
THE CENTER OF THE PITCH
Ever wonder what the halfway line is even for in soccer? The halfway line is the divider between your team’s side and the opponent’s side. However, in soccer, players roam on both sides of the pitch.
The halfway line does have a specific purpose. Once teams get set up to start the match, all 10 field players must remain on their own side. Strikers, midfielders and even defenders can go over the halfway line once contact is made with the ball. From that point on, players can roam wherever they choose on the field of play.
Directly in the center of the pitch is the center mark. The ball is kicked off at the halfway mark when:
- The match begins.
- The second half starts.
- A team scores a goal. The team that did not score will kick off the soccer ball.
Encompassing the center mark is the center circle. The radius of the center circle is 10 yards from the halfway line to the edge of the circle. This is a good distance to set up your midfield. For example, if you have a diamond midfield, your attacking midfielder will be at the top of the circle while your defensive midfielder is at the bottom of the circle.
For more information on soccer formations, check out our soccer positions guide that breaks down numbers, player roles and basic formations.
TOUCHLINE VS. GOAL LINE
The length of a soccer pitch is a maximum of 130 yards and a minimum of 100 yards. Meanwhile, the length of the goal line is a maximum of 100 yards long and a minimum of 50 yards in length. Sizes are different based on group level, like U-10, U-8 and so on. For example, for international matches, the goal line is either between 70-80 yards long.
The difference between the touchline and goal line isn’t just within the measurements. If a player kicks the ball and it rolls across the touchline, the opposing team will be rewarded a throw-in. Want to learn how to perfect your throw-in form? Find out how with our guide to throw-in plays.
Meanwhile, if the ball is shot by the attacking team and the goalkeeper or defenders do not make contact with the ball before it crosses the goal line, a goal kick will be awarded to the team on defense.
However, if the ball is kicked past the goal line by the defending team, or a goalkeeper makes a save and pushes the ball over the goal line, then the opposing team will be awarded a corner kick.
THE PENALTY AREA
As an attacking player, your goal is to get inside the box. As a defensive player, your main responsibility is to help your goalkeeper and mark attacking players. However, defenders have to be careful inside the penalty area.
The penalty area is a large rectangular area on each end of the pitch measuring 18 yards long and 36 yards wide. Due to its measurements, the penalty area is also called “the 18.” If a player is taken down inside the penalty area by a defender, that attacking player and their team will earn a penalty kick. This area is also commonly known as the goalkeeper area. In this space, goalkeepers can use their hands to punch and grab the ball. However, if goalkeepers exit this area, they are no longer allowed to use their hands. They essentially become a field player outside of the penalty area.
Within the penalty area is a small circular marking. This is the penalty shot spot. If a referee awards a penalty kick to the attacking team, the ball must be placed here. It cannot be placed anywhere within the penalty area. The penalty area is approximately 12 yards away from the goal line.
On a penalty kick, you’ll notice that the defense is standing at the penalty arc. This area is where defenders must initially stand on a penalty attempt, as they must be at least 10 yards away from the penalty spot. However, when a penalty kick is not being taken, this area does not serve a purpose. For example, if an attacking player is taken down inside the penalty arc, the player will only receive a free kick.
Meanwhile, inside the penalty area is a smaller box. This is called the goal area. Only 12 yards wide and 6 yards long, the goal area is where goalkeepers will restart play should they be granted a goal kick. As previously mentioned, a goal kick is awarded when the opposing team last touches the ball and it rolls out of bounds. The ball must be placed inside or on the goal area for a goal kick.
As mentioned earlier, if a ball rolls over the goal line and it’s touched by a member of the defending team, then the attacking team will receive a corner kick. As the name insinuates, corner kicks are taken at the corner of the pitch.
However, players don’t get to choose which corner they want. If the ball rolls out toward the left of the goal, then a corner kick will be taken from the left side and vice versa.
The corner isn’t just the edge of the pitch. There is an arc that is painted on the pitch, with a radius of 1 yard. This is measured from the edge of the pitch and straight onto the curve of the arc. On a corner kick play, the ball can be placed on the arc or within the area inside the arc. The defense must be at least 10 yards away from the corner arc. Normally, a referee will use their spray to make the marking.
Are you prepared to take a corner kick? Learn how to make the most of your next set piece opportunity with this guide on the fundamentals of corner kicks.
OFF THE FIELD OF PLAY
There are other areas that are important for soccer players to know, despite not being on the field of play. They include the technical area and the fourth official’s area.
The technical area is where coaches will stand and roam around, offering direction and advice to their players. Coaches are not allowed to leave the technical area and doing so could result in a warning. A second offense could also possibly warrant a yellow card.
Meanwhile, the fourth official’s area is by the touchline and in line with the halfway line. The fourth official does not run up and down the flanks like the two assistant officials and is not on the pitch like the head official. However, if a player is coming off the bench as a substitute, they are guided to stand near the fourth official, who will indicate when the player is allowed on the pitch.
Being aware of your surroundings and studying the field is a good way to prepare for game day. Lace up your cleats and dominate the pitch with these tips on knowing the area.