The Field of Play – Law 1



Like most sports, the rules of soccer start with a detailed explanation of the lines and equipment of the field of play. For soccer, these include the field surface, perimeter markings (boundary lines), field dimensions, goals, interior markings, and corner flags. For the full-sized outdoor game, these are all captured in the Laws of the Game, “Law 1 – The Field of Play.”

Every player and coach should have a complete understanding of the layout of the playing field and the purpose for its lines, areas, and equipment.  Law 1 (See The Rule Book: Laws of the Game) should be read in its entirety and then reviewed in conjunction with the other Laws to see how they interact.  As with all of the Laws, Law 1 can be modified by local rules, especially for youth.  See Soccer Local Rules.

The field may be natural grass or artificial turf. In addition, a “hybrid system” field, utilizing an integrated combination of artificial and natural materials may be used if permitted by competition rules.  If artificial turf is used, it must be green in color. The lines that are used to mark the field must all be straight and no wider than five inches. All lines must be the same width, based on the thickness of the goalposts.  Artificial turf may be used for the lines on a grass field if they are not dangerous.

The field is a proper rectangle with accurate 90-degree corners. The perimeter lines, or the lines that bound the field, also known as the boundary lines, are defined as the “Goal Lines,” at each end of the field, and the “Touch Lines,” along the sides. The Goal Lines, the two shorter lines of the rectangle, are commonly referred to as the “end lines” and the Touch Lines, the two longer lines of the field, are commonly referred to as the “sidelines.”

The field dimensions or the overall size of the field, based on the distances of the boundary lines, may not be the same for all fields. The length and width of the field are set to minimum and maximum allowances. This lack of standardization is based on the historical unavailability years ago of large, flat, places to play. The minimum length of the Goal Lines is 50 yards and the maximum length of the Goal Lines is 100 yards. The minimum length of the Touch Lines is 100 yards and the maximum length of the Touch Lines is 130 yards.

To establish and maintain a rectangular field, the two Goal Lines must always be shorter than the two Touch Lines.  The Goal Lines must both be of equal length and the two Touch Lines must both be of equal length.  (Law 1 also provides metric equivalents for the lines and goals and states that if there is ever any divergence between imperial and metric units, the metric units shall prevail.)

Two Goals are placed, one each, in the center of the goal lines. The goals must be identical in size, shape and construction. According to Law 1:

“A goal consists of two vertical posts equidistant from the corner flagposts and joined at the top by a horizontal crossbar. The goalposts and crossbar must be made of approved material and must not be dangerous. The goalposts and crossbar of both goals must be the same shape, which must be square, rectangular, round, elliptical, or a hybrid of these options.  The distance between the inside of the posts is …8 yards and the distance from the lower edge of the crossbar to the ground is … 8 feet.”

“The goalposts and the crossbar must be white and have the same width and depth, which must not exceed …5 inches.  Nets may be attached to the goals and the ground behind the goal; they must be properly supported and must not interfere with the goalkeeper.”

The interior markings consist of the halfway line, center mark, center circle, goal areas, penalty areas, penalty marks, penalty arcs, and corner arcs.

The Halfway Line divides the field into two equal halves, joining the midpoints of the two sidelines, parallel to the end lines. The Center Mark is a small, fully-enclosed, circle drawn at the midpoint of the halfway line. Using the exact center of the center mark, a radius of 10 yards is used to mark the Center Circle around it.

The Goal Areas are 6-yard x 20-yard rectangles closest to the goals. Six yards from the inside of each goalpost, in the direction of each corner, a line is drawn six yards into the field of play perpendicular to the end line. The end-points of these lines are connected with a line parallel to the end line.

The Penalty Areas are 18-yard x 44-yard rectangles farther away from the goals. Eighteen yards from the inside of each goalpost, in the direction of each corner, a line is drawn eighteen yards into the field of play perpendicular to the end line. The end-points of these lines are connected with a line parallel to the end line.

A Penalty Mark, usually consisting of a small, fully-enclosed, circle is drawn within both penalty areas at a point 12-yards into the field from the midpoint between the goalposts and equidistant from each post when measured from the exact center of the mark.  The circle is usually 9-inches in diameter.

Marked outside of the penalty area, the Penalty Arc is that portion of a circle with a radius of 10 yards from the exact center of the penalty mark.

The Corner Arcs are quarter circles drawn inside the field of play with a radius of 1-yard from each of the corners. Corner Flags, or flagposts, are to be placed at each corner. Optionally, a flagpost may also be placed at least 1-yard away from the intersection of the halfway line with the sideline. The posts themselves must all be at least 5-feet tall, with rounded tops, and have a flag attached at the top.

As an option, eight marks (“optional marks” or “hash marks”) may be added, just outside of the field of play and perpendicular to the perimeter lines, one each at the sideline and the end line, 10-yards from each corner. This is for the benefit of the referees to ensure the proper distance is maintained by defenders when a corner kick is taken.

At the highest levels, where technologically and financially feasible, a ”GLT [Goal Line Technology] system may be used to verify whether a goal has been scored to support the referee’s decision.”  The indication of whether a goal has been scored must be immediate and automatically confirmed within one second by the GLT system only to the match officials (via the referee’s watch, by vibration and visual signal, and/or via the referee’s earpiece/headset); it may also be sent to the video operation room (VOR).

When Video Assistant Replay (VAR) is used, a Video Operation Room (VOR), for the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), the Assistant Video Assistant Referee (AVAR), and the Replay Operator (RO), may be near the field, in the stadium, or at a remote location.  When used, a Referee Review Area (RRA) must be clearly designated outside the field of play.

Field Diagram from Dictionary

Soccer Coaching Tips:

– Walk your players around a properly-marked field and describe all of the lines and equipment and explain the purpose of each.
– The specific dimensions of the penalty mark and the center mark are not identified in the Law. They are generally drawn with a 9-inch diameter which is essentially the diameter of the Size 5 ball.
– Goal safety is paramount. Goals must be securely anchored so that they will not tip over. Children have been killed by falling goals. No-one should be allowed to play on the goals.
– No-one should be allowed to play with the flagposts. They are not javelins.
– Each Goal Line is technically the entire line that runs along the full end of the field from one corner to the other. This can be confusing when one is referring only to that portion of the goal line that is inside the goal, between the goal posts. In order to make a distinction, the rest of the line, outside of the goal, has come to be called the bi-line (by-line, bye-line).
– The lines are part of the areas that they bound. This is especially significant for the perimeter lines and the penalty area. As such, measurements are made from the outsides of the lines. (See The Ball in and Out of Play – Law 9.)
– Nets are not required by Law 1.
– Markings for a “Technical Area,” may be added outside of one sideline. A description for this area is included in the narrative in Law 1 of the Laws of the Game. The technical area, when it can be accommodated in any given stadium, is essentially two team coach’s boxes with seating for team officials, substitutes, and substituted players.
– The Penalty Mark may also consist of a short line, parallel to the Goal Line, the center of which must still meet the location described above and the lengths to each side equal to each other. The penalty mark is measured from its center to the back edge of the goal line.  A specific definition of a design of the Penalty Mark is not included in the Laws.
– It is generally assumed that the goalposts are sunk and supported within the ground. Portable goals may be used, however, if they otherwise meet all of the requirements of Law 1. It is equally important that they satisfy all safety measures.
– Local rules allow for smaller fields and smaller-sized goals for youth players.
– Inspect the field for rocks, glass and anything that could be dangerous to players. Anything dangerous must be removed.
– Coaches should familiarize themselves with the local rules regarding playability, and continued playability, of fields. International Football Association Board (IFAB) decisions address the integrity of crossbars. A failed crossbar that cannot be repaired requires the match to be abandoned.
– In accordance with IFAB decisions, no logos, emblems or advertising may be printed or projected on the field.  Team logos or emblems are allowed on the flags of the corner posts, however.
– Nets should be checked to ensure that they do not have any holes or gaps. Any holes or gaps should be repaired.
– If portable goals with wheels are used, it must be confirmed that they will not move if struck. Further, no wheels or anchors should be used that could be contacted by a ball that would still be in play.
– The overall size of a field is a “field condition” which can impact play and should be recognized and accommodated.  See Coaching to Soccer-Field Conditions.
– Artificial surfaces must meet the requirements of the FIFA Quality Program for Football Turf, unless special dispensation is given by The International Football Association Board (The IFAB).
– Competitions may specify the lengths of the boundary lines, within the specified dimensions in Law 1, in order to standardize fields of play.
– “Combination” American Football/Soccer goals are permitted by many competitions within the United States.  A ball that strikes any portion of the structure above the framework of the soccer goal is considered to have gone out of bounds.  Also see “Local Rules.”
-Artificial surfaces may include markings for other types of games, as long as they are a different color from the markings for soccer.
-The Penalty Arc may sometimes be referred to as the “bubble” or the “D.”
– The sidelines are called “touchlines” because of soccer’s common origin with rugby.  In rugby, the areas outside of both sidelines are called “touch.”  In soccer, a ball that has gone fully over a touchline has “gone into touch” or is “in touch” and, therefore, is out of bounds.
– Players and team officials must not enter the VOR or the RRA.  They are subject to cards, dismissal, and/or sanctions if they do.
– No commercial advertising, real or virtual, is permitted on the field, in the Technical Area, or the Referee Review Area.

Field Diagram from Dictionary

NOTICE:  This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB).  As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in whole or in part.  Supplemental wording presented by® should be provided in brackets.  Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected.  Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game.  If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at

© Copyright, John C. Harves