If you are looking to get started playing soccer, or are looking for information to help someone else get started, such as your child or a friend, then you’ve come to the right place.
Firstly, congratulations are in order, as we can think of no other sport or activity that will give you as much enjoyment, physical exercise, and teamwork. Of course, we are biased (a bit) but we do seriously believe soccer offers everyone from young children to seniors the ultimate in pleasure and fun.
In this article, we are going to look at everything you need to get started playing soccer such as the required equipment, what skills and physical attributes you should have, the different playing positions to consider and how to get involved with your local soccer club.
Once you have read it, you should have all the information and knowledge you need to get started playing soccer.
Basic Equipment to Get Started Playing Soccer
As with any sport, soccer players need to use equipment specifically for that activity, but unlike some sports, such as skiing or golf, the need to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars does not exist. You can opt to buy the top of the range items for each piece of equipment if your budget allows, but otherwise, reasonably priced, quality items are the sensible solution to buying soccer equipment.
You’ll Need A Soccer Ball
Having your own soccer ball is akin to a tennis player needing a racquet. In other words, you can’t play soccer without one. If you join a local soccer club they are bound to have soccer balls available for their members, but if you want to improve your skills and technique then having your own ball to practice with is essential.
Soccer Ball Sizes
Soccer balls to be used in matches come in three different sizes depending on whether they are being used by children, youths or adults. The smallest is size 3 which has a circumference of between 23 and 24 inches and is most suitable for younger children up to the age of 8. Older children, aged between 9 and 12 should use a size 4 ball, which is 25 to 26 inches in circumference.
The largest size is size 5 which is used by those aged 12 and above, including adults. The circumference of this ball is between 27 and 28 inches and is the size used in all the professional leagues and tournaments.
There is one other size of ball called size 1 which is only 18 to 20 inches in circumference. This smaller ball is suited to all ages and is used during coaching sessions to develop skills and improve ball control.
Soccer Ball Materials
Soccer balls can be made from different materials which influence both durability and price. The cheapest are rubber soccer balls which are very durable so they are ideal for kickabouts in local parks. Some balls are made from leather, although this material is being used less these days. Leather soccer balls have a great feel to them, but they lack the durability of other materials, plus they are generally more expensive.
The most common material used for modern soccer balls are synthetic materials such as polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Synthetic soccer balls are able to give a feel that is very similar to leather with the added advantage of being very durable.
The type of footwear worn when playing soccer will be influenced by many factors, which include:
- Indoor or Outdoor
- Outdoor surface
- Adult or Child
- Shoe Size
If you plan to play most of your soccer indoors then you will need a pair of soccer shoes that are designed to be worn in sports halls. These tend have a flat grip sole rather the cleats or studs that are used for outdoor play. Indoor soccer shoes are also much lighter in weight.
Outdoor soccer shoes or soccer cleats are they are sometimes called, come with a vast array of choices in terms of price, brand, materials, style and colors. For styling and color that choice will mainly come down to your personal preferences, as indeed might the brand if you have a favorite.
The options where you do need to think more carefully are in the materials used and the type of surface the soccer shoe is designed for.
Soccer Cleat Materials
Soccer cleats are made from various materials but the most important material is the one which the upper is made from. The upper is the part of the shoe which comes into contact with the ball and therefore influences how well you control and strike it.
Choosing a pair of soccer cleats which can enhance your soccer skills is highly desirable, so it is worth choosing wisely. The main materials used for the upper are:
- Full-Grain Leather: Comfortable, strong and very durable. Better leathers allow for more feel and touch.
- Kangaroo Leather: K-Leather is thin and very soft. Gives premium touch on the ball but lacks durability.
- Goat Leather: Increasingly used. Soft and very comfortable.
- Synthetic: Very durable, comfortable and waterproof. Less supple than leather and may need time to ‘break in’.
- Synthetic Leather Uppers: A hybrid material that tries to combine the best features of leather and synthetics.
Soccer Cleat Grip
Soccer footwear manufacturers use an industry recognized system to identify which surface a pair of soccer shoes are most suited to. They do this by giving each pair a two-letter code which signifies the surface they should be worn on. Here are the details:
- IN: Indoor: Used for indoor soccer
- AT: Turf: Artificial soccer surfaces such as ‘Astroturf’
- HG: Hard Ground: Used on hard, dry surfaces
- FG: Firm Ground: Perfect for firm grass
- SG: Soft Ground: Softer soccer pitches with moisture on the top surface
- AG: Artificial Ground: Artificial soccer fields such as ‘Astrograss’
When purchasing always check that the two-letter code for your soccer cleats matches the types of surface you are most likely to be playing on. If you might need to play on different surface types, some soccer cleats have screw-in studs which you can change depending on the surface.
It is essential that the soccer footwear you choose is comfortable. The last thing you need when playing in a 90-minute match is for your performance to be adversely affected because your footwear is causing you pain. Look for footwear which has a decent cushioned insole as this stops the pressure from the cleats and studs underneath pressing upwards on your foot.
There are large differences in the levels of protection that manufacturers employ in their soccer footwear products. Padding around the inner rim, a cushioned tongue, extended sock liner and heel caps are examples of features which soccer shoes have to protect you from injury. These are particularly important considerations when buying soccer footwear for children
A basic soccer kit consists of a jersey, shorts, and socks which in comparison to many other sports isn’t a lot. You do have lots of options, especially in terms of the jersey, so let us look at the main criteria.
The first thing to say is that your kit does not all have to match although it is generally regarded as the way to do it. Many soccer players will buy a replica kit of their favorite team and if you have such a team, and your budget allows for it, then it’s the way to go.
We mention budget, because, in today’s commercial world, replica kits from the biggest sports teams tend to come at a premium price, and this applies to soccer as much as it does any other sport. Please note there is nothing wrong with buying a cheaper, generic kit, providing it has the characteristics required, which we will now outline
These can be either short or long sleeved. Look for light, synthetic fabrics that will keep you cool. If you are female, many manufacturers produce female jerseys shaped specifically to be closer fitting around the waist and shoulders.
These should be comfortable and allow you to move as freely as possible. Longer shorts such as those worn in basketball should be avoided.
Normally made from thick synthetic material or cotton. If you find your socks start to fall down your leg when you are running, then use sock ties which will hold them up.
Shin guards are now compulsory when you play in an organized soccer match, and even in bounce games and training matches, it is recommended that you still wear them. Their role is to reduce injuries caused by impact on the front of your lower leg. Whilst they can never give 100% protection from serious injury, they still help in reducing their occurrence and severity.
Players who rely on speed and agility often opt for lightweight models, whilst defenders and goalkeepers tend to prefer larger, more robust versions. Some models also have ankle protection.
We’ll talk about positions in the next section, but if you’ve already decided you want to be the goalkeeper then gloves are an essential part of your kit. The number of models available is vast but don’t let that put you off choosing a pair.
Goalkeeper gloves are normally made from either smooth or textured latex. Smooth latex is generally regarded as the better in terms of grip, but textured latex is more durable. Look for a lightweight pair of gloves that allows you to move your fingers as freely as possible. Given how important gloves are to a goalkeeper it may be wise to have a pair designated for training, and another pair for use only in matches.
Head protection is becoming more widespread particularly in children’s and youth soccer. They act to protect the wearer from serious head injuries, especially concussion, should they bang their head against an opponent when jumping to head the ball. If this is something you are concerned about either for yourself or your child, then there are many types available ranging from padded headbands bands to a full head cap.
Other Equipment Which You May Want To Think About
Hairband: For those with long hair
Cap: To keep the sun out of goalkeeper’s eyes
Spare studs/cleats: For footwear with screw-in studs
Sweatbands: You are going to build up a sweat playing…aren’t you?
In a normal soccer match, there are 11 players in each team, with every player having a position within that team. Groups of positions are generally classified as the defense (including the goalkeeper), the midfield and the forwards with various formations used beyond that. We will not go into every formation possible as that would require an article of its own. Here are the main positions within a soccer team and the main qualities required to play in that position:
A unique position not least because they are the only player who can handle the ball. Their main role is to stop any shots or headers from the attacking team entering the goal. They are in effect the last line of defense.
Goalkeepers need several qualities such as communication skills, agility, quick reactions and strength. Modern goalkeepers are also expected to be decent passers of the ball as there is a growing tendency for teams to build up play from the back, rather than simply punting the ball up the field.
One point to note is that most successful goalkeepers tend to be tall with nearly all the best ones over 6ft in height. It’s certainly an advantage in terms of catching cross balls and stretching to get a fingertip to a shot.
Examples of top goalkeepers are Brad Friedel, Peter Cech and Manuel Neuer
Defender: Center Back
Sometimes called a ‘center half’ these players need to be brave, strong and have excellent timing when tackling their opponents. Height is an advantage for winning headers when both defending or attacking corners. An ability to anticipate what your opponent is going to do, whether they have the ball, or are running off the ball, is a huge asset.
Examples of top center backs are Franz Beckenbauer, Sergio Ramos and Fabio Cannavaro
Defender: Full Back
Full backs are designated as either the right-back or left-back depending on which side of the pitch they are playing on. Full backs need to be agile and quick as they are often required to mark skillful and speedy wingers. Being able to time their tackles is also very important. Depending on the team formation full-backs may also have a role when their team is attacking especially in terms of crossing from wide areas.
Examples of top full-backs are Philip Lahm, Gary Neville and Dani Alves
Midfield: Defensive Midfielder
Sometimes called a ‘holding’ midfielder their primary role is to patrol the area in front of the defense and attempt to stop any attacks from the opposing team. Anticipation is a key skill as well as the ability to tackle and intercept passes from the opposition.
Examples of top defensive midfielders are Claude Makelele, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso
Midfield: Central Midfielder
These are often regarded as the ‘engine room’ of many teams. Their role is to help transition play from defense into attack, thus the term ‘box-to-box’ midfielder. They need to have both defensive and attacking qualities, therefore, tackling, passing, and shooting, are key skills. High energy levels and stamina are needed given the amount of running they do during a match.
Examples of top central midfielders are Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Arturo Vidal
Midfield: Attacking Midfielder
This is the playmaker of the team and for this reason, some of the best and most expensive players in the world have played in this position. Their primary role is to unlock the opposition defense to create chances for either the forwards or themselves.
The playmaker needs to be a quick thinker in order to outfox his opponent, and this coupled with their dribbling and passing skills makes them an extremely valuable member of the team.
Examples of top attacking midfielders are Michel Platini, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane
This is a position that sometimes gets called a wide midfielder, particularly when a team, is set up defensively. Under normal circumstances, they are part of the forward line with their objective being to pass or cross from the wings into the penalty area to set up forwards or attacking midfielders to score. The best wingers also have the ability to move into the center when play allows, in order to score goals.
Wing play is best suited to those with a low center of gravity, therefore very tall people tend not to play in this position. Speed is a huge asset, as are dribbling, quick thinking, agility and vision.
Examples of top wingers are Christiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, and David Beckham
Forwards: Striker / Center Forward
Ultimately soccer is all about scoring goals and this is the primary objective of the center forward or striker. They operate around their opponent’s penalty box and whenever a cross or a pass comes to them in that area, they are looking to shoot or get a header towards the goal.
To be a good center forward you need to be brave as often you will be challenging for the ball with defenders who will not think twice about using their size and weight against you. Holding up the ball, until your teammates can support you in the attack, also requires strength. Speed is an asset but not essential as often speed of thought can gain you a few extra yards instead.
Shooting power and agility, especially when jumping for headers, are prime requirements. Lastly, having your very own unique goal celebration seems to be part of the striker’s toolkit these days…get thinking!
Some top center forwards are Lionel Messi, Pele and Zlatan Ibrahimović
Soccer requires a multitude of skills, techniques and abilities and to try to teach you them all here would be impossible. But there are a few basic skills which every soccer player should seek to have, so we have put together some simple drills which you can try on your own. If you join up with a local club, they will have a more comprehensive coaching regime which you can participate in.
Drill #1: The Crossbar Challenge
Place the ball midway between the edge of the penalty area and the halfway line
Strike the ball, with your right foot and try to hit the crossbar
Retrieve the ball by dribbling it back using your right foot only
Alternate between using your right and your left foot to strike the ball and dribble back
This drill covers several basic elements:
- Long Pass Accuracy
- Feel for the Ball
- Dribbling Skill
- Using your weaker foot
Drill #2: Keepie-Uppies
1) Juggle the ball 20 times with your right foot
2) Juggle the ball 20 times with your left foot
3) Juggle the ball 20 times using both left and right feet
4) Juggle the ball 20 times using both left and right feet, and thighs
5) Juggle the ball 20 times using both left and right feet, and thighs, and your head
This is obviously designed to improve your touch and feel for the ball. If you get really good, you can use your chest and shoulders too. Make it trickier by alternating between left and right each time you keep the ball up.
As you get better and better see if you can beat your personal record for keepie-uppies. By the way, if you are really ambitious you’ll be interested to know that the world record for keepie-uppies is 55,198 touches, and if you want to go for the record time for keepie-uppies, it’s 26 hours.
Drill #3: A Wall and A Ball
This is a very simple exercise which is designed to improve your striking of the ball with different parts of your foot, and your ability to control the ball. You’ll need to find a wall, and preferably one that doesn’t have someone on the other side of it. In other words, we don’t recommend doing this against the side of someone’s house!
Spend 10 minutes simply hitting the wall with a normal kick and seek to control the ball instantly when it rebounds to you. Alternate between both your left and right feet. When kicking the ball look for a spot on the wall and see how close you can get the ball to it when it hits.
After 10 minutes start to use different parts of your foot to strike the ball. Use the inside of your foot, the outside of your foot and your instep. Focus on the part of your foot that needs the most improvement. You can vary the difficulty by try putting some spin on the ball or hitting the ball first time when it rebounds back to you instead of controlling it first.
Drill #4: Out of the Sky
This is a skill which all the very best players have mastered, but it takes practice. The skill we are talking about is controlling a ball that has been played high in the air when it drops at your feet.
To start, kick the ball straight up in the air, and when it falls, attempt to control it stone dead with your instep. Once you are satisfied with your level of control, continue the exercise but as you control the ball, attempt to move it to one side, as though you were seeking to beat a defender.
As you get more advanced, try controlling the ball with different parts of your body, such as your thigh and even your head.
Finally, try kicking the ball up and slightly away from where you are standing so that you are actually moving as you bring the ball under control.
Drill #5: On the Run
Finally, a classic drill which has been used by soccer coaches for decades but is still used by modern soccer players to improve their dribbling skills. Ideally, you want to use small traffic cones for this, but you can use anything as long as it gives you a line of objects you can run and dribble in and out of.
And that is exactly what you do…run and dribble with the ball, in and out of the objects. To get the most benefit from this drill you should seek to keep your head up, as many players have a tendency to keep their eye on the ball at all times. In a match situation, you’ll want to be able to see what is around you, so getting into the habit of looking up as you dribble is crucial.
Other ways to vary the exercise is to do runs at both a fast and a slow pace, and alternate between using one foot or both to dribble the ball. You can improve your skills even further by dribbling using only a specific part of your foot to dribble on some runs such as the outside of your foot.
Finding a Local Club
Soccer being a team game means you’ll want to find other soccer players in your area to join up with and even play competitively in local leagues.
The information on who to contact regarding joining soccer clubs will differ from country to country and then may differ between states or regions so for us to give a guide which covers every one of these is impossible. The thing to know is that there will be websites for the governing bodies and associations for soccer in your region. A simple search on Google using ‘soccer clubs in my area’, for example, should bring up the relevant information.
Another avenue to try is to simply ask family and friends if they are members of a soccer club or if they know someone who is. There are two huge benefits to this: 1) They can advise you how good (or bad) the club is, and, 2) If you do join, you’ll know someone who is already a member.
Finally, a word about children’s soccer which is hugely popular all over the world. Not only are there bound to be junior clubs your child can join, but many schools now have soccer as one of their primary sports. Ask your child’s school what soccer facilities they have, and if you are really keen why not volunteer to help out on match days or with coaching. After all, we’ve already given you five drills you could use!
We are coming to the end of our article, which in soccer terms means the 90 minutes are nearly up. If you have a passion for soccer and want to start playing, it can be as simple as buying a cheap ball and kicking about in your backyard. That is the beauty of soccer – it can be played virtually anywhere, by anyone, and without the need for a van load of equipment.
Of course, if you want to take it a bit more seriously, or want to encourage your child to play, then we hope some of the advice we have given you has helped point you in the right direction.
You now know what role each position in the team has to fulfil and the skills and abilities they need to do it well. You’ve also been shown what equipment and kit you need and the importance of choosing the correct types of soccer cleats in terms of grip, comfort and protection.
We’ve also given you a few simple drills which you can use to improve your skills, and even better teach other budding soccer players how they can improve too. Remember, there is nothing more important you can do than to practice playing soccer, and to do this regularly. Even the very best soccer players in the world, still train every day.
Finally, we took a brief look at a couple of ways you can get in contact with your local soccer clubs, and get involved.
As we said at the start we believe soccer is the best sport in the world, and it is great that you wish to start playing. Whether you do it for fun, play competitively, coach your child, or are fortunate and skilled enough to become a professional player, you are have chosen a great sport to participate in.