How to Explain the Game’s Fundamentals

To someone who doesn’t know much about football, it can appear to be a bunch of bulked-up dudes running around in circles. And if you start using terminology like chop block, zone defence, and play-action pass, or if you try to explain the differences between pro and collegiate football, her eyes may begin to roll back into her head. So start small, with the most basic words, and give your girlfriend just enough of an overview so she can watch and learn while gradually catching on to the game’s finer nuances. Here are some fundamentals:

The field of play

Start with a quick overview of the field’s layout, including the end zones, yard markers, sidelines (out of bounds), and goalposts.
The goal — Explain that the goal is to score as many points as possible by advancing the ball past the goal line of the opposing side.
Explain the points awarded for a touchdown, kickoff, field goal, and, on rare occasions, a two-point conversion. Save the topic of safety for later.
The guidelines — Explain that each team has an offensive and defensive strategy. The offence has four chances, called downs, to advance the ball a minimum of 10 yards before scoring or being forced to kick the ball to the opposing team. Mention that a game is divided into four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes, and that seven referees are in charge of upholding the rules.
Explain to the players that each team is limited to 11 men on the field at any given moment (see next section for detailed player descriptions).
Tell her that there are two options for moving the ball: passing it or running it. Explain what a fumble and an interception are.
Penalties — If you’re new to the game, start with the most common violations, such as offsides, holding, and pass interference. Make it clear that penalties can result in a loss of down or a predefined number of yards being returned (or both).
Do you need a quick summary of what each player does and how he fits into the game? On the next page, you’ll find it.

The Number of Participants

Matches are usually contested between two 11-player teams. The goalkeeper is counted among the 11 players. The game is a forfeit if a team cannot field at least seven players at the start of the match. Smaller teams are frequently seen in youth leagues, where smaller teams are employed as a developmental aid. With the exception of friendly matches, FIFA-sanctioned matches are normally limited to three substitutes per match. Most young leagues allow an unlimited number of substitutes, but those players must be mentioned on the game card prior to the start of the game, otherwise they will be ineligible. Substitutions are allowed only at the halfway line, with the referee’s permission, and after the subbed-out player has exited the field. During a game stoppage, the goalie may be replaced by anyone on the field or any eligible substitute on the bench.

The Match’s Time Limit

A soccer match consists of two 45-minute halves, with extra time added at the discretion of the referee for each half. A half-time period of no more than 15 minutes separates the halves. Extra time is usually calculated by the referee based on how much time was lost due to substitutions and injuries. At the end of each 45-minute quarter, the amount of additional time is proclaimed and shown on the half line. Although soccer has a set time restriction, the decision to end a game is ultimately up to the referee.