Is This Still Soccer?

You’re still not allowed to touch the ball with your hands.

Is This Still Soccer?

You’re still not allowed to touch the ball with your hands.

But in many other important ways, the soccer being played by Massachusetts high schools this fall differs significantly in shape and form from the soccer known and played around the rest of the world.

No physical contact. No slide tackles. No headers. No throw-ins. Six feet of distance between players is required whenever play is restarted — in other words, no walls or close marking on free kicks. And to top things off, everyone on the field must wear a mask at all times.

Sports leagues across the country, from youth leagues to the pros, are implementing safety protocols this fall to try to play games amid the coronavirus pandemic. Some guidelines, on things like sharing water bottles or high-fiving or locker room use, are common sense in the coronavirus era. Others are more extreme: In Vermont, for example, high schools are playing seven-on-seven football this year, and volleyball matches are moving from indoor gyms to outdoor courts.

But few have taken things as far as the state of Massachusetts, which unveiled its unusual rules for soccer on the eve of what is shaping up to be one of the strangest high school sports seasons in memory.

“It’s crazy,” said Francesca Yanchuk, a senior forward for the girls’ team at Bishop Feehan High School in Attleboro, Mass., who has had to unlearn some of the skills that helped her secure a scholarship to play at Villanova next year.

“I might go for a header, and I’ll go, ‘Wait, I can’t do that,’” she said. “You have to take a step back and reset your mind.”

The rules caused a statewide stir when they were announced in late August by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees sports for almost 400 high schools in the state. They were not produced in haste: Rough drafts were shuttled from sports committees to medical committees and back again as the rules were being completed. But as the season neared, an M.I.A.A. official said, the organization was ultimately handcuffed in terms of what it could allow.

The fateful moment came in August, when the state agency in charge of the latest phase of reopenings released its guidelines. Sports officials noticed almost immediately that they included a prohibition on “deliberate contact.”

“I don’t know if you’ve seen soccer,” said Tara Bennett, a spokeswoman for the athletic association, “but that’s how you play soccer.”

Not anymore. The rules sent coaches to their drawing boards to figure out how to play what is essentially a new game.

“It was a weird hybrid between soccer and girls’ field hockey,” Zach Siano, the coach of the boys’ soccer team at Belchertown High School, said about his team’s first game on Wednesday. (Two of the team’s first three games were postponed because of coronavirus precautions.) “It was a little difficult to watch.”