Adult Rules for Youth Soccer

I attended a tournament a few weeks ago with a set of rules that I haven't seen used for young teams in any other event. A player was not allowed to re-enter the game once they were substituted in each half. So a player could start the game, play for 20 minutes before being subbed but could not re-enter the game until the second half. The age groups involved were U11 to U14 girls.

The reasons for limiting substitutions in the game when it's played at the highest level make sense and contribute to an attractive and skillful game. If professional teams were allowed to 'roll' players in and out, the game would be more focused on speed and athleticism and much less on the skill of the players. There would also be substantially more physical play because if one of your defenders received a yellow card you could just sub him and put in another one and continue to play in the the same manor without risk of going down a player. I think most players, coaches and fans would agree that this is a good for the game and wouldn't want it changed.

The tournament substitutions weren't completed limited but only allowing them to re-enter in the second half is a huge departure from how the teams normally play. Coaches have different methods of subbing their players. Personally, for most tournament and league games I create rotations of players so that they know where they will be playing and I rotate them at regular intervals. I'm more focused on giving all of the players an opportunity to learn and develop rather than the tactical implications of each substitution. For example, I have three players that rotate between the two center back positions while one is off. There are three others that rotate between the the two wing back positions while one is on the bench. This pattern is carried through most of the team. If were playing 35 minute halves, we'll sub about every eight minutes. This gives the players a structure that they're comfortable with and doesn't require them to be off for long periods of time but gives them a lot of playing time. It also allows me to coach the game instead of planning out each sub.

So for this tournament we had to go about it in a completely different way. The starters, who I rotated each game, played about 15 minutes before I brought on two or three subs. Then I'd put the other subs on in the next ten minutes. I continued this pattern in the second half. I tracked the playing time each player received so that they would all have an opportunity to play a lot. We made it work although none of us liked playing this way.

My main problem with this situation is that it applies rules from the professional game in a totally different context than the professionals play. The pros play one game a week, we played four games in two days. Our team has 16 players so some of them are going to play the entire half. Even if I take those five players off at halftime and then put them back on with 15 minutes to go they've played 50 minutes. Then we come back a few hours latter and do it again. Doing this two days in a row is not a test of soccer skill so much as a test of fitness. I think the tournament ends up promoting the opposite of what the organizers intend.

There were teams that took the 'professional' attitude of the tournament even further by only playing the subs for 10 or 15 minutes each half because they viewed winning the tournament as more important than developing ALL of their players.

So that's my perspective on the event. I'm interested in what you think about limiting substitutions for youth teams. Please leave your feedback as a comment.

Have a Great Day!


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