By Randy Vogt
Substitutes must be standing at the halfway line, dressed and ready to play. The player exiting can leave from any part of the field. To make things easier, the exiting player generally leaves by the halfway line.
In youth soccer, we are dealing with kids -- in many cases, young children. I have seen refs get themselves in trouble by insisting that the player leaving the field be absolutely, completely off the field before the sub comes in, often to the point of yelling at kids who entered the field a couple of steps too soon.
Let’s not make this more complicated than it is. Sub enters field as the player leaves it. The officials count -- one player off, one player on ... two players off, two players on.
For many years, youth soccer in the United States only allowed substitutions on a team’s own throw-in plus on either team’s goal kick, goal or injury plus at halftime. This rule worked fine with the exception of the opposing team not being allowed to sub when the team with the throw-in was doing so, plus coaches not being able to immediately sub a cautioned player to calm down him or her.
College and high school soccer use a somewhat similar limitation on when a team can substitute. Teams can sub on either team’s goal kick, goal, caution, injury or equipment change plus on a team’s own corner kick or throw-in. If the team with the corner kick or throw-in subs, the opposing team can sub as well. College and high school teams can obviously sub at halftime as well. There are subtle differences on substitution opportunities between both college and high school rules as well but I will not get into this for the purposes of this article.
The former youth soccer rule regarding substitutions plus the current college and high school rules work well as teams should have the opportunity to sub every couple of minutes and do not disrupt the flow of play by these rules.
In pro soccer, teams can substitute at any stoppage of play. Approximately a decade ago, American youth soccer adopted the current rule that teams can sub at any stoppage. I was not in favor of the rule change then and I am still not in favor of it as my worst fears have been realized in a few games.
Obviously, pro soccer teams can only sub three players per game with no re-entry. Youth soccer teams have no such limitation. I have seen coaches and trainers whose teams are leading take advantage of inexperienced refs by substituting at every opportunity.
I was watching a boys U-13 game last summer being played in a tournament. It was the last game of the round-robin and the white team needed to win while the red squad only needed to tie to advance to the final.
After a scoreless first half, white scored. The coach then subbed a player at every stoppage of play. Nearly every player he subbed for was on the far side of the field, causing the player going off as well as coming on to jog across the field to take his position. When the player left the field, the coach told him to stay at the halfway line as he would be going back into the game. I would say that four minutes of play was erased by the coach’s gamesmanship.
With several minutes left, red scored and white immediately stopped subbing. When the ball went out over the white team’s bench, the coach sprinted after it so that it could be put back into play as soon as possible. The final score was 1-1 with red advancing to the championship game.
After the match, I asked the ref if he was going to add time at the end of the second half if white was still leading. He said no and that he did not realize that white was trying to kill as much time as possible.
In games that I ref, if the winning team starts substituting a good deal, I tell the coach that time is being added for their substitution (as long as the other squad is not subbing). In nearly all cases, the winning team stops subbing as much. In a game several years ago where the coach continued subbing, I added four minutes of stoppage time to the second half. And when the team subbed during stoppage time, I added another minute.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com/)