Substitutions In Soccer

Substitutions In Soccer | Everything You Need To Know

Substitutions are a very important part of soccer. The substitutions a coach makes can often have a significant impact on the outcome of a game. In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about substitutions in soccer, including the substitution rules and some tips on when it is best to make substitutions. We’ll also let you know how substitutions are different in youth soccer compared to the professional game. First, let’s take a look at exactly what a substitution is in soccer.

What Is A Substitution In Soccer?

In soccer, a substitution is the act of replacing one player with another during the course of a match. Generally speaking,  substitutions are allowed at any time during the game. However, there are specific rules governing when and how ‘subs’ can be made. Some of these rules are applicable to the sport at all levels, and some are specific to the league or level of play. More on that later!

In professional soccer leagues, each team is only permitted to make a certain number of substitutions per game. Recently the number of substitutions allowed in most competitions has increased from 3 to 5. Many coaches have welcomed the additional flexibility and tactical options the change has afforded them.

In contrast, most youth soccer leagues and many amateur soccer leagues utilize a ‘rolling subs’ rule. This essentially means you can make any number of substitutions and players are free to substitute in and out of the game as often as desired.

What Are The Soccer Substitution Rules?

There are several rules regarding substitutions in soccer that coaches, players, and supporters all need to be aware of. The following rules apply to all soccer games regardless of the level of play:

  • Substitutions can only be made during a stoppage in play, such as after a goal is scored, when the ball goes out of bounds, or when a player is injured.
  • The substitute is not allowed to enter the field of play until the player being replaced has left, and the referee has signaled for the substitution to take place.
  • The substitute must enter the field of play from the designated substitution zone. This is usually located near the halfway line on the touchline.
  • If a player is substituted off and then re-enters the field of play without the permission of the referee, the player can be penalized with either a yellow or a red card.

Substitutions In Youth Soccer Vs Professional Soccer

In general, the rules for substitutions in youth soccer are the same as those for professional soccer. However, there may be some variations depending on the specific league or tournament, as well as the age group of the players.

For example, the vast majority of youth leagues allow for more substitutions per game. Most leagues utilize a “rolling substitution” system that allows teams to make an unlimited number of substitutions at any time during the game. This rule is enforced primarily for player development reasons and ensures everyone has the opportunity to play and compete on each match day. 

It is worth noting, however, that the rules for substitutions in youth soccer can vary depending on the level of play. For example, the rules for substitutions in a high-level club league (such as the ECNL) may be different from those in a recreational or school-based league.

The core purpose of substitutions can also be viewed differently at the youth level. In the professional game, substitutions are primarily made for tactical purposes. Coaches may choose to bring on players with specific skills or attributes. They may be looking to change formations or manage certain situations on the field.

For example, if a team is 1-0 up and entering the closing stages of a match, a coach may choose to bring on an extra central defender to help protect their lead. While this is also true in youth soccer, the primary function of substituting at that level is to provide every player an opportunity to compete, develop their skills and have fun. As such, a good youth soccer coach should always have a plan in mind as to how and when they should make their substitutes to ensure that everyone gets on the field and goes home happy!

When To Substitute Players

In youth soccer, a coach’s primary objective should be to provide playing opportunities for every player within their squad. Having a general idea or detailed plan of when you intend to make substitutions, and who you plan to rotate in and out, helps greatly in this regard. However, soccer is nothing if not unpredictable. As such, there are a few factors that a coach or manager might consider when deciding whether to make a substitution in any given game:

  • Coaching Opportunity: A coach may choose to bring a player off to speak to them one on one and make a coaching point that will help them when they are rotated back onto the field. 
  • Development Opportunity: A coach may choose to bring a player on in a specific position to further their overall development. For example, if a player has a weak left foot, they might rotate them in for a short period of time on the left side of the field to encourage them to use that foot more often.
  • Match Situation: A coach may also decide to make a substitution based on the scoreline or the state of the game. If a team is trailing and needs to score a goal, a coach may bring on a forward or attacking player in an effort to get back into the game. Equally, if they are winning, they may choose to bring on extra defensive players to help protect their lead.
  • Form: If a player is not performing well or is having difficulty adapting to the team’s tactics, it may be necessary to bring on a substitute who can offer a different skill set or help to change the team’s approach.
  • Player Fatigue: If a player is tired or struggling to keep up with the pace of the game, it may be a good idea to substitute them and bring on a fresh player.
  • Injury: If a player is injured or unable to continue playing, they will need to be substituted.

FAQ About Soccer Substitutions

Can You Substitute A Substitute In Soccer?

Yes! As long as a coach has not used their maximum amount of substitutions, they can replace any of the players on the field regardless of whether that player started the game or previously came on as a substitute themself.

A coach might substitute a substitute for a number of reasons. For example, If the player is injured, tired, or playing poorly. Another reason may be if the coach wants to make a tactical switch and bring on a player in a different position. 
Of course, in youth soccer, where rolling substitutions are utilized, substitutes can be subbed on and off on multiple occasions.

Can A Team Make A Substitution While They Are in Possession Of The Ball?

No, substitutions can only be made during a stoppage in play. This means the team must wait until the ball has gone out of bounds, a goal has been scored, or the referee has stopped play for another reason (e.g., an injured player). Of course, a team can choose to kick the ball out of bounds themselves to create a substitution opportunity if they so wish!

Can A Player Be Substituted Off If They Are Shown A Yellow Or Red Card?

There are no restrictions on substituting a player who has received a yellow card. However, a player who has received a red card must leave the field of play immediately and may not be replaced by another player.

How Many Substitutions Can A Team Make During A Game?

In professional soccer, it is most common for teams to be able to make a maximum of 5 substitutions. This has increased recently from 3. In certain competitions (such as the World Cup), teams are permitted to make an additional substitution in extra time. In youth soccer, when rolling substitutions are the norm, teams can make as many substitutions as they would like to.

What Happens If A Team Decides To Cancel A Substitution?

Once a player has entered the field of play, the substitution is considered complete. If the coach subsequently wants to take that player off, they must use another substitute to replace them.

More Soccer Guides

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