Substituting (Substitution, Subbing) - Rules, When To and How To

New coaches often have questions for us at SoccerHelp about substituting players (subbing). When you have a lot of subs, it is a problem keeping up with the subs. And coaches wonder what is the "right" thing to do - should the better players play more, or should all players play the same amount? And when can you sub and what are the rules? Here are my thoughts and how I handled it:

  1. First, see if your club or league has any rules or guidelines for you to follow. Most Rec leagues require that every player must play at least 50% of each game he or she attends. And rules for when you can sub vary - some clubs only allow subbing at the end of quarters, and others allow subbing at certain times such as on goal kicks.
  2. Basic info from the SoccerHelp Dictionary: "Youth Leagues usually either allow "unlimited substitutions" (which usually means the coach can "sub" as many times as he wants during the game but only at certain times such as goal kicks) or only allow subbing between quarters. If "unlimited substitution" is allowed, you can usually sub at these times (check with your league to see if they follow these rules): after a goal kick is called for either team, after a goal by either team, after a throw-in is called for your team (not the other team), at halftime, and at an injury time-out if the other team replaces a player (but you can only sub as many players as they do). You usually cannot sub on corner kicks or free kicks. Substitutions may only occur with the Referee's permission (you can get his attention by yelling "Sub"). Players entering & leaving the field are often required to do so at the Halfway Line. The rules technically say that a player must leave the field first before his sub can enter the field. Many referees don't enforce this in youth games because there is so much substitution. However, if the Ref says "call them off first", this is what he means. Often, midfielders are subbed the most because they run the most."
  3. Is it wrong to play better players more and weaker players less? I don't think so. All the leagues I played in required every player to play at least 50% of each game. I think everyone should use that rule. Everyone wants to win and expects the best players to play more. If I didn't have a lot of subs, I would leave my Fullbacks "Deep" and not sub them, because they weren't running as much as the other players. I suggest you DON'T promise to play everyone the same amount -- if you do, you might regret making that promise. I found it caused more problems to try to play all players equally than it did to play the best players more. NOW, for U-6, I suggest letting all players play the same amount and just having fun.
  4. How To Substitute. Here's what I did: First, if you have 4 or more subs, recognize that subbing will have to be someone's primary job -- it's hard to coach and sub if you have a lot of subs. So, either get someone to do the subbing or to help you coach during the games. Start with a roster by positions, and who will start, and write down where the subs will play when they go in -- keep this list in your hand or pocket during the game. Buy a wristwatch with a countdown timer that has an alarm -- you can get these at Target and Wal-Mart for about $25. Decide how frequently you will sub. I set my timer for 5 minutes, but I coached boys who got restless quickly. We could only sub on our throw-ins, goal kicks and a few other times, so it would often be 6 to 8 minutes before I could get the subs to the Halfway Line (which our refs required) and yell "Sub". I found I kept their attention better if they weren't out of the game for very long. You will get some griping no matter which approach you use. If you sub frequently, your players should stay fresher (especially on a hot day), there's less chance of them wandering off, and players will feel like they've played more than if they are sitting for long periods on the sideline.
  5. More Thoughts On How To Sub Rec Teams. As you know, it isn't easy to ensure equal playing time. An alternative to trying to give every player exactly the same amount of playing time is to promise that each player will play at least half the game and to sub the positions that run the most and to sub the least popular positions (Fullback) the least. For example, I sometimes just rotated 4 players among my 3 Fullback positions, so the Fullbacks played more, because they didn't run as much and it wasn't a position that players begged to play. I tried to sub the Midfielders a lot because they run the most, and sometimes I had 2 midfielders for each position who each played 50% of the game. I would sub the Forwards a lot too.

Here's how I kept up with it: We played 2 halves and I listed all the positions for each half on the left side of the page and the 2nd half on the right side of the page. Beside each position I listed the players who would rotate into those positions. An example is below (R is right side, L is left, C is center, F is forward, MF is Midfielder, ST is stopper, FB is fullback and G is goalie). As an example: If I had 4 players to rotate at the 3 Forward positions, I would sub after 5 minutes and then keep rotating the players who were on the bench (so, in the example below, Danny, Sam and Joe would start and Billy would sub in for Danny. Then Danny would sub in for Sam and then Sam would sub in for Joe).

Position First Half Second Half
RF Danny, Billy
CF Sam
LF Joe

If it doesn't matter to you which positions the players play, it will be easier.

I suggest this approach:

  1. Go to Target or Wal-Mart and buy a Timex or Casio sports watch with a countdown timer (about $25). Set the timer on 5 minutes and start it when the game starts. It will ring after 5 minutes and when you're able to get the subs into the game you press the button so it restarts. Players will complain about being subbed no matter whether it's 5 minutes, 7 or 10. I found that if I tried to sub at 5 minutes, I could usually get them subbed by 7 minutes. By subbing frequently the players stayed more involved in the game.
  2. Sub in "groups". The simplest thing is to sub the entire midfield or all Midfielders and Forwards.