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Soccer Rules: Players and Substitutions

Number of Soccer Players

In a typical soccer game there are 11 players for each team. One player is designated as the goalkeeper. The rest of the players are not mentioned in the rules. Player positions and roles are defined by the team and coach, not by the rules.

Some kids’ soccer teams may have fewer players per side, especially if the fields are small. Generally, the younger the age group, the less players. Under 12 leagues may go with 8 per side, while under 10 leagues may go with as few as 6 per side.


The goalkeeper, or goalie, is the only “special” player on the field. This is because goalies have special abilities such as using their hands within the penalty area. Any player on the field can become the goalie as long as they notify the referee. The goalie is also supposed to wear a different colored jersey than the rest of the players to help identify who is the goalie.


There are strict rules for substitutions in professional and international play. These might be different that what is allowed in a youth league. In many youth soccer leagues substitutions are unlimited. This is so the coach can be sure to allot a fair amount of playing time to each player. Also, high school soccer generally allows for unlimited substitutions.

Soccer subs waiting to come into game

In international play, the general spirit of the rule is that substitutions are for injured players. However, you can substitute for anyone. One thing to keep in mind is that once a player is substituted for and leaves the field, the player cannot return. For this reason, substitutes are not used as much as in other sports. They are often used near the end of the game to get a fresh player or two into the game.

To Substitute a Player

  • You can substitute when there is a normal stoppage of play.
  • Let the referee know you want to substitute.
  • The player leaving the game has exited the field.
  • Wait for the referee’s signal that says you can now enter the game.
  • Enter the game at the center line.

Note: if you enter the game without the referee’s permission, you could get a yellow card.

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