Soccer Local Rules



If the laws of soccer are modified in any way for a league, organization, or competition, then the games are said to be subject to soccer local rules.  The concept and implementation of “local rules” (also known as “modified rules”) in soccer is extremely significant.  In general, soccer referees learn the IFAB Laws of the Game, how the Laws are properly interpreted, and how the Laws are to be applied during a match.  The referees must be informed of local rules in advance of any particular match being played.

It is both unreasonable and inappropriate to expect that referees will know the modifications to the Laws for numerous jurisdictions, or even across age groups within a Club.  Modifications should be provided to the referees in written form before each match.  Accordingly, these jurisdictions should print copies of their modifications to the IFAB Laws of the Game, as applicable to specific age groups or competitions, to be presented to referees by the coaches as early as possible prior to the start of a game.  (The International Football Association Board refers to local rules modifications to the Laws of the Game as being appropriate for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots [soccer], subject to the agreement of the national football association, confederation or FIFA, whichever is appropriate.”)

Examples of modifications to the IFAB Laws of the Game, as used for local rules include choices of the following:

Law 1 – The Field of Play

The size of the field and the size of the goals may be reduced for youth games.

  • Games may not be played if the goals are not properly secured. Both goals must match in size and construction.
  • “Combination Goals,” which merge American football and soccer goals, are acceptable.  (Referees are to call any ball that touches any part of the American football goal or support framework above the crossbar as “out.”)
  • The minimum lines for a game to be played may be:  Touch Lines, Goal Lines, Penalty Area, Halfway Line.  Others may be marked with flat or saucer disks.
  • Size of the field and size of the goals modified by age group.
  • Build-out line (retreat line) used for youngest age group(s).  See:  Introduction to Offensive Goal Kicks

 Law 2 – The Ball (Ball Size)

Ball sizes may be smaller than Size 5 for youth players.

  • U-7 and below:  Size 3
  • U-8, U-9, U-10:  Size 4

 Law 3 – The Players (Number of Players)

The number of players may be fewer than eleven for youth games.  Maximums and minimums may be established by age group.

  • U-7:  Seven players maximum; five players minimum
  • U-8, U-9:  Nine players maximum; seven players minimum

Girls may play on boys’ teams, but boys may not play on girl’s teams.

Law 3 – The Players (Substitutions)

Substitution and return substitution (resubstitution) may be limited or unlimited.  Substitutions may be made only at certain times.  The potential number of substitutes available may be modified.

With the approval of the referee, substitutions may be made:

  • Prior to a throw-in for the throwing team only
  • Prior to a kick-off for either team
  • Prior to a goal kick for either team
  • At halftime for either team
  • Upon issuance of a Caution, only for the player involved*
  • Upon injury, only for the player involved*  (A player who is bleeding must be removed immediately and may not return until the bleeding is stopped and all bloody clothing replaced.)

*other team may substitute a like number

No substitutions may be made in the last one-minute of play.

 Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment 

Equipment may be modified for youth games.

  • No metal or screw-in cleats are allowed; molded rubber or plastic cleats only.
  • Shinguards must always be fully covered by socks, even if the socks fall down during play.  Socks may be held up by garters, tape, or stocking ties of any color as long as the top of the socks are folded over them.
  • No metal-ribbed shinguards are allowed; plastic, hard rubber, and cloth only.
  • No electronic performance and tracking system (EPTS) devices may be allowed.
  • Sports glasses (sports goggles, wraparounds, sports “spectacles”) with soft, flexible frames and polycarbonate lenses are allowed as long as they are securely attached to the head.  Spectacle guards are not permitted.
  • Undergarments for warmth may be worn in cold weather; undergarments do not need to match the colors of the shirt, shorts or socks as long as the shirt, shorts or socks are worn on the outside of the undergarments and are clearly visible.  Soft knit caps and gloves are permitted.
  • Jerseys are expected to have numbers that are unique to each player.
  • “Inside the ear” hearing aids are permitted.
  • External orthodontic devices are not permitted.
  • Designated “home” teams are expected to change jerseys if there is a color conflict.
  • It is the intention to get games played.  If jersey numbering and color conflicts cannot be resolved, “pinnies” may be used or the game played with agreement of the coaches.
  • Nothing “foreign” may be in the mouth, other than internal orthodontic devices.  This includes, ice, gum, and lozenges.  Mouth guards are permitted.
  • Casts, splints, and knee braces are permitted, as long as they are wrapped and padded and approved by the referee.  No exposed metal or sharp edges are permitted.
  • “Medical Alert” bracelets and necklaces are permitted if they are sufficiently padded and the information shows.
  • Knee pads are permitted.

Law 5 – The Referee

Use of Signals:  For instructional purposes, referees may be asked to provide more details on their calls.

  • Referees are to use hand signals and announce verbally to identify both the type of foul and the direction of the kick.  See: Referee Signals.
  • With “combination goals,” referees are to call any contact by the ball with any portion of the American football part of the goal as “out.”

See Law 12 regarding the implementation of temporary dismissals (“Sin Bins”).

Law 6 – The Other Match Officials (Assistant Referees)

Referees may, at their discretion, use volunteer Assistant Referees (Team Linespersons) to call ball in and out of play.  For all games officiated by one referee, each team is required to make one club linesman available.

  • If volunteer Assistant Referees are used, they may only call Goal Line and Touch Line outs (not offside, or goals).

Law 7 – The Duration of the Match

Youth games may have shorter durations.  Halftime intervals may be reduced.

  • Straight running time; no allowance for time lost
  • No “overtimes”
  • U-7:  20-minute halves (5-minute interval)
  • U-8, U-9, U-10:  25-minute halves (8-minute interval)
  • U-11, U-12, U-13:  30-minute halves (10-minute interval)
  • U-14, U-15:  35-minute halves (12-minute interval)
  • U-16, U-17:  40-minues halves (15-minute interval)

Law 8 – The Start and Restart of Play (Temporary Suspension)

Play may be stopped due to outside interference such as dogs, siblings, parents, and balls striking overhanging tree branches.

  • If one team had clear possession of the ball when play was stopped within the field of play, for an injury or unusual event (e.g., loose dog), play will be restarted by that team with an indirect free kick.  If the ball hits an overhanging tree branch, play shall be restarted with a dropped ball.

Law 9 – The Ball In and Out of Play

Modifications may be made if the field of play utilizes “combination goals.”

  • On fields that use combination American football/soccer goals, if the ball strikes any portion of the American football posts, it is immediately out of play.  Play shall be restarted based on what would have transpired had the posts not been in place, i.e., corner kick or goal kick.
  • Parents and fans are required to stay at least three-feet away from the touchlines.
  • No coaches, parents, or fans are allowed behind the goal or the goal-lines.

Law 10 – Determining the Outcome of a Match

Games may be modified for “straight running time.”  This is usually the case where recreation games are played on a tight schedule, one right after the other.

  • There will be no Added Time, Extra Time or penalty kicks.

Law 11 – Offside 

Offside may be modified based on the age group involved.

  • Only flagrant offside violations will be called in U-9 and below recreation games.  No offside shall be called in instructional games.

 Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Heading and Slide Tackles)

Heading and Slide Tackling is not allowed in U-10 games and below.

  • If an attempt at heading or a slide tackle is performed, it is to result in the award of a Direct free kick.  If contact is made and it is careless or reckless, then a caution or ejection, is also issued.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Handling by Females)

Handling may be modified for pubescent girls and women.

  • Girls in all programs U-14 and below will not be penalized for Handling if they perform proper technique for protection of the chest.  Proper technique involves crossing the arms and holding them tightly to the chest.  Moving the arms away from the chest to propel or influence the path of the ball is to be called for Handling.

 Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Goalkeeper Privileges)

Goalkeepers may receive additional protection.

  • A goalkeeper may not be charged while in possession of the ball.

 Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Goalkeeper 6-second Release)

Youth goalkeepers may be allowed discretion in placing the ball back into play after gaining possession.

  • Only flagrant violations will be called in U-9 and below recreation games.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Ejections)

Unruly fans may be ejected from youth games for misbehavior.

  • Spectators or other team fans or supporters are to be controlled by the Coach.  Spectators who do not maintain appropriate decorum shall be ejected from the grounds by the coach after having been told to do so by the Referee.  At their discretion, the Referee(s) may terminate the match if the person (or persons) does not leave the grounds and continues to misbehave.

Spitting on a player is unacceptable under any circumstances.

  • Spitting on a player results in an immediate ejection.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (General)

  • No slide tackling for U-10 and Under.  (Direct free kick.)
  • No heading for U-12 and Under.  (Intentional:  Indirect free kick.  Unintentional:  Drop ball.)
  • Coaches and team officials may be shown yellow and red cards for misconduct.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct (Temporary Dismissals – “Sin Bins”)

For all games U-13 to U-19, inclusive, the temporary dismissal option (use of “sin bins”) may be in effect.  For example, for all players who are given a first yellow card for the following cautionable offenses:

  • Simulation (faking having been fouled)
  • Deliberately delaying the opposing team’s restart of the match
  • Dissent or verbal comments or gestures
  • Stopping a promising attack by holding, pulling, pushing or handball
  • Kicker illegally feinting at a penalty kick

each player shall also sit out at the team bench for ten (10) minutes.   In order to demonstrate to the player, coaches, and fans that a temporary dismissal has been applied, the referee may also show a “blue card.”  The coach must ensure that the player is out for the full time before asking the referee that he or she be allowed to re-enter the match.  The player may only re-enter with the referee’s permission.  See:  Temporary Dismissals – Sin Bins.

Note that there is to be no substitution for a player who has been given a temporary dismissal.  The player’s team must play short while the dismissal time is served.

Law 15 – The Throw-In

The throw-in procedure may be modified in order to keep games moving.

  • Improper throw-ins may be retaken once in U-9 and below recreation games before going to the other team.

Law 16 – The Goal Kick

“Build-out” lines may be used that effect play.

Other – Administrative

In addition to modifications to the Laws of the Game, different jurisdictions may also have local administrative rules they want to have enforced.  These may include such things as:

  • No one is allowed to be behind the goals.  This includes both coaches and spectators.
  • All coaches, spectators and fans must be at least one yard outside the field of play (beyond the sidelines).
  • Teams, including coaches and substitutes, shall be located on one side of the field, separated by at least 10-yards.  Spectators and fans of both teams shall all be on the opposite sideline.  -OR- Teams, including all of their coaches, substitutes, spectators and fans, shall be located on opposite sidelines.
  • Unruly or inappropriate fan or spectator behavior must be immediately reported to, and dealt with, by the coach.  The game may be briefly halted in order to do so.  A record must be made of the circumstances and reported to the Club/League.  Examples include spitting (at or on someone), screaming at opponents, yelling abusive or racial epithets, or entering the field of play.  If the coach does not fix the problem, the individual must be ejected by the coach and leave the premises.  If the problem continues, the coach is to be verbally warned that, if the inappropriate behavior continues, the game will have to be terminated.  If the problem still continues, the referee is authorized to terminate the game.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Local Rules may also include “Mercy Rules,” “Blow-out Rules” or other actions directed to coaches and designed to keep teams from scoring so many goals, almost always associated with youth recreational games, as to demoralize players or make them want to stop playing the game.  Most of these are administrative in nature and are to be implemented by the coaches during a game, as opposed to being the responsibility of the referee.  They are almost always based on score differential to try to avoid blow-outs and associated demoralization, recognizing that “getting killed” simply isn’t fun.  For example, if a team goes ahead by five goals or more:
      • the lower scoring team may add a player
      • the higher scoring team may remove a player
      • (if the differential returns, players may be put back)
      • coaches may take other steps, including giving “weaker” players more playing time, putting scorers on defense, playing possession, playing possession with a minimum number of required passes, taking shots from outside the penalty area or taking shots with the non-dominant leg.  (Any of this should be done in a subtle, sophisticated and quiet manner.)

© Copyright, John C. Harves