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The Players – Law 3


“The Players,” Law 3 of the Laws of the Game of soccer, essentially determines the number of players who may play in a match and how substitutions are handled. Because this Law is oriented toward the highest levels of soccer, playing 11 v 11 with minimal use of substitutes, it is probably the one that is most modified by “local rules” in the United States.

In summary, Law 3 states that a match is intended to be played by two teams of 11-players each, one of whom is designated as the goalkeeper, and that a match can’t start or continue if either team has fewer than seven players. Further, in FIFA-official competitions, only a maximum of three substitutes may be used during regulation time, from a group of pre-authorized potential substitute players, and specific procedures must be followed when a substitution is made. Law 3 also specifies the sanctions to be imposed for violations of any part of the rule.

The majority of soccer games in the United States are not played according to the strict direction this rule. These games are played under modified “local rules” that address everything from playing youth matches with teams using fewer players, known as “small- side” or “short-side” games, to unlimited substitution or re-substitution of all players on the team, in order to provide for equal exposure and fairness. Recently, Law 3 was modified to acknowledge and permit re-substitution “in the lowest levels (grassroots/recreational)” of soccer by permitting local rules to incorporate “return substitutions.”

As with all aspects of the Laws of the Game, coaches must first read and understand the specifics of Law 3 and its implementation. This includes both the rule and the interpretations of the rule. Second, they must find out how the law is modified for their particular circumstances and competitions (the local rules). This involves:

• The maximum number of players allowed on the roster
• If formal rosters and player passes are used, the procedures affecting them
• The maximum number of players on the field in a game
• The minimum number of players to start a game
• The minimum number of players to continue a game
• If a goalkeeper is even used
• How to ensure a change in goalkeeper is recognized by the Referee
• The number of substitutes allowed in a match
• If players may be re-substituted (returned)
• When substitutions are permitted (this usually involves a list of the acceptable “stoppages in play”)
• The procedures for making a substitution
• The specific procedures for changing the goalkeeper

Soccer Coaching Tips

Coaches also need to educate themselves on the following:

– What constitutes a forfeit and how it is determined
– How to properly inform referees of local rules before a match – this should involve a printed handout to be given to the referees as soon as possible before a match
– At each match, how the referee wants to be informed when the coach wants to make a substitution
– If an Assistant Referee is present at any given match, how he wants to be informed when the coach wants to make a substitution
– Even though a goalkeeper change during the halftime interval may not require informing the referee, tell the referee anyway
– The effects of “outside agents” such as dogs, people, siblings and overhanging limbs on trees
– The location and expected behavior of “Team Officials”
– Players being allowed to go outside of the field during normal play
– Changing the goalkeeper with a field player who is already in the game
– Allowance or disallowance when a goal is scored with an extra person on the field

New coaches, particularly at the youth level, should learn the “I want to make a substitution” hand signal: rotating both hands around each other at chest level (used after calling out and getting the referee’s or assistant referee’s visual attention).

Also, particularly at the youth level, coaches need to instruct their players that, when they go in as a substitute, they must specifically call out the name of the player with whom they are exchanging. This should be emphasized with a “low-five” hand-tap by the two players as they are crossing paths. The performance of these two actions is particularly beneficial when coaches are making multiple substitutions at the same time in order to ensure that an equal number of players come off to the number going in. Of course, each player needs to be told in advance the name of the person for whom they are substituting. It is further helpful at this time to re-emphasize the position being taken. As a last step, the coach should count the players as they come off so that if they sent “four in,” they can confirm “four out.”

Players also need to be clearly instructed on how substitutions are performed.  Youth players just learning the game can hear “go in for Johnny” and immediately run onto the field with great enthusiasm.

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John Harves®
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