How & When to Substitute Soccer Players

I am the Head coach of a U14 Girls Rec team for this spring. Last Fall I was an assistant Coach for the same team. The former Head coach would sub all players on the bench at around 17 minutes into the first half and again at mid second- half. The rules state that we have free substitution (goal kicks by either team, our throw in, etc.). My assistants suggest that that we sub in and out depending on the situation on the field. For example, if we feel that subbing one player for another in a particular situation might give us an advantage and improve our chances of scoring a goal, then we should sub at that opportunity rather than just do all at once like last fall. As Head coach, I am not opposed to be subbing based on the situation on the field, but, I am also concerned about playing the girls an equal amount of time. I believe the rules state that we should play everyone at least 2 quarters or half the game. Some say that as long as we play everyone an equal amount of time over the season that will be agreeable.

By subbing halfway through the first and second halves, that made it somewhat simpler to insure that everyone played in the game and the minimum 2 quarters time was met. However, it didn't give you the flexibility to react to situations on the field that might call for a sub at that point. I'd like to be able to do both....sub freely depending on the situation but somehow also make certain that everyone plays a minimum amount of time.

By subbing halfway through the first and second half, it was also easier to create a lineup for the game. Who starts the first "quarter"? Who is on the bench during the first quarter (these will be subbed in) Who starts the second half? Who is on the bench during the third quarter? (these will be subbed at 4th quarter. We don't have official quarters for U14..only halves. Anyway, keeping the lineup straight was easier using this "mass" sub method. If I am using free substution, I know I can still come up with the lineup that starts the game, but given free substitutions, I'm not sure how I can decide who starts the second half. Seems only fair that those who were not subbed during the first half should be starting the second half?

If you have any ideas I would greatly appreciate hearing them. Through U12, the rec rules say we can sub only at quarters and the ref will call for subs. At U14, you are allowed free substitution. So I'm wrestling with how best to not tie my hands if I need to sub in a given situation, but also keep all players in the game as much possible.


Hi Bill,

I used to struggle with this too, and you've stated the pros and cons well.

I would suggest a little of both. I actually used to sub in and out every 6 to 7 minutes (I used a watch with a countdown timer to keep up with it), on the theory that players would get less tired, play harder, stay more involved with the game, and have more fun). I assume you play 11 on the field and will have 3-5 subs per game. Your Midfielders will need to be subbed the most. If you have a situation where it helps to send in a particular player (such as on your throw-in if you want to send in a girl who can make a big throw), then I think that makes sense. If you sub more frequently, your players won't get as tired and will stay more involved with the game. I always played every player at least half of every game, and I think that's what the rule intends.

If you have some really weak players, play the slow ones who are tough and brave (not afraid of contact) at FB and "Defend Deep" and teach them how to clear the ball. You can also safely play them at an outside mid position (use a formation like a 3-1-4-2, with your best players at CFB, Stopper, the 2 Center Mid positions and the 2 Forward positions -- in this Formation, you put your absolutely weakest players at the 2 outside mid positions -- you can put slow players at FB as long as you Defend Deep, but you CANNOT put players at FB who are afraid of contact). I didn't sub my FB's much since they Defended Deep and didn't run much. I subbed my MF's the most, so if you have 4 really weak players, you can rotate them at the outside mid positions and they all get to play half the game.