How to use
substitutes in youth soccer
by Larry Paul
Burke Athletic Club
introduced three changes to soccer at the 1970 World Cup Finals in
Mexico. For the first time a spotted football was used because goalkeepers
and coaches were concerned that the thin air in Mexico City would
allow talented players to put additional spin on the ball. The spots
allowed players to read the spin on the ball earlier in flight. Yellow
and red cards were introduced to bridge the communication
between referees, players, coaches and fans. This came about because
of the 1966 England --Argentina
Semi-Final match when the German referee tried to send off the
Rattin, and neither man understood a word the other was saying. (Ken
Aston, who eventually persuaded Rattin to leave the field, got the
idea for a colour-coded system from a set of traffic lights he
saw as he was driving home.)
biggest change of all was necessitated by the overtime Final between
England and West
Germany. Up to that point when a manager named the starting eleven he
was also naming the ending eleven. The 1966 Final was played by the
same twenty-two men for the entire 120 minutes. There was no mechanism
or allowance for substitutes. If a player was injured the team would
carry on with ten. If it were the goalkeeper a field player would have
to take his place. The scene on the field when West Germany equalized
in the last minute sending the game into overtime became legend
concerning two fatigued teams. It also created a problem with the
satellite time that FIFA had bought for broadcasting the game. One
they didn't want to repeat.
FIFA was very
concerned about the effect the high altitude would have on players.
They envisioned the World Cup Finals as being a war of attrition.
Players would become fatigued early on and the games
would degenerate into a drab stalemate. To counteract this they
introduced the idea of substitutes. At first it was limited to three
and this way coaches would be able to introduce new blood into a
sagging team, go for the winner in regulation time and get off of the
air on schedule. (Luckily for the soccer public it seems to have had
exactly the opposite effect. West Germany played both their quarter
and semi-final matches in thrilling overtime.)
At the same
time, Dettmar Cramer was setting up the basic philosophy for youth
soccer in the United States. Part of what he saw was the need to
insure that the suburban youth culture was based on participation, and
not on competition. At least until this new sport could get off of the
ground. His position in the world's soccer hierarchy was strong enough
that the sports founding members here adopted this view. Everybody
presents today's coaches with several problems. How do you organize
your team so that you can balance the needs of fair competition,
balanced playing time and the educational demands of your top talents?
How can you keep track of who's been where and how long have they
played? How do you maximize the educational opportunities of the
competitive phase, the weekend match? These are some of the practical
questions that the following will address.
write it down.
Step one is
to commit to the habit of writing down what you want to do before
you get to the game. (download a form to do this
) This offers you several
It can give you a visual
reference of who is where and when. This will save you from some of
those coaches "uh-oh's" when you look out on the field and see a
situation that you'd rather
easier to change a plan then it is to make one up. As the kids arrive
you'll be able to mentally check off how close you've come to you're
plan. You'll have a starting team/s and the subs. You'll be able to
make your adjustments and get back as close as possible to your
3. You'll have a
written record. You'll be walking into the game with documentation.
With a few notations
you can make, and record what you actually did. This will pay big
dividends half way through the season when you're trying to remember
who played what and for how long.
4. You'll be able to
give your children useful information before a game. When everybody
shows up you'll be
able to give everyone a clear idea about what they'll be doing and
when they'll be doing it. Their role in the game shouldn't come as a
avoid a lot of confusion when players are on the field and ask, "Where
am I playing?" You have it written down.
6. You are
more likely to have the correct number of players on the field.
7. You'll be
much more comfortable in your timing when to put your subs in. You'll
know ahead of time when you want to change, not too early and not too
All of this
requires some pre-game preparation on your part. At
first it will
take awhile. But after a few games it becomes routine and very easy to
do. You start to repeat certain patterns that become obvious after
you've been writing them down. You don't have to reinvent the wheel.
you're committed to planning ahead let's look at some ideas for better
Do youth players need to
play in every position?
They don't have to play
every position in every game. This invites chaos and
confusion. Use each game as a way to focus
on a smaller portion of the game.
Try to keep the children in
at least a certain area or role for each game. For example, on the
right side, in the centre or on the left. As an attacker or as a
defender. (Goalkeepers can share a half.) This way, when you tell a
child something it's relevant to what they've done and what they'll be
doing. (What value is feedback about attacking play when they'll spend
the rest of the game in the back line?) Use the game to focus on a
topic and learn more about it.
When a child has made up
their mind that they want to play somewhere why argue with them?
(Unless you have to share the position.) If they want to play
exclusively in the back let them. They can become an expert, enjoy
their time there and change later on when they're ready. (Imagine a band
teacher who switched musicians around because "you never know when a
violinist might need to play the oboe.")