Under 10, 12 & 14

Division  U10  U12  U14
 Age on July 31  9  10 or 11  12 or 13
 Roster Size  10  12  14
 Players on Field  7  9  11
 Field Size  60x40  90x60  full size

U10 is a big step up from U9, as we move from using laws of the game that are substantially modified for the younger children to the standard laws of the game, with slight modifications due to the reduction in field and goal size.  And, we use the offside law in this division!

GAME FORMAT in U12 & U14
The game format in U12 is essentially the same as U10, with the full laws of the game.

All coaches, including both the head coach and assistant coaches, must be currently registered as a volunteer (annual requirement), have completed Safe Haven (a one-time requirement) and have completed the U10, U12 or Intermediate Coach Course for the three divisions respectively.

As mandated in the FIFA Laws of the Game used worldwide, no player may wear anything considered dangerous to themselves or any other player. This includes all jewelry. We run into problems every year with players with newly pierced ears who do not want to remove the studs. Referees are instructed not to let them play unless they remove them; covering them with tape is not an option. The best solution: wait until the end of the season to get piercings.

Coach on the field: Coaches may not enter the field during the game.  Referee "owns" the field and all referee directions must be adhered to.
Referees: The center referee must be certified for Basic Referee, at least.  The ARs must be certified at Basic to function as an AR, otherwise, they are considered club linesmen.  Center referee's discretion for what the club linesmen may call.

Slide tackles
  • Instructional Program:  Players in Under-10 are not permitted to slide-tackle.  They are highly unlikely to be able to correctly execute a safe sliding tackle.  The kids need to understand that they may hurt the other player, or even themselves.  Coaches are expected to explain that staying on your feet gives you the best chance of winning the ball in a challenge.  Referees should whistle attempted slide tackles as dangerous play. 
  • Competitive Program, Elite and Select: Slide tackles are permitted.
  • Players in Under-12 and U14 are permitted to slide-tackle.  Referees will watch carefully for ill-executed slide-tackles, and call dangerous play liberally.  Any slide tackle or contact with cleats-up should be whistled as dangerous play.
  • Instructional Program:  Heading is not permitted at U10 and the referee should call a dangerous play foul.  
  • Heading is permitted in the U10 Competitive Programs (Elite and Select) and at U12 and U14 in all programs.  Any player that the referee deems should not head the ball, may be whistled for dangerous play in these divisions.
Punting:  Punting the ball by the goal keeper is permitted.

7v7 in U10 Instructional
The move to 7v7, coupled with increasing mental understanding of the game, provides both the need and the opportunity to adopt a system of play. However, we should resist the temptation to move to far too fast. Many players of this age will still have great difficulty with the concept of positional play, particularly with the difference between relative position and absolute position. It is important to keep the system of play simple and easy to explain. Players need simple and intuitive positional assignments. The recommended system of play is 3-3, with no midfield line. This system provides each player with a clear role and area of the field to cover and both the sides of the field and the center of the field are given equal cover. Adding a midfield would require one or more lines to contain only two players, and the need to divide responsibility between the center and the wing. This is a challenging assignment even for advanced players.

It's important to encourage the attackers and defenders to stay connected. When their team does not have possession of the ball, the attackers should come back and help on defense, as if they were in fact midfield players. Their position could be anywhere from inside the penalty area to mid-way in the half, depending on the situation. The last place they should be is hanging around at the half-way line. When their team has possession the defenders should support the attackers by moving forward enough to cover any loss of possession, and be ready for back passes if the attacker is unable to make forward progress. This will often take defenders as much as mid-way into the opponents half. The one caveat is that if one or more of the opposing fowards do in fact position themselves near the half-way line, then one or more defenders must stay back and shadow these players. Why? Because a player cannot be offside in his/her own half of the field, so a long kick out of defense could cause a breakway in this situation.

Again the last place the defenders should be is near their own goal when their own attackers are in their opponents half. They cannot provide support in this situation nor are they likely to be having fun. They also cannot gain any advantage from the offside law if they do not move up the field. It can, unfortunately, be a winning strategy at this age, because players who have run the full length of the field with the ball are often tired enough to be tackled easily when they reach the penalty area. We consider this a "winning at all costs" strategy, because it puts winning the game before proper player development and enjoyment, so it has no place in AYSO.

Let's stress again that many players initially will find the intellectual demands of positional play very difficult. Players should certainly be given positional assignments for each game and should line up at the start of each half in those positions. What happens in between may well appear to be "all over the place", but if your team is actively involved in the game it really doesn't matter whether the players stick to their assigned positions. Certainly, there will be opportunities to make tactical suggestions about improving positional play during the game, especially at half-time and after the game. For example, when your team takes a throw-in, the forward on that side of the field should always provide a target close to the touch line, and you should observe whether that is happening or not and remind the player of that responsibility at an appropriate moment. Likewise at other restarts such as goal kicks, the players should be approximately in their area of positional responsibility. But experienced coaches who have coached through all player ages know that positional play takes many years to learn and that little is served by pushing it too hard too early. The risks of establishing bad habits by being overly concerned about "playing position" are much worse.
We use the standard, three-referee diagonal system of control in these divisions.  

For U10, Referees are parent volunteers from the teams playing. The home team must provide a certified center referee. (Failure to do so means the home team forfeits the game.)  The two assistant referees who work the sidelines may come from either team.  It is therefore recommended that each team have at least two trained referees.  Under-10 Rules and refereeing are described in more detail in the Referee section of our web site, on the Under-10 Laws page.  At this level, referees must take the Basic Referee class.  Referee training from U9 (U8 Official) is not adequate for this level! The class schedule can be found on the Referee Classes page.

For U12 & U14, there is a major change in the way referees are assigned, as opposed to younger divisions.  Parents are no longer allowed to be the center referee for their own child's games.  However, parent referees may be assistant referees for their own child's games. 

Since parents are no longer allowed to be center referee for their own child's games, we need the referees to help out by refereeing games their children are not involved in.  The referees are assigned to games by a referee coordinator.  The coordinator will typically assign a referee to be the center referee to a game before or after their child's game, and assign them to be an assistant referee on their child's game.  If each team supplies the recommended two referees, then on average each team referee would ref a single game per week, two weeks out of three.

Other parents are encouraged to help out referees serving as center refs for adjacent games, by helping with pick up and drop off of their players.

Referees are asked to input their preferences (how many games per day, centers or lines, dates available, which divisions) into the WebYouthSoccer system at the beginning of the season and the referee coordinator uses this information to make compatible assignments.  Referees then accept or reject assignments.  If a referee cannot take an assignment it is important that they reject it as soon as possible so that another referee can be assigned.

Referees at this level must have at least the Basic Referee training (Regional Referee badge) and, at a minimum, attend a refresher clinic each year.  Referees who have had at least a year of experience at this level are encouraged to attend the Intermediate Referee course.  Clinic information can be found on the Referee Classes page.

Each year, people ask why we can't simply bring in 'outside' referees and pay them.  Firstly, AYSO is an all-volunteer organization and paying referees is not permitted.  Further, there is no ready source of qualified referees outside of AYSO.  In fact, many referees in other systems started out in AYSO.  AYSO has to be self-sufficient regarding referees or the program just won't work.  Finally, AYSO and our region work hard to make sure our referees have excellent training and a fun, rewarding volunteer experience.  Our AYSO referee volunteers have done a superb job for over five decades, and we intend to continue that success.

9 v 9 in U12 Instructional
The move to 9v9 is the appropriate time to introduce a midfield line to act as the link between the attack and defence that is needed as the field size increases. The midfield role is the most demanding role in terms of physical conditioning as these players are inevitably in the thick of the action precisely because they are required to play the link role. Those players who, in 7v7, always seemed to be in the action whatever their formal assignment, will make "natural" midfielders.
Unfortunately, 9 players requires that there be 2 players in one of the lines, contrary to the recommendations above. It is therefore a compromise between reducing  player numbers to increase participation and the difficulty of the associated systems of play. We recommend two systems of play for 9v9, 3-3-2 and 3-2-3. Notice that in all the recommended systems of play we never have less than 3 players in the defensive line.

Maintaining adequate width and balance in the defensive line is very important and this cannot be achieved with only two players. The 3-2-3 system is more attack minded that 3-3-2 and allows wing play on both sides of the field. Provided that the midfield players can cover the territory it can work well. However, against an opposing team playing 3-3-2, the midfield will have a numerical disadvantage, which may be significant. Since playing with a 2 person attacking line is now almost standard at 11v11, the 3-3-2 system does have the virtue of introducing that style of play early on. We say more about that in the section on 11v11.

U12, especially younger players are, in many ways, closer to U10 than U12 in their capacity to deal with the mental demands of positional play. Coaches should continue to expect to encounter players who have very little positional discipline.

11 v 11 in U14 and Up
It is in this age group that the ability to understand and carry out the demands of positional play truly develops. Indeed one can make the case that, were it not for the contemporary approach of organizing youth soccer around formal teams and games, that it is only at this age that we would attempt to teach positional play. Certainly, prior to the era of organized youth soccer, most children did not play on an organized team or in such large player numbers until this age.

By age 14 most soccer players have a good understanding of the basic system of defensive, midfield and attacking play and are entering the period when they can comprehend some of the more subtle aspects of a particular system of play. It is at this age that the coach also needs to develop a throrough understanding of the different systems, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they relate to the basic principles of play.

The most straightfoward system of play, and one that is recommended for the younger players in this range is 4-3-3. This formation retains the benefits, described previously, of a 3 player line in midfield and attack. There are two ways to organize the defensive line, with a "sweeper" or without, which is sometimes called a "flat back four". The sweeper almost constitutes an additional line (1-3-3-3), because he/she typically plays just behind the line of defense and acts as cover for that line. However, the sweeper should not be positioned so far back as to be unable to provide immediate cover should one of the other defenders is beaten. The distinguishing aspect of the sweeper is thet he/she never directly guards (marks) an opponent. In the flat back four formation, there are effectively two center backs who cover the center area. Both center backs may mark an opponent, typically if the opponents are playing two attackers in central positions.

Critics of the overly defensive aspects of modern soccer would certainly prefer 4-3-3 over 4-4-2, which is the de facto formation today in the adult game in which one attacker is pulled back to strengthen the midfield. The very attack-minded formation of 4-2-4 is rarely used these days, as the demands on the midfield players are too great. Whereas 4-3-3 encourages traditional attacking wing play by wing forwards who stay wide, 4-4-2 requires the two attackers to divide their time between the center and the wings. For example, with 4-3-3,  if the attacking team has a throw-in on one side of the field, the wing player on that side is the natural target and should be in position. With 4-4-2, one of the attackers will have to move to that side of the field to be a target. The two players must work together to cover the width and not become too separated. Lots of diagonal running between the center and the wings can make the two person attack very effective, because the defensive players have to constantly trade off marking responsibility. With a 3 person attacking line, the marking responsibilities often stay fixed.

A popular contemporary system of play is 3-5-2. This is a challenging system to operate effectively and certainly better suited to older players who have a good grasp of the basic systems. The essence of this system is that the two outside midfield players operate as "wing-backs", with more attacking and defending responsibilities than the other midfield players. On attack, the wing-backs can take the role of traditional wingers thus augmenting the forward line. On defence, they play almost like full-backs. Clearly the physical demands on such players are considerable.

Coaches sometimes resort to other exotic systems of play in special circumstances, such as 3-6-1 or 4-5-1. However, it is unusual for a team to start a game this way. In almost every game on the planet, the players will line up in one of the systems of play described above.