12U Division Guidelines

Just a few points for coaches, referees & parents to remember, especially for those who have experience in other divisions, as to how 12U sometimes differs from the standard Laws of the Game.  The guidelines include items from U.S. Soccer’s Player Development Initiative.When not mentioned here, the standard Laws of the Game apply

  1. Duration of game is sixty minutes and is played in 2 thirty-minute halves with substitutions allowed approximately 15 minutes into each half. This substitution time is informally called the “quarter break” or “substitution break.”  Referees should signal for substitutions during a normal stoppage in play at approximately 15 minutes into the half. In order to avoid interrupting play at inappropriate times, substitutions should occur at a normal stoppage such as a throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, free kick, etc. These stoppages seldom occur at exactly the midpoint of the half, so the referee will begin looking for a suitable stoppage during the period one minute before to one minute after the midpoint of the half. Be aware that the game clock does not stop during substitution breaks.  Coaches should keep their players on the pitch and be prepared in advance to make substitutions quickly and efficiently.   While it is fine for players to get a drink during substitution breaks, this is not half-time: snacks should not be handed out at this time. The half-time break is 5-10 minutes. Due to lack of substitutes or hot weather, the referees may use their discretion to allow for a short break at any time during the game for players to get a drink.
  2. Heading the ball:  Deliberate heading of the ball is banned for all players in this division in both practices and games.  In a match, an indirect free kick will be awarded to the opposing team if a player deliberately touches the ball with his/her head during a game.  The indirect free kick is to be taken from the place where the player touched the ball with his/her head.
  3. Punting: ***The goalkeeper may punt the ball***  This is a change (new for 2018 per National AYSO) from last season.
  4. Goal kicks are taken from the goal area.  The ball is not in play and cannot be touched or played by either team until it goes beyond the penalty area (the big box). Standard rules apply.
  5. Throw-Ins:  Second chances are not given for improper throw-ins for 12U players.  An improper throw-in results in a throw-in for the opposing team.  The referee must judge if indeed the throw-in violated the spirit of the Throw-in Law or if the violation was trifling and not worthy of stopping play.  Keep the game moving and minimize unnecessary interruptions.
  6. Fouls: Referees should not stop play for trifling violations.  It’s a player’s game so keep the fun going and let them play.  But always stop for safety.
  7. Misconduct: This is a term used in the Laws of the Game to cover behavior that is in serious conflict with the spirit of the game and good sportsmanship.  Acts that are considered misconduct are specified in Law 12 and are also classified in two groups:  those for which a player is Cautioned and those for which a player is Sent Off (required to leave the field and prevented from further participation in the match).A player is cautioned and shown the yellow card if s/he commits any of the following seven offenses:
    – Is guilty of unsporting behavior
    – Shows dissent by word or action
    – Persistently infringes the Laws of the Game
    – Delays the restart of play
    – Fails to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick, or throw-in
    – Enters or re-enters the field of play without the referee’s permission
    – Leaves the field of play without the referee’s permission  A player is sent off and shown the red card if s/he commits any of the following seven offenses:
    – Is guilty of serious foul play
    – Is guilty of violent conduct
    – Spits at an opponent or any other person
    – Denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
    – Denies an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
    – Uses offensive, insulting, or abusive language and/or gestures
    – Receives a second caution in the same match
    In AYSO, red and yellow cards are not used in the 6U, 8U, or 10U divisions.  We do issue cautions and send-offs in 12U.  That being said, in Region 20, we are in accord with this statement by AYSO in “Guidance to Coaches and Referees”: Children who are under 12 years of age should not be formally cautioned or sent off unless there are exceptional circumstances.  Referees should consider whether children in this age group are fully aware of their actions and should consult and work with the coach to get the desired behavior.  Young players can usually be controlled by a verbal admonishment, thus avoiding the need to display the cards.Although the Laws of the Game require that “a player who has been sent off must leave the vicinity of the field of play and the technical area,” youth players who are sent off must be allowed to remain on the sideline, under the control of their coach.
  8. Distance from Ball:  Players need to stand back approximately 10 yards from the ball being kicked (for free kicks, goal kicks, kick-offs, etc.) to give the kicker room to kick the ball without it immediately hitting an opponent.
  9. Offside – standard rules apply.
  10. Playing time:  “3/4 rule” applies to all players on the team (no one plays the entire game unless everyone else has played 3 quarters). No player shall play goalkeeper for more than two quarters.In the event that a team has less than 12 players at a particular game AND a player plays as goalkeeper for two quarters, that player must play the other two quarters on the field.  Adherence to the playing time policy is the responsibility of the Coach, not the Referee nor the Assistant Referee.  Any violation of the playing time policy will result in a (post-game) forfeit against the offending team.Standard roster size is 12 players.  However, in unique circumstances, with Executive Board approval, the roster may be increased to 13.  In the event that a team has 13 players at a game, three players will play only half of that game.  At subsequent games in which all 13 players are present, those players who previously only played half of a game, must play ¾ of the game. (i.e., no player shall play only half a game twice in the regular season until all other players on the team have played only half a game.)  During playoffs, this guideline “restarts” such that in the event that a team has 13 players at a playoff game, three players will play only half of that game.  At any and all remaining playoff games, a player who previously played only half of a playoff game must play at least ¾ of any remaining games (i.e., any given player may play only half of a playoff game, ONLY ONCE during the playoffs).
  11. Score is publicly acknowledged in 12U.  While there is no longer any automatic penalty for teams that beat an opponent by more than five goals, good sportsmanship is still paramount (in fact, it’s one of the six core AYSO philosophies).   Coaches must be prepared with innovative ways to keep the score close while still challenging their players and being respectful of the opposing team.  To ensure no more than a 5-goal margin, coaches should begin to pull back PRIOR to reaching that margin.  Coaches are encouraged to review the document  “How to Prevent a Blow-out” on the website and to consult with the Regional Coach Administrator for suggestions on how to achieve a result that is both challenging and respectful.   Egregious blow-outs that show a lack of sportsmanship may result in penalties against the offending teams.
  12. Play 9 vs. 9 with goalkeepers.  If the opposing team has fewer than 9 players then a coach may, at his or her option, choose to play down (play the same number of players).  However, there should never be more than 3 substitutes (assuming a 12-player roster).  If a team does not have a minimum of 6 players at the start of the game (allowing a 5-minute grace period) or does not maintain a minimum of 6 players, then it will forfeit the game.  A 0-1 forfeit loss will be assigned to the forfeiting team.  Once the decision is made regarding the official outcome, a “friendly” game is played, where the outcome has no bearing on standings, but is played simply for the enjoyment of playing.  Coaches are encouraged to “lend” players to the opposing team to field the proper number of players in a friendly match.  Never play more than 9v9.  (See AYSO’s philosophy on short-sided games & the benefit to the players.)


Referees should briefly explain any infringements to ALL the players and help players with instructions.  They are the teachers on the field – and should encourage proper play and sporting behavior.  Every effort should be made to keep the game moving and free from stoppages for doubtful infractions. Let them play and enjoy.

Referees must be registered AYSO volunteers (meaning completion of safe haven and eAYSO volunteer background check) & certified with Basic Referee Training or higher (see How to Become an SM AYSO Referee on the Referee section of our website.)  12U Center Referees should be certified with Intermediate Referee Training, or be working toward earning an Intermediate Badge after already completing the Intermediate Referee Course.

Referees in 12U do not referee their own children’s game, but are scheduled for other games in the division. Referees schedule themselves for games in this division.  The recommended procedure is as follows:

  • The home team is responsible for providing 2 Referees during the weekend of play.  The home team should provide 2 referees (both AR’s is ok) for the game immediately preceding theirs on the same field.    The home team for the first game of the day should provide two refs for the last match of the day on that same field.

All teams must earn at least 15 referee points during the season to qualify for the playoffs.  Referee points may be earned by refereeing games for which they are qualified in the 8U, 10U, 12U, 14U, and Upper divisions, by performing referee administration work, or by attending referee courses.

Coaches shall utilize positive coaching skills (avoid constant coaching, no yelling at players), stay within the designated technical area (coach’s box—no more than 10 yards on either side of the midfield line), show respectful attitude toward the referees and HAVE FUN!

Spectators from each team shall be on opposite sides of the field. The home team is the first team listed on the game schedule and sits on the West or North side of the field.  The visiting team is the second team listed on the game schedule and is assigned the East or South side of the field.  Spectators must stay between the “18-yard lines” (between the penalty areas).  Spectators must also be 2 yards back from the touchline, maintaining an unobstructed and safe area for the Assistant Referee and players to run and perform throw-ins. A spectator must never sit or stand behind the goal or goal line.  Coaches & assistant referees should encourage adherence to this policy.  Spectators shall avoid coaching players (coaches coach, players play, parents cheer), avoid foul or abusive language or gestures toward any player, coach, referee or other spectators, abide by the Kids Zone guidelines (no smoking, no consumption of alcohol, no dogs, etc.), acknowledge and congratulate BOTH teams on a game well played, and HAVE FUN!  Team Managers should help ensure proper sideline etiquette. If playing on an artificial turf field, please see the City’s policies regarding use of those fields (i.e., water being the only liquid or food allowed on the field).

You have your field for your specified slot only. Referees must make sure the game starts on time as a courtesy to all the teams that have games afterward. Coaches and players should be ready to start the game on time. If a game must start late, the referee may shorten the halftime interval or may choose to play shorter halves, but both halves must be equal in length.

Coin toss: The “Home team” makes the call; either “heads or tails” in the air.  If the call is correct the home team decides what end they will defend. If the call is incorrect then the “Visiting team” decides what end they will defend.  Losing the coin toss means you kick off first.  Coaches should prepare their captains on what end to choose to defend first.

Ball Size is size 4.

Game Cards: Game cards are to be completed by each Coach or Team Manager prior to the start of game warm-ups.  To complete the game card, coaches must write the full name and number of each player on the team in order of uniform number and give the game card to the Center Referee before the start of the game.  The Referee notes all absences, substitutions, goalkeeper playing time & goals during the game.  Again, the Referee can delegate this role to an Assistant Referee if s/he needs assistance.  The Referee signs the completed game cards and deposits them in the Game Card box, or as per the Division Commissioner’s instructions.

Field Set-Up is the responsibility of all the teams with the first game.  Please arrive early to complete this task in time for the players to practice with the goals in the proper location. Each field has 2 goals & 6 flags – 1 on each of the four corners, and 1 each at the halfway line, about a yard away from the edge of the field (touchline).  Additionally, the Game Card box and Kids Zone sign need to placed in a visible location.  Please pick-up any debris on the field.

Field Take-Down is the responsibility of the teams with the last game on that field.  Sometimes, one field may end earlier than another, so be sure to check if yours is the last game for that field.  All field equipment needs to be returned to the storage room, along with the Game Card box and Kids Zone sign.  Please also pick-up any trash or recycling.

No other changes from play as specified in FIFA Laws of the Game.

Coaches have an abbreviated copy of the FIFA Laws in their 12U Coaching Manual.  Referees are given a copy in Basic Referee Training.

Everyone is welcome to download a full copy of the AYSO Edition of the FIFA Laws of the Game from the Coaches section or the Referee section of our website.

Thanks for your help and cooperation in making this an enjoyable experience for all the children!