8U Division Guidelines

Just a few points for coaches, referees & parents to remember, especially for those who have experience in other divisions, as to how 8U differs from soccer’s standard Laws of the Game.

  1. Roster size:  The maximum number of players assigned to a particular team is 9.
  2. Game is 7 vs. 7 with goalkeepers.  If the opposing team has fewer than 7 players then you must play down (play the same number of players).  However, there should never be more than 2 substitutes.  Coaches are encouraged to “lend” players to the opposing team to field the proper number of players.  Loaned players must play at least half of the game with their own team.  Do not play more than 7v7.  (See AYSO’s philosophy on short-sided games & the benefit to the players.)
  3. Duration of game is forty minutes and is played in 2 twenty-minute halves with substitutions allowed 10 minutes into each half.  The half-time break is 5 minutes.  Play should be stopped at a normal stoppage in play.  Due to lack of substitutes or hot weather, the referees may use their discretion to allow for a short break for players to get a drink. 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 quick drink during substitution breaks, this is not a half-time break and snacks should not be handed out at this time.
  4. 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 (IFK) will be awarded to the opposing team if a player deliberately touches the ball with his/her head during a game.  The free kick is to be taken from the place where the player touched the ball with his/her head.
  5. 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 one shall play goalkeeper for more than half the game.  Any player that does play two quarters as goalkeeper must also 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.
  6. Punting: The goalkeeper cannot punt or drop-kick the ball, but can roll or throw it to teammates. The goalkeeper can also dribble the ball and then pass it.
  7. Goal Kicks are taken from the penalty area (the big box) NOT the goal area (the little box).
  8. Corner Kicks: Corner Kicks are taken from the corner area, or within 1 yard of the intersection of the goal line and the touch line.
  9. Throw-Ins:  Throw-ins are allowed in 8U per new (2018) updated guidelines.  Opponents should be at least 2 yards from the ball for the restart.
  10. Fouls and Other Stoppages:  The following, if deliberately done, are the fouls most likely to occur in 8U games:  kicking, tripping, pushing, holding, handling the ball and dangerous play.  No slide tackles are allowed–please educate the players and keep player safety your number one priority.  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.  Referees should work cooperatively with the coaches to instruct players on fair play.
  11. Misconduct:  Misconduct should be rare in 8U games.  There is no need for the public cautioning and sending off of young players (Referees should leave their red and yellow cards home).  Officials should work cooperatively with the coach when a 8U player may need some “cool down time”.
  12. Free Kicks:  Free kicks after contact-fouls are direct free kicks, meaning no one has to touch it for it to be considered a goal.  Other kicks–including kick-ins after the ball crosses the touchlines–are indirect free kicks, which means the ball must touch another player before it goes in the goal. If a foul occurs inside the penalty area, the ball is to be moved outside the penalty area for the free kick.  There are no penalty kicks (8U goalkeepers should always have defenders in front of them).  In other words, teams defending a free kick may place a “wall” of defenders between the kicker and goal.)
  13. Distance from Ball:  Players should be asked to stand back approximately 6-10 yards from the ball for free kicks, goal kicks, corner kicks, kick-offs, etc. to give the kicker room to kick the ball without it immediately hitting an opponent.
  14. Offside The concept of offside is too complicated for 8U players, but aspects of the law may be instructed.  The referee may instruct a player to move out of their opponent’s penalty area if the ball is not near.  Offside should only be “called” in cases of flagrant/intentional cherry picking that result in a goal. In this case you would disallow the goal and award the defending team a “goal kick.”
  15. No score is publicly acknowledged (“we all win”), but line-up cards should be completed in their entirety and turned in to the game card box on the field.  While we do not have a “no slaughter policy”, 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.


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 (see How to Become an SM AYSO Referee on the Referee section of our website.)  Assistant Referees work each sideline and assist the Center Referee with calling the ball in and out of play. The home team should provide the 3 referees.  If someone is absent, they can recruit an Assistant Referee from the visiting team.  In a pinch, uncertified parents may serve as Assistant Referees.  This is a great opportunity for parents to get involved.

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 8 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!  Spectators should NEVER argue with the referee or assistant referees (even when the spectator is right! – remember, scores are not recorded in 8U).  Team Managers should help ensure proper sideline etiquette.

You have your field for your specified slot only.  If you start late, or take a long half-time break, please make-up that time somehow so you still end on time as a courtesy to all the parents who have games after you.  As the official timekeepers, this is the Referee’s responsibility.  However, if the Referee feels s/he has too much going on to keep track of time, select someone to be the timekeeper.

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 which end to defend first.

Ball Size is size 3.

Game Cards: Game Cards are to be completed by each Coach and given to the Center Referee before the game.  Absences, substitutions, goalkeeper playing time & goals are all noted by the Referee during the game.  Again, the Referee can delegate this role to an Assistant 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.  Each field has 2 goals & nets, plus 6 flags – 4 on each of the corners, and 1 each at mid-field, about a yard away from the edge of the field (touchline).  Stakes are used to secure the goals in the ground & net hooks keep the net taut.  Additionally, the Game Card box and Kids Zone sign needs to placed in a visible location.

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 ensure all stakes & net hooks are accounted for, so children do not find them afterwards. The correct number of stakes & hooks are noted on the toolbox in which they are stored.  Any trash and/or recycling must be picked up and dealt with appropriately.

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