8U Division Guidelines

Just a few points for coaches, referees and 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 and 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 players may get a drink during substitution breaks, this is not half-time: snacks should not be handed out at this time.
  4. Heading the ball: Deliberate heading of the ball is not allowed 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 free kick is to be taken from the place where the player touched the ball with his/her head. Before the restart, check the player for signs of concussion. If the player did not intentionally head the ball, the referee may allow play to continue unless he/she is concerned about the safety of the player. In that case, the referee should stop play, check the player, and restart with a dropped ball.
  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. Goal kicks are taken from the penalty area (the big box) NOT the goal area (the little box).
  7. Throw-ins: Restarts after the ball crosses the touchline is a throw-in. The opposing players need to be at least 2 yards from the touchline before it is thrown. Throw-ins have been reintroduced for this age division.
  8. Punts. Goalkeepers shall not punt the ball nor drop kick the ball in 8U.
  9. 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. A free kick is awarded to the opposing team in the case of a slide tackle. [If contact with the opponent is made, the restart is a direct free kick. If no contact is made, it remains dangerous play, and the restart is an indirect free kick] 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.
  10. 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”.
  11. Free Kicks: This division has direct and indirect free kicks. If a foul occurs inside the penalty area, the ball is to be moved outside the penalty area (the “big box”) for the free kick. There are no penalty kicks (8U goalkeepers 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.)
  12. Distance from Ball: Players should be asked to stand back 8 yards (minimum required distance for Region 20 at this age) 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.
  13. 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. The goal is disallowed, and a goal kick is awarded to the defending team.
  14. 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, SafeSport, AYSO volunteer background check, CDC Concussion Awareness, and Sudden Cardiac Arrest course) and Certified with Regional Referee Training or “8U Official” certification (new 2023). (See How to Become an SM AYSO Referee on the Referee section of our website.) Assistant Referees work each sideline and assist the 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 a club linesman. (Club linesmen only signal when the ball goes out of play.) 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 and 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 team that wins the toss of the coin decides which goal to attack in the first half or to take the kick-off. Depending on their choice, their opponents take the kick-off or decide which goal to attack. If time is short, have the home team choose which goal to attack and have the visitors kick-off to start the first half.

Ball Size is size 3.

Game Cards: Game Cards are to be completed by each Coach and given to the Referee before the game. Absences, substitutions, goalkeeper playing time and 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 if there is no game card box, takes a photo and submits to the Division Commissioner, or as per the Division Commissioner’s instructions.

Field Set-Up is the responsibility of all the teams with the first game. Parents must help set up the field. Please arrive early to complete this task in time for the players to practice with the goals. Each field has 2 goals and 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 and net hooks keep the net taut. Additionally, the Game Card box (if used) 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. Parents must help break down the 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 (if used) and Kids Zone sign. Please ensure all stakes and net hooks are accounted for, so children do not find them afterwards. The correct number of stakes and 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!