12U 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 12U sometimes differs from the standard Laws of the Game. When not mentioned here, the standard Laws of the Game applies.

  1. Roster size: The maximum number of players assigned to a particular team is 12.
  2. 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 and the benefit to the players.) 
  3. Duration of game is sixty minutes and is played in 2 thirty-minute halves with a 5 minute half time. 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 players may get a drink during substitution breaks, this is not half-time: snacks should not be handed out at this time. 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.
  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. 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 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. While the Referee records players and substitutes on the game card, 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). 

  6. Goal kicks are taken from the goal area. Standard laws of the game apply. 
  7. 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.
  8. Fouls: Law 12 applies and will be enforced. 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. It is the sole discretion of the referee to determine whether a foul has occurred.  
  9. Misconduct: Law 12 applies and will be enforced. Misconduct 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 will be enforced. It is the sole discretion of the referee to determine whether misconduct has occurred.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. 
  10. Distance from Ball: Players need to stand back 8 yards from the ball being kicked (for free kicks, goal kicks, kick-offs, etc.) to give the kicker room to kick the ball. 
  11. Offside – standard laws of the game apply.
  12. Score is publicly acknowledged in 12U. While there is no 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. 


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 (Center Referees and Assistant Referees) must be registered AYSO volunteers and have their background check completed. They must also have completed AYSO Safe Haven, SafeSport, CDC Concussion Awareness, and Sudden Cardiac Arrest. They must be certified with Regional 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 Intermediate Referees, or be working toward earning their Intermediate badge after completing and passing the Intermediate Referee test. They may then CR games at this level, working toward their game count.  Assistant Referees may be Regional or higher. 

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 should provide 3 referees 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 10U, 12U, and 14U by performing referee administration work, or by attending referee courses. More details are available on the Region 20 website, under the Referees Points tab. 

Coaches shall use 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 half-way line), show respectful attitude toward the referees. The coaches are ultimately responsible for their sidelines’ behavior (the coaching staff, the team players, and spectators). 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 not coach 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 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 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 and goals during the game. The Referee should delegate this role to the Assistant Referees. The Referees sign the completed Game Cards and have the winning team coach (or home team if a draw) take a photo and submit it 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 the halfway line, 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 and Kids Zone sign needs to be 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 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.

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

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

Everyone is welcome to download a full copy of the AYSO Edition of the 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!