LOTG: Law 3–The Players

Law 3: The Players

There are several basic concepts to understand found in Law 3 regarding the teams, number of players, minimum number of players to start/continue a game, substitutes, etc. There is also some very interesting and useful information regarding “Offenses and Sanctions.”  For the newer AYSO referees, you will soon get used to the term Offenses and Sanctions, used throughout the LOTG.  An “Offense: (this term takes the place, and was used interchangeably with, “Infringement” in earlier versions of the LOTG) is a breach of the LOTG. The term “Sanction” refers to what sort of penalty or punishment may/must be levied. These terms will be covered in more detail when we get to Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct.

You may be wondering, “What kind of offense is worth fretting over with respect to the number of players?” Stay tuned and we will get into scenarios like someone coming onto the field that doesn’t belong on the FOP (like an upset coach, substitute or parent) or when a Player, who has been temporarily off of the FOP for some reason (injury), comes on to the field of play without/before being given “permission to enter/re-enter the FOP.”  For now, let’s go over some of the basics.

LOTG BASICS—note, what you will see below are the Laws of The Game. Many of these parameters are different than those used in Region 20 AYSO, depending on which Age Division we are talking about. We play with fewer players in the younger divisions and have “Return Substitutions.”

  • Match is played with 2 teams
  • Maximum of 11 players on field per team (see AYSO modifications below)
  • One of the 11 must be a goalkeeper–the game cannot continue/start without a goalkeeper! (except for the youngest levels of AYSO)
  • Minimum of 7 players needed to start/restart a game; if team has less than 7 on the field (see AYSO modifications below) the game cannot start or be restarted after a stoppage in play.
  • Most competition rules state that all players (and subs) must be ‘named’ on the “Team Roster” before kickoff (the completed Team Roster—also called the ‘Game Card’ in AYSO is handed in to the referee(s) before the start of the game). You can start the game with fewer than 11 players for a given team on the FOP (if someone is late or not ready) but only players (and subs) named on the Team Roster may take part upon their arrival. (This means you are not allowed to “pick up” a player that is not on your roster, though in some AYSO games, to keep it Fair and Fun, coaches will often ‘donate” a player.)
  • Substitutions—only 3 substitutions are allowed in a match in the uppermost levels of play (see AYSO modifications for “Return Substitutions”), and that’s it (unless the match goes into Extra Time, when they allow for a fourth).
  • Number of “Named Substitutes”—competition rules will normally state how many are allowed; 3-12 maximum allowed.
  • Substitution Procedure Basics
    • Referee must be informed before substitution is made.
    • The player being substituted receives permission to leave the FOP.
    • The Substitute cannot enter FOP until given permission to enter by the referee, nor until the exiting Player has left the FOP.
    • The player leaving the game must leave from the touchline/goal line that he/she is closest to, unless otherwise instructed by the referee.
    • Sub must enter at the Halfway Line during a stoppage of play.
    • He/she can take any restart once he becomes a “Player” (once he has entered the FOP).
  • The terminology is specific: A Player is a “named player” for the starting lineup. A Substitute is a “named substitute,” not in the starting lineup. When a Player leaves the field after a substitution he/she becomes a “Substituted Player.” When a Substitute takes the field after the Player has left the field, that substitute becomes a “Player.”

AYSO “Number of Players”

  • The Number of Players allowed on the field for each team will vary, depending on Age/Division:
  • 5U/6U—4 v 4 (no goalkeepers)
  • 7U—5 v 5 (no goalkeepers)
  • 8U—7 v 7 (includes a goalkeeper)
  • 9U/10U—7 v 7
  • 12U—9 v 9
  • 14U—11 v 11
  • Minimum Number of Players required to start, or re-start play
    • 5U/6U—not applicable
    • 7U/8U—not applicable; see Division Guidelines for how to handle teams with not enough players (uneven number of players)
    • 10U—5
    • 12U—6
    • 14U—7

AYSO “Substitutes/Substitution Process”

  • Return Substitutions are allowed in AYSO. This means that, unlike professional soccer, if an AYSO player goes off (to be substituted by another player), he/she may return to play in a subsequent quarter or half. In professional soccer, once you leave the field of play and are substituted, you become what is called a “Substituted Player” and you may not return to the field of play for any part of the remainder of the game, extra time, or kicks from the penalty mark, for any reason. To do so would be a breach of Law 3.
  • The Substitution Process in AYSO (for Divisions 8U and up) is only allowed to occur at roughly determined “quarters” midway through the 1st and 2nd half of play, during the Halftime break, and/or in the case of an Injury when a player needs to come off the FOP.
  • Note: if a player comes off of the FOP to be treated for an injury, the Coach can decide to “play short” for a while so the player can return to play in that same quarter after being treated/rested. If the Coach decides to put another player in for that injured player, the injured player cannot return to play until the next “quarter” (or half) of play. The player that started that quarter (and was injured/left the FOP) is credited for that quarter. The Sub that comes on is not credited for that quarter (so there is nothing to note as the AR holding the game card).


  • Any player (that is on the field) may change places with the goalkeeper if the Referee is informed, and the change is made during a stoppage in play (and goalkeeper’s unique jersey is worn).
  • Any substitute may switch places with the goalkeeper during the halftime break (and/or a quarter break in AYSO), the referee doesn’t necessarily need to be “informed” (a goalkeeper jersey needs to be worn to differentiate him/her from teammates).
  • In AYSO, during/within a given “quarter” of play, a player that is on the field (not a substitute resting on the sideline) may change places (switch) with the goalkeeper, during a stoppage of play, if given permission to do so by the referee (there is no reason to deny this request).
    • Note: This sort of situation might arise (as it did during one of my first Playoff games) when a Coach, anxious (and savvy) about a PK awarded to his opponents, felt like one of his other players (that was on the field of play at that time) was a better blocker of shots/PK’s than the keeper currently in goal. During the stoppage of play the coach loudly/quickly requested to have one of the field players switch places with the goalkeeper!!! In this case “the switch” is perfectly legal and should be allowed—I obliged the request, much to the chagrin of the opposing team’s Coach (though this cannot be used as a time-wasting technique and if time were/had run out the Referee must allow for the PK to be taken in “additional time” added to the end of regulation playing time to complete the PK).
  • The player/goalkeeper may not switch back again until a subsequent stoppage in play.
  • Remember: the coach is NOT allowed to put one of his/her ‘substitutes’ (someone that was not on the FOP at that moment, at that stoppage of play) in on this situation—unless the goalkeeper was seriously “injured” and needed to be ‘substituted out.’ The reason for this is that Substitutions” in AYSO (for 8U and older) may only occur at the “quarters, halftime, or for an injury to replace an injured player.”  Unless it was one of those situations, the coach is not allowed to switch a “substitute” (someone not currently playing on the FOP) in for one of the on-field players (in this case the goalkeeper). Only players currently on the FOP are allowed to “switch,” or change places, with the goalkeeper during a stoppage in play.


If a player switches places with the goalkeeper without informing the referee (during the normal course of play or during a stoppage in play), the player and goalkeeper involved must be “Cautioned” (Yellow Card) when the ball is next out of play (the YC and RC sanctions will be covered in great detail in “Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct”). Note, the referee does not need to ‘stop play’ for this offense but rather should impose the sanction when the ball next goes out of play, during that next stoppage of play.  As an AYSO referee, you will probably never have to deal with this offence.

AYSO and Carding Players:  While we are on the subject of “carding” players, in AYSO we do not card in 10U and younger games. For 12U, we may card but are strongly urged not to—-try to handle these situations with a strong explanation of what you saw and what you expect (fair and safe play) without carding the player if possible. For 14U and above, we do use cards as appropriate.

Other (slightly more likely) scenarios in AYSO soccer where Law 3 is occasionally broken. See below… 

Extra Persons on the Field of Play

The game is played with a specific number (Max 11) of “Players” allowed on the field of play (FOP) from each team (see Division Guidelines).  It is the Referee’s responsibility to make sure only certain people (the Players) are allowed on to the FOP. No one else is “allowed onto the FOP without the permission of the referee.” They are/would be considered “Extra Persons,” if they come on to the field of play, and this is a violation of Law 3.

Examples of “Extra Persons” are people that are (normally) not allowed on the FOP: coaches, substitutes, substituted players, sent-off players, and spectators.

This is important to remember as an AYSO referee, especially if an aggressive coach or unruly parent, or misguided substitute stomps onto the field arguing a call or seeking retribution for a supposed (or actual) foul on his/her player/child/teammate.

YOU as the referee have complete power and authority (actually a duty/responsibility) to tell/order that person to leave the FOP (unless you are going to give that person–a coach/medical official–“permission to enter,” say in the case of the seriously injured player). If they refuse to follow your order to leave the FOP, you have the right/power to have that person ejected (in the case of a Team Official or Spectator) from the sidelines and/or the game if necessary.  In the (unlikely) case where he/she refuses to leave the immediate vicinity of the field you can “abandon” the game. This all comes under the concept of managing your sidelines. We will go into more depth about this topic in subsequent essays (refer to “Ask, Tell, Dismiss”).

Note: when it comes to parents entering the FOP, even if it is their child that is injured, it is up to you to decide if this is a situation that can be handled sufficiently by the player’s coach or not.  Exercise good judgement here and be sympathetic, especially in the younger divisions. In general, however, unless there is a severe injury to a very young player keep parents off of the field. If you feel there is a serious injury you should give the Coach permission to enter the FOP to assess the player. (We will discuss how to handle the severely injured player in a subsequent essay.)

Per the LOTG, when an “Extra Person” enters the FOP without the referee’s permission, there are two things to consider: who is the EP, and what/where will the restart be. (We are not talking about a “Player” who has entered/re-entered without permission—-that will be covered in the next segment.)

  • If the “Extra Person” is member of one of the teams (not a player requiring permission to re-enter): Team Official, Substitute, Substituted Player, or Sent Off Player.
    • Ref must only stop play if/when that EP “interferes with play
      • As the referee it is up to you to determine what constitutes “interfered with play.” Get used to, and learn to love the phrase, “In The Opinion Of The Referee” (ITOOTR). If you feel they are interfering, then that is your decision!
    • Restart: Direct Free Kick (new) from the position of the Interference (this offence used to be an IFK) 
    • Sanction (YC/RC)?
      • You may show a Yellow Card (YC) for misconduct (not a “foul”) to a substitute or substituted player.  (Remember in AYSO we don’t usually show cards for 12U and never use cards in 10U and below.)
      • In the older divisions of AYSO (14U and above), you would need to show a Yellow Card
      • You do not show a Team Official a card (this may be changing for 2019), but you may eject that person from the sidelines if their behavior is irresponsible/unacceptable. (See “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” protocol link.)
    • The EP was an “Outside Agent” (i.e. spectator)
      • If “OA” interferes with play, Ref must stop play
        • Restart: Dropped Ball from where the ball was when play was stopped, or where OA interfered with play

HEY!!!  THEY — CAN’T — DO — THAT (!)  unless you have asked them (given them permission) to enter (come onto) the FOP !!!

Will this ever happen in AYSO soccer? Quite possibly, but probably/hopefully not often. In this sort of scenario you could find yourself faced with the occasional angry coach, parent, or a substitute/substituted player running onto the field for some reason.  Use your discretion in the case where a young player runs onto the field confused about whether or not he/she is supposed to be in the game. If it was just an honest mistake on their part try to redirect them off of the field with as little fuss as possible.


“Player Outside the Field of Play”

What they are referring to under this segment is… when a Player (Off of the Field of Play) Re-Enters Without Referee Permission:

Here we have the situation where a “Player” has previously left the FOP with the referee’s permission (for instance: after sustaining an injury or to correct equipment issues). The key point in this situation is that he/she may not re-enter the FOP without the referee’s explicit permission to do so.

If this Player Re-Enters Without the Referee’s Permission???

Referee’s Duty: two scenarios–player interferes with play and then ref stops play OR referee stops play before the player interferes with play.

  • Ref must stop play IF that Player “interferes with play or a Match Official” (unless you “apply advantage”…more on that later)…
    • Restart:  Direct Free Kickfrom the “position of interference “ (that position is ITOOTR)
    • Sanction: Ref must also Caution (Yellow Card) the player for “Entering w/o Permission(E)
  • If that Player re-enters without permission, and the referee stops play, but the player has not interfered with play/player/match official  (referee decides to stop play right then and there before any incident)…
    • Restart:  Indirect Free Kickfrom “where ball was” when referee stopped play if there was no interference.
    • Sanction: Ref must also Caution (Yellow Card) the player for “Entering w/o Permission(E)
  • (Big Boo-Boo: if that player comes onto the FOP without permission and then commits a foul/misconduct worthy of a Yellow Card!!!???  That player gets a YC for Entering without permission plus a second YC for committing the subsequent Foul/Misconduct per Law 12, and voila (!)–two YC’s means a RC send-off!)


“GOAL SCORED with an Extra Person on the Field Of Play”

What if you suddenly realize, after the fact (say when you are getting ready for the Kick-Off restart), there was an Extra Person on the FOP when a goal was scored…what can you do??? It depends on who the Extra Person was…

  • Player, Sub, Substituted Player, Sent-off Player or Team Official–of team that scored goal….Disallow the goal. Restart: DFK from the position of the extra person
  • Outside Agent (dog, spectator) that interferes with play or a defender trying to play the ball….Disallow goal. Restart: Dropped Ball
  • Player, Sub, Substituted Player, Sent-off Player or Team Official–of team that got scored against….Allow the goal!!! Restart: Kick-Off
  • Outside Agent (dog, spectator) that doesn’t interfere with a defender trying to play the ball….Allow the goal!!!



In AYSO we use “Return Substitutions,” but this next segment is interesting if you are ever doing a game that does not use Return Substitutions. Furthermore, this concept always comes up on Intermediate and Advanced Referee tests!!!

This brief section of Law 3 explains the ramifications of being “Sent Off,” depending on whether or not you are a Player who is sent off before or during a game, or a Substitute that gets sent off.  The interesting and helpful part of this section of the Laws is that it helps you to know what to do if someone does something naughty before the start of the game! Hey, it happens and as the referee you “have authority to take disciplinary action from the moment you arrive at the field of play for pre-match inspections until leaving the field of play after the match ends.” You have the authority and power to discipline accordingly throughout this entire period of time, from the start of your day on the pitch to the finish (including immediately following the match/post-match shenanigans).

  • Player gets sent off “before submission of Team List” to the Referee: say he/she commits a Sending Off type of “Misconduct” before the game even gets started (while in the practice area, or off the field anywhere) like hitting someone or spitting on someone.
    • Player cannot even be “named” on the Team List. That person’s name comes off the TL, they must leave the area, and cannot participate in the game at all.
    • This has no effect on the number of substitutions that the team is allowed during that game.
  • Player sent off “after being named on the TL but before the Kick Off”: say the players are all on the field, waiting for the Kick Off, and Red Player punches Blue Player while waiting at the Halfway Line for the KO whistle to be blown…
    • Red Player gets Sent Off, must leave the game and the immediate vicinity and may be replaced by one of the team’s “Named Substitutes;” the team may not add another substitute to the roster/TL.
    • The number of allowed substitutions (during that game) is not reduced, they still get three (3) substitutions.
  • Player sent off after the game has started, after the Kick Off: for example, he/she commits a RC offense, either by Foul or Misconduct, sometime during the game or at halftime.
    • Player is Sent Off, must leave the game and immediate vicinity.
    • Team cannot replace that player with one of their Substitutes and have to “play short” for the rest of the game.
  • Substitute sent off, before or after the kick-off may not be replaced.