LOTG: Law 7–The Duration Of Play


Law 7: The Duration Of The Match

In professional soccer, the game consists of “two equal halves (periods) of 45 minutes”  and are allowed a 15-minute “half-time interval.”  FIFA/IFAB has given AYSO the option to modify this law, to make the “beautiful game” age appropriate for the young player (similar to other “organizational areas of the Laws of the Game” regarding the ball, field of play, and the players) so we are allowed to shorten the game and shorten the half-time break to 5 minutes (usually 5 minutes for half-time is adequate, plus we are limited in terms of how much time we have the fields, so the half-time break is abbreviated).

The important thing to remember about Law 7 (besides getting the duration of play correct depending on age division and competition rules) is that the game needs to be “two equal halves,” meaning if the game has to be shortened for any reason (like you are late getting started, and need to get the kids off the field in time–so the next game can get started on time!!!) you must shorten both halves the same amount so that the two halves are “equal.”  This needs to be sorted out before the start of the match and needs to be agreed upon by both coaches and the Center Referee.

Note: Here’s the Rub…If during a game, you decide/discover midway through the second half that you are running late (or made a mistake in timekeeping for the first half), you can’t just shorten the second half (i.e. by 5 minutes). The players are entitled to play “two equal halves.”   In accordance with Law 7, “The referee must not compensate for a timekeeping error during the first half by changing the length of the second half.”   In this case you would officially be required to play out a full second half (so, you may not just “cut it short” because you figured out after the fact that you were either running late or made a mistake keeping time in the first half).  As field space in Region 20 AYSO is a precious commodity, and to prevent yourself from running over into somebody else’s time slot, THINK AHEAD!   If you are feeling pressed for time as you are getting ready to get started, do the math before the game starts (quickly) in your head and tell the coaches, “We will be shortening the game ‘x-minutes,’ and therefore will play 2 ‘y-minute’ halves, so we can get back onto schedule.  Are you ok with that?” (BTW–it’s your decision, but including them in the discussion is important and respectful. Make sure you announce your plans to both sides before the match begins.)

On a related topic, (staying on schedule”) do your very best to start your matches on time! This involves getting to your assigned match early enough to take care of pre-match responsibilities (I will discuss this briefly below, and you can find a more thorough review of pre-match preparation at “xxxx“). This way you don’t have to shave a few minutes off each half because you got off to a late start!!  This is especially important due to the fact that in Region 20–Santa Monica, time slots and field spaces for games are usually scheduled very tight, with little to no room for “running late.”

Hey, what “time” are we talking about?

There are a few terms you will begin to hear used around the field that may sometimes get used interchangeably (and get mixed up), so I thought I’d outline a little glossary:

  • “REGULATION TIMEthe duration of play is 2 x 45-minute halves for a professional match. The Referee starts the clock when the ball has “been kicked and clearly moves” (not before, or right when he/she blows the whistle, but once the player taking the KO actually kicks the ball). The clock is started and counts up like a ‘stopwatch’ (as opposed to a ‘timer’ counting down). During the match, when significant events occur (goal is scored, YC/RC sanctions) the referee notes what minute that event occurred. This is why we usually use a watch that is counting up, not down (otherwise you’ld need to do some fancy advanced math on-the-fly).  When you are into the second half of play we actually consider the “time” of the match to be the “total” minutes you are into the match. For instance, the 10th minute into the second half of two 45-minute halves… would be considered being in the “55th minute of play” (not “the 10th minute of the 2nd half”).

AYSO “Durations of Play” for different Age Divisions  (two equal halves, and total duration)

  • 5U 2 x 10’ = 20 minutes
  • 6U 2 x 12’ = 24
  • 7U 2 x 15’ = 30
  • 8U 2 x 20’ = 40
  • 9U/10U 2 x 25’ = 50
  • 12U 2 x 30’ = 60
  • 14U 2 x 35’ = 70

NOTE: during different leagues (Spring League) and at tournaments, the durations of the halves will be determined by the Competition Authorities, so make sure you check with the appropriate authorities as to the length of your games! They are often shorter than normal during pool play and then are full-time for the semi’s and finals.

AYSO “Quarters”

  • Roughly midway through each half of play (usually slightly before midway) the referee needs to stop play and allow for substitutions. These “substitution breaks” come at the “quarters” (midway through the halves) but as the Referee you do NOT stop the clock at these quarters; that is why in AYSO it is referred to as a “Running Clock,” you are just “stopping play,” not stopping the clock. (Note: substitutions are also allowed during the half-time interval and if there is an injury.) Hurry them along during these substitution breaks, trying to get them done in a minute or so.


  • “ADDITIONAL TIME” (also referred to as “Stoppage Time” on TV)—Note: this is not often used in AYSO because we don’t add time in our regular season games for excessive delays, injuries, substitutions. In professional soccer if there is an injury, substitution or another cause for excessive delay in the game, the referee may add time (an “allowance for all time lost”) to the end of the half of play to make up for any excessive delays during that half. Again, we don’t do that in AYSO largely because of the fact that we have limited field space and times; time slots for each game are usually tightly squeezed into a rigid schedule. We (the referees!) need to get the games started and finished on time! As the Referee, don’t add time even if there is a long delay due to an injury. That’s just the way it goes, sorry kids (and coaches).
    • That means referees need to get to their games early enough to take care of all of their pre-match responsibilities!
    • That means referees need to keep on top of Coaches, so they have their teams ready to start on time!


  • “EXTENDED TIME—this is a unique term used specifically when time at the end of a half of play (or the game) plus any Additional/Extra Time, runs out… but there was a Penalty Kick (!) that was awarded just before the end of that Regulation Time (plus Additional Time)… How dramatic!!!  In this case we allow for the Extended Time needed to complete the PK!
    • So, the PK gets to be taken (including re-takes if necessary/appropriate) even if “regulation [+ additional time] is up!”
    • Per the LOTG, “If a PK has to be taken or retaken, the half is “extended” until the penalty kick is completed.”
    • AYSO Referees: this sort of thing will happen, especially/often in the closing moments of a hard-fought battle!!!   Crazy things happen in the Penalty Area at the end of a half or the end of a match!  Next thing you know a DFK foul gets committed (just before time is up) by a defender within his/her own Penalty Area and a PK is rightfully awarded!!!  If this ever happens, it is best to announce to the Players (and the Coaches), “This PK is being taken in Extended Time!” That way everybody knows play does not get to continue after the PK is “completed” (like it would during regulation time of that half).
    • This would be a good time to review what it means when we say “…the PK is completed when…” but I won’t.  Please refer to Law 14: The Penalty Kick if you wish.


  • “EXTRA TIME” (often confused with the American sports term “Overtime”)—during regular AYSO seasons we do not use periods of Extra Time, which are supposed to be two extra periods of equal length added to the match if the score is tied at the end of Regulation Time.  In AYSO, because we allow matches to end in a draw (a tie) at the end of Regulation Time, “Extra Time” is not used (usually during regular season play). Only in matches that need to determine an actual winner (cannot end in “a draw”), like in tournament/playoff play, will Extra Time be used. The two periods of Extra Time will be added (after a very small ‘break’). Like Regulation Time, the Extra Time must consist of “two equal periods.”

(Note:  “Overtime”—an often incorrectly-used phrase; please use the aforementioned phrase: “Extra Time” to refer to the two equal periods added to a match after regulation time when the score is tied and a winner must be determined.)