The Art of Substitution and Its Importance in Youth Soccer
Being a youth soccer coach comes with many responsibilities that must be taken seriously if the group is going to have a fun and successful soccer season. In addition to coaching the kids, yelling shouts of encouragement and tactical advice from the sidelines, and helping young players take the next step in their development, you must also find the right balance of substitutions and make sure that everyone on the team has a fair share of time on the playing field.
One factor of vital importance to how you should best utilize your substitutes is the actual size of your soccer team. Most youth games typically involve 8 players on the field: 1 goalkeeper, 2 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 2 forwards. Thus, if you have any amount of players over 8 on your team, substitutions will have to factor into the gameplan.
The perfect team size for these situations is 15. Usually 2 or 3 kids don’t make it to every game, so you’ll probably have 12 kids present each game, meaning each child should play roughly two thirds of each match. This gives a great balance of play and rest for each player.
However, a smart coach needs to best manage his team in order to not only win games, but also give everyone an opportunity to contribute to the team. Players hate nothing more than becoming the “bench-warmer” and any good coach will be sure to avoid such a situation.
In my experience, the first substitution should come early in the game, maybe just 5-10 minutes from the opening whistle though it depends on the length of halves or quarters in your specific league. My thinking is this: everyone wants to start, and getting early touches on the ball are crucial for building confidence and feeling a part of the action. Therefore, make sure everyone gets in the game early on.
After that initial substitution, you will need to be watchful of how the game is progressing. Keep a track of which players have been on the field for a long while, and be sure to mix and match the grouping of players on the field. You never know who is going to click best with who.
As the game progresses, you can institute tactical changes or give players breathers when they appear tired or are losing their focus in the game. However, just because one player is extremely athletic and could easily play a full 90 minute game doesn’t mean he or she needs to play the entire time. In fact, if you have any substitutes at all, no player should be on the field for the entire match, regardless of skill. The last thing you want for your team is kid’s getting jealous of one player’s time on the field.
Make sure that you are fair and that everyone gets an equal playing time. It may be frustrating to substitute off your best player and replace them with your worst, especially in a close game, but a coach has to realize that youth soccer really isn’t about winning, it’s about sportsmanship and fun exercise. Therefore, take a great aim at regulating your substitutes to ensure that all your players have a great time on your team.