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Soccer Game Management – Playing Time

competeManaging playing time can be a major challenge for the soccer coach, regardless of the level of competition.

Competitive Soccer

In a competitive environment the coach must put the best team on the field at all times. Regardless of the substitution rules, three (FIFA) or unlimited, playing time is determined by what is best for the team. This might mean that some players may not get to play at all in a game, or in the entire season. The challenge this presents is motivation of those who play very little, and in the case of youth soccer, managing parents’ expectations (they put money and time into their child playing). The proper way to manage this is to be clear about your playing time policy before the season starts, or better yet, before players commit to be on the team. But also have a plan to motivate those who won’t play much. These players are vital in practice to provide decent challenges to the starters when running your drills. They must be fit, skilled, and energetic. They should always have the goal of making the starting line-up. And during the game, they need to cheer on the team. They can assume important responsibilities such as keeping stats on players, observing the opponent, and finding opportunities. The entire season is a team effort and playing time should never be a player’s sole measure of success.

Non-Competitive Soccer

Typically in recreational (grass roots or house league) soccer, clubs have some policy regarding playing time. Most common is equal playing time followed by playing at least half the game. The challenge here is the actual game management. We recommend to develop a schedule for the game that has everyone playing according to club policy. The problem comes when the players you thought would show up for the game don’t. This throws your carefully prepared schedule out the window. Here is a method that we use:

  • calculate the number of “shifts” each player should play. For example you play 8-a-side in a 60 minute game. You plan to substitute every 10 minutes. This gives you six “shifts” of 10 minutes * 8 players/shift or 48 playing slots.
  • Divide the number of slots by the number of players you expect for the game. Let’s say you expect 12 players to show. Each player should play 48/12 or four shifts. If you had 13 players then the best distribution would be 9 players with¬†4 shifts (36) and 4 players with 3 shifts (12).
  • The above works if you are rotating goalkeepers throughout the game. If you have a permanent goalie then the math changes. You now have 42 outplaying slots and you divide these by the number of players available.
  • You might want to develop a few charts to bring to the game based on having less players than planned (what if scenarios)
  • If you have an assistant coach, one of you can manage substitutions, otherwise you have to manage the game and the subs.

Once again, manage the expectations of the parents. Explain the club’s playing time rules and your strategies of implementing them. State that while equal time each game may be difficult (discuss shift “math”), over the entire season it will even out. If players miss games, they don’t get extra time the next game, it wouldn’t be fair to those who always show. And offer the parents to keep track of their child’s playing time and advise you if they see an issue.

All of this effort is worth it – one of the biggest issues parents will raise is playing time. So be proactive.

Coach Tom



1 thought on “Soccer Game Management – Playing Time

  1. I appreciate that you broke this down into competitive and non-competitive leagues. Making the switch between them is an intimidating step and knowing the differences helps!

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