Soccer players are very familiar with how a professional game looks. With 11 players on each side, there’s a total of 22 players on the pitch during play. This standard version of soccer works not only across professional leagues, but at lower levels ranging from about high school age and above.
Where things change is at the youngest levels of play. Younger kids don’t normally play on regulation fields with 11 players on each side for a variety of reasons. Various types of soccer can use smaller amounts of players on the field as well.
How many soccer players are on the field? The default way to play involves 11 players on each side. However, soccer can be played with a handful of players on each side depending on field size and availability. Younger leagues and recreational leagues will vary the size of each team also.
Why Is Soccer 11 vs. 11 By Default?
No one knows with 100% certainty why soccer matches involve 11 players on each side. In theory, it’s 10 vs. 10, as each team also has one additional player as the goaltender. Going through history, clues exist to help explain why 11 vs. 11 became the standard.
When the official rules were put down in 1863, it was already decided that there would be 11 players on each side. Before that, early versions of soccer could have as many as 21 players on each side, but the size started to dwindle more and more leading up to the formation of official rules.
One theory that a lot of people think holds up involves the connection between soccer and cricket during the early development of the sport. Many cricket teams also formed soccer teams, so having 11 players on each side and both sports seems a little bit more than just a coincidence.
These days, most don’t even think about the size of soccer teams. If there were fewer players on the team, it would be very hard to cover the entire pitch. On the other hand, too many players would not allow freedom and creativity in open spaces.
Minimum Number of Players on a Soccer Team at One Time
The minimum number of players for a soccer team at the high school, college, or professional level is seven. That includes players who have either been injured or sent off due to a red card. When fewer than even players are eligible to play, the match is called off.
There have been instances where teams are playing with several people down. This is very rare to happen, and usually results in a poor score. It can be exciting for teams to try to play with a man down or even two, but anything beyond that is getting crazy.
Is There a Penalty For Too Many People on the Soccer Field?
At the start of every match, referees will count the players on each side. Play stops automatically if a team has too many players on the field at once.
If it’s a simple mistake, they might just remove the player and play on. If the team is trying to do this as a way to gain an advantage, they can penalize the team with a direct free kick or penalty kick.
What Are The Different Sized Teams For Ages?
|Age Group||Players on the Field|
|0-6 Year-Olds||5v5 (10 Players in Total)|
|7-12 Year-Olds||7v7 (14 Players In Total|
|13+||11v11 (22 Players In Total)|
Anything involving players over 12 years old usually consists of full 11 vs. 11 action. Only competition under that age will drop in size.
From the 10-12 age range, nine players per side make a good amount of sense. Players can still learn a lot of spacing, just on a smaller pitch that doesn’t require so many players working together at once.
In the 8-10 age range, teams will drop down to seven per side. These pitches are usually much smaller, so having that many players don’t clog everything up.
Any soccer under the age of eight can shrink the size of each team to as few as three per side. This is more about working on basic skills and not running up and down a huge field. There’s a big difference between soccer played with just three players per side compared to 11, but it’s learning fundamentals more than anything.
An exception to these rules is indoor soccer. Space limitations usually mean that playing full 11 vs. 11 soccer would be impossible. Instead, the most common matchups are 6 vs. 6 action. There’s much more freedom of movement in a relatively tight space when this setup exists.
Indoor soccer provides the benefit of playing 12 months out of the year as well. A lot of younger players hone their craft in indoor soccer leagues during the offseason.
How Many Substitutes Are on Each Team?
Teams can carry anywhere from 3 to 12 substitutes per match. It all depends on the league or competition rules.
The most number of substitutions per side is seven. Most of the major domestic leagues use this number, and it gives coaches some flexibility on who to play.
Nearing the end of the Champions League, Europa League, and throughout the whole World Cup, teams can have 12 substitutions at any given time.
This allows teams to carry more players than normal. With so many matches played in a relatively short amount of time, it makes sense to offer this when everyone is far away from home.
Why Learning the Game 11-on-11 Matters
It’s pretty common for team sizes to shrink at lower levels, but younger players need to learn the game when playing 11 and 11. This one sure that they can go out there and play
Playing Without a Goalie
One way to play with a reduced amount of players in a casual setting is to go without a goalie. That might seem a little crazy at first, but other parts of the game are changed as well so that there aren’t a bunch of goals scored.
Smaller nets provide a more challenging target for teams playing without a goalie. It emphasizes the importance of defense overall, as players can’t just score from deep.
As long as the defense can stop players from being right in front of the net, it’s very hard for them to score.
Different Rules For Goalies
Despite different variations of playing soccer existing without a goalie, it is the only mandatory position in an actual match. That’s because they played such a crucial part in defending the goal for their team.
If an injury occurs or the goalie is sent off after being carded, another player on the team has a chance to take their place. Teams will bring a substitution in who will then step in the goal. Coming off the field is a field player, meaning teams are still stuck playing with a man down.
There’s a different set of rules for goalkeepers compared to everyone else in soccer while playing as well. Most notably, there is a lack of handball rules. Goalies can hit, deflect, or grab the ball with any part of their body.
They wear a different jersey than everyone else on their team to differentiate them easier. It helps referees call the game correctly.
Why Different Soccer Matchups Play a Big Role in the Game
Playing true 11 vs. 11 soccer will always be the purest form of the game. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to have fun. It can be a way to work on more specific parts of the game, Make the most of space limitations, or anything else for that matter.
Even in some unique cases, playing one vs. one soccer isn’t out of the question. It allows players to work on specific skills so that they can move around with ease. Although team play is a huge part of soccer, having individual skills in one vs. one matches can translate to success.
The pickup aspect of soccer allows for any type of team formation to include as many players as possible. Most of the time, the number of players will adapt to the amount of space on a pitch. It’s not always perfect, but the different variations help grow the game at every level.
For younger players officially playing the game, shrinking down the size helps out when learning the finer aspects.