Known internationally as "soccer," the game of football has its roots in 19th century England where it was originally developed for state school boys. According to veteran soccer referee David Ager, the game was "an attempt to develop character, instil teamwork and provide an outlet for youthful high spirits." To make football more enjoyable for today's younger players, special rules and provisions have been adopted for the junior game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB).
General Youth Rules
The laws of the regular "association" game make some general allowances for players below the age of 16, and refer to five key areas in which the standard rules and specifications can be modified. They stipulate that a smaller playing field can be used with a smaller and lighter ball and a narrower, lower goal during a shorter period of play. The provisions also relax the substitution laws that limit each team to only three substitutions per game. Without precise recommendations, though, the laws appear to leave much to the discretion of individual game organisers.
Developed by the Football Association in 1999, mini-soccer is now the official game for players under 10 years of age. It is guided by a more detailed set of rules designed to maximise a child's enjoyment of the game, and to nurture higher levels of physical engagement with the ball.
According to the "Laws for Mini-Soccer," a size 4 ball should be used by U9 and U10 teams, while players below the age of 8 should stick to the smaller size 3. The ball should be made of leather or some other suitable material.
For U9 and U10 teams, the area of play should be no smaller than 27.45 by 45.75 meters, and no larger than 36.60 by 54.90 meters. For U7 and U8 teams, the field should be no smaller than 18.30 by 27.45 meters, and no larger than 27.45 by 45.75 meters. The penalty area should measure 9.15 by 16.47 meters, with the penalty mark positioned 7.32 meters from the goal line. The goals themselves should be 3.6 meters wide and 1.88 meters high.
Team sizes can range from four- to nine-a-side. The duration of individual games is flexible, as long as no player in U9 or U10 teams plays for longer than 60 minutes per day. Players in U7 and U8 teams are limited to 40 minutes per day. Unlimited substitutions can be made and there is no offside rule. To aid the development of players, U7 and U8 teams are not allowed to play in competitive leagues or be presented with trophies.
"There's no doubt that the introduction of mini-soccer has had a huge impact on junior football," says Andy Manners, vice chairman of the MK Wanderers football club in Milton Keynes, England. "The rules make the game much more enjoyable for kids, and there are now organised leagues in almost every major town. More young players can take part than ever before."