Small sided soccer is the preferred format of play for younger children. It is meant to increase the number of times players touch the ball during a game, as well as simplify it some for younger players. Players play on a smaller field and with less players with a smaller net than official FIFA rules call for. Players younger than U10 usually play with goalkeepers to allow for more scoring. While many leagues play by small sided 'modified' rules, it is not consistent nationally, so check with your local league about the specific small sided rules they use (if any - some leagues still play 11v11). The US Youth Soccer Association has established flexible guidelines for small sided soccer that most leagues use as the basis for their modified rules. Here are the highlights for each age level:
- U6 and younger: 3v3 on a field approximately 20yds x 30yds using 6' x 18' goals with no goalkeepers, using a size 3 ball. Many leagues use much smaller goals (4' x 6'). Offside, penalty kicks, etc. do not apply. Some leagues use kick-ins instead of throw ins. Each half is usually 15-20 minutes long.
- U7-U8: 4v4 on a field approximately 20yds x 30yds using 6' x 18' goals with no goalkeepers, using a size 3 ball. Many leagues use much smaller goals (4' x 6' or 6' x 12'). Offside, penalty kicks, etc. do not apply. Throw-ins are used. Each half is usually 25 minutes long.
- U9-U10: This is the age small sided starts to look like a mini version of 'the real game'. 6v6 on a field approximately 40yds x 55yds using 6' x 18' goals with goalkeepers, using a size 4 ball. Offside is not recommended, but many leagues start to enforce it here. The goal and penalty areas are used. Each half is 26-30 minutes long.
- U11-U12: This is the last age group where small sided is recommended. 8v8 on a field approximately 50yds x 70yds using 6' x 18' goals with goalkeepers, using a size 4 ball. Offside is recommended. Each half is 30 minutes long. Using a size 4 ball.
For U13 on up, normal FIFA rules (11v11) are recommended, using a size 5 ball. Small sided soccer was (and remains) very controversial. To try and counter this, the USYSA has put together a very informative web site explaining why they think small-sided is the proper way to develop young soccer players.