Can a Youth Soccer Team Play Without a Goalkeeper?

Having a child in youth soccer can be a fun and rewarding experience for both the child involved in the sport and the parent/guardian there to support. Youth soccer starts around three years of age and goes up to age 18. Over the years, youth soccer rules and regulations change according to age group. And you may be surprised to learn that a goalkeeper is not always involved in the game. 

A goalkeeper is not part of youth soccer play in the youngest age groups. Goalkeepers are added to teams as children get older, and their understanding of the game is more developed. Pursuant to US Youth Soccer guidelines, youth soccer teams eight years of age and under (8U/U8) play without a goalkeeper, allowing players to focus on fundamentals.

Read on to learn more about why goalkeepers are not a part of the game until children become a little older. 

Why Would a Youth Soccer Team Play Without a Goalkeeper?

Younger children will be playing on teams without a goalkeeper while they learn the basics of the game

The American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), one of the two main organizations for youth soccer in the US alongside US Youth Soccer, offers two types of programs for children five years of age and under that want to play soccer: 

  • Playground – A parent or guardian participates with the child in sessions designed to teach fundamental skills through storybook adventures.
  • Schoolyard – This is “jamboree” style, meaning kids and parents/guardians participate in sessions as a group and follow-up with short game-style play.

Both programs are about learning to get used to playing the game and having fun while learning. Both programs also have parent/guardian participation incorporated into the game to further help child development of the game and to get more one on one time with the ball. 

In both styles, the play isn’t focused on scoring goals. It’s about skills, team play, and children getting one-on-one time with the ball. For these fundamentals, no goalkeeping is required.  

Youth soccer players playing a game.

When Are Goalkeepers Brought into Youth Soccer Play?

According to the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) rules, a goalkeeper is introduced to the game in the 10U League. The US Youth Soccer’s policy differs just slightly by including a goalkeeper starting at the 9U level (although it works out similarly since AYSO does not have separate rules for a 9U division). See the table below for team make-up, according to the AYSO and US Youth Soccer. Either way, goalies are not part of play in the youngest age groups for the reasons stated above. 

Age DivisionPlayers Per Team on the Field 
10U7 players on each side, including goalkeeper
9UUS Youth Soccer — 7 players on each side, including goalkeeper
AYSO — does not have a separate rules for 9U division
8U4 players on each side
(No goalkeepers)
6U4 players on each side
(No goalkeepers)
AYSO Schoolyard Soccer4 players on each side
(No goalkeepers)

Keeping Score Is Not the Goal of Youth Soccer’s Youngest Leagues

Knowing how many points are scored or who won the game is not going to make the littlest kids good soccer players (See What’s Wrong With Winning). Children below age 9 or 10 should instead focus on learning the fundamentals of playing soccer.

Learning How to Become a Team Player

In the AYSO system, younger youth soccer programs incorporate parent/guardian participation and activities to encourage learning to be a team player. Parents/guardians and coaches will play on the field with the children teaching them along the way. Being a team player is also emphasized because it is a huge aspect of the game. Children need to learn how to play together to get the ball from one side of the field to the other as a team. 

Grasping Basic Soccer Skills 

Playing without a goalkeeper can help kids better learn how to:

  • Dribble and control the ball 
  • Kick the soccer ball the right way 
  • Anticipate and react

Not having a goalkeeper can help keep the game moving and the focus on foot skills. It keeps kids from putting too much emphasis on simply kicking the ball hard for a shot. 

Learning How to Be a Player Comes Before Being a Goalie

Ultimately, goalkeepers need foot skills just like field players. They also need to understand the flow of the game.  Not having a goalkeeper for youth soccer teams will help develop those fundamentals of soccer in children at a younger age. 

Additionally, to be a goalkeeper, a child must be able to stay focused on where the ball is at all times – even when they’re not involved in the play, as is often the case. Younger children do not often have the attention span needed to stay that focused for the whole game. So, a younger child playing goalkeeper would not only fail to develop basic soccer skills, but would also fail to develop important goalkeeper skills as well.  

But Who Keeps the Ball from Going In the Goal? 

At younger ages, both the playing field and the goals are much smaller, which allows for playing without a goalkeeper. Yes, some teams may have a child play towards the back of the formation in front of the goal to make sure the soccer ball does not go in, but that child is still a regular player and does not use their hands.

Youth soccer goalie making a stop

Is Not Having a Goalkeeper New for Youth Soccer?

While some leagues may have made the decision to play without goalkeepers and not keep score long ago, the actual change in US Youth Soccer rules is relatively new.  

Beginning August 1, 2017, new rules were implemented across the country, known as “Player Development Initiatives (PDIs).” The idea of eliminating the goalkeeper was among the PDIs intended to allow young players to grow as players and develop the skills needed to play the game. With player development in place, younger children can understand the rules of the game at a younger age. 

As the children get older, they continue learning the basics of the game in more detail. For example, soccer drills are different:

  • For a 5-year-old, it might be learning to dribble the ball in a line using the inside and outside of their foot or shooting on an open goal. 
  • For a 9-year-old, the drill may still involve dribbling the ball as well, but that drill might be dribbling the ball while weaving in and out of cones and then shooting on a goal with a goalkeeper.

Both are drills that involve learning to keep control of the ball through dribbling and shooting on a goal, but the skills are taught in age-appropriate ways for each youth soccer player. The difference is how much more advanced a 9-year-old is mentally and skillfully than a 5-year-old. 

Will Youth Soccer Rules Change as My Child Gets Older?

Many aspects of the game change in youth soccer once a child becomes nine years old. Nine years of age is the age when everything in soccer starts progressing up to the next level.

  • The role of parents/guardians changes. No longer are adults playing on the field with the children; now they get to cheer from the sidelines. 
  • The game itself changes. Gameplay becomes more like a regular game of soccer with just the teams playing against each other on the field with a referee.
  • Practice gets more in-depth. Youth teams are still practicing the fundamentals of soccer, but more complex concepts are being introduced as they get older and can understand more.

In terms of gameplay, the following changes will happen when a child reaches nine years of age:

  • The number of players per team allowed on the field will increase
  • The length of the game will increase
  • The size of the field will increase
  • The size of the ball will increase
  • Goalkeeper is added 

And there are important developmental reasons for these changes. A child is developing physically, mentally, and emotionally. And, they are growing and changing as a soccer player, too. 

Why Youth Soccer Rules Change at Ages 9 and 10

A goalkeeper is added and the size of the goal is increased because, developmentally, a child can pay more attention to what is going on in the game.  Typically, players have learned the basics of the game and are a little more prepared for the specialization that is required to play goalie.

The number of players and size of the field both increase because players are able to see and comprehend more complex gameplay at that age.

There is more time added to the length of the game itself because children can stay focused and run for longer periods of time

Soccer skill knowledge will continue to increase as children get older, and youth soccer rules are designed to change with children and challenge them in age-appropriate ways.

Conclusion

Youth soccer is played without goalkeepers at the younger ages to encourage early, age-appropriate development. The intent is to allow children to focus on the fundamentals of the game, and then continue to develop those fundamentals as they get older. 

The changes won’t end there! More aspects of the game will adapt as children begin to progress through the age ranks of soccer and develop their skills as players. See my post on Slide Tackles in Youth Soccer: Everything You Want to Know for another rule that tends to change as players get older.

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