In most cases, a coach should not bench a player for getting a yellow card in a soccer game.
Yellow cards are part of the game and, as long as the player receiving one didn’t do anything malicious, they should continue playing.
At the same time, if they are at risk of getting a second yellow then you may want to sub them out. For example, if they get a yellow card for a hard tackle but they continue to slide tackle their opponent.
In the case above, I think it’s okay to take them out of the game because it becomes a team issue if you have to play with one player down.
Some of the most common reasons a youth player receives a yellow card include:
- Dangerous slide tackle
- Unsportsmanlike conduct (verbally or physically)
- Excessive and unnecessary bump or shove
- Delaying the restart of play
- Unsportsmanlike conduct
- Entering, re-entering, or deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee’s permission
- Failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick, free kick, or throw-in
Now, let’s look at some considerations before you “yank” a player off the field.
What Should I Consider Before Benching a Player?
Before you abruptly bench a youth soccer player for getting a yellow card, consider these factors in your decision.
Age and Skill Level
Younger players and those who are new to soccer may not fully understand the rules and may make mistakes.
Younger players tend to be more emotional. If you need to calm them down then taking them off the field to talk to them may be a good idea.
However, if they know and understand what they did, and can move on then it may be fine to leave them in.
In such cases, it may be more appropriate to use the yellow card as a teaching opportunity.
Nature of the Offense
The nature of the offense should also be taken into account.
A yellow card for a minor offense, such as a delay of game or kicking the ball away, may not warrant benching.
However, a yellow card for a serious offense, such as a dangerous tackle or unsportsmanlike behavior, may require a more severe punishment.
If the player has a history of receiving yellow cards or other disciplinary issues, then benching may be necessary to send a message and encourage better behavior in the future.
This will give you, or an assistant, a chance to talk to the player.
I think it’s always better to show compassion for the situation and try to move on from it. Encourage the player to do the same.
Game Context & Player Considerations
Finally, the game context and the particular player should be taken into account.
If the game is close or the team is already at a disadvantage, benching a player may not be the best decision. This is especially true if the player is one of the strongest on the team.
On the other hand, if the team has a comfortable lead or the game is not particularly important, subbing the player out early may not be a bad idea. Also, for leagues like MLS NEXT, which has a yellow card accumulation rule, you wouldn’t want a second yellow if you can avoid it.
Sometimes yellow cards have an end-of-the-world feeling for a player. For younger players who never received one before, it can sting at the moment.
But, unless they did something out of the ordinary, it can be a good teaching moment. It should be taught that yellow cards are just part of the game.
For example, if a player receives a yellow card for accidentally knocking over a player while hustling for the ball, I would pull them aside and applaud the work rate but tell them to just be more aware of other players.
In the case above, I would also encourage the player to keep working hard but use their body and shoulder to get the ball.
At the end of the day, use it as a learning moment and don’t punish the player unless they did something that should’ve been a red card.
This is just my two cents and, as a coach, you may have a different philosophy! I respect that.