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2010 Referee Week In Review Week 10


The Referee Week in Review is designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels by using video highlights from professional games as well as the U.S. National Teams. Written by U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Paul Tamberino and U.S. Soccer Manager of Assessment and Training Brian Hall, the Referee Week in Review will highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.

Week In Review 2010
Week 10 – Ending May 30, 2010
For the first time this year, the “Week In Review” will examine contact above the shoulder in which the player’s arm/hand/elbow is used as a weapon and not as a tool. In another clip, the referee incorrectly interprets contact above the shoulder where “incidental” contact occurs and the referee misreads the incident as violent conduct. Finally, a handling decision that involves an understanding of the 2009 “Handling the Ball” directive will be discussed.

Week In Review Podcast: For each “Week In Review,” U.S. Soccer produces a related podcast that covers the topics of the week.


Contact Above the Shoulder: Tool or Weapon?

One of the 2009 educational focal points for U.S. Soccer referees was “contact above the shoulder.” The directive, “Contact Above the Shoulder” was published to assist match officials with correctly interpreting the use of the arm/hand/elbow that makes contact with the opponent in the neck and facial region. The concept of arm/hand/elbow use as a tool vs. a weapon is vital in managing the modern game. The following diagram depicts the differences in the use of the arm/hand/elbow as a tool vs. weapon.

Arm used for balance Excessive force used
Normal body movement Safety of the player is endangered
No swing of the arm INTO the opponent Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting soft surface (facial and neck region)
Opponent into arm/elbow/hand – not arm/elbow/hand into opponent Arm/elbow/hand UP and IN to opponent
Arm/elbow was out before the challenge was initiated Arm/elbow/hand is swung toward opponent’s facial region
Not UP and IN – just UP UP and IN – arm used as a ”battering ram”
  Injury results

The tool vs. weapon comparison is useful in translating player actions into the appropriate decision. Remember the following GUIDELINES:

  • Tool: consider a foul and/or yellow card if contact is made
  • Weapon: a red card is mandated

Review “Week In Review 9” for the discussion on area of contact and mode of contact as this will assist with understanding the concept of excessive force as it relates to “contact above the shoulder.”

Video Clip 1: Philadelphia at Washington (85:56)
This clip shows the use of the hand as a weapon. In cases similar to this, the referee cannot hesitate to send the player off for violent conduct (no challenge for the ball). The hand (hard surface) is clearly used to strike the opponent in the facial region (soft surface). Excessive force is used and the opponent’s is at risk for serious injury.

The referee recognized the following weapon criteria and correctly issued the red card:

  • Excessive force is used.
  • Player safety is endangered.
  • Hard surface (hand) contacts a soft surface area (throat and neck).
  • The hand goes UP and IN to the opponent.
  • Injury results.

Video Clip 2: New York at New England (74:11)
Clip 2 can be used to compare and contrast with clip 1. In clip 2, the player uses his hand more as a tool than as a weapon. As a result, the referee must feel the situation and decide, after awarding a foul, whether to caution the player for unsporting behavior or use his presence to send a strong message. When the hand/arm/elbow is used more as a tool than as a weapon, then the referee should consider a foul or a foul and yellow card.

By asking himself the following questions, the referee can assist himself in making the correct decision:

  1. Does the player need the card?
    Since there is gray area in determining whether a caution is needed or just a foul and admonishment, the referee should evaluate the player’s behavior to that point and use that information to assist in the decision.
  2. Does the game need the card?
    The referee’s feel for the temperature and atmosphere of the game can be used to assist in determining the course of action (foul or foul and yellow card).

Although contact is made with the opponent, it is done as part of normal body movement and the hand is not swung UP and IN to the opponent.

Note: Contact between a hard surface and soft surface does not mean a red card is mandated. The other tool vs. weapon factors must be considered when determining the appropriate course of action.

Handling the Ball: Making Yourself Bigger

In 2009, U.S. Soccer enhanced the criteria to be used to decide whether a handling offense occurred or not when it published the “Handling the Ball” directive. The directive explores the following three criteria, each of which should be the primary factors considered by the referee when deciding whether a handling offense has occurred:

  1. Making yourself bigger
    This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender deliberately putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).
    • Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
    • Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?
    • Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?
  2. Is the arm or hand in an “unnatural position?”
    Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.
  3. Did the player “benefit?”
    In considering all the “signs” described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action. Did the defender’s action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an “unnatural position?” The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player’s action to determine whether an offence has been committed.

    After applying the aforementioned criteria, if the referee is still uncertain as to whether handling the ball has occurred, the referee should then incorporate the following two criteria as part of his decision making process:
  4. Reaction Time
    The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender’s view gives little or no time for the defender’s reaction to be “deliberate.” The referee must take into consideration whether the defender’s reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining “reaction time.” The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.
  5. Hand / arm to ball
    Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm.

Video Clip 3: Philadelphia at Houston (35:53)
This is a clear case where the defender makes himself bigger by extending his arm outside its natural playing area to prevent the opponent from getting the ball. The defender knows that he is beat and, if the ball gets by, the opponent will be positioned to receive the ball. The defender disguises his actions by immediately chasing the handled ball. Image 1 provides a visual as to the position of the defender and the attacker at the time of the handling. The referee should award a penalty kick and caution the defender for unsporting behavior. All elements of denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) are not evident. Hence, a send off would not be appropriate. The “4-D’s” are used to determine whether DOGSO exists. The four elements are:

  1. Number of Defenders
  2. Distance to goal
  3. Distance to ball
  4. Direction of play

Both distance to ball and number of defenders are missing in this case. The attacker does not have or may not gain clear possession of the ball. Concurrently, the defender who handles the ball and the other rushing defender may have been able to prevent an obvious scoring opportunity.

Image 1As Image 1 shows, the referee can aid his decision by taking a more strategic position and by moving as the ball is crossed in the penalty area. The referee needs to move closer to the “drop zone” and the ball comes down in the penalty area after the semi-bicycle kick. The referee cannot assume that the next phase of play will be “safe.”

Note: Referees should always be moving their feet. This does not always mean always running. Often times, a few steps as the ball is moving can assist in creating a better angle of vision to play. Move, don’t watch. Anticipate, don’t react.

Looking Forward – Week 11
Preparation for the increasing heat and humidity of the season is vital to a solid 90 minute plus performance. Through proper hydration, nutrition and physical preparation, match officials need to be equipped to address the additional challenges presented by the advent of summer. Proper attention to these pregame items will go a long way to ensuring extra fuel is left in the tank as the game concludes. On the other hand, failure to address these items can put a strain not only on one’s body but also on the mind thereby negatively impacting clarity of thought and vision.