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Ask A Referee Update: Jan. 22, 2010


For U12 girls soccer playing US youth soccer, following 8v8 rules, conforming to FIFA laws of the game, can a coach in charge of the division change the rules for play, specifically the following? Thanks ahead of time for your response.

For U12 girls soccer playing US youth soccer, following 8v8 rules, conforming to FIFA laws of the game, can a coach in charge of the division change the rules for play, specifically the following? Thanks ahead of time for your response.

Rule changes - my goal is to keep games within at least a 3 to 5 goal margin. The best way to do this is with a fair draft. Just in case we fail see below:

1. We may have to drop down to 7vs7 for the spring. So go recruit your friends daughters. We need players.

2. No team under any circumstances will be allowed to have more than 4 players from their fall team. I don't care if schedule conflict, trade, swap, whatever. If there is a practice conflict that player will need find a place with one of the three other teams. So keep this in mind when you draft.

3. If a team is up by four or more goals, any given player for the winning side will not score more than three goals in the game. If a player kicks in a goal during this period, it will be nullified and other team will receive a penalty shot. A second infraction leads to ejection of that player and a penalty shot along with the nullification of the "goal". (so if you have a "ringer" move her to defense or goalie after you are up). If a game falls back within a two goal margin the rule is waived.

4. If a team is up by four or more goals that team will be restricted to "three touch" until there is only a two goal margin. Infractions will lead to indirect kick.

5. If my attempts to balance the league are unsuccessful in my opinion then I will draft two players from the top one or two teams to play for the weaker teams at mid season.

Answer (January 21, 2010):
Those rules are not covered in the Laws of the Game or in the USYS recommended rules for small-sided soccer. They are, rather, clearly intended to be part of the rules of the competition. If there is a governing body for your league, then they must approve such changes in your rules.


Just read your response about opponents in the penalty area during a goal kick.

Follow up question: if the last thing you said is true: "if the ball leaves the penalty area, is therefore in play, and then goes to an opponent who, at the time the goal kick was taken, was in the penalty area, play should continue (no matter where the opponent has moved to by that time)" then why is their a requirement for all opponents to be outside the penalty area until the ball has actually left the area?

From time to time I have told fellow refs to look out for this so that an opponent does not (to borrow a phrase from Law XI) gain an unfair advantage from being in an "illegal" position.

The only question for the referee to ask himself is at what point does this infringement go from being unfair to trifling, i.e. the greater amount of time between the taking of the goal kick (or defensive free kick) to the time that the "illegally" positioned player becomes involved in play, the more likely that it becomes trifling and the referee should let play continue.

Does that make sense to you, or am I all wet?

Answer (January 21, 2010):
The reason there is a requirement for opponents to be out of the penalty area at the taking of a goal kick (and to stay out until the ball is in play) is exactly the same reason there is a requirement that opponents be at least ten yards away from a free kick (and to stay ten yards away until the ball is in play). However, we routinely and properly allow the team with the ball take a free kick if there are opponents closer than ten yards so why should we not also allow the team with the ball to take a goal kick if there are opponents within their penalty area? And, having allowed it in either case, why would we not -- once the ball is in play -- require the team with the restart to live by their decision to take the restart quickly even if this results in a disadvantage since it was their decision in the first place?

At all times, it is the responsibility of the referee to prevent or punish play which is contrary to the Law if such play in fact is unfair or unsporting because it had a non-trifling impact on the game. But is also the responsibility of the referee to avoid stopping play for admitted breaches of the Law where such a stoppage is unnecessary based on the needs of the game.


If a team makes an illegal keeper change, Law 3 instructs the referee to wait for the next stoppage before cautioning the players involved. What if the next stoppage is a goal scored by the offending team? My assumption is that the goal would not count because Law 10 states that there must not have been an infringement by the scoring team. Is this correct? If my assumption is correct, then what would be the restart? The "Advice to Referees" deals with the case of a goal scored by a team with an illegal player on the field. This seems similar, so would the restart be an IFK in the goal area for the non-offending team?

Answer (January 20, 2010):
There are two separate issues here.

First, Law 10's reference to a prior violation of the Law by the team scoring the goal is traditionally understood to mean a violation that played some part in the scoring of the goal. For example, if a Red fullback, at his team's end of the field, just before Red scores a goal, directed dissent to the trail AR, the fullback would, of course, be cautioned for the dissent but this would not nullify the goal because there was no connection between the two events.

Second, the caution for the illegal goalkeeper change does not in the slightest affect the legal status of either player -- more specifically, the goalkeeper is still the goalkeeper regardless of how he or she became the goalkeeper. Accordingly, not only is there no nexus between the illegal goalkeeper change (see issue 1, above) but the caution for this misconduct is not at all like the illegal entry of a substitute. In the latter case, the person on the field illegally is still illegal and represents a continuing violation of the Law whereas the illegal goalkeeper change is a discrete offense whose punishment is simply being delayed (until the next stoppage which, in this case, is the goal being scored).

The goal should count.


I'm an assistant coach with a GU14 team. We were awarded a goal kick and my keeper setup the ball in our goal area very quickly. At this time there were players from both teams (opposing and ours) in the penalty area. I wanted my goalkeeper to do a quick restart because we had an advantage at midfield. But she waited until the penalty area was cleared of all players before taking the kick. My question is:

1. Could my goalkeeper execute a goal kick with players from the opposing team standing in our penalty area to gain an advantage for our team?

Answer (January 19, 2010):
Correct procedure for the goal kick requires that all opposing players be outside the penalty area when the kick is taken.

We suppose that your player could take the kick with opponents in the penalty area, but doing so might cause problems for all sides, including the referee and assistant referees. If the ball is played/contacted by anyone inside the penalty area, the goal kick must be retaken because the ball is not yet in play (unlike the free kick where it is in play the moment it is kicked and moved) If the ball leaves the penalty area, is therefore in play, and then goes to an opponent who, at the time the goal kick was taken, was in the penalty area, play should continue (no matter where the opponent has moved to by that time).


In looking at the most recent posting under Ask a Referee, there was a question regarding unlimited substitution.

It was pointed out that the Laws of the Game allow this for U16 and younger games, but no older.

As far as I am aware this is completely ignored in U17,18 and 19 play throughout the US , including the McGuire (National) Cup turnament. It is also true of many adult amateur leagues. This would appear to be a clear violation of the Laws of the Game.

Does USSF, USYSA and/or AYSO have an exemption from FIFA to allow unlimited substitution at U17 and older age groups? Of course, FIFA does allow it in Girls (Womens) matches.

On a related note, if a USYSA State Association asks or requires a league to violate the Laws of the Game (e .g., today it's using Kick Ins or not calling Offside in the youngest age groups, but tomorrow it may be using a Rugby ball Š) how should the league handle this (Assuming the league simply wishes to follow the Laws of the Game)? If there are allowed exceptions, where are they published?

Answer (January 18, 2010):
The Laws of the Game permit the following modifications, as stated in the Notes on the Laws of the Game:
Subject to the agreement of the member association concerned and provided the principles of these Laws are maintained, the Laws may be modified in their application for matches for players of under 16 years of age, for women footballers, for veteran footballers (over 35 years of age) and for players with disabilities
. Any or all of the following modifications are permissible:
* size of the field of play
* size, weight and material of the ball
* width between the goalposts and height of the crossbar from the ground
* duration of the periods of play
* substitutions
Further modifications are only allowed with the consent of the International Football Association Board.

In addition, the referee must be aware of what to do if/when he or she encounters a local rule exception which appears not to be consistent with the Laws of the Game (in an affiliated match). Check with your local referee authorities about the rules of competition for all leagues and other competitions in which you referee. Forewarned is forearmed.


Could you provide some examples of irresponsible coaching at the youth level (U8-U12) of soccer. I recently had a game that had 3 coaches for one team and two coaches for the other team. (Our league allows 4 coaches per team). Constantly throughout the game ALL six coaches would be hollering at the players providing DIRECTIONS on positioning and passing and anything else. The majority of the coaching rarely had any tactical instructions - mostly were the type of "pass now, why did you kick it with your left foot, what are you doing" type of directions. I stopped the game (after listening to them shouting for the majority of the game)and demanded that the coaches let the players play the last 4 minutes with silence from the coaches area. The coaches complied (what a relief!) and the game was ended 4 minutes later. After the game, one coach complained about my demand for silence and said "Where is it written down that I can't shout instructions to my players?" I did not have a ready response to his question other than I don't believe the coaching was positive, informative, or in the spirit of the game. I may have come on too strong for the situation, but I was so tired of their screaming at their players, that I felt something needed to be done. Maybe I was right and maybe I was wrong, but for 4 minutes the players played their own game and it was peaceful for the first time that game and everyone on the field had a good time. So, what constitutes irresponsible or inappropriate coaching?

Answer (January 18, 2010):
According to Law 5, the referee "takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds." By no stretch of the imagination do most, and certainly not many, coaches or other team officials behave irresponsibly.

Here are some examples of irresponsible behavior, based on questions received and answered here or taken from the USSF position paper of March 22, 2006, on Management of Behavior in the Technical Area. These examples were directed by coaches or other team officials at referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, players of the opposing or their own team, and opposing coaches.

1. Screaming at or verbally or physically abusing the officials or any players or other participants for any reason.
* a youth coach "who begins to scream at his players when the game begins and does not stop until long after the game is over. With every touch of the ball by his team he gives (screams) instructions to the players off the ball as well as the player with the ball. With every touch of the ball by the other team he is giving (screaming) specific instructions to each player on his team as fast as he can get them out of his mouth. Much of what he says is negative and all mistakes are pointed out and players are taken to task. He is a physically intimidating person who loves to argue about anything and most area referees just stay as far away from him as they can."
* ordering a player who has made a mistake to "drop and give me ten" (pushups) right there on the field.
* Speaking insulting words or making offensive gestures
* making unwanted contact with opponents

There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. The referee is certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.

2. Interfering with the game in any way, such as:
* yelling out instructions to do something illegal or giving deceptive instructions.
* when coaches become actively involved in helping their team deceive the opponents, such as saying that player "x" should do this or that and clearly intending something else to occur (as discovered after the restart).
* clearly instructing the players to line up within the required distance and "have the referee move you."
* instructing his/her team, both on the field and on the bench, to jump up and down, waving their arms, and scream at the top of their lungs.
* giving tactical instructions to other players when invited to enter the field to see to the injury of a player.
* presuming to give the officials instructions on how to make or signal their calls.
* insisting that an opposing player be cautioned or sent off.
* throwing objects in protest
* kicking chairs
* striking advertising boards
* persistently and flagrantly protesting decisions by an official
* interfering with the performance of assistant referee or fourth official duties
* refusing to return to the technical area
* entering the field of play without the permission of the referee


Under the Law, only one person at a time is authorized to convey tactical instructions from the technical area. The coach and other officials must remain within its confines except in special circumstances, for example, a physiotherapist or doctor entering the field of play, with the referee's permission, to assess an injured player. The coach and other occupants of the technical area must behave in a responsible manner.

As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. Whether at the level of the least experienced players (and coaches) or at the highest levels, any case in which the coach behaves irresponsibly will result in the coach being dismissed. (Two examples from among many: ranting at the referee, overt participation in deception of the opposing team.)

A coach has no "right" to anything in the game of soccer other than the right to conduct him-/herself responsibly during the game -- from within the technical or bench area -- while offering advice to his/her team's players. A referee who allows coaches or other team officials to parade around the field or shout abuse at players in the guise of instruction, in contravention of the requirements in Law 5 that coaches behave responsibly and that referees not permit anyone other than players to enter the field, should be ashamed.


Coaches and other team officials are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned.) The intelligent referee will generally disregard coaching comments, unless they become openly disrespectful of the game and of the referee. The referee's first line of defense (unless the behavior is REALLY egregious) is to warn the coach who is behaving irresponsibly. This is the equivalent of a caution, but no card is shown. Then, when the behavior persists (as it usually does, because most coaches who behave this way fail to understand that they must change their errant ways), the coach is expelled from the field for failing to behave in a responsible manner. Please note that under the Laws of the Game, no card may be shown; however, showing the card may be a requirement of the rules of the competition.

Unless the matter is particularly grave, the referee would usually wait until the next stoppage. However, if the situation is indeed grave -- as any case of abuse would be -- then stopping the game and drawing attention to the matter is an excellent tool in and of itself. Proactive steps such as the admonition of the coach will usually prevent players who become disgusted with their coach's behavior from acting out and thus becoming subject to punishment themselves. It sends a clear message that the referee is serious about the matter. In such cases, the referee would stop play with the ball in the possession of the abusive coach's team (if possible), advise the coach or other team official that this behavior is irresponsible and must stop if the coach or other team official wishes to remain in the vicinity of the field. If this warning is not effective, then another stoppage and the expulsion of the coach must follow. No cards, please, unless the rules of the competition require them. Also, do not engage in extended discussions when doing this in any circumstances: State the message and leave.

In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.

In the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game" we find:
Coaches or other team officials, one at a time, may provide tactical advice to their players, including positive remarks and encouragement. The referee should only take action against coaches or other team officials for irresponsible behavior or for actions that bring the game into disrepute. A coach or other team official may not be cautioned or sent off nor shown any card; however, at the discretion of the referee, such persons may be warned regarding their behavior or expelled from the field of play and its immediate area. When a coach or other team official is expelled, the referee must include detailed information about such incidents in the match report.

The maximum numbers of substitutes and substitutions are set by the competition authority and with the agreement of the two teams within the requirements of Law 3. Additional people in the technical area, such as team members who are not named as players or substitutes (for the current game) on the roster or parents or other persons involved with the team, are permitted to be seated with the team in the technical area (or other designated team area) only if this is allowed by the competition authority. Such persons will be considered team officials and are therefore held to the same standards of conduct specified in Law 5 as other team officials. Although team officials cannot commit misconduct or be shown a card, they may be ordered from the field for irresponsible behavior. Full details must be included in the match report.

The "Ask, Tell, Remove" process is recommended for all officials to follow relative to conduct within the technical area:
* Ask
If a situation arises where there is irresponsible behavior, the official (referee, assistant referee, or fourth official) should ASK the person(s) to stop.
* Tell
If there is another occurrence of irresponsible behavior, the official should inform that person that the behavior is not permissible and TELL them (insist) to stop.
* Remove
If the non-accepted actions continue, the referee must REMOVE that person immediately.

These are the recommended steps, but they are not necessary if the behavior and conduct of personnel within the technical area requires immediate dismissal. Remember, where circumstances permit, match officials should use a "gentle escalate" approach so that referee team responses match the nature of the bench behavior. Try to use the least intrusive response that will solve the problem. END OF QUOTE


How many coaches are allowed in the coaches box during a game?

Answer (January 18, 2010):
Under USSF guidelines and in the absence of any competition authority rule specifying otherwise, anyone other than a substitute who is in the technical area is to be considered a team official. Some youth leagues allow as many as four, but the number of coaches permitted in the coaches box (generally known as the technical area) is determined by the rules of the particular competition or competitions in which you referee. Your assignor should be able to supply you with the rules.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff and National Assessor ret., assisted by National Instructor Trainer Dan Heldman, for their assistance in providing this service. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Paul Tamberino, Director of Referee Development; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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