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Ask a Referee Update: Nov. 16, 2010


Referee decides goalkeeper has committed the offense of touching ball with hands, after ball was deliberately kicked to her by a teammate. Referee signals for IFK inside GK's penalty area, approx 10 yards from goal. Before attacking team has time to take IFK, referee tells both teams that restart will be ceremonial (on whistle).

Reason for ref's decision to make the restart ceremonial is not obvious, and not clearly communicated by referee. Possible reason is that the referee decided to consult with lead AR, to get AR's input regarding the offense. Attacking team is upset that referee took away quick kick opportunity, protests the game to the competition authority for that reason. Questions: (1) Does the referee need to have a specific reason, for requiring a restart to be ceremonial (taking away quick kick opportunity)? (2) Would consulting with an AR regarding the offense be a sufficient reason? (3) Could the ref's taking away of the quick kick opportunity be considered a misapplication of the Laws, and a legitimate basis for requiring the game to be replayed?

Note: I'm an experienced referee, quite familiar with the ATR. I've looked, haven't been able to find a source that gives me a clear definitive answer regarding this scenario. Hoping to provide some helpful input and guidance to a protest committee which must decide what to do about the protest. Thanks!

Answer (November 16, 2010):
Law 5 is the authority here. See below:
Decisions of the Referee
The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.
The referee may only change a decision on realizing that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.

See also Advice to Referees 5.7:
The referee has the power to stop the match for any infringement of the Laws, to apply advantage under the appropriate conditions, or to decide that an infringement is trifling or doubtful and should not be called at all.//rest clipped//

In answer to your questions:
(1) Yes. The referee made a decision to make the free kick ceremonial and announced that to the players. He (or she) need not debate that decision with anyone but himself.
(2) Yes, a conference with the AR would certainly be enough reason to hold up the kick and make it ceremonial.
(3) Absolutely not!


An attacker is fouled, but the referee immediately (not waiting for 2-3 seconds to elapse) sees a clear opportunity for the attacking team to benefit from continuing play and calls out "play on" with the appropriate hand signal. Within 2-3 seconds an attacker (but not the attacker initially fouled) fouls a defender. The referee blows his whistle to stop play and calls the original foul for the attacker and has the ball brought back to the point of the original foul for a free kick to the attacking team; rather than a foul by the attacking team and a free kick for the defending team.

The question came up that calling "play on" is an immediate "calling the foul" and "instantaneous restart". Therefore, the referee had made a decision and could no longer decide to call the original foul. Had the referee waited a bit longer before signaling "play on", he could then appropriately call the original foul.

In other words, once the referee calls "play on" can the original foul still be penalized or has the opportunity "gone away" because the referee has indicated his decision? If the "play on" negates calling the original foul, when the referee blew his whistle to stop play the appropriate restart would have been a free kick to the defending team.

Answer (November 16, 2010):
It is rarely a mistake for the referee to wait that 2-3 seconds to ensure that the advantage has been realized before announcing the decision to "play on." By so doing, the referee can generally avoid awkward situations like the one you present.

Our recommendation in this specific situation is to forget the first foul and call the one that occurred after the advantage was announced, but to be prepared to handle any misconduct which may have attached to the first foul.

Signaling "Play on!" does not now nor has it ever "negated" the foul. That's what the 2-3 seconds are for - to see if the proto-advantage we (in our wisdom and experience) saw as enough of a possibility that we were not prepared to blow the whistle immediately actually reaches some fruition. The theory, of course, is that the speed of soccer play (at the sort of competitive level where we would look to apply advantage) needs only 2-3 seconds to either resolve itself or not.

Over the years, two distinctly different approaches to operationally implementing "advantage" have developed.

Approach A - signal advantage as soon as the foul occurs in the presence of an advantage POSSIBILITY, and then come back to stop play for the original foul if, after 2-3 seconds, the advantage was neither realized nor maintained.

Approach B - observe the foul, decide if there is an advantage possibility, observe play for the next several seconds and then either comeback to the original foul if the advantage was neither realized nor maintained OR signal the advantage if it was.

Either is acceptable, both have pluses and minuses to their use (all of which are discussed in several position papers (on the US Soccer website). See also Advice to Referees 5.6.


In a recent U12 boys game we played a great team and lost.

The kids had lots of Fun, However my question is: How much Coaching should the Referee do during the game? He started out just commenting on fouls and explaining why he made a call or non-call. He did a fine job as a referee, but the Ref's Coaching got progressively more in-depth as the game went on. How can a coach respectfully tell this kind of Referee to NOT coach at all. It was annoying and I wasn't always able to hear what he was saying to my players. I think I deserve to Know if he is giving a warning or coaching. In my league in eastern PA we do have some fine Referees, But If I see this Ref again how do communicate to him that I don't appreciate any instruction he has to offer. Referees should be impartial, right? I am not saying I want to argue his calls, I really don't have any desire for that, but does the Ref have the authority to coach and advise players on the field? and what would be considered reasonable?

Answer (November 16, 2010):
Other than in some youth competitions where the competition encourages it, the referee should avoid coaching altogether. The referee can give compliments, as long as he or she ensures that each team gets a fair share, and can do normal referee things, such as chiding or warning players who are behaving improperly.

Coaches don't want the referee coaching and referees certainly don't want the coaches refereeing. Both are troublesome.


In tonight's [state high school playoff game], the game goes into tie breaker using PK's. The Goalie for team A stops the goal. The goalie does not leave the line early. None of the players leaves the line, no infractions. The goalie after stopping the goal celebrates by fist pumping and letting out a yell. The ref states it is taunting. The ref lets the same girl get another try. This time the goal goes in. Where is this in the rule book? How is this possible? The coach complains to the referee, the coach gets a yellow and is ask to leave the area.

Answer (November 16, 2010):
Coach, we are NOT authorized to give answers on questions involving games played using the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). If you can accept that our answer cannot be considered "official," then here is our take on the matter. If you want an official NFHS answer you need to check with a high school rules interpreter in your area.

The only thing in the scenario which would be considered specific to NFHS rules is the decision about taunting. Of course, "taunting" is totally "in the opinion of the referee" but, if the referee decides a player's action IS taunting, NFHS rules call for the taunting player to be disqualified (sent from the field) with a red card (Rule 12.8.3b). The referee might also choose to consider the action as coming under 12.8.2a which results in a yellow+red card (the so-called "soft" red -- player can be replaced). In either case, the operative word is "disqualified," which means that the goalkeeper HAD to be sent from the field. If not sent from the field, then it wasn't taunting (or the less serious but, in our opinion, arguably more apt "delayed, excessive or prolonged act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself and/or prohibits a timely restart of the game").

Without any card shown (and none is mentioned), the referee has absolutely no basis in NFHS Rules for not accepting the result of the kick from the mark. Nothing the goalkeeper did is contrary to the NFHS kicks from the mark procedure. Furthermore, even if the goalkeeper WAS guilty of any sort of misconduct and was shown a card of any color, this does not affect the outcome or acceptability of the kick because it was behavior that occurred after the kick was over. In this, there would be no difference between NFHS Rules or FIFA Laws.

As for the referee's subsequent action regarding the coach, the most that can be said here is that, once again, the referee has gotten creative.

Receiving a caution and being shown a yellow card is permissible under NFHS Rules but, absent the special circumstance of this being a SECOND caution for the coach, there is no basic in the NFHS Rules for ordering the coach "to leave the area."


As I center ref older travel/elite club games, I'm increasingly confronted with judging the legality of slide tackles.

Can you tell if there is a set of criteria that I can use to help me in assessing whether a slide tackle is legal? Has USSF issued any directive or other document akin to their "Handling the Ball" directive that could provide me with helpful guidance?

Answer (November 16, 2010):
One of the current sources is the "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game"; the 2010/2011 edition can be downloaded from the USSF website.
The referee must judge whether the tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless, or involves the use of excessive force. Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized. However, the fact that contact with the ball was made first does not automatically mean that the tackle is fair. The declaration by a player that he or she has "got the ball first" is irrelevant if, while tackling for the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force commits any of the prohibited actions.

A foul committed while tackling an opponent with little or no concern for the safety of the opponent shall be cause for the player to be sent from the field and shown the red card for serious foul play.

In brief, there is only one way to slide tackle-- safely. And when it is not safe, it is almost always so unsafe as to require a red card for serious foul play.

The term "slide tackle" refers to an attempt to tackle the ball away from an opponent while sliding on the ground. A slide tackle is legal, provided it is performed legally. In other words, there is nothing illegal about a slide tackle by itself--no matter where it is done and no matter the direction from which it comes. Referees (and spectators) should not get hung up on the term "slide" tackling. There is nothing in our concern regarding endangering the safety of the opponent which limits this to a slide tackle. In fact, if, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle endangers the safety of the opponent, it makes no difference if there is contact or not.

FIFA emphasized in the past the great danger in slide tackles from behind because, if this tackle is not done perfectly, the potential for injury is so much greater. Nowadays, if the referee decides that the foul while tackling from any direction--from the front, the side, or the rear--was done in such a way as to endanger the safety of the opponent, the proper action is to send the violator off the field with a red card.

How can tackles become illegal? Two of the most common ways are by making contact with the opponent first (before contacting the ball) and by striking the opponent with a raised upper leg before, during, or after contacting the ball with the lower leg. Referees must be vigilant and firm in assessing any tackle, because the likely point of contact is the lower legs of the opponent and this is a particularly vulnerable area.

The referee must judge each situation of a tackle from any direction individually, weighing the guidelines published by FIFA and the U. S. Soccer Federation, the positions of the players, the way the tackler uses his/her foot or feet, the "temperature" of the game, the age/skill of the players, and the attitude of the players. Only then can the referee make a sensible decision.

While one may (and should) sympathize with the injured player, soccer is a tough, competitive sport, and injuries can happen with no associated infringement of the Law. Players who act on the basis of the opposite presumption, abetted by like-minded spectators, do the sport no good.

For the sake of those who would punish any tackle, we ask that players and referees alike remember that it is not a foul if a sliding tackle is successful and the player whose ball was tackled away then falls over the tackler's foot. It has to be in the opinion of the referee, but if the tackler accomplishes the objective of taking the ball safely and within the meaning of the Law, then it makes no difference if the player who was tackled then falls down. With a big "UNLESS": if, in the referee's opinion, the tackler has used excessive force, then the tackler should be sent off for serious foul play. Or, if the tackler makes the tackle and then lifts either the tackling foot or the other foot and trips the opponent, that is a foul. Simply because a player falls over the foot of the tackler is not a dangerous thing. It's one of the breaks of the game.

Finally, an acronym to help you remember the elements of tackles that merit red cards: SIAPOA. Red card tackles usually involve combinations of the following components
: 1. Speed of play and the tackle
2. Intent
3. Aggressive nature
4. Position of the tackler
5. Opportunity to play the ball
6. Atmosphere of the game


In a soccer game a player deliberately used his knee to pass the ball to the goalkeeper. The goalkeeper then picked the ball up with his hands. Does this count as a pass-back to the keeper?

What part of the body can a player use to send the ball to his/her goalkeeper and have the keeper pick it up with his/her hands? Or maybe I should ask what part of the body can't a player use to pass the ball to the keeper if the keeper intends to pick it up?

Answer (November 16, 2010):
The Law is pretty clear. See the back of the Law book 2010/2011, Interpretations, Cautions for unsporting behavior:
* uses a deliberate trick while the ball is in play to pass the ball to his own goalkeeper with his head, chest, knee, etc. in order to circumvent the Law, irrespective of whether the goalkeeper touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of law 12 and play is restarted with an indirect free kick.

Even with that information, we would be remiss if we did not point out that, subject to the terms of Law 12, a player MAY pass the ball to his (or her) own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc., if he does NOT use trickery. Furthermore, just to lock it down tightly, for the misconduct offense to be called the referee must decide that the action was done to circumvent the Law. Merely observing that the ball was played from foot to head is not enough, even if the ball subsequently goes to or toward the GK. Because we are dealing with misconduct here (the "trickery") and not the foul commonly referred to as "pass back to the 'keeper," we are required to evaluate the intentions of the defender.

In such circumstances, it is irrelevant whether the goalkeeper subsequently touches the ball with his hands or not. The offense is committed by the player in attempting to circumvent both the letter and the spirit of Law 12.


During a game I argued a call to the referee (no foul language)....I asked him what game was he watching? He came over to the bench (I was acting as a coach) and pointed to the door and said leave. So I left. He later took my player card and said that he is giving me a red card. Can he give me a red card after the fact? He asked me to warning. Can he just decide that that is a red card offense after the fact? Plus we were not sent down a man (indoor) indicating an offense has taken place. Is this a traditional banning then?

Answer (November 10, 2010):
In point of fact, the referee should not show a coach a card of any color in any form of soccer, indoor or outdoor; it is against the Laws. However, there may be some facility rule regarding this. Many indoor facilities have their own rules that take no notice of the Laws of the Game.

In your role as a player/coach, the referee could legally send you off and even show you the red card, because you were dressed as a player. In our opinion, the send-off as a player is extremely questionable if the situation was as you describe it, because your behavior does not seem to have gone beyond dissent (a cautionable offense). In our experience the red "after the fact" is not out of the realm of normalcy for indoor soccer -- and the referee does not have to warn a player (or coach) at all, no matter whether indoor or outdoor. If you were expelled as a coach, there would have been no time penalty.

Under the Laws of the Game the only reason to send off a coach is for irresponsible behavior, and what you describe could fit that category, depending on your tone of voice and what else had been happening in the game. It would appear that the referee decided "that's enough" and expelled you for exceeding the acceptable bounds of competitive enthusiasm.

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); Jeff Kollmeyer, National Instructor, indoor and Futsal; and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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