image6Any game is defined by its rules. If you do not know the rules how can you understand the game, why particular tactics are used and not others? In soccer, the rules are called the “Laws of the Game.”

You also have to know the duties of the referee. One of the prime duties of the referee is game management. The best referee is NOT an enforcer of the Laws of the Game, he is a manager of the game using the Laws of the Game to manage play. The referee sets the tone of the match by what he will allow and not allow. The players in turn should learn quickly what the referee considers a foul. The result is the game should proceed with few stoppages or interruption in play with the outcome of the match resulting from the ability of the players. Referees can influence the outcome of the game by their calls. When this happens, even when it is a consequence of the referee doing the correct action at a particular moment, it is a sign that the referee has failed in his primary responsibility of managing the game in such a way as to allow the players to control the play and outcome.

So what are these Laws that you need to know? There are seventeen of them. A easy place to find them is at the FIFA web site: We will look at the three most important to the player.

The place to start is Law 5, which describes the powers of the Referee. Over and over throughout the Laws you will see language that defers to the Referee’s opinion. Consider how Law 5 directs a referee to handle injuries:

  • stops the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured and ensures that he is removed from the field of play. An injured player may only return to the field of play after the match has restarted;
  • allows play to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in his opinion, only slightly injured;

Players need to learn to adjust their game to be in harmony with the Referee’s view. If the Referee believes that, a foul happens with any contact that is the way the game is going to be called. If he believes that, a bone must be showing for a foul to have happened, that is how the game is to be played. Our players have to learn to adjust their play to how the game will be called.

In over thirty years of playing I have never seen a referee change a call because a parent thought the referee was abusing the discretion given to the Referee in Law 5.

The penal fouls are found in Law 12. In reading Law 12 you should note that kicking, striking, tripping, charging and pushing are only fouls if, in the opinion of the referee, the conduct was excessive, careless or reckless. Soccer is a contact sport. It is a game where there will be physical force and the players’ courage will be tested and rewarded.

Different referees have different ideas of what is excessive, careless or reckless. For some, if a player falls down the opponent committed a foul. Other referees are far more observant and demanding.

Law 12 provides:

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following six offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

  • kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
  • trips or attempts to trip an opponent
  • jumps at an opponent
  • charges an opponent
  • strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
  • pushes an opponent

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offences:

  • tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball
  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

Many parents have never read the Laws. You will hear them shout, “Ref, he got the ball!” But, you have read the Law. You should have noticed that it may be a foul even if a tackler got the ball, and should be a foul if the tackler misses the ball and tackles the opponent.

You should have also noticed that in these instances intent does not apply, except in one case, in determining whether a foul happened. Something that is reckless or careless implies that the law breaker was not acting intentionally.

Intent matters in one case – handballs. Law 12 provides that it is only foul if done “deliberately.” Too many people (and Referees) think any contact with the ball is a “HAND BALL, REF!” Not so.

The USSF, to give some consistency to the game, has written a book entitled Advise to Referees. Here is how they advise Referees to call a ball making contact with the arm or hand:


The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes theLaw regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

image7An indirect kick is awarded for non contact fouls, such as dangerous play, obstruction, or being offside. An indirect kick is signaled by the Referee raising his arm straight up and he should keep it up until the ball is touched by another player. A goal cannot be scored off an indirect kick – it has to be touched by a second player before a goal may be scored.

Perhaps the most misunderstood Law is Law 11 – Offside. It is a simple Law. It has three parts. The first part considers the position of the players:

It is not an offence in itself to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if:

  • he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent

A player is not in an offside position if

  • he is in his own half of the field of play or
  • he is level with the second last opponent or
  • he is level with the last two opponents

Notice that simply being in an offside position IS NOT ENOUGH TO COMMIT THE FOUL. The second condition is that the player must ALSO be interfering in play or interfering with another player at the moment the ball is touched or passed and the player in the offside position gains an advantage from being offside.

A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position

Generally, to interfere with play the offending player must touch the ball. To be interfering with an opponent, the player must be trying to block the opponent’s vision or is yelling at him. You can gain an advantage if the ball rebounds to a player from a deflection from an opponent or the cross bar. Remember the time that is critical is not where the player is when he receives the ball, but where he was when the ball was last touched by his teammate.

Finally, you cannot be off side on:

  • a goal kick or
  • a throw-in or
  • a corner kick

PrevArrowChapter 2: SOCCER – THE UNIQUE GAME