Entries related to USSF Directives

Question:
I am concerned about teaching referees correctly, in accordance with the USSF’s current thinking, about Law 12 “Handles the ball Deliberately”. We have taught in the past that “gaining an advantage” from a ball that has hit the hand or arm makes no difference if the referee judged it wasn’t deliberate. And in fact the 2010 ATR (12.9) states that “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement…. NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.”

The Directives that came out in 2009 list as #3 Did the Player Benefit? I have taken this to refer for the first two points (1) “Making yourself Bigger” and (2) “Is the Arm or hand in an unnatural position”, and if the referee’s opinion was that it was not deliberate it did not matter if the player gained and advantage or benefit from the ball hitting his hand.

At a State Cup game the SYRA and I got into a discussion after a coach was told that advantage had no part in determining a handling call, he stated that now because of the 2009 Directive The player gaining a benefit should be whistled for handling. He has been in conferences and meetings that I have not so I wanted to be sure of the correct instructions (interpretations) that need to be taught to the referees.

USSF answer (November 19, 2010):
Despite superficial appearances to the contrary, we see no actual conflict between what is stated in the directive and what is said in the Advice to Referees. The third criterion in the Directive of February 2, 2009, Handling the Ball, is actually clear. However, the mention in that directive of “advantage” has absolutely nothing to do with the advantage we are familiar with from Law 5.

Criterion 3:

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.

The directive is speaking of a tactical advantage for the handling player, not the advantage invoked by the referee. It is similar in that way to the “gaining an advantage” referred to in Law 11 (Offside). In this sense, the directive addresses the “benefit” a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent’s attack.

The criterion at issue here is a way of coming to terms with the word “deliberate” as applied to the handling foul. All other things being equal, we are far less likely to consider an act to be deliberate if we cannot divine any reason for it happening. If the hand makes contact with the ball and there does not appear to be any purpose served by the contact, it is more likely accidental than deliberate — even if it drops kindly. The absence of a purpose, of course, doesn’t mean there wasn’t one — only that we cannot discern it. Where there is a discernible reason, and the contact achieves that reason, then we should be far more likely to suspect its innocence.

The directive does not suggest that benefit of a player’s action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled deliberately or not. The directive states that the referee needs to decide first if a handling-the-ball situation involved (1) a player “making himself bigger” or (2) if the player’s arm was in an unnatural position. The third criterion (3) involves the result of the action. The first sentence of criterion 3 is key: “In considering all the ‘signs’ described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action.” Possible “benefits” for defender or attacker are suggested. However, these benefits are to examined only in the context of the first two criteria. In other words, if the defender “made himself bigger” and was able to play the ball, the observed benefit of foiling the attack provides confidence that the handling of the ball was deliberate. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria, then additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.

THE SLIDE TACKLE

November 16, 2010

Question:
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?

USSF 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.

12.7 TACKLING
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

Question:
I note that your answers regarding whether a “statue” standing in front of a free kick is “sporting” refers individuals to the directives to determine whether the referee should caution the player. Yet in one of the questions regarding a wall being moved back at which time the kicking team took a quick kick and scored, you unequivocally state that one of the players in the wall should have been cautioned for unsporting behavior and that this is the coaching of illegal tactics.

I completely agree with your conclusion but can find no substantiating concept in the directives.

I also find the “statue” situation to be commonly disregarded by virtually all referees and ask the question, “How did the statue conveniently happen to be standing right where the kicking team placed the ball for the free kick?” Immediately followed by, “Is the kicking team really silly enough to have intentionally placed the ball directly between an opponent’s feet?

I believe we both are aware that the “statue” has usually taken at least one step and therefore should meet the test of “deliberately” and therefore needs to be cautioned, at least verbally if not with a YC.

Your interpretation?

USSF answer (April 13, 2010):
For the enlightenment of those referees and other readers who did not see the two references to the directive on Managing Free Kicks in the earlier answers, we repeat them here:

June 11, 2009:

Finally, as the directive implores officials, preventative measures should be utilized. Upon seeing players who act as a “statue” in front of the ball or who are less than 10 yards, referees should use presence to move the defender back and prevent further occurrences.

October 20, 2009:

A situation that may result in a caution for intercepting is the “statue” that is mentioned in the Directive. A player may move within several feet of the ball/restart and NOT “deliberately prevent” because he does not lunge at the ball with his foot but the referee judges his actions are cautionable because the player’s actions were, in general terms, preventing the ball from being put into play quickly. For example, a player who has been warned on prior occasions from running directly in front of the ball (thereby becoming a “statue”) to slow the restart. These involve situations in which the referee has, most likely, tried preventative measures and the player(s) have not responded because they are using it as an unfair “tactic.”

Opposing players who move to the ball and thus attempt to delay or otherwise interfere with the kick have been a problem for many years. Why? Because referees have failed to deal with them as the Laws require.

The directives are meant to give referees guidance on how to deal with the various topics they cover. If, as you point out, referees choose to not recognize the occasions for properly managing and educating players, that is poor refereeing and failure to enforce the Laws of the Game.

A final cautionary note to all referees:
“Should have been cautioned” does not equal “must be cautioned.” No caution is mandatory, all are discretionary, although some are less discretionary than others. The referee MUST recognize that this is misconduct — that is the first portal. The referee must also recognize that this form of misconduct has consequences that can be serious if the misconduct is not dealt with.

The referee must recognize that some misconduct is performed so obviously and blatantly that it would be foolish in the extreme to fail to caution.

The referee must recognize that the failure to give a caution for such an instance of misconduct is going to draw the attention of the assessor who will likely downgrade the referee’s performance evaluation in the absence of a really compelling argument from the referee who put serious thought into the matter and made a reasoned decision.

Question:
I have a point to make about arm extension and ball control with regard to handling the ball, and my question will be “does my argument hold any water.” I’m aware by the answers to numerous questions on the subject that the call is made based on “deliberate” or “not deliberate”. I contend that the reason that there are numerous questions on the subject is that there is such difficulty in determining what is deliberate and not. I’m aware that there is a list of items to look for in determining the call, but it seems to me that arm extension and advantageous ball possession are key elements in determining whether the action may be deliberate. Otherwise, its just too difficult to make that call consistently. I’m speaking of occasions where it is not absolutely clear that the action is non-deliberate, but there is otherwise a difficulty in determining that the “handling” meets the specificity of what is deliberate. And for the most part, we’re talking about bang-bang plays.

The rule’s words are “deliberately handle” which implies control.

The point of the game is to control the ball – which hopefully leads to more goals for your side – and as such, would be the point for any action in the match. Therefore, unless it is clear that the handling action was not deliberate, then control of the ball should be a determining factor in deciding to make a call for deliberate handling (handball). In my opinion, same difficulty can be applied to arm extension, and since arm extension can be a form of ball control, should be applied in the same manner.

p.s. a true “deliberate” handball is a potential send-off, but of course, it is typical for many handball calls to be made during a match that are technically then “deliberate”, but for which it would be foolish to warn on each, much less send off for the infraction.

Maybe we can change the terminology on the greater infraction to “intentional”, similar to basketball’s intentional foul?

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
You are trudging a well-worn path, but it leads you in the wrong direction. First, watch out for the notion of “unnatural position,” because what is natural for a female player maintaining balance is not natural for a male player maintaining balance under the same circumstances. The mere fact that a player, regardless of age or gender, may have an arm/hand raised does not magically transform accidental contact with the ball into a foul — it is only one factor to be considered. Next, where does the notion come from that a “deliberate handball is a potential send-off”? Nonsense! No more so than any foul is a potential send-off if the conditions are right.

Our perception is that most whistled handling offenses are not deliberate handling. And many that ARE called could be considered trifling or have advantage applied to them. Unfortunately, many referees who otherwise understand doubtful/trifling and advantage seem not to want to apply either of these concepts to a handling offense.

There is perfectly good and clear guidance out there in the USSF publications “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

12.9 DELIBERATE HANDLING
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 the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.

and in the Directive on Handling the Ball:

Handling The Ball
2009 Referee Program Directives
February 2, 2009
Keys to Identifying Handling the Ball
There are several key criteria referees should use to determine whether contact between a player’s hand/arm and the ball constitutes a foul for handling. Many of the criteria have formed the foundation of referee identification of handling offenses for years. Despite this foundation, handling criteria continue to be applied inconsistently.
Going forward, additional criteria will need to be considered by officials in determining if contact by the ball with the hand/arm is, in fact, a handling offense. For example: Did the player make himself bigger?
The following 3 criteria should be the primary factors considered by the referee:
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.

We strongly urge that you not allow the word “benefit” in item 3 of the Directive to confuse you. It clearly states in that paragraph that this benefit can only result from a deliberate action. Any “benefit” that accrues to a player who has NOT deliberately handled the ball is purely and simply a serendipitous event and must not be confused with a planned action. And also review the guidance in our first two paragraphs.

Question:
I guess I missed the Feb. 2009 Directive on “Handling the Ball”. I suppose that’s a good thing, because one section seems to directly contradict all my training as well as Section 12.9 of “Advice to Referees”.

In the Directive, one of the things the referee is supposed to consider in determining a handling offense is “Did the player ‘benefit’?”.

My understanding is that whether or not a player benefits from incidental arm/ball contact is irrelevant; it is either deliberate or not, and what happens afterwards is immaterial. “Advice” states unequivocally: “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement.”

Can you please clarify? If I’m misunderstanding the directive (as others have too), what is it supposed to be conveying?

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
You would seem to be misreading Advice 12.9 and confusing its text with that of the Directive, rather like confusing apples with applesauce. They speak of two different things.

Advice 12.9 addresses the “benefit” an attacking player might achieve in the sense of attack, while the Directive addresses the “benefit” a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent’s attack.

The Directive on “Handling the Ball” does not suggest that benefit of a player’s action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled intentionally or not. The “Directive” states that the referee needs to decide first if a handling the ball situation involved (1) a player “making himself bigger” or (2) if the player’s arm was in an unnatural position. The third criterion (3) involves the result of the action. The first sentence is of (3) is key (quoting from the “Directive”): “In considering all the ‘signs’ described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action.” Possible “benefits” for defender or attacker are suggested. However, these benefits are to examined only in the context of the first two criteria. In other words, if the defender “made himself bigger” and was able to play the ball the observed benefit of foiling the attack provides confidence the the handling of the ball was intentional. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.

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 offense has been committed.