Question:
During a boys U10 game a boy continued to go after the ball, using his feet, even though he had fallen on the ground. The fallen player did not trip or impede the other player, but did still effect the ball. The ball was not in the box, but the offending player was. The referee called a penalty and awarded the other team a penalty kick. Questions: Is it a penalty for a player to play the ball if he is on the ground? If so is it a penalty punishable by a direct kick? If not, what should happen and is there anything that can be done with game already over?Finally this happened in the final minutes of a tied up game and therefore decided the outcome of the game, what should a coach of a young team do at the moment when they arenÕt sure about a call that affects the game like this?

USSF answer (April 23, 2007):
Here is what we teach ALL referees throughout the United States about playing dangerously. It comes from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”

12.13 PLAYING IN A DANGEROUS MANNER
Playing “in a dangerous manner” can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player committing the action), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play. Merely committing a dangerous act is not, by itself, an offense (e.g., kicking high enough that the cleats show or attempting to play the ball while on the ground). Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is nearby is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball in order to avoid receiving or causing injury as a direct result of the player’s act. Playing in a manner considered to be dangerous when only a teammate is nearby is not a foul. Remember that fouls may be committed only against opponents or the opposing team.

In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are experienced and skilled may be more likely to accept the danger and play through. Younger players have neither the experience nor skill to judge the danger adequately and, in such cases, the referee should intervene on behalf of their safety. For example, playing with cleats up in a threatening or intimidating manner is more likely to be judged a dangerous play offense in youth matches, without regard to the reaction of opponents.

There is nothing illegal, by itself, about playing the ball while on the ground. It becomes the technical foul known as playing dangerously (“dangerous play”) only if the action unfairly takes away an opponent’s otherwise legal play of the ball (for players at the youth level, this definition is simplified even more as “playing in a manner considered to be dangerous to an opponent”). At minimum, this means that an opponent must be within the area of danger which the player has created.

If this is not the case (for example, the player had no opponent nearby), then there is no violation of the Law. If the referee decides that a dangerous play violation has occurred, the restart must be an indirect free kick where the play occurred (subject to the special rules that apply to restarts in the goal area).

By the way, even if a dangerous play violation has been called, the referee should never verbalize it as “playing on the ground” since there is no such foul in the Laws of the Game.

The coach of the team has no recourse in the matter of a judgment call by the referee, but may enter a protest only if the referee misapplies the Laws. If the referee awarded a penalty kick in the case you bring forward, that would be correct only if the player on the ground actually kicked or attempted to kick the opponent. If there was no contact or no attempt to kick, then there was no direct free kick foul, but the act might have constituted playing dangerously, for which an indirect free kick should have been awarded. If the incorrect free kick–indirect or penalty, as the case may be–was awarded, then there might be grounds for protest, but it could still come down to the referee’s ;judgment, rather than a matter of misapplication.

The game would be best served if the coach used the situation as a teaching tool for his or her team.