I’ve read your comments on the shoulder tackle and they agree with what I was taught. However, I find that we have fouls called on us for what appear to be legal shoulder tackles about 75% of the time in youth soccer within our league and at tournaments. Most referees don’t call 75% of the trips or pushes. Reasons given are 1) excessive force (other player fell down), 2) arm was bent (and close to body), 3) arm was straight (and close to body), not playing the ball (but playing the player with the ball). Players on some teams we play flop on the ground as soon as anyone tries to shoulder tackle and that is rewarded with the foul call. Please help the referees come to some consensus on how to referee this type of tackle. I’ve given up teaching players to shoulder tackle. Too bad they won’t learn how to play soccer.

USSF answer (September 8, 2011):
Strange and mysterious are the ways of referees. It would appear that there is a vast difference between what you see happening on the field and what some of the referees who work your games have been taught.

Although you will have to search very hard to find it written anywhere, the world accepts a fair charge of the opponent if the players make contact shoulder to shoulder, with the charging player’s arms in at his side, while both players have at least one foot on the ground. The charging player may not charge carelessly, recklessly, or use excessive force. At the youth level, particularly in the early teenage brackets, where players of the same age may experience growth spurts differently, a “best effort” at a should-to-shoulder charge is accepted.

A player charging “for the ball” need not _play_ the ball at all, but he or she must be challenging for the ball. Referees must make the distinction necessary to apply the Law correctly. We must also admit the answer on the degree of force involved can vary, depending on player skill level. Players at higher skill levels will accept a bit more force than those at lower skill levels. (And the same applies to the referees who call these games.) However, anything that appears to done recklessly or with excessive force MUST be punished.

The Federation has defined the fair charge quite clearly in its publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The act of charging an opponent can be performed without it being called as a foul. Although the fair charge is commonly defined as “shoulder to shoulder” and without the use of arms or elbows, this is not a requirement and, at certain age levels where heights may vary greatly, may not even be possible. Furthermore, under many circumstances, a charge may often result in the player against whom it is placed falling to the ground (a consequence, as before, of players differing in weight or strength). The Law does require that the charge be directed toward the area of the shoulder and not toward the center of the opponent’s back (the spinal area): in such a case, the referee should recognize that such a charge is at minimum reckless and potentially even violent.