Back in Business

The ref is once again answering your questions! Welcome to Dan Heldman, who will be in charge of answering your questions now (with occasional help from Jim Allen, the original Ask a Soccer Ref). Dan has a wealth of experience and knowledge, as can be seen on the About page.

Welcome Dan, and feel free to start asking questions on the Ask a Question page.…

A New Look

Please pardon our dust as we update the site with a new look and some new refs to help answer your questions! The a ask a question page should be back soon, along with some other helpful features. Keep checking back!…

Sample Pregame Instructions (Update)

Here is an update to Gil Weber’s sample set of pregame instructions.

Gil Weber’s Pregame Instructions
Copyright© 1999, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2011

January 2013

These pregame instructions were originally written in 1999, and then were updated in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2011 after International Football Association Board decisions and advisories from FIFA and USSF. Here now is the latest revision to include new instructions from FIFA and USSF plus “tweaks” based on my experiences over the past few years.

As I stated in the original preamble, adapt these instructions to your own style and temperament. Don’t try to repeat verbatim what you read here. Instead, think about the points I make, reflect on how I ask my assistant referees to deal with them, and then create your own pre-game spiel to meet the needs of your games and the experience levels of your assistant referees.

This is particularly important when you’re working with very young or inexperienced ARs. In their entirety these pregame instructions will utterly overwhelm a young AR who’s probably still trying to get comfortable switching the flag from hand to hand.

But assuming you’re working with ARs who have some reasonable comfort level on the touchline, this should cover just about everything. And so with that introduction, here goes.…

Website Maintenance

We are doing some website maintenance.  Hopefully we will be back to normal soon.

If you notice any problems with the website, please let us know through the “Ask A Question” tab, choosing Website Feedback as the game level.

Thanks for your patience and help.…

Ask A Soccer Referee “Beta”

Welcome to the new look of the Ask A Soccer Referee website. As you can see, there have been quite a few changes implemented to the site. These changes include:

  • Searchable: You can now use the search box to look for past posts.
  • Categorized: In addition, each post is categorized to allow for easy browsing by subject.
  • Question Form: To ask a question, simply use the form on the “Ask a Question” page.
  • Archived: Easily browse through the archived posts.
  • RSS Feed: View new posts through the RSS feed.

Right now the past year of posts are archived. We will slowly be adding the posts from the last 10 years as well. There may be some issues as we bring the site up to full capacity and tweak the user interface. Please bear with us as we transition from the old site to this new one.…


The contract with OSI is through 2010. My understanding was that we were going to switch to the new Addidas FIFA uniforms at that time and Addidas has purchased OSI. What is USSF plans for the new Addidas uniform? Is Addidas going to continue this new design by OSI pass 2010?

USSF answer (January 18, 2008):
We are not aware any of this. With the exception that MLS’s agreement with OSI is over at the end of 2008, it would appear to be all rumors. The agreement between OSI and US Soccer runs for three more years.…


My question involves yet another variation of the endless player tactics during a Penalty Kick. My brother brought up a good question I can’t seem to answer after checking both the Laws of the Game and Advice to Referees.
The scenario is as follows:
An attacker sets up for a penalty kick facing away from the ball, and uses a heel kick to take the penalty kick. There is no other violation of any sort.
What is the correct decision for this?

USSF answer (January 7, 2008):
No, this is not permissible. The referee must observe what occurs when the ball is kicked, just as it says in Law 14. if the ball enters the goal, the kick is retaken. if the ball does not enter the goal, the referee stops play and restarts the match with an indirect free kick to the defending team, from the place where the infringement occurred. For making a mockery of the game by kicking in this manner and thus bringing the game into disrepute, the player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.…


During the recent recert, there was an exam question asking which card should be issued for the listed circumstances.A defender impedes the progress of an attacker during an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Is it a yellow since Law 12 states that the resulting kick was not a DFK or PK? Or is it a red since it was an OGSO?

Question #2: Law 4 states that a player cannot wear “any type of jewelry.” When asking the instructor for clarification when the “religious icon” clause was mentioned in class, I was shown the “Advice To Referees” booklet that stated the religious artifacts could indeed be worn. Are necklaces acceptable if they have a Cross/Star of David/etc????????

USSF answer (December 31, 2007):
It is unclear from your question just what is happening in the situation involving the obvious goalscoring opportunity. If the player who actually has the OGSO is denied that opportunity by a player who commits an indirect free kick infringement, then the correct decision is to send off that player and show the red card. (See Law 12, Sending-Off Offenses, 5: denies an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.) The correct restart for impeding the progress of an opponent is an indirect free kick.

Regarding jewelry the answer is somewhat complicated. We know what the Advice says, but there is more to it than that. On medicalert bracelets, the answer is clear. As long as it is safe for all participants, it may be worn.

As to religious paraphernalia — no one really wears “artifacts,” do they? — the issue is NOT whether an item of jewelry (or clothing) is “religious” (because there is no useful definition of that term) but whether that item of jewelry that would otherwise be prohibited under the “no jewelry” rule is nevertheless REQUIRED TO BE WORN by a religion. The item must be required by some religious tenet — the Jewish yarmulke, for example, or a Sikh turban, etc. In short, the actual range of “religious items” is VERY narrow.

So, because there is no way for a referee to know definitively what does or does not come under the that definition, any player who seeks to claim a “religious item” exception must apply to his or her state association, which in turn would decide if such was the case and would provide some letter or other documentation that could be given to the referee. In all events, the referee must still determine if, despite all this, the religious item still could not be worn (at least in its present form) because it was dangerous.…


The Technical Area
– Only one person at a time is authorized to convey tactical instructions and he must return to his position after giving these instructions. – The coach and other occupants of the technical area must behave in a responsible manner.What constitutes tactical instructions and what constitutes responsible behavior?

My concern is a local youth coach who begins to scream at his players when the game begins and does not stop until long after the game is over. With every touch of the ball by his team he gives (screams) instructions to the players off the ball as well as the player with the ball. With every touch of the ball by the other team he is giving (screaming) specific instructions to each player on his team as fast as he can get them out of his mouth. Much of what he says is negative and all mistakes are pointed out and players are taken to task. He is a physically intimidating person who loves to argue about anything and most area referees just stay as far away from him as they can.

We, of course, do not have 4th officials at our youth games. I do believe that if there were clear instructions to head and assistant referees as to responsible behavior in the Technical Area and what constitutes allowable “tactical instructions” that some actions would begin to be taken to stop behavior that I believe is unsporting conduct at the very least.

This person’s behavior affects every person on the field, on the benches, in the spectators area, all coaches and not too mention the referees. In my mind it is in the same category as an opponent coming up behind a player receiving the ball and yelling “I got it” at the top of their lungs.

Specific recommendations on those definitions would be positive points of action that we could build on to improve the conduct of our youth games.

USSF answer (December 31, 2007):
A very interesting question. There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. You, as a referee, are certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.

The Laws of the Game tell us that “[a]ll [team] officials must remain within the confines of the technical area, where such area is provided, and they must behave in a responsible manner.” The Laws also tell us about the technical area and its measurements. Without going into precise detail on the matter, we can agree that this suggests that — no matter how innocent their intentions — team officials should remain along the touch line and stay out of areas where they could be considered to be interfering with play or not behaving in a responsible manner, even in under-tiny soccer. Spectators may remain behind the goal line, but only if they are far enough away so as not to interfere with the game.

We can add that, under the Law, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed from the technical area, as long as only one person speaks at a time and then returns to his seat on the bench. As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. In either case, whether at the level of the least experienced players (and coaches) or at the highest levels, any case in which the coach behaves irresponsibly will result in the coach being dismissed. (Two examples from among many: ranting at the referee, overt participation in deception of the opposing team.)

A coach has no “right” to anything in the game of soccer, other than the right to conduct him-/herself responsibly during the game — from within the technical or bench area — while offering advice to his/her team’s players. A referee who allows coaches or other team officials to parade around the field or shout abuse at players in the guise of instruction, in contravention of the requirements in Law 5 that coaches behave responsibly and that referees not permit anyone other than players to enter the field, should be ashamed.

Coaches are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Law 3, IBD 2, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned.) The referee’s first line of defense (unless the behavior is REALLY egregious) is to warn the coach who is behaving irresponsibly. This is the equivalent of a caution, but no card is shown. Then, when the behavior persists (as it usually does, because most coaches who behave this way fail to understand that they must change their errant ways), the coach is expelled from the field for failing to behave in a responsible manner. Please note that under the Laws of the Game, no card may be shown; however, showing the card may be a requirement of the rules of the competition.

In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.

Coaches or other team officials, one at a time, may provide tactical advice to their players, including positive remarks and encouragement. The referee should only take action against coaches or other team officials for irresponsible behavior or for actions that bring the game into disrepute. A coach or other team official may not be cautioned or sent off nor shown any card; however, at the discretion of the referee, such persons may be warned regarding their behavior or expelled from the field of play and its immediate area. When a coach or other team official is expelled, the referee must include detailed information about such incidents in the match report. The maximum numbers of substitutes and substitutions are set by the competition authority and with the agreement of the two teams within the requirements of Law 3. Additional people in the technical area, such as team members who are not named as players or substitutes (for the current game) on the roster or parents or other persons involved with the team, are permitted to be seated with the team in the technical area (or other designated team area) only if this is allowed by the competition authority. Such persons will be considered team officials and are therefore held to the same standards of conduct specified in Law 5 as other team officials. Although team officials cannot commit misconduct or be shown a card, they may be ordered from the field for irresponsible behavior. Full details must be included in the match report.

You ask what constitutes responsible behavior. It means that the coach or other team official has not stuck to what their part of the game is, issuing tactical instructions or praise to their players. If they go beyond those bounds, then their behavior is irresponsible. Shouting abuse and heaping derision on players is irresponsible behavior and brings the game into disrepute.

As to what bringing the game into disrepute means in the normal course of the game, this answer of September 7, 2006, should give you all the information you need:

“Bringing the game into disrepute’ means doing something that is totally counter the spirit of the game, which is meant to be played fairly and in a sporting manner. Such acts show a lack of respect for the game, e. g., aggressive attitude, inflammatory behavior, deliberately kicking the ball into one’s own goal or taunting.” It also includes intimidation and arguing with the referee.


This is a two part question
Part 1, I just took my recertification exam and had an disagreement not only with the instructor but with every one in the course about Law 12 and passing back to the keeper. I received my first referee certification in 1992 and when we were going through that course we were told, in the area of passing back to the keeper who would then touch the ball with their hands, that if a player for the keepers team passes the ball in the air to a teammate who then heads it back to the keeper than those players are cautioned for trying to circumvent the law and should be cautioned and a indirect free kick is awarded. In this course, everyone there including the instructor, said that that is a legal play and neither player should be cautioned; in fact the instructor said he would congratulate the players on being so inventive and that the law says you can pass the ball back with your head. Did I miss something here? Wouldn’t that also be trying to circumnavigate the law, or am I going crazy and that part of the law never existed?

Part 2, what started all of this is in Law 12 under decisions of the IFA Board, it states “A player using a deliberate trick to circumvent the Law while he is taking a free kick, is cautioned for unsporting behavior and showing the yellow card. The kick is retaking. In such a circumstances, it is irrelevant weather 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 sprit of law 12.”

Here’s the knock – if, like the instructor said, this only applies if the player flicks the ball to himself and then heads it back to his keeper, why doesn’t law 13 go in to effect and do to the fact he has touched it twice the ball goes to the other team as an indirect free kick. Or if the player does pass to a team mate to head back to his keeper than why would you not show both a yellow card and give the ball to the other team as an indirect free kick? Here is my other problem with this decision, what if defender A is taking an indirect free kick and passes it across the field to teammate B, who gets pleasure from offensive player 1, and tries to pass the ball back to his keeper, who never touches the ball with his hands, because that’s the only outlet he has at the time, player B gets a yellow card and the indirect free kick goes back to the defending team and they get to re-kick. This decision seems kind of dumb to me.

USSF answer (December 19, 2007):
O tempora, o mores! Things have changed since 1992, when FIFA issued Circular 488 on July 24. The sense of the circular was encapsulated in an article in Fair Play, the USSF referee magazine, in 1998. Nothing has changed but the way the Laws are numbered and the replacement in the Laws of “ungentlemanly conduct” with “unsporting behavior.”

What about players who seek to get around the Letter of the Law? In response to numerous queries from around the world, FIFA issued its Circular Number 488 on July 24, 1992. Circular 488 will not appear in the Laws of the Game, but must be known and understood by every referee. Because they directly affect the way in which the referee will treat time wasting, it is worthwhile to quote the Circular at length:Subject to the terms of Law XII, a player may pass the ball to his own goalkeeper using his head or chest or knee, etc. If, however, in the opinion of the referee, a player uses a deliberate trick in order to circumvent the amendment to Law XII, the player will be guilty of ungentlemanly conduct and will be punished accordingly in terms of Law XII; that is to say, the player will be cautioned and an indirect free-kick will be awarded to the opposing team from the place where the player committee the offense.

Examples of such tricks would include: a player who deliberately flicks the ball with his feet up onto his head in order to head the ball to his goalkeeper; or, a player who kneels down and deliberately pushes the ball to the goalkeeper with his knee, etc.

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 text and the spirit of Law XII, and the referee must only be convinced that this was the player’s motive.

It is obvious from the text of Circular 488 that players who use trickery in an attempt to get around the conditions of the amendment to Law XII must be dealt with immediately and firmly. The initiator of the trickery must be cautioned for ungentlemanly conduct and the match properly restarted. If the ball was already in play, an indirect free-kick from the spot where the initiator touched-not merely “kicked”-the ball is appropriate. If the ball was out of play, the restart for a violation depends upon how the circumvention began. If the action began from a free-kick or goal-kick that was properly taken, the restart will again be an indirect free-kick from the spot where the initiator of the trickery played it, regardless of whether he took the kick or was further along in the sequence of play. If the goal-kick or free-kick was _not_ properly taken, then the restart must be that goal-kick or free-kick. This could lead to a situation where the offending team has a player cautioned (or sent off for a second cautionable offense), but still retains the ball on the restart.

You would seem to have met a wise instructor; however, we hope that this instructor also noted that if this was from a restart, the player who flicked the ball to his/her head had committed a “double touch,” which would automatically be punished with an indirect free kick. If this occurred during play, then no offense is committed.

We have stated consistently and definitively:
The Law was rewritten in 1997 to reduce the number of options available to players for wasting time. Playing the ball to one’s goalkeeper was traditionally used as a way of “consuming” time. By the time the Law was rewritten, the practice had become synonymous with time wasting. Normal interplay of the ball among teammates is not a matter of concern to any referee; however, the referee must be concerned with obvious deliberate attempts to circumvent the requirements of the Law. In this case the player using the deliberate trick to circumvent the Law is committing unsporting behavior, for which he must be cautioned and shown the yellow card.

One clue to the correctness of the player’s action is whether it is a natural part of play or is clearly artificial and intended only to circumvent the Law. In such cases, the action is considered misconduct whether it ultimately is touched by the goalkeeper or not. Indeed, the misconduct should be whistled before the goalkeeper even has a chance to touch it.

This would also apply to a ball kicked by a player to a teammate, who then heads the ball to the ‘keeper. In most cases this would be considered to be a part of normal play.

On July 23, 2002, we stated:

If a goal-kick, taken by the goalkeeper, goes to a teammate outside the penalty area, who heads the ball back to the goalie, this does not infringe the requirements of Law 12. The referee must recognize the difference between situations during dynamic play, when opponents are constantly exerting pressure, and events developing from static situations, such as free-kicks, when the opposing team must be at least ten yards from the ball. The referee must always consider the distance between members of opposing teams as well as members of the same team before making the call.

The final information comes in an answer of November 14, 2007:

When speaking of trickery in playing the ball toward the goalkeeper, we normally think of this as occurring during restarts, not during dynamic play. A player who goes down on hands and knees to head the ball during dynamic play is not committing trickery.
With that point established, consider our response of August 29, 2007, to another question on trickery:
“When considering the possibility of trickery, the referee must decide if the action was natural (a normal sort of play, the sort of thing you would see in any sequence of play) or contrived (an artificial, unnatural play, which, in the referee’s opinion, is intended solely for the purpose of circumventing the Law and preventing the opponents from challenging for the ball).”The call is always in the opinion and at the discretion of the referee, who is the only person capable of making the judgment as to the nature of the kick. If there is any doubt in the referee’s mind as to the nature of the play, then common sense should prevail. Unless the referee believes plays like this to be trickery, there is no need to make a call.”

Consider also that the goalkeeper infringes the Law by handling a throw-in only if it has come directly to him or her from a throw-in taken by a teammate.