Coaches and Cards

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kat, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

What happens when a coach gets a yellow card?


Consider the following:

Case 1:  What happens?   Well, it shouldn’t happen because, technically, coaches cannot get a yellow card. Under the Laws of the Game, only players, substitutes, and substituted players can be carded (yellow or red).  We draw your attention to Law 5 where it states that the duties of the Referee include “takes action against team officials who fail to act in a responsible manner and may expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.”  This is routinely interpreted to mean that the only basis for disciplinary action against coaches (or any other team official) is “irresponsible actions” and the only discipline allowed is to “expel them from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).

Case 2:  What happens?  Well, that’s easy, the coach (or any other team official) has been cautioned.  In general terms, the yellow card is a warning about present behavior and a statement that subsequent misbehavior will likely result in a red card — in which case, the team official is “expelled from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).  How can the Referee get away with doing something which is contrary to the Laws of the Game?  Because a local competition authority (league, tournament, association, etc.) has decided they want this done in their games and the Referee has agreed to accept the assignment to officiate that game.

In either case, what constitutes “irresponsible behavior”?  Basically, it includes anything a player could do which is described in the misconduct section of Law 12 (under cautionable offenses and sending-off offenses).  The Referee is advised, even when local rules allow cards to be shown to team officials, to state in the match report that the team official was expelled (in case 1) or cautioned or sent off (in case 2) for irresponsible behavior, followed by a list of the specific indiscretions leading to the punishment.  Further in case 2, if the warning were unsuccessful in changing the team official’s behavior and the irresponsible actions continue, the Referee would be justified in showing directly (no second caution) the red card with the straightforward explanation that, despite a warning (the caution), the team official persisted in behaving irresponsibly, followed by a list of the additional specific actions.   In fact, if the first instance of irresponsible behavior were sufficiently irresponsible (i.e., equivalent to player actions that would immediately draw a red card), the Referee should deal with the team official the same way.


Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?


We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.…


I was the CR in a game today that was un-eventful except for one thing. I had trouble getting one team back on the field after halftime.

After the halftime, I blew the whistle to summon the teams to the field for the 2nd half. The blue team came out and lined up for the kick-off (they were to take the kick-off to open the half). The red team didn’t move. This is not unusual, so I waited about 30 seconds and blew the whistle again. Still the red team didn’t come out of their huddle.

I waited another 30 seconds and one of the blue players joked that I should just start the game without them. I blew the whistle AGAIN and summoned the captain BY NAME and the coach BY NAME to send out the team and got NO response.

After another few seconds I blew the whistle a FORTH TIME and the red team finally got up, did their little pre-game “HOO-Rah” cheer and took the field.

I considered this an unacceptable delay. Law 12 states I must issue a yellow card for “delaying the restart of play.”

1) Would I be justified in issuing the Yellow Card to the Captain?

2) As odd as this question is, is there something in “the laws” that would prevent the Referee from starting the game without the Red team ON THE FIELD? Law 3 DOESN’T say the teams must be ON the field and they had ignored 3 requests to get on the field?

USSF answer (February 20, 2012):
Both teams must come out as quickly as possible for the start of a period of play when the referee indicates that the time has arrived. Matches are scheduled to begin at a particular time and for a specified amount of time (depending on the rules of the competition). The Laws also provide that players are entitled to an interval at halftime (must be stated in the competition rules, but may not exceed 15 minutes), which can be altered only with the consent of the referee, not by the coach or other officials of one or both teams. In other words, the teams should make good use of their halftime break and be prepared to come out at the referee’s signal.

If the team does not come out to play when ordered by the referee, that team is in violation of the Laws of the Game and the coach and other team officials can be removed for irresponsible behavior in accordance with Law 5.

Despite having that power, the referee should behave proactively and remind the team that the allotted time has passed and encourage them to come out before applying any draconian measures.

All of which leaves the ultimate question — what if they still don’t come out? Certainly, the coach and other team officials can be ordered away for behaving irresponsibly. As for the players (i.e., persons on the field at the end of the first half) could be cautioned for delaying the restart of play (after appropriate warnings, entreaties, etc.), but at some point this has to stop. Simply abandon the match for having fewer than the minimum number of players required to start/restart/continue play based on the rules of competition and include full details in the match report.…


In a recent U12 boys game we played a great team and lost.

The kids had lots of Fun, However my question is: How much Coaching should the Referee do during the game? He started out just commenting on fouls and explaining why he made a call or non-call. He did a fine job as a referee, but the Ref’s Coaching got progressively more in-depth as the game went on. How can a coach respectfully tell this kind of Referee to NOT coach at all. It was annoying and I wasn’t always able to hear what he was saying to my players. I think I deserve to Know if he is giving a warning or coaching. In my league in eastern PA we do have some fine Referees, But If I see this Ref again how do communicate to him that I don’t appreciate any instruction he has to offer. Referees should be impartial, right? I am not saying I want to argue his calls, I really don’t have any desire for that, but does the Ref have the authority to coach and advise players on the field? and what would be considered reasonable?

USSF answer (November 16, 2010):
Other than in some youth competitions where the competition encourages it, the referee should avoid coaching altogether. The referee can give compliments, as long as he or she ensures that each team gets a fair share, and can do normal referee things, such as chiding or warning players who are behaving improperly.

Coaches don’t want the referee coaching and referees certainly don’t want the coaches refereeing. Both are troublesome.…


During a game I argued a call to the referee (no foul language)….I asked him what game was he watching? He came over to the bench (I was acting as a coach) and pointed to the door and said leave. So I left. He later took my player card and said that he is giving me a red card.

Can he give me a red card after the fact? He asked me to leave….no warning. Can he just decide that that is a red card offense after the fact? Plus we were not sent down a man (indoor) indicating an offense has taken place.

Is this a traditional banning then?

USSF answer (November 10, 2010):
In point of fact, the referee should not show a coach a card of any color in any form of soccer, indoor or outdoor; it is against the Laws. However, there may be some facility rule regarding this. Many indoor facilities have their own rules that take no notice of the Laws of the Game.

In your role as a player/coach, the referee could legally send you off and even show you the red card, because you were dressed as a player. In our opinion, the send-off as a player is extremely questionable if the situation was as you describe it, because your behavior does not seem to have gone beyond dissent (a cautionable offense). In our experience the red “after the fact” is not out of the realm of normalcy for indoor soccer — and the referee does not have to warn a player (or coach) at all, no matter whether indoor or outdoor. If you were expelled as a coach, there would have been no time penalty.

Under the Laws of the Game the only reason to send off a coach is for irresponsible behavior, and what you describe could fit that category, depending on your tone of voice and what else had been happening in the game. It would appear that the referee decided “that’s enough” and expelled you for exceeding the acceptable bounds of competitive enthusiasm.…


as coach a do have the right to ask for stop the game if there is no safe environment for my team?

which specific circumstances are allow to ask for stop game and is this subject to sanction or disciplinary action?

if there is racial treatment on field coach can ask referees to stop game?

USSF answer (October 25, 2010):
Concern 1: Possible unsafe environment and the referee is not aware or appears not to do anything about it. Note that there are no specific circumstances that dictate a “safe environment.” You will have to define your own safe environment. Different levels of skill and player ages mean different things to everyone. We are assuming this is a youth game, because the normal reaction of a youth coach is to protect his/her players. In an adult game, the players themselves would likely find a way to sort this out. (And possibly not in a pleasant way.)

Our response: We tell our referees to talk to the coach when there is a problem in a youth game. There must be communication between the coach and the referee in youth level games. This is particularly important if the referee is an adult, because a young player will hesitate to bring the problem as it is to the referee.

Concern 2: Players of the other team are making remarks that are racially offensive and the referee has not responded.

Our response: It seems clear that this particular referee had no clue what was going on in this game. Our suggestion is that the coach politely approach the referee at a stoppage — most likely halftime or if the referee gives the coach some other opportunity to speak — and point out the racial remarks. If the remarks continue and are clearly heard by the referee and are not being dealt with, the coach needs to evaluate whether the “atmosphere” of the game is not appropriate and no longer playing is the only option. We would hope that the referee will listen to the polite remarks from the coach, evaluate the situation and his/her previous approach to the game, and act to resolve the situation, thus reinforcing the mutual respect that should exist between the referee, the coaches, and the captains of the teams. The game is for all participants to enjoy and unfair play should not be permitted.

Concern 3. Concern about possible sanctions if coach pulls players off the field:

Our Response: We are not aware of any sanctions or disciplinary action associated with telling the referee that your team will be leaving the field There is certainly nothing about this in the Laws of the Game. You will have to check with the competition authority, that is, the people who run the league, to see what their rules on this are.

When the game is not going well, many communities will react and pull the team from the field. This is considered the most serious demonstration of dissent with the referee and everyone looks at the referee as the guilty party. No referee wants this to happen in his or her game, as it is extremely embarrassing. Approach the referee and make your point politely and firmly. That is the best we can suggest. However, we are aware that some referees do not always seem to know what is best for the game.

Please remember that If the referee is unaware of the issues that the coach sees, then this referee is likely not to be approachable by the coach and any dialogue is going to be difficult.  The key point is that the coach should consider making a polite attempt to contact the referee, either through a team captain, an assistant referee or fourth official (if there is one), or directly (when opportunity arises, such as a stoppage nearby, at halftime, etc).  If all efforts fail, the coach does have an obligation to his players and may take the drastic action of removing his team from the field.  If he does take that action he needs to be prepared to face the consequences as the referee is required to file a game report, and, given the incident, will most likely be asked what happened and will present his own side of the story to the league authorities.…


I am a grade 8 assistant referee with two grade 7 referees, one as the other assistant and the other a center. In the pregame I was given two main instructions, “wait on offside calls, and call what you see,” from the center. I have two questions in regards to this game.

A player from Team A attempts to deliver a ball to a teammate in an offside position around midfield on the far side of the field. A player from team B intercepts it, the player in the offside position begins to approach the player now in possession of the ball and is promptly within 2 yards of the player, and the player in possession wiffs the ball out. This happened within about one second. I kept my flag down, thinking it wasn’t an offense itself to be in an offside position and it isn’t an excuse for the player to wiff the ball out.

The coach disagreed, and so did the center at halftime. Who is right?

My second question is referring to call at the end of the second half.

The center is at the top corner of the 18-yard box about 15 yards away from me. There was, in my opinion, a foul against the defending team and when I looked at the center he might have had his back turned to the play. (Afterwards he said he saw it in the corner of his eye but let it go because it was the end of the half.) I signaled a foul, the flag in the hand in which the direction was going, and the referee blew the whistle. The center seemed to regret the decision, placed the ball at the spot of the called foul, then blew the whistle as the end of the game (by my watch exactly 1 second after full time) instead of letting the attacking team have a chance for the goal. The other AR said that was a bad call on my part, that it was solely the center’s. I said that I saw a foul, I had a reasonable belief that the center couldn’t have seen it because of his position, and if the the center did see it he could have waved off my flag if he didn’t think it was a foul. In my opinion a AR never makes a call, every call is the center’s.

Do you think my call was correct, or at least, close to call?

USSF answer (May 12, 2010):
Please, please, please! Coaches are not entitled to provide input on any decision made by a referee or an assistant referee.

Question 1:
If it is clear that the player from team B has possession of the ball, then there is no offside. This excerpt from the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game (2009/2010) may be helpful.

The possibility of penalizing a player for being in an offside position must be reevaluated whenever:
1. The ball is again touched or played by a teammate,
2. The ball is played (possessed and controlled, not simply deflected) by an opponent, including the opposing goalkeeper, or
3. The ball goes out of play.

The result of such a reevaluation, of course, may be that the player remains in an offside position based on still being beyond the second-to-last defender, the ball, and the midfield line. Referees must remember that a player cannot simply run to an onside position and become involved in play. The player’s position with relation to the ball and the opponents must change in accordance with the Law.

In the case of the ball leaving the field in favor of the team whose player was in an offside position and actively involved in play (e. g., a corner kick or throw-in for the attackers), it is traditional to call the original offside offense. If the restart would be in favor of the opposing team (e. g., a goal kick or throw-in for the defenders), it is usually preferable to ignore the offside infringement, as the defending team’s restart gives them the possession under circumstances not much different than the indirect free kick for offside-and often with less controversy.

Most likely no offside in this case.

Question 2:
Referees must sometimes act on the advice of the referee when they might otherwise not do so. The rule is that the AR flags for an infringement only if positive that it occurred out of the sight of the referee. From your description of the incident, it does seem that you were correct to flag. The problem appears to us to be that the referee REACTED to your flag and then regretted it (for whatever reason — maybe he did indeed see it out of the corner of his eye or — and here is something for you to think about, as only you can know — perhaps you had previously flagged for offenses that the referee HAD seen and wouldn’t have stopped play for. This might have made him have second thoughts afterwards.

If we are wrong, then please accept our apologies.…


Could you provide some examples of irresponsible coaching at the youth level (U8-U12) of soccer. I recently had a game that had 3 coaches for one team and two coaches for the other team. (Our league allows 4 coaches per team). Constantly throughout the game ALL six coaches would be hollering at the players providing DIRECTIONS on positioning and passing and anything else. The majority of the coaching rarely had any tactical instructions – mostly were the type of “pass now, why did you kick it with your left foot, what are you doing” type of directions. I stopped the game (after listening to them shouting for the majority of the game)and demanded that the coaches let the players play the last 4 minutes with silence from the coaches area. The coaches complied (what a relief!) and the game was ended 4 minutes later. After the game, one coach complained about my demand for silence and said “Where is it written down that I can’t shout instructions to my players?” I did not have a ready response to his question other than I don’t believe the coaching was positive, informative, or in the spirit of the game. I may have come on too strong for the situation, but I was so tired of their screaming at their players, that I felt something needed to be done. Maybe I was right and maybe I was wrong, but for 4 minutes the players played their own game and it was peaceful for the first time that game and everyone on the field had a good time. So, what constitutes irresponsible or inappropriate coaching?

USSF answer (January 18, 2010):
According to Law 5, the referee “takes action against team officials who fail to conduct themselves in a responsible manner and may, at his discretion, expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.” By no stretch of the imagination do most, and certainly not many, coaches or other team officials behave irresponsibly.

Here are some examples of irresponsible behavior, based on questions received and answered here or taken from the USSF position paper of March 22, 2006, on Management of Behavior in the Technical Area. These examples were directed by coaches or other team officials at referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, players of the opposing or their own team, and opposing coaches.

1. Screaming at or verbally or physically abusing the officials or any players or other participants for any reason.
• a 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.”
• ordering a player who has made a mistake to “drop and give me ten” (pushups) right there on the field.
• Speaking insulting words or making offensive gestures
• making unwanted contact with opponents

There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. The referee is certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.

2. Interfering with the game in any way, such as:
• yelling out instructions to do something illegal or giving deceptive instructions.
• when coaches become actively involved in helping their team deceive the opponents, such as saying that player “x” should do this or that and clearly intending something else to occur (as discovered after the restart).
• clearly instructing the players to line up within the required distance and “have the referee move you.”
• instructing his/her team, both on the field and on the bench, to jump up and down, waving their arms, and scream at the top of their lungs.
• giving tactical instructions to other players when invited to enter the field to see to the injury of a player.
• presuming to give the officials instructions on how to make or signal their calls.
• insisting that an opposing player be cautioned or sent off.
• throwing objects in protest
• kicking chairs
• striking advertising boards
• persistently and flagrantly protesting decisions by an official
• interfering with the performance of assistant referee or fourth official duties
• refusing to return to the technical area
• entering the field of play without the permission of the referee


Under the Law, only one person at a time is authorized to convey tactical instructions from the technical area. The coach and other officials must remain within its confines except in special circumstances, for example, a physiotherapist or doctor entering the field of play, with the referee’s permission, to assess an injured player. The coach and other occupants of the technical area must behave in a
responsible manner.

As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. 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 and other team officials are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned.) The intelligent referee will generally disregard coaching comments, unless they become openly disrespectful of the game and of the referee. 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.

Unless the matter is particularly grave, the referee would usually wait until the next stoppage. However, if the situation is indeed grave — as any case of abuse would be — then stopping the game and drawing attention to the matter is an excellent tool in and of itself. Proactive steps such as the admonition of the coach will usually prevent players who become disgusted with their coach’s behavior from acting out and thus becoming subject to punishment themselves. It sends a clear message that the referee is serious about the matter. In such cases, the referee would stop play with the ball in the possession of the abusive coach’s team (if possible), advise the coach or other team official that this behavior is irresponsible and must stop if the coach or other team official wishes to remain in the vicinity of the field. If this warning is not effective, then another stoppage and the expulsion of the coach must follow. No cards, please, unless the rules of the competition require them. Also, do not engage in extended discussions when doing this in any circumstances: State the message and leave.

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.

[In the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” we find:

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.

The “Ask, Tell, Remove” process is recommended for all officials to follow relative to conduct within the technical area:
* Ask
If a situation arises where there is irresponsible behavior, the official (referee, assistant referee, or fourth official) should ASK the person(s) to stop.
* Tell
If there is another occurrence of irresponsible behavior, the official should inform that person that the behavior is not permissible and TELL them (insist) to stop.
* Remove
If the non-accepted actions continue, the referee must REMOVE that person immediately.

These are the recommended steps, but they are not necessary if the behavior and conduct of personnel within the technical area requires immediate dismissal. Remember, where circumstances permit, match officials should use a “gentle escalate” approach so that referee team responses match the nature of the bench behavior. Try to use the least intrusive response that will solve the problem.


how many coaches are allowed in the coaches box during a game?

USSF answer (January 18, 2010):
Under USSF guidelines and in the absence of any competition authority rule specifying otherwise, anyone other than a substitute who is in the technical area is to be considered a team official. Some youth leagues allow as many as four, but the number of coaches permitted in the coaches box (generally known as the technical area) is determined by the rules of the particular competition or competitions in which you referee. Your assignor should be able to supply you with the rules. …


I didn’t think a coach was allowed to use a radio on the bench. If you look at the espn video of the US-Costa Rica match at the 70:30 point, you will see the coach of the Costa Rice team speaking into a microphone on the collar of his coat.

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
We supplied this answer to another questioner back in June. We believe it will apply to your question as well.

Under FIFA rules of competition, suspended coaches are neither forbidden nor allowed to communicate with their teams via mobile phones during FIFA matches. FIFA will not take any action. Nor is there anything in the Laws of the Game or Q&A to cover this. Accordingly, subject only to the requirement that the team official behaves in a responsible manner, mobile phones, headsets, walkie-talkies, and other similar communication devices may be used in the technical area.

To ensure better compliance from its teams, perhaps the league should provide more complete rules and guidance to the teams as to what constitutes “suspension” and what a coach or other team official who is under suspension may and may not do. It is not up to referees to police disciplinary rules of a competition.

To this we can add only this further clarification: The coach may not communicate with his players via a telephone of any sort.…