Handling the Ball

Leroy, a parent involved in youth soccer, asks:

Can the goalkeeper handle the ball in the penalty arc of the goal being defended?


Nope, not legally (at least not while the ball is in play).  The “penalty arc” is specifically defined as the portion of the area ten yards around the penalty mark which is not in the penalty area.  It is rather like the center circle except that only the part of the circle that is outside the penalty area is actually marked.  So, the important things to take away from this are that (a) the penalty arc is not part of the penalty area, (b) the only time anyone cares about the penalty arc and its area is at the taking of a penalty kick, and (c) a goalkeeper handling the ball in this area during play has committed a handball offense.

Not So New Rule

Mark, a coach of older youth players, asks:

I had a Referee tell me that standing in front of the ball to delay a team from taking a free kick is now a yellow card. I can’t find it in the Laws of the Game. What is the rule now?


There is no “now a yellow card” — it has always been a cardable offense.  It is in the Laws of the Game — see Law 12 (p. 85) and Law 13 (p. 93) in the 2016/20917 edition — and it has been clearly interpreted in various USSF documents (Advice to Referees, for example).  Moreover, it was the partial subject of a recent document issued by the International Board regarding the meaning of several Law changes that occurred in 2016 (“Revision of the Laws of the Game: Questions and Answers”.

Let’s unwrap this and see what is at issue here.  For decades (literally), one of the cautionable offenses which a player could commit was to “fail to respect the required distance” on a free kick (many of us simplify this as the “10-yard rule”) which mandates that all opponents must be at least 10 yards away from the ball (in all directions) on a free kick until it is in play.  Ignore for a moment some of the “ins and outs” of how this is enforced.  The point is that opponents who fail to retire to a point which is at least 10 yards away can be cautioned.  Let’s also agree that “standing in front of the ball” means that this player is closer than 10 yards and is thus committing a violation of the Law which the Law itself declares to be misconduct and worthy of a yellow card.

However, in more recent years, the approach to this issue has become more complex.  While a yellow card for “failing to respect the distance” should not cause anyone any confusion, there has developed the notion that standing in front of the ball is a bit different.  The 2013-2014 version of Advice to Referees put it this way (emphasis in bold added):

13.2 Opponent Attempting to Delay a Free Kick
Opponents engage in a different form of misconduct when they act to delay a free kick. While delay is a byproduct of interfering with the free kick by failing to respect the minimum distance, there is a difference between merely being within ten yards of the restart, which may or may not cause a delay, and using certain ploys which necessarily will result in a delay.

Typical examples of causing a delay in this way are kicking the ball away when a decision has gone against them, picking up the ball and not giving the ball to the attacking team or to the referee, moving to retrieve a ball some distance away and then walking slowly to bring the ball back, and standing so close by the ball as to effectively interfere with all reasonably likely directions for the restart. These ploys must be met with an immediate response because, as a result, a delay is no longer theoretical; it has been forced and the challenge to Law 13 must be dealt with swiftly.

So, the bottom line is this.  It is a cautionable offense to interfere with the taking of a free kick or corner kick by failing to retreat to at least 10 yards away (a similar violation occurs respecting a throw-in but here the minimum distance is two yards).  It is, however, a cautionable offense to delay the restart of play by standing so close to the ball that it blocks the team in possession from kicking the ball in a direction they would want.  Ironically, the team in possession of the restart (which includes every restart except the dropped ball) is also subject to a caution for delaying the restart of play in various ways (e.g., unnecessarily switching the location of the ball on a goal kick or persisting in failing to throw the ball so that it enters the field).

Abandoning a Match

A youth referee asks:

Can the Ref abandon the match and not tell the coaches? Had a situation where the Ref said that, in his eyes, the match was over after a parent and coach came on the pitch to stop two kids fighting then ended up fighting themselves. The Ref never blew for full time but said to the other coach it’s finished anyway. Now in his report he is saying he abandoned the game but did not tell anyone this. Can he do this?  I am a a Ref myself and don’t know.


Not wishing to be flippant but the obvious answer is, yes, he can do this … because he did it.  And we’re not sure how the Referee could do anything more to signal that the match has been terminated beyond leaving the field himself.

On a more serious note, the referee is given the authority to terminate a match due to what used to be called “grave disorder” — which means any events on or around the field which would cause the Referee to be concerned about the ongoing safety of the players or the officiating team based on actions by the players, substitutes, team officials, and/or spectators.  By the way, the Law no longer distinguishes between “abandoning” a match or “terminating” a match — the terms are used interchangeably.  There is no particular need to blow the whistle to announce this but, in practice, the whistle has usually already being blown (perhaps numerous times!) in response to the events which eventually resulted in the decision to terminate the game (in this case, the start of the players fighting).

Just based on the information provided, it would seem that termination would not be considered an incorrect response to (a) players fighting, (b) a coach and a parent entering the field illegally (which would be the case if the Referee didn’t explicitly give them permission to enter) and (c) then themselves fighting.  That would definitely be a “hostile environment” not conducive to trying to get the teams back onto the field after removing the fighters and expecting the teams to play peacefully.  It might have been useful to officially notify both teams that the match was being terminated with a simple statement that the decision was required based on a concern for everyone’s safety.  Neither is required.

Anytime the Referee ends a match via termination (or abandonment), full details must be included in the match report.  Further, most leagues, tournaments, referee coordinators, or assignors appreciate a quick telephone call or email message alerting them to the likelihood of further “discussion” about what happened.

The Handball Violation

An adult amateur coach from the Czech Republic asks:

[After describing several potential handball violations which depend on the position of the hand or arm and wondering which, if any, violate the Law, the question ends with the following request.] Maybe you can describe some model situations, which can help me. IFAB LOTG 16/17 does not explain it clearly.


The handball violation (and, yes, it is now permissible to use this phrase to describe the infraction rather than the traditional  “handling offense” so we will take off our grumpy hat and bow to common usage) is the quintessential foul that cannot be described — you have to be there.  Nevertheless, it is possible to offer some generalizations that may assist both new and experienced officials in properly evaluating all the facts and circumstances so that our understanding of it is better grounded.  What makes the handball such a contentious issue is its history as one of the most important reasons why and how the sport of soccer originated.  It is also useful to remember (particularly for Americans) that the sport in most parts of the world other than North America is called football.  Simplifying dangerously, soccer is soccer rather than rugby because the use of hands is forbidden to all participants except for one specially identified player for each team and only if he or she is in their own penalty area.

Law 12 uses just 17 words to define the offense: “involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”  The physical act itself is simple and very concrete (contact with the ball by the hand) which may be easy to see or it may be hidden from the referee but seen by others or it may be so brief that no one is entirely sure it even occurred.  What requires us to earn our money, however, hinges on one word — “deliberate.”  The act must be deliberate, and that is where we can supply some guidelines.

Law 12 (notably in the current edition of the Laws) itself offers several thoughts.  For example, the contact might be entirely reflexive or instinctive as when a player sees a hard object hurtling toward some part of the body which he or she is conditioned by nature to protect due to its importance or sensitivity.  The face, for example, but there are others, and while many may be assumed for male and female players, others could be entirely individual (as, for example, a player attempting to protect an area of the body which was previously injured and has not yet healed).  A reflexive or instinctive act is not deliberate.

What triggers an instinctive act?  One factor might be the speed of the object as in the case of a ball hard struck in a volley as opposed to rolling on the ground.  Another factor might be the lack of time to avoid contact using any other means as might be the case when the origin of the ball’s movement is close rather than distant.  A third factor might be the unexpected nature of the imminent contact, as when the ball coming from a peripheral direction is not noticed until bare moments before the inevitable collision.  These factors underlie, in part, the common aphorism that handball offenses usually involve the hand moving to the ball but rarely the ball moving to the hand.

The notion has been around for a long time that an important factor might be where the hand is at the time of contact, often verbalized as a “natural” versus “unnatural” position.  Given a player in motion, pumping legs, driving forward, trying to maintain balance, pivoting quickly, trying to get the attention of a teammate, and so forth, we are hard-pressed to conclude that there really is any such thing as a “natural position” for the hands unless we picture such extreme examples as a player standing still with a hand up in the air waving to someone in the crowd at the moment the hand is struck by a ball played in the air.  Furthermore, it has been argued that players may protect their balance while in motion by using their arms differently due to gender-based differences in body structure and/or how weight is carried on those structures.  This has frequently confused officials and has resulted in their making mistakes through not understanding gender and age differences in players.  The IFAB emphasized this concern when they stated in Law 12 that “the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

We have heard of and have ourselves seen players running with arms pumping back and forth being whistled for handling because the ball, struck from behind the player, has hit the hand while it was in motion extending behind the player!  We have seen players whistled who have fallen and are in the process of lifting themselves off the ground when the ball rolls into the weight-bearing arm!

The bottom line is that, while extremes in hand positioning might be a factor in deciding whether ball contact should be treated as deliberate based on that fact alone, it is far more important to focus on the totality of the player’s situation and what led to the contact.  Moreover, referees must consider that contact which initially should be judged as not deliberate (for reasons noted above) may become deliberate (and therefore a violation) if the player then uses that contact to subsequently control or direct the ball.  Actually, truly “whistleable” handball offenses are surprisingly rare — most hand contacts with the ball are accidental and often a surprise to the player.  Many fall under the “doubtful or trifling” rubric and are not a justifiable reason for stopping play.

By the way, you may feel that, regarding the handball offense, the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game “does not explain it clearly,” but we would suggest instead that the current Law does a much better job in this regard than at any time in the past.

Offside and Playing the Ball

A referee asks:

Player A1 kicks the ball.  Player B1 heads the ball and it falls directly to player A2 who is standing in an offside position.  Is Player A2 offside?


Whenever we discuss anything pertaining to an offside question, it’s always useful to make sure we are speaking the same language.  Your basic question is “Is Player A2 offside?” and our first response is “What do you mean by ‘offside’?”  Law 11 uses the term to mean two related but very different things.  If by “offside” you mean “offside position,” then clearly the answer is “yes” because this is a given in your scenario but, as we all know, there is nothing illegal or immoral about being in an offside position.   Our next question therefore is “So what?”

The challenge for an offside position player is to not become involved in active play while carrying that tag.  If you do, then you have committed an “offside violation” and an offside violation involves a whole different set of issues.

If A1 had kicked the ball directly (which, in soccer, means only that there was no intervening touch or play of the ball by anyone else) to A2, we still do not necessarily have an offside violation because A2, before being whistled, needs to become involved in active play.  To say that the ball “falls … to A2” indicates nothing more than that the ball wound up from A1’s play somewhere at or near A2 and it says nothing about what A2 did about this.  Did A2 then make contact with the ball, which is at the core of “becoming involved in active play by interfering with play”?  At this point, A2 could play the ball (violation) … or A2 could make eye contact with the referee and begin backing away while shouting to his teammates “No!  I can’t play the ball.” (no violation).

Your scenario, however, adds a twist.  The ball off A1 didn’t go directly to A2 — there was an intercepting contact with the ball and, in fact, it was by an opponent.  If, instead, the interception had been by a teammate (A3) in an onside position, then there would be no offside violation and thus ends that particular segment of play for offside analysis, only to begin another when A3 heads the ball to A2.  Was A2 still in an offside position at the time A3 headed the ball?  Did A2 then become involved in active play by touching the ball in any way?  If the answers to both questions is “Yes,” then there has been an offside violation; if the answer to either of these questions is “No,” then no offside violation.  (For purposes of this scenario, we’re focusing on “interfering with play” and not such additional ways of active play involvement as “interfering with an opponent.”)

So, we come to the heart of your scenario and the really important question becomes “What do you mean by ‘heads’?”   In an offside scenario involving intervening contact with the ball by an opponent (B1), the referee must decide whether the contact was deliberate or accidental (e.g., a deflection off the opponent’s head, trunk, or legs).  If deliberate, then there is no violation because, by the deliberate play, the opponent took possession of the ball and, when that ball then went to A2, it was no longer coming from A2’s teammate.  If accidental, then there is a violation because the accidental contact is deemed not to have given B1 possession and, thus, the ball at A2’s feet had indeed come from A1.

There are one note and two important caveats to remember in all this.

The note is that, historically, this distinction between deliberate and accidental applies only to a defender, not to an attacker.  In other words, any contact with the ball by an attacker, without regard to whether it was accidental or deliberate, is deemed as “coming from the attacker” for purposes of evaluating the offside position.  A rather extreme example of this might start with both A2 and A3 in onside positions but with A2 moving forward toward the opponent’s goal.  The ball is struck toward the intended target A3 by A1 and it glances of A3’s head.  Since A3 was in an onside position when A1 kicks the ball, there is no violation.  The glance of the ball redirects it to A2 who, at the time of the glance, had moved far enough toward the opposing goal line that A2 is now in an offside position.  There is an offside violation now if A2 interferes with play because, although not in an offside position when A1 kicked the ball, A2 is in an offside position when the ball accidentally deflects off A3.  The accidental deflection is treated the same as a deliberate play.

The first caveat is that the decision about whether B1’s contact was deliberate or accidental is solely in the opinion of the referee.  There are no hard and fast guidelines for this — you have to “be there” to see all the facts and circumstances.  That said,  using the phrase “heads the ball” generally suggests a deliberate play.

The second caveat is that there is a significant exception to the whole deliberate/accidental dichotomy — namely, it doesn’t matter even if the contact was deliberate if the opponent’s resulting play is deemed to be a “save”!  The 2016/2017 rewrite of Law 11 requires us to develop some general notion of what a “save” is.  Fortunately, the Law has given us an excellent start on this by defining a “save” (p. 166, current Lawbook) as “an action to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal.”  “Into the goal” is easy … this has long been meant as “but for the intervention, the ball would have gone into the net.”  “Or very close” is tougher but could be thought of as “so close to looking like it would go into the goal that a reasonable defender would expend every legal effort to prevent the goal” — some might think of this notion as meaning something desperate enough to be virtually reflexive (e.g., a goalkeeper fisting the ball away).

So, finally, we can answer your question about whether A2’s actions constituted an offside violation.  “Yes” if “heads” is pictured as an accidental deflection, “No” if the referee decides B1’s play was deliberate, and “No” if the accidental deflection was a save.


What Is a Kick?

A HS/College coach asks:

Is it within the laws of the game to “lift” the ball (meaning to slide your foot under and propel the ball up in the air — as opposed to striking or rolling it with your sole) on a kick-off, corner, free kick, etc.


Yes.  We think.  Probably.  Actually, the only place which specifically deals with your question is in Law 13 (Free Kicks) where it states that “a free kick can be taken by lifting the ball with a foot or both feet simultaneously” (2016/2017 edition).  So, at least for direct and indirect free kicks, the answer is clear.

What we don’t know, because the Law doesn’t mention it, is whether the same “ruling” would apply to such other restarts as penalty kicks, kick-offs, corner kicks, or goal kicks.  Because, in general, all restarts involving kicking a ball are similar in many respects, our conclusion would be that, in practice, the “lift with the foot” approved for free kicks would apply to all “kick the ball” restarts, but with the proviso that all such restarts must still be governed by any other characteristics specified in the Law.  For example, a penalty kick must still “go forward” even if lifted up.  Another example would be that, even if the ball is put into play by lifting it up with the foot (or both feet), a player who did so and then headed or volleyed the ball would still be guilty of a second touch violation.

Perhaps the reason the Law is silent on whether the “lift with the foot” kick applies to kicked-ball restarts other than free kicks is that it really makes little sense (at least as regards to the purposes and dynamics of these other restarts) to kick the ball in this particular way.  Why, for example, would a player want to take a goal kick or penalty kick using that technique?

In any event, however, the answer is absolutely clear with regards to free kicks, and probably the same for any other kicked-ball restart.

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?


First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same is the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).

A Dropped Ball and A Pesky Spectator

Marlon Edwards, a coach, asks:

Can you score on your own team from a drop ball?

Red takes a shot on goal and, as the ball is rolling on the ground directly toward the goal with the goalkeeper seriously out of position, a spectator wearing the Blue team colors runs onto the field and kicks the ball away from the goal.  What is the restart?


Two very different questions.  The first one can be dealt with fairly quickly.  The short answer is, no.  The longer, more detailed answer needs to make sure we are talking about the same thing.  The dropped ball (DB) is a unique restart in that it is the only one of the 7 ways to start/restart a soccer game which is not performed by a player.  Another unique feature is that the ball is in play as soon as it touches the ground.  Once we have gotten to the ground-touching point, however, the DB is like the indirect free kick in that a goal cannot be scored in favor of either team directly from the first touch of the ball by any player following the drop.  If the ball should happen to enter a goal directly from the initial player contact, the restart is based on which team’s player kicked it into which team’s goal — goal kick if into the goal of the opposing team, corner kick if into the goal of the player’s own team.

What is interesting about this is the word “directly” because, in soccer, it has a very definite meaning and refers to what happens immediately after a player touches/controls the ball or performs a restart.  If whatever happens does not involve another player touching the ball, it is said to have occurred “directly.”  In the 2016/2017 LOG Law 8, this was restated to be crystal clear: a goal cannot be legally scored unless, prior to entering the goal, the ball was touched by at least two different players.  So, we take away several thing from this.  First, once the ball has been touched by at least two players, a goal can be legally scored if it enters either team’s goal.  Second, the “two player” requirement is met by any two players from either or the same team but not by one player touching the ball twice.  This was not a substantive change in the Law, only a restatement for clarification.  By the way, if the ball leaves the field after the drop with no touch by any player, the DB is retaken.

On to the second question.  The fact that the spectator was wearing “colors” associated with one of the teams whose game he interrupted is irrelevant.  Even if he was wearing something like a team jersey and was decked out like a player (but his name is not on the team roster), the person is still only a spectator and we call such persons an “outside agent.”  The critical question that has to be answered in any outside agent situation is whether that person interfered with play in any way (made contact with the ball or any player or got in the way of play or a player).  If the agent did, play must be stopped and then, after the dust has settled and the outside agent removed, play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped.  Any goal apparently scored during or following such interference cannot be counted under any circumstances. If the agent did not (in the opinion of the referee), play is not stopped and the entry onto the field is handled at the next stoppage.  In the case here, it is obvious that there was interference — play should be stopped as soon as possible and restarted with a DB.