Watch Out for Those Hands and Arms!

David, a U13 – u19 fan, asks:

I have a question on a player constantly having their arms outstretched fully or halfway every time they challenge for a ball. Is there any infraction here? I personally don’t like to see that because it causes them to contact their opponent with their arms and hands at some point.


A rhetorical question for anyone other than an active soccer player …  do you do a lot of running that includes sudden changes in direction, starts, stops, etc?  Running on the soccer field is not like Irish clog dancing, where the arms are ceremoniously held straight down at the sides.  A soccer player needs the counter-balancing effect of arms held out (forward, backward, or to the side) at various angles from the body in order to maintain stability.

However, to your question.  There is nothing in the Laws of the Game which prohibit the arms from being held away from the body or even, more spectacularly, held straight above their head!  If and when the result of such behavior leads to contact with an opponent or the ball, then the referee uses this information as part (and only part) of deciding if an offense has been committed.

As a game moves up the competitive ladder, increasingly you will see an attacker and a marking defender running side-by-side, each with her arms (or elbows) held out jostling with the opponent.  Are there probably mutual violations occurring virtually every second?  Undoubtedly, yet at this level and assuming neither player is gaining an unfair advantage and the level of contact is merely irritating rather than painful, you will rarely hear a whistle (at most, a quiet verbal from the Referee to “watch the contact”).  Very likely, both players will finish their elbowing run and, later, brag to their teammates that “I really showed him I was serious!”  Why no whistle?  Because the violations (if they were) never rose to the level of needing to stop play.  Each player was “accepting” the level of contact as “par for the course.”

Contacting an opponent or the ball with a hand or arm is not, by itself, a violation of any Law or, even if it is, the referee has the authority to decide that the possible offense was doubtful or the actual offense was trifling.   In the case of making hand/arm contact with the ball, the Law is very clear that the action must be deliberate and involve directing the ball in a controlled fashion by moving the hand to the ball rather than having the ball simply move toward and contact the hand/arm.

In all these cases, the making of actual contact is only one factor to be taken into account in deciding if the contact was illegal, much less illegal enough to stop play — in logic, this is called a necessary but not sufficient condition.  There are only three offenses in Law 12 where actual contact is not specifically necessary as of 2016 — attempting to strike, kick, or trip are punished by an indirect free kick but actual contact involving any three of these actions makes the offense punishable by a direct free kick.

Please leave these decisions to the referee – he or she is the only one who knows the intent of the Law, the severity of the offense (if there is one), the pace of the game, the character of the players involved, and the general level of experience/skill of the players in the game.   The Referee is also the only one who has seen the event from the perspective that counts — the field rather than a sideline.

Kids and Misconduct

Antonio, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If a U12/13 player commits a dangerous tackle or a DOGSO, should I be lenient and give a yellow card or should I give a straight red and send him/her off?


This one is easy (mostly) and comes down to a simple “give the card prescribed by the Laws of the Game.”  Of the two scenarios you listed, the “dangerous tackle” is straightforward — assuming by “dangerous tackle” you mean a tackle which is more serious than careless or reckless (i.e., involves excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent), then a red card is clearly set by Law 12 (the recorded misconduct would be either “serious foul play” or “violent conduct” depending on whether the tackle was committed while challenging for the ball or not).

The only caveat here is whether the local competition authority has (as some have) forbidden the showing of cards to young players (usually limited to U-10s and below) — then you follow the Laws of the Game as modified.  It is not your decision to make.  Once you have identified the offense, you deal with it properly.  It is important to remember in all this, particularly where fouls involving physical contact are concerned, that the send-off following the display of the red card is only partially for the purpose of punishing the offender, it is also for protecting the safety of the remaining players.

As for the DOGSO, there are complicating elements to this misconduct which have been recently introduced into the Laws of the Game as of 2016 which could affect the color of the card (what follows assumes that all DOGSO requirements — i.e., the “4 Ds” — have been met).  Was the foul successful in preventing a goal and a penalty kick was awarded?  Starting in 2016 and clarified further in 2017, the Law now provides that a caution should be given for the DOGSO only if the player committing the foul was engaged in an attempt to play the ball.  In all other circumstances, the offender must be sent off.

Language Misconduct

David, an adult amateur coach, asks:

A referee reported an incident of abusive language occurring after the final whistle. The player, however, was not shown any card for this alleged offence. Can such incidents be included in the referee’s match report?


Yes.  As of the Law changes in 2016/2017, behavior after the match is over which would have been carded if the same behavior had occurred before the final whistle should be included in the match report.  Remember, Law 5 specifically provides that one of the duties of the Referee is to include in the match report “any other incidents that occurred before, during, or after the match.”  While broadly stated, the intent here is specifically to ensure that the competition authority has full details on “incidents” that pertain to the conduct of the match even if, due to timing, the incident could not be carded.

This certainly includes any event which should have been carded but wasn’t for one reason or another as well as punishment for misconduct that should not have been imposed or was imposed based on mistaken identity.  Accordingly, the Referee’s match report should carefully state and categorize the behavior occurring after the match in the same terms as would be used for something happening during the match.

There is, unfortunately, a gray area as to what constitutes “after the match.”  Law 5 indirectly defines it as that period of time after the final whistle but while the Referee hasn’t yet left the field of play.  As experienced Referees know, this leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to guidance.  There was an apocryphal story about a Referee who, upon shopping at a grocery store on Sunday and meeting a player that had participated in a Saturday game, was berated by that player for a decision he had made in that game and who then whipped out his yellow card and cautioned the player-customer for dissent.  That would be carrying things too far.

The problem more often faced is that the “three-man rotation assignment” is common on weekends — three officials are assigned to three back-to-back games with each one taking a turn at being the Referee while the other two served as ARs.  Not surprisingly, this results in all three officials remaining in what would arguably be called “the area of the field” for a good part of the day.  Does any or all of that time count as “after the match”?  Here is what we would suggest is an excellent place to apply common sense.  Remember that the Laws of the Game were written particularly to accommodate a specific kind of game … and that game is not the one that most of us ever get to officiate at any time in our careers.

Our recommendation (and it is only that, a recommendation) is that you as the Referee decide when you have “left the area of the field” even if, as anyone could plainly see, you hadn’t.  If you believe that enough time has passed (e.g., most players from both teams have left the field, new teams are warming up, etc.), then treat whatever happens as though it had happened after you left the field (i.e., you left it mentally).  Otherwise, without actually showing any card, make it clear that you will be including the unacceptable conduct in your match report.

Wasting Time by Goalkeeper

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

My team (silver) played in a U-12 youth league tournament against the (orange) team.  I noticed that their keeper (more than once) kept the ball for longer than 20 seconds before kicking the ball. In the rule handout given to us at the beginning of the season, a goalkeeper is supposed to release the ball within 6 seconds. Sounds like a ref problem.  Is there a rule about wasting time? We were up on them by 1. I timed the keeper on how long he held the ball before releasing the ball and it totaled more than 4 min in a 4 quarter 10 min match. They also kept kicking the ball out of bounds every chance they got.  Finally they got up on us 2-1 and we lost. What’s with this?


We somehow get the impression that what you want from us is an answer the justifies your being outraged over your loss.  Unfortunately, things are not that simple.  Here’s why (in no particular order).

  • The measurements you cite are not helpful.  You totaled 4 minutes of “keeper time” but don’t say how many possessions that covered.  Was it 10 at an average of 24 seconds each?  60 at 4 seconds each?  Perhaps 40 possessions at 5 seconds each plus 2 that you measured at 20 seconds each?
  • Yes, the goalkeeper is required, in the normal course of play, to release the ball within 6 seconds of taking possession with his hands.  At no point did your scenario state that the 4 minutes of possession all occurred while the keeper was holding the ball.  Did any of them include possession at the feet of the goalkeeper?  Only possession by hand counts for the “6-second limit.”
  • Were any of your players failing to back away in order to give the keeper an opportunity to release the ball?  Any time spent avoiding opponents or trying but being unable to release the ball due to crowding by opponents is not counted in the 6-second limit.  Indeed, if your players were not allowing the keeper to release the ball into play quickly, they would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.
  • It seems to us it is not entirely clear that this necessarily accounts for your team’s loss, whatever the legality of the keeper’s holding onto the ball longer than 6 seconds.  Keep in mind that your team was up by 1 at one time and lost by 1-2 — this obviously means that your loss was attributable to having had 2 goals scored against you.  Every “extra second” the keeper’s team may have been holding the ball longer than they should is an “extra second” in which neither of your teams had an opportunity to score.
  • The 6-second limit serves one primary objective — preventing the keeper from taking an unfair advantage of the time in which he is withholding the ball from active challenge.  In other words, the issue is not how much time the keeper has possession, it is how much time were opponents prevented from competing.
  • The 6-second limit is not, was never intended to be, and in practical terms never could be a precise measurement.  Every referee on the planet, in judging how long a keeper keeps possession of the ball, works solely by feel.    Standard Referee mechanics for dealing with goalkeepers withholding balls from challenge is to warn a keeper who appears to be abusing the limit by letting the keeper know that he is taking too much time and that, if it continues or is repeated, it will be dealt with according to the Law.  This typically results in some period during which the keeper pays attention, followed by a return to prior habits.  The point at which to warn a goalkeeper is at the discretion of the Referee, as is length of “extra time” the keeper takes before a warning is deemed advisable.  Most of the time, Referees don’t have a problem with possession time stretching to 7 or 8 seconds or as much as 10 — depending on what is going on in the game.
  • We will grant that, at first blush, taking 20 seconds to release the ball is severely pushing the limits but … the first time, the Referee may simply note it as data, the second time might occasion a warning (if it was equally egregious), and the third instance of a roughly equivalent delay could warrant a whistle but not for wasting time.  It would be for failing to release the ball into play in a timely manner and that may or may not be worth a caution.
  • Finally (you thought we might never get here?), there is nothing illegal about kicking the ball out of play no matter what the circumstances.  This is an entirely valid method of “using up” but not wasting time.  Withholding the ball from your team, in fact, is the job of the opposing team.  Using legal methods to do so is legal, using illegal methods is not.

Some Things Are Just Wrong

Mike, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

Can a penalty kick be awarded for something that happened when the ball is not in play?  The team that we were playing against were setting up for a corner kick and one of our players knocked down one of them while trying to get position. The ball had not been put into play yet. The Referee awarded that team a penalty kick. Is this the right call?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

No.  Absolutely not.  When an event like this happens, it must be treated as misconduct, not a foul, with the result that, after the proper card is shown (yellow for unsporting behavior, red for violent behavior, or nothing if it was doubtful or trifling), the original restart must be taken — in this case, the corner kick.  One of the few verities in soccer that is almost always true is that nothing happening during a stoppage of play can change the restart.

Coaches and Cards

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

What happens when a coach gets a yellow card?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

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.


Substitution Following Departure of Goalkeeper

Eric, an adult amateur fan, asks:

A team has exhausted its allowed substitutions but their goalkeeper is sent off and one of the field players takes his place.  What is the procedure?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Simple, do what you described.  The procedure is based on (1) a sent-off keeper reduces by one the maximum number of players the goalkeeper’s team is allowed, (2) nevertheless, the Law requires that there be a goalkeeper, (3) therefore a field player must assume the role of goalkeeper, and (4) the new goalkeeper must be uniformed in accordance with the Law.

All of these things are true whether the team has used all of its allowed number of substitutions or not.  Of course, if they have, their only option is the field player becoming the goalkeeper. If they have not, then the goalkeeper’s team can take a field player off, bring a substitute on, and then switch the new field player (formerly a substitute) into the goalkeeper position (while, of course, dressing him/her accordingly).  In the latter case, the Referee must of course be aware of the substitution, the swap of the field player into the goalkeeper position, and then the swap of the new field player with the goalkeeper.  Informally, the process doesn’t have to be as rigorously marked out as this — the field player leaves and a substitute takes the field already outfitted as a goalkeeper.

The bottom line in all this is that, by the time the whistle is blown to restart play (i.e., all this must be completed during the stoppage at which the original goalkeeper was sent off), the team has an identifiable goalkeeper and one fewer field player than they had before the send-off.

Simulation Misconduct

David, an adult pro fan, asks:

So, I watched Real Madrid win a 12th Champions league.  Ramos cleanly tackles Cuadrado and forces the ball out of play for a throw in.  While the ball is out of play, Cuadrado with the slightest of touches taps Ramos on the shoulder and Ramos falls down grabbing his foot (completely looks like a dive). The ref then gives Cuadrado a 2nd yellow.  My question is, could Ramos get a card for simulation whilst the ball is out of play?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

We are so glad you didn’t ask about whether Ramos cleanly tackled Cuadrado or whether Cuadrado’s tap on Ramos’ shoulder was “the slightest of touches” or whether Ramos’ reaction was a  “dive” because, as we say in our statement of what our objectives are in operating this website, we don’t answer questions about specific match plays and specific Referee decisions.  The only answerable question here is whether the Law allows a caution for misconduct committed during a stoppage of play.


To expand a bit, the Law changed in  2016 to remove the Referee’s ability to show cards (yellow or red) for player behavior prior to the start of a match or after the final whistle sounds completing a match (including any post-game tiebreaking activity).  Of course, players can still commit misconduct before and after the game but, as of 2016, no cards can be shown.  The Referee is still allowed to dismiss a player for an offense otherwise warranting a red card which occurs prior to the match but doing so does not affect the team’s ability to field the maximum number of players allowed by Law 3.  And any misconduct occurring before or after a match must still be included in the match report.  However, none of this touched in the slightest the ability (indeed, the obligation) of the Referee to show any yellow or red card (or, in this case, yellow+red cards) and apply any sanctions which attach to the card for misconduct occurring at any stoppage of play occurring for any reason at all between the opening and final whistles.

Goalkeeper Possession

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

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

More Goalkeeper Deviltry?

Bing Jong, a U-12 and under player, asks:

I was in a tournament game when a ball was kicked out of bounds for a goal kick restart.  We were playing on a hill so the ball rolled a decent way down it. The goalie was wasting time by taking his sweet little time to get to the ball.  Was that punishable and, if it is, how?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Let’s see.  We’re going to take a guess that it was your team that played the ball last before it went across the goal line (not between the goal posts), for a goal kick restart.  I’m also guessing that it was your opponent’s dastardly goalkeeper who took “his sweet little time” getting the ball (yes, we caught the sarcasm).  Further, you have already decided that the dastardly goalkeeper was “wasting time” (which is, in fact, a decision of the referee).  My final guess is that, because you didn’t say otherwise, the referee did not punish the dastardly goalkeeper at all or at least not appropriately.

Just so we understand each other here, the goalkeeper might have been moving slower than you expected or desired because he was at the top ofa hill and might not have wanted to trip, fall, and roll “a decent way down it” as the ball did.  On the other hand, if he was laughing, smirking, and picking daisies on the way down, you’ve got a pretty good argument.

If the former is what happened (in the opinion of the referee), there was no time being wasted.  After all, U-12 games rarely in our experience, have ball retrievers ready at an instant to get the ball back to the goal kick restart.   Or, given that the ball was played on a hill, the team playing at the downhill end at each half could have had an extra ball available for just this sort of problem.  If the latter were not the case or if, despite the presence of a pre-approved backup ball at the net, the goalkeeper deliberately ignored it and went traipsing “a decent way” downhill unnecessarily, then (again in the opinion of the referee) this could have been deemed time wasting, the penalty for which is a caution for “delaying the restart of play.”  You might note, however, that, in the absence of any prior warning about delaying a restart, most referees early on would warn the wandering-down-the-hill goalkeeper to “get a move on!” and only show the yellow card if it seemed that the goalkeeper was deliberately ignoring the referee’s observation.  Note also that the referee might base his or her opinion about the probability of time being wasted at least in part on the score at the time.  After all, “wasting time” might be considered a trifling offense if it was being done by a goalkeeper whose team was behind in the score.  Note finally that giving a caution will have the ironic result of further delaying the restart.

If there was misconduct here and if the referee decided a caution was appropriate, the restart would still be the original goal kick.  Misconduct during a stoppage of play does not change the original restart decision.