I was recently officiating a U12 boys match (as an assistant referee) and I encountered a situation that was very conflicting for me as a referee.

An attacking player was making an advancement on goal when he was cut off by a defender and the ball was played in the opposite direction.

As play moved downfield, the attacker stayed behind (about 6 yards from my position) and he was obviously mad about his performance. I then heard him mutter the “s” word under his breath.

From what I could tell, he uttered the word simply because he was upset with his own performance. He was not directing the word towards any opponent, referee, coach or fan, and as I mentioned it was “under his breath” (yet still audible by myself).

Now I am aware that the FIFA Laws of the Game insist that a player is to be shown the red card and sent off for using abusive language. My question is though, if the abusive word is not directed towards anyone and is simply used out of frustration, is the player still to be sent off?

As you can imagine, red carding a player in a U12 game is a fairly big deal. Although as a referee, I did not think I could let this go. So after hearing the abusive word, I signaled the center official over and explained to him what happened. He proceeded to show the yellow card and caution the player in question.

I am very conflicted with what happened. In a way, I think a yellow card was the more appropriate form of punishment (I support my center referee!), but at the same time, I cant help thinking that this situation was not handled as it should have been under FIFA law.

So basically my question is, should a player be red carded and sent off for using any curse word, at any time, under any circumstances, period? And did the center official make the correct decision in giving a caution in ths game?

Thank you for the help.

USSF answer (July 2, 2010):
This excerpt from the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” may be helpful:

The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific
words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate
vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In
other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating
language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the
actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary
emotional outburst.

Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when
determining a course of action. The referee’s primary focus must be on the effective management of
the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game. “

Beyond that, one of the first lessons a referee should learn is that he (or she) should hear only what needs to be heard to do one’s job well. In other words, the referee should only “hear” what is vital to good game management. All the rest is simply background noise, to be shut out and not processed.

What possible harm has this player who used the “s” word done? None. He was not cursing another player, a team official, a spectator, the referee, or you,

Could the word be heard by spectators or others? Probably not.

There are too many referees who look for reasons to punish players for totally unimportant and inconsequential events. Let it go.

So your answers are these: No, you should not have brought this matter to the referee’s attention. No, the referee should not have cautioned the player.

Let it go.


What is the right way to continue a game after it was suspended by the referee at minute 22 of the first half? one team was playing with 9 players due to none sufficient players and to one player with red card at minute 15 of play. can the the team complete up to ten players and can the team have subtitute players on the benches if they didn’t have enough players in the first game?

USSF answer (June 17, 2010):
“Suspended” simply means stopped temporarily. If the referee then “terminated” or “abandoned” the game, the following might apply, but it would be up to the rules of the particular competition.

An official USSF question and answer of August 16, 1999, forbids a player sent off in a game that MUST BE REPLAYED to participate in the replay. That ruling is still valid.


“Q. A game has been abandoned because of severe weather conditions. During the game, a player was sent off and received a red card for serious foul play. The rules of the competition specify that the game must be replayed in full on the following day. In other words, it is not to be a continuation of the abandoned game. May the player who was sent off participate in this game? How many players may his team use?

“A. Because the game will be replayed in full at a later date, both teams may start with the maximum allowable number of players, plus the number of substitutes prescribed by the rules of the competition. The player who was sent off in the abandoned game may not participate in the game, nor may he be included in the roster of players and nominated substitutes for the game.”…


I am an Assistant Referee, therefore I am not able to center and do not know the answer to this question. Can you card a player even if the center does not actually have his cards with him.

Had a girl playing very dangerously making late tackles, grabbing and got up one time after a late tackle and said “I don’t care if he cards me”. So I went the the center at halftime and said I was very surprised he did not card the player after the 3rd, 4th or 5th foul.

His response was don’t tell anyone but I left my cards in my bag. He did end up carding her in the second half which really should have been a second yellow by that time. Basically can a ref raise his hand over a play and say Yellow or Red or do they actually have to have a card to show? I can see a game really getting out of control if a ref can’t issue a yellow or red just because they don’t have a piece of plastic in their pocket.

USSF answer (May 18, 2010):
While normal and fully correct procedure would be to show the card to a player after telling him or her why he or she was being disciplined, we can state quite definitely that a player may be cautioned or sent off without showing the card. Any referee who fails to enforce the Laws correctly simply because of having forgotten the cards does the game a major disservice — and can give him- or herself major problems with discipline and game management.

And, wonder of wonders, the referee can always stop the game and go back to his bag and fetch the cards to put them to use. And don’t forget the pen or pencil, or the notebook or note card on which to write what has happened for the game report. In addition, each AR should have had cards with him
which the referee could have borrowed.…


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.


I am curious if a coach who is also a referee can lose his referee license or be disciplined if he is caught cheating (playing an illegal player) at a sanctioned event. Also can a person who is a referee lose their referee license or be disciplined if they are caught illegally playing in a sanctioned game?

The situation I have is a referee who is a coach of an U19 girls (recreational) team played his daughter aged 19+, who is a also a referee, in a game at a sanctioned tournament and was caught. Can either or both of them be disciplined as a referee?

USSF answer (October 28, 2009):
The best plan would be to download from the US Soccer website (www.ussoccer.com) the Referee Administrative Handbook. You will find it on the referee pages, under Instructional Materials. Look in the Handbook for U. S. Soccer Policy 531-10, which deals with Misconduct of Game Officials.…


In a state sanctioned soccer match, a referee ejected a player after showing the player a yellow card for a tackle (yellow card was deserved), followed by a red card. The player attempted to ask the ref what the Red card was for, but the Ref would not talk to the player and just told the player to leave the field. The player was sent off and 9 minutes later when the ref was near the bench, the player again asked the ref why he was sent off when he never had a first yellow. The ref THEN looked into his book and realized he had made a mistake as the player never received the first yellow card. He apologized and allowed the player to return into the game.

What is the FIFA laws for this kind of mistake? Can the game be contested?

USSF answer (October 27, 2009):
This excerpt from the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game applies to your question (Advice 5.13):

If the referee discovers after play has restarted that the wrong player was cautioned (yellow card) or sent off (red card), the display of the card cannot be changed and must be reported. The referee must provide in the match report all details relevant to the mistake.

The failure of the referee to include in the match report accurately and fully all cards displayed during play and not timely rescinded is a serious breach of the referee’s responsibilities. In addition, the referee may not record cards as shown which have not been shown, although the facts of the player’s behavior may be included in the match report.

Referees may not decide to rescind a caution if the player who has already been charged with misconduct apologizes.

In your situation, the referee erred by allowing the player to return. Life is hard and the referee owes the player both an apology and appropriate remarks to that effect in the match report.…


This might be a dumb question, but when a goalie is yellow-carded (in certain leagues and tournaments, yellow carded players have to go off), the goalie his or herself has to go off? Goalies have no special treatment, correct?

2nd question:
In CIF, if a player is “soft red-carded” it means the player is sent off for having two yellow cards, but the team can sub in another player. Is this the same in USSF, etc? Or a second yellow is just like a straight red and the players can’t sub in another person?

USSF answer (May 14, 2009):
We fervently hope that the practice of temporary expulsion, removing a player from the game for a period of time after he or she has been cautioned, Is not being used in any competition (league, tournament, cup) affiliated with the U. S. Soccer Federation. It has never been authorized by the International F. A. Board (the people who write the Laws of the Game) or FIFA (the people who administer the game for the world).

In fact, the competitions to which you refer would be operating in contravention of a FIFA directive forbidding such “temporary expulsion.” This could also put the competitions in contravention of the stated policies of the U. S. Soccer Federation. As we mention often, if the referee accepts an assignment in a competition that uses rules that contravene the Laws of the Game, he or she must follow those rules; however, we recommend against taking such assignments.

As this would appear to be high school soccer, we will not include full details on the IFAB and FIFA declarations on the use of temporary expulsion, repeated and reinforced by USSF publications.

As to the “soft red card,” that, too, is not permitted under competitions affiliated with the U. S. Soccer Federation (and thus with FIFA). Therefore, no, the substitution practice which is used in the CIF (California high school competition) is not permitted in competitions which run in accordance with the Laws of the Game.…


If a player is being sent off during the final is he allowed to be part of the ceremony in the final?

USSF answer (May 4, 2009):
Well, as unfair as it may seem, we can find no ruling that would prevent a player sent-off during the tournament final from participating in the award ceremonies following the completion of the game. We suggest checking the rules of the competition to ensure that this is permitted.…


Is there a penalty, sanction or otherwise for a referee who files an inaccurate game report for the benefit of lowering the league penalties on the teams and players?

I witnessed an adult amateur game prior to my assignment as an incident between 2 players escalated into violent conduct. Both players were sent off by the referee. After the match, the players were seen “negotiating” a lessor card so the penalty from the league would not be so harsh. The referee reported Serious Foul Play instead on the game report.

USSF answer (February 2, 2009):
Although you have reported what you saw and heard, we feel we should at least lay out why the scenario you describe might perhaps not be as compelling as you have stated.

For example, even if events are exactly as you described, is this really misconduct?  There is no indication that the referee was bribed or coerced.  Were the referee to have decided not to report the card at all, to report it as a caution instead of a sending off, or to have identified a different player than the one actually shown the red card, this would clearly constitute reportable behavior.  But the referee seems only to have changed the reason for the send-off.  

Suppose though that the final report did not involve a change at all.  You have characterized the original behavior as “violent conduct,” but how do you know that the referee at the time so characterized it?  

Even if he did consider it violent conduct at the time, is the referee not allowed to reflect upon the specific circumstances, filtered by time and possible additional information, before writing his report? Suppose additional information came from an AR.  Would you then argue that this makes it okay, but that being persuaded by information coming from anyone else is misconduct? Your use of the term “negotiating” is loaded — from a distance, “remonstrating” might be just as accurate.  And how do you know why (or even IF) the referee made the change?  Players informing the referee of the dire consequences of a card for VC could have simply been justification for the referee deciding to think more carefully about what was seen and done before preparing a final report.

However, if you are utterly convinced that the referee has indeed committed misconduct in the matter of the report, you have the right and the duty to lodge a complaint. Under the USSF Policy Manual 2008-2009, a person who accuses a referee or other game official of misconduct for actions during or away from a match should file a complaint in accordance with the Policy Manual. In a case such as this, Policy 531-10–Misconduct of Game Officials applies:

Section 2. Procedures

(A) Misconduct at a Match

When any game official is accused of having committed misconduct toward another game official, participant, or spectator at a match, or of having a conflict of interest, the original jurisdiction to adjudicate the matter shall vest immediately in the State Association or Organization Member through which the accused game official is registered. In the situation where Amateur and Youth State Associations exist in a state, and the incident of alleged misconduct occurred at a match sanctioned by one State Association, jurisdiction shall vest with the State Association sanctioning the match in question.

(B) Misconduct Away From a Match

When any game official, referee, referee assistant or referee development program person is accused of unethical conduct, misuse or abuse of authority or conflict of interest in any matter in the pursuit of or may affect the individual’s official dealings within and as authorized by the Federation, its Divisions, Affiliates or Associates, a State Associations or Organization Member, or a competition, tournament or other appropriate authority, the matter shall vest immediately in the State Association through which the accused game official is registered or through which the referee development program person is appointed.

(C) Any allegation of misconduct or of conflict of interest by a game official as described by subsection (A) of this section, or of unethical conduct, misuse or abuse of authority or conflict of interest as described by subsection (B) of this section, shall be made in writing to the State Referee Administrator or to the State Association(s) or Organization Member that shall report all such allegations including any allegations against the State Referee Administrator, to the State Association(s) or Organization Members through which the accused game official is registered or through which the accused referee development program person is appointed.

(D) Upon receipt by the appropriate Organization Member of a verified written complaint, a hearing shall be conducted within 30 days from verification pursuant to guidelines established by the Organization Member having jurisdiction as provided by subsection (A) or (B) of this section. The guidelines may include referring the complaint to the State Referee Committee for the hearing. The hearings and appeal process shall provide for adequate due process for the accused person including proper notice of charges, the right to bring witnesses in defense, and the right to confront and to cross-examine the accusers.

(E) The Chairman of the hearing committee shall transmit the findings of the committee in writing to all parties concerned including the accused and the accusers and to the State Association(s) or Organization Member within seven days of the hearing.

(F) Any party subject to penalties shall receive, at the time of notification of the decision, a notice of the rights of appeal and a copy of the procedures and deadline dates required for such an appeal to be properly considered. Time for filing an appeal shall start with the date official receipt of the decision by the party making the appeal.


I was reading the Position Paper of November 18, 2008 regarding Player-Coaches. The second to last paragraph states in part “It states ” a player-coach who has been red carded can not be present at the team’s next match in either a player or any team official capacity”.

I always thought a send off only applied to the remainder of the current match being played and that further suspension, including the team’s “next match”, was at the discretion of the competition authority.

USSF answer (December 22, 2008):
Aha! Well, now you have learned something, coach. The suspension mandated by the IFAB and FIFA is for the remainder of the game from which the player or team official is removed and for one game beyond that. And, if the competition authority (the people who run the league, cup, tournament, whatever) have it in their rules, that person may also have to sit more than one extra game.

And of course what the competition authority can do is not limited to a lengthier suspension. They can add whatever penalties are allowed for in their own rules, and they can, in the case of a player-coach, differentiate between the two roles in applying additional penalties.…