Excessive Delays

Jose, an adult amateur fan, asks:

We were playing a game, winning 1-0.  Of course, every time the ball went out, we took our time getting it.  The Referee kept stopping his watch.  We argued that he shouldn’t stop it every single time but he said we were walking too slow on purpose to get the ball.  So, as soon as I did the next throw-in, one of players in my team just kicked it as far as he could.  The Referee gave him a yellow card.  We argued that the ball was in play and he could kick it anywhere he wanted.  Was he right?


Yes … and no.  Where and how a ball is played is generally solely a matter of team tactics and usually does not constitute an offense.  Having said that, however, a team in possession of the ball for a restart (other than kick-off, penalty kick, or drop ball – all of which are controlled entirely by the referee), a team is not allowed to delay the restart of play (which is why we are amused by your statement that “Of course … we took our time.”).  That’s why there is a specific caution for “delaying the restart of play” but “delay” is an imprecise word that depends on (you guessed it) the opinion of the referee.  On a free kick, for example, a team generally has the right to perform the restart as quickly as it wants – even with opponents closer than the minimum 10 yards required by Law 13 – but it could also request the referee to take some extra time to enforce the minimum distance.  That would be a delay but one that is acceptable under the Law.

In the same situation, however, an opponent could run right up to the ball and stand a foot or so away from it, thus preventing the free kick.  This is a clear example of delaying the restart of play and should result in an immediate caution.  In the case of a throw-in restart, the ball has obviously left the field and needs to be retrieved (since most recreational youth and adult amateur games do not use “ball-boys” who simply feed a new ball to the throwing team).  If an opponent started to retrieve the ball and wasted time doing so, that would be a clear violation and would earn a caution, but what if the throwing team “took its time” going to get the ball by walking slowly, picking daisies on the way, wiping the ball to clean it, stopping for conversations, etc.?  Now it is up to the referee to decide if the ball retrieval is “normal” (meaning enough, but no more than enough, time to perform the task) or whether it was being done to waste time, particularly if doing so was clearly for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage.  If so, then that becomes cautionable as “delaying the restart of play” – though USSF referee training stresses the wisdom of informing the delaying player/team when it starts to happen that the delay is unacceptable with the threat of a card implicit if it continues and/or is repeated.  Subsequent additional warnings are not required.

There are two problems with this.  First is the simple fact that punishing for delaying the restart of play doesn’t change the fact that the delay occurred and, worse, that the imposition of the punishment itself eats up some more time.  Second is whether the local rules/customs of competition allow for the addition of time to offset unacceptable delays (both those caused by external events such as weather or injuries as well as by a team wishing to chew up time for its own unsporting purposes).  In tournaments, particularly, it is not uncommon to advise participating Referees that “adding time” is seriously discouraged except in such extreme cases as serious injuries even though the Laws of the Game allow it.  Referees  have to accept the rules in place if they accept the assignment – if something is sufficiently unacceptable, they should refuse to accept the game.

The point here, though, is that the referee can only punish unfair and excessive delay but he or she cannot prevent it, at least not without cautioning his or her way through every player on the offending team and then by starting over giving second cautions (resulting in a red card) for those who continue to commit the offense.  To the extent possible in accordance with the Laws of the Game, the referee can also thwart the purpose of time wasting restarts by adding compensatory time to the end of the half in which this is occurring (which, not surprisingly is also when most of the time wasting itself occurs).

By the way, most experienced referees have learned that it is not a good idea to stop their watch for such delays – it is far too easy to forget that you have done so until the next time you look at your watch and discover that it was never restarted!  So, the lesson here is to focus on excessive delays, on delays which appear to have a tactical and unfair purpose, warn first that you understand what is going on and that it is not acceptable, use your authority to add time for the period of excessive delay (if the local rules allow), and then prepare to follow through with the appropriate punishment.  Remember, however, that the target is excessive delays.  Soccer, despite its emphasis on constant, continuous action, has lots of “down time” – actual match data has determined that a 90 minute game may often have no more than roughly 60-65 minutes of real playing time (i.e., the ball is in motion on the field).  And kicking the ball hard off the field to lengthen the amount of time it might take to retrieve it is not by itself an offense – if the other team is concerned about it, it can post supporters around the field to retrieve balls or have a supply of extra balls (all inspected and pre-approved by the referee) at their team bench or just off the field behind their net which they can immediately offer to the referee to assist in getting play restarted.…

Players Wanting to Assist the Referee

Daniel, a HS/College Referee, asks:

I have seen in many matches a player who has been fouled getting up and “demanding” a card for the opponent by signaling the motion of giving the card that referees do. Some players get cautioned and others get away with it. What is the stance of the Laws of the Game with regards to this action and why are referees not consistent when in my eyes it is taking away authority from the referees.


These are two very different questions.  The first (the “stance of the Laws of the Game” regarding this player behavior) is relatively easy.  There is nothing in the Laws about it, at least not specifically. But, we need to ask ourselves, why do players do this?  The answer is simple, they want to influence the decisions of the Referee.  Ironically, this sort of behavior is often (though not necessarily) associated with simulating a foul and/or exaggerating the seriousness of a foul.  The “carding motion” is often intended to “sell” the simulation.  It is not unusual that astute Referees, instead of carding the “perpetrator,” instead show a card to the “victim.”

Even if not intended for this purpose, the player action can be considered a form of dissent (remember, dissent can be delivered via actions as well as words) in that the player is expecting that, without his input, the Referee would not take the action the player wants.  If the Referee feels that simulation/exaggeration has occurred, a caution for unsporting behavior is appropriate whereas a caution for dissent might be given in the absence of simulation/exaggeration.  Despite there being two different forms of misconduct based on two separate events, it would be unwise to give two cautions (one for simulation and the other for dissent).

We quote from a USSF Memorandum (March 23, 2007) titled “Misconduct — Player Gesturing for a Card”:

Although there is no automatic rule that player gestures calling for a card must be cautioned, such actions can be considered cautionable if they are blatantly disruptive, for example, by indicating disagreement with an official’s decision, aggressively aimed at a particular opponent or an official, or being part of a simulation (faking) to gain a favorable decision. The public nature of the action often makes the gesture too obvious to ignore and can spread to other players, who either agree or disagree, thus provoking further conflict.

Now, as to the second question (why Referees seem not to be consistent in applying the above guidelines to this behavior), we can only speculate.  Referees may differ in their ability to recognize the behavior as misconduct.  Some may not wish to “stand out” by showing a card (note in this regard that the USSF memorandum makes the point that there is no “automatic rule” governing the carding gesture).  On the plus side, though, and apart from the possible connection between the carding gesture and the simulation/exaggeration which might precede it, the Referee might decide that, at any given instance of this possible misconduct and under the specific circumstances at this moment by this player in this match, a caution might not be a useful or productive response.…

Rude Behavior

Mike, a youth player coach, asks:

This happened in a game recently.  The Blue team had the vast majority of possession in the game with the ball rarely coming out of the Red team’s half.  The Blue goalkeeper sat down in the Blue goal whilst play was in and around the Red goal for a long spell.
Firstly is the Blue keeper committing any offence?  They did not interfere with any other player, or in any way impede play.  Secondly, the Red coach complained to the Blue coach about these actions being disrespectful!  Is this deemed unsporting behaviour by the Blue goalkeeper?


Probably not.  It was rude and disrespectful, certainly, but did it rise to the level of unsporting conduct?  Goalkeepers are strange ducks to begin with (I was one when I played so I speak from some experience here) and rather egotistical to boot.  The trouble here is one of implementation.  Would you caution the Blue keeper the moment he first sat down?  Almost certainly not.  After 2-3 minutes of staying in this position?  Ten minutes?  Where do you draw the line?  Suppose his rudeness was watered down somewhat by his merely leaning up against a goal post (would yawning ratchet up the problem?).  Would laying down on the ground be more rude than  merely sitting?

We do know, of course, that actions sometimes speak louder than words (and actions are specifically included in evaluating dissent or abusive/insulting/offensive language) so a good case could be made that the goalkeeper’s action was a form of speech.   We might note that, at least, the Blue goalkeeper was keeping his options open by sitting down “in the Blue goal” rather than, say, at midfield.  And if he was actually “in the Blue goal,” he could certainly be cautioned for leaving the field without permission in a manner which would clearly not be considered “in the course of play.”

The bottom line here is that the Referee could caution for unsporting conduct for behavior which showed a lack of respect for the game (see p. 86, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game).  More effective, however, would be to signal for a stoppage of play (preferably at a moment when Blue had control of the ball — which appeared to be often the case), walk down to the Blue keeper and have a public (visibly, not audibly public) word of warning to the goalkeeper to the effect that his behavior was disrespectful and that, if it continued, there would be consequences.  Note the careful use of words here — no specific threat, only the promise that, having been warned, the goalkeeper would be foolish to engage in this behavior again at any time during the remainder of this game.

The restart?  Clearly, a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped.  Should it happen again, caution and restart with an IFK for the opposing team where the goalkeeper committed (again) the behavior which is being cautioned.

Whatever the referee wound up doing, the goalkeeper’s behavior should be documented in the game report.…

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).…


Before a corner kick or a direct kick or an indirect kick, the team with the ball is placing a player directly in front of the keeper. Also, that person is screening the keeper and is pushing backwards on the keeper and trying to push the keeper into the goal.

The screening player will do everything to prevent the goalkeeper from getting in front of them. I believe this is a violation of “Impeding the Progress of an Opponent”. All this is happening before the kick is made and when the ball is put into play. What is the ruling?

Answer (June 2, 2012):
What you describe is actually pushing or holding, both direct free kick offenses that should be punished by the referee. (Unfortunately, many referees do not recognize this and make no call or fail to bawl out the goalkeeper.)

It is a general principle underlying the Law that players are not permitted to “play” the opponent rather than the ball. Except under certain conditions spelled out in the Laws (such as at a penalty kick or throw-in or goal kick), a player is permitted to stand wherever he or she wishes. After the ball is put in play, a player who — without playing or attempting to play the ball — jumps up and down in front of the goalkeeper to block the ‘keeper’s vision or otherwise interferes with the ‘keeper’s ability to play the ball is committing the foul of impeding an opponent. If there is contact initiated by the player doing this, the foul becomes holding or pushing. When such activity occurs, the referee should immediately stop the restart and warn the players to conduct themselves properly. If, after the warning (and before the restart), they do it anyway, they have committed unsporting behavior and should be cautioned. The restart remains the same.

Before the ball is in play, the referee can simply allow the opponent of the ‘keeper to impede, wait for the restart to occur, blow the whistle, award an indirect free kick coming out, and card if needed. This is the “harsh” approach and it carries the danger, provided the jostling doesn’t sufficiently enrage the goalkeeper (or any other defender), that the tensions or violence will escalate to something more serious. It is also not a good approach when it is an attacker who is doing the jostling.

The referee can see the situation developing and verbally and/or by a closer presence encourage correct behavior on the part of the jostlers in the hope that they will cease their misbehavior. This is the “proactive” (some would call it the “wimpy”) approach and is more likely to prevent escalation, if it works. If it doesn’t work, the referee can always hold up the restart, caution, and then signal the restart or go to the option above.

Such actions against the goalkeeper can also occur during dynamic play and are very often missed by both referee and assistant referee.…


Week 3 in the MLS, Philadelphia Union vs. D.C. United had a very strange goal for D.C. United. An attacking player, to the right of the goal keeper (3 yards away) in the penalty area, made direct movement towards the goalie as the goalie made progress towards taking a punt. (in replay- it is very clear that attacking player waited until the goalie started his kicking movement and then took forward movement towards the kicking foot)

This movement startled the goal tender, who dropped the ball on the top of the penalty area line. The attacking player kicked the ball into the net and the goal was awarded.

What constitutes a violation in this situation?

USSF answer (April 12, 2010):
Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct), which governs this matter, tells us:
“An indirect free kick is . . . awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.” This interference can be either physical (not applicable in this incident) or psychological (which it was in this incident).

The referee should have blown the whistle immediately and awarded the indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team.…


During a sudden death penalty shoot out the away side’s two weakest kick takers have gone down, writhing around and claiming they have hamstring injuries. Their manager says they can’t take their kicks, so now the first two takers, penalty experts, should go again. What do you do?

USSF answer (March 3, 2010):
Under the Laws of the Game, either or both of the two sides may be reduced to one player during kicks from the penalty mark, so the number of kickers is not an issue. In this particular set of circumstances, if there is no doctor available and the players assure the referee that they are indeed “injured,” the referee has no recourse other than to accept their statements at face value , bolstered by whatever evidence the referee may have (appearance, surface injury, statements by a trainer, player’s mother, etc.), and begin the kicks from the penalty mark with the “available” number of eligible players. In any case, all facts must be reported to the competition authority.

If the referee has any doubts about the players’ true state of health — and who would not, with such an apparently crass display of poor sportsmanship and the attempt to bring the game into disrepute — he must make that clear in his report. The final decision is up to the competition authority.…


I had a question a fellow referee asked me and we both would like some clarification. Please help.
The situation: On a corner kick the attacking player tap the top of the ball and called to her teammate to come and take the kick, her teammate starting dribbling the ball towards to goal.
The referee decided that the ball was not properly put into play with the 1st attacker’s tap; he blew his whistle and had them retake the corner kick.

What is the correct course of action?

USSF answer (October 13, 2009):
This excerpt from the USSF publication Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game (2009) should clarify the matter for you. While it speaks of free kicks, it also applies to corner kicks. The Advice is available for download on the USSF website.

The ball is in play (able to be played by an attacker other than the kicker or by an opponent) when it has been kicked and moved. The distance to be moved is minimal and the “kick” need only be a touch of the ball with the foot in a kicking motion or being dragged with the top or bottom of the foot. Simply tapping the top of the ball with the foot or stepping on the ball are not sufficient.

When the restart of play is based on the ball being kicked and moved, the referee must ensure that the ball is indeed kicked (touched with the foot in a kicking or dragging motion) and moved (caused to go from one place to another).  The referee must make the final decision on what is and is not “kicked and moved” based on the spirit and flow of the match.

The referee must judge carefully whether any particular kick of the ball and subsequent movement was indeed reasonably taken with the intention of putting the ball into play rather than with the intention merely to position the ball for the restart. If the ball is just being repositioned (even if the foot is used to do this), play has not been restarted. Likewise, referees should not unfairly punish for “failing to respect the required distance” when an opponent was clearly confused by a touch and movement of the ball which was not a restart.
The referee must make the final decision on what is a “kick” and what is “not a kick” based on his or her feeling for the game-what FIFA calls “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally: “sensing with one’s fingertips”).


This one has been asked in one form or another before, once by me, so please forgive the redundancy, but …

The rules allow players to stand where they wish for the most part (10 yards, etc not withstanding) and when it comes to a corner kick it is not uncommon to see an attacker attempt to disrupt a keepers concentration or ability to see or play a ball prior the the kick when everyone is jostling for position. I also know that keepers get no special consideration with regard to contact unless they are in control of the ball with thier hands.

That said, what can a keeper or coach do in a situation where the CR seems indifferent to hard body contact and what would seem to most observers to be an attacker impeding the keeper pre-kick. I know that if the CR determines that the keeper was interfered with once the ball is in play they can waive off the kick or possible score, and give the defense a free kick, but that does not address the issue all that well.

This seems to be a coached tactic and is used quite a bit at the U11 through U14/15 ages. It seems unfair to the keeper and puts them in a risky situation trying to keep their stance and make a play when being “guarded” almost like in a basketball game. Should/can the keeper or coach ask the CR from relief from this while the jostling is occurring?

USSF answer (September 29, 2009):
First let us repeat the answer we gave you back on May 14, 2008:

If the referee sees the situation developing, there are two choices: wait until the ball has been kicked to see what happens or step in proactively.

1. If the referee waits until the ball has been kicked to see what happens, there are two possibilities. If the player who is posting on the goalkeeper is attempting to play the ball, his tactics are legitimate. On the other hand, if the player is clearly attempting to interfere with the goalkeeper’s ability to play the ball, the tactics are not legitimate and the referee should call the player for impeding the goalkeeper and award an indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team from the point of the foul — bearing in mind the special circumstances applying to infringements within the goal area.

Unless this tactic is repeated, there is no need to caution the impeding player.

As to countermeasures taken by the goalkeeper against the marking player, they should be punished only if the opposing player is clearly attempting to play the ball and not playing the goalkeeper. The referee must exercise common sense.

2. If the referee decides to be proactive, he or she may stop play before the kick takes place and step in immediately and prevent a foul or even misconduct from occurring by having a word with the prospective perpetrator, whether it is the marking player or the goalkeeper. This keeps the ball with the team that won the corner kick (or other restart) and should defuse a potential escalation of the action into misconduct.

To that we might add that there is nothing we can do to MAKE the referee recognize what is going on and act against it. A polite — let us stress — P O L I T E — request to the referee at a stoppage in play might — let us stress M I G H T — work, but experience has shown us that the referees who do not recognize this tactic are often those who miss many other things in a game and are also those who will be the first to take disciplinary action against the person who asks or comments, whether it is truly deserved or not.…


I was refereeing a U12 rec game with 2 young AR’s (both were 14 yrs old – one boy & one girl). The girl was on the team side and the boy was on the spectator side during the first half. One of the coaches was constantly calling for offside (the players were in offside positions but were not involved in play – so no call, there was one offside that needed to be called and it was) and he was questioning some out of play calls. The girl AR requested to switch sides at halftime and I allowed it. I didn’t want the coach to start to influence her calls and I though the boy would be better able to handle it. About 10 minutes into the second half, the coach noticed the switch and called me over to complain that it was against the rules. I told him it was a rec league and really didn’t matter since their was nothing in the league rules. Is there any official FIFA rule on this? I checked my books after the game and could not find anything.

USSF answer (September 14, 2009):
Ah, those amazing and inventive coaches! The reason you cannot find any reference to switching the location of your assistant referees is that there is nothing in the Laws about it. Nor is there any position paper about it. There is no need for any rule, as the assistant referees are there to ASSIST the referee, who may ask his or her assistants to work on one side in the first half and on the other in the second half. If the circumstances require it, the referee may switch the ARs’ positions at any time during a period of play.

We cannot stress enough that most coaches know little or nothing about the Laws of the Game and how referees are supposed to work. (Note that this does not apply to all coaches; some, even though not referees themselves, know as much as most referees.) One thing many coaches do very well is how to manage the referees and their assistants. A question here, a niggle there. Anything to make the referee or AR upset and to affect their judgment.

The wise referee will nip this activity in the bud by taking the first opportunity to let the coach know, politely and professionally, of course, that such actions will not be tolerated. What is the consequence to the coach for interfering with the game and the officials? A nice seat well away from the field, out of sight and out of hearing.…