Injury Issue and Absent ARs

Chris, a U13 – U19 player, asks

Two questions.  The first one is, if a coach yells from the sideline and the ref thinks he heard him say injured player, should he stop the play dead, give away our advantage, and then say, oh, I am sorry, I thought you said someone was hurt?   The second question is, for a u15 game, if the ref was the only official on the field, can he refuse any ARs?

Answer

We can only respond to what you have asked above, even though both scenarios are rather vague, but we’ll try, based on what we think are the real issues involved.

First, regarding the issue of an injury, the Laws of the Game lay the responsibility for stopping play solely in the hands of the referee.  It doesn’t matter what anyone might be yelling about an injury even if the message is totally explicit, concrete, and clear.  At most, it might result in the referee deciding to take a quick scan of the field.  People yell all kinds of things from off the field which in most cases the referee simply must ignore and should not ever by itself constitute a reason for the referee to actually stop play.

The referee should be aware of what is going on everywhere on the field (assisted, preferably, by two ARs who definitely can and should get the referee’s attention if there is an injury someplace where the referee is not naturally looking).  Where the referee is alone, hearing something that may or may not be an injury alert coming from a sideline (whether it is the coach or anyone else) should result only in the referee attempting to ascertain for himself what might be going on.

This is then followed by the even more pertinent decision (assuming that the result of this is seeing what might be an injury) as to whether the injury is serious or not.  The Law requires the referee to stop play only if he determines that there is a serious injury (keeping in mind that “serious” is a judgment call which is highly dependent on the age and skill level of the players).  If the injury is not serious, play continues.  “Advantage” is never an issue in the case of a serious injury – no player should want anyone on his team who is seriously injured to be ignored even if his team appears to be only moments away from scoring the game-winning goal … and this same attitude should apply equally to players on the opposing team.  This is one of the reasons why faking or simulating an injury can (and should) be harshly punished.

As for the second question, it all depends on the local rules of competition.  If ARs have been assigned to the game, the referee has no basis for refusing to use them and any attempt to prevent their use would and should be reported to the assignor or local referee association.  However, if no ARs are assigned (or if two ARs are assigned but one or both don’t show up), there is no requirement in the Law that ARs must be used.  In fact, the Law is very specific that anyone brought on to assist the referee in the absence of one or both official ARs (meaning certified and assigned in accordance with local rules) comes with two significant limitations: (a) the referee agrees and (b) their role is limited to signaling only if and when the ball leaves the field.  Such a person is called a “linesman” and they are limited completely to this one responsibility.

So, the issue comes down to the basic question – were one or two ARs officially assigned to the game and were they present?  If so, they must be used – and the Law is clear that the referee must take their input into account in his decisions.  If not, and in the absence of local rules to the contrary, no one has to be used.  It has long been customary in lower level games (youth/recreational) to allow, but not require, the referee to request assistance in the absence of appointed ARs but the most assistance that any unofficial AR can provide is indicating if the ball left the field.  Some local rules provide for what is sometimes referred to as a “step-in assistant referee” which refers to a program which requires each team in the league to have at least one person on the sidelines who is a certified official who can and is willing to “step in” if an AR has been assigned but is absent.  In such programs, although the step-in AR is not limited to the ball leaving the field, it is quite common to not allow the step-in AR to signal fouls.

Injuries and Type 1 Versus Type 2 Errors

Ken, a U12 and under coach, asks:

If a defending player is injured (non head injury) in a youth game and goes down to a knee, does the referee have to stop play right away? I had this happen where my left back was down and the attacking team continued to press and then score. The referee disallowed the goal when he saw the injured player was on the ground. We did not have an advantage at any point.

Afterwards he came up to me and said that the hardest part of his job is when he knows a player is injured and there isn’t anything he can do about it. Why would that be?

Answer

Stopping play for an injury is a referee decision and does not depend on anything the player may or may not do.  All experienced referees have heard the sideline call “if you’re hurt, go down.”  That is a bunch of (we’re going to use a technical term here) hooey.  “Going down” does not necessitate a stoppage, nor does not “going down” mean that play cannot be stopped.  Injuries come in all shapes and sizes — heatstroke, for example, can and should be recognized as serious with play stopped even while the player is standing up.

In the statistical analysis of data, there is something called the “type 1 versus type 2 error” — simplified, the first involves saying something is false when it is actually true while the second is deciding something is true when it is actually false.  Refereeing, plus a lot of other things in life, involve error.  Mistakes happen.  Given that we can be wrong either way, the intelligent referee has to decide which mistake has greater negative consequences and that, in turn, depends on the level of the game — U6 recreational game versus a World Cup final being an extreme range.

In general, stopping play for a possible but eventually not serious injury can produce less negative impact than not stopping play for a seemingly minor injury which turns out to be serious (at least from the point of view of the player’s health).  It also turns out that, again in general, the first mistake would be considered more tolerable in the U6 recreational game but could be career ending if made in the World Cup final.  You should take away from all this two principles.  One is that the decision depends critically on the age and experience of the players.  The other is that it is better to be safe than sorry.

Indeed, it is not unheard of that, for players under the age of 12 (nothing magic about that age break point), the greater danger of not stopping play if Johnny appears to be injured is that Johnny’s mom is likely to come running onto the field anyway, thus making stopping play mandatory.  (Our apologies to all “Johnny’s moms” — we love you but you can be very excitable.)  The higher the level of play (and experience of the players) the greater is the likelihood that you would be led into serious mistakes because “going down” is not unheard of as a player tactic to get you to stop play for the advantage of that player’s team (i.e., faking/simulating).  It’s bad enough to  make a Type 2 error but the decision is even more consequential when players themselves want you to make that mistake and are feverishly trying to help you make it.

Given your scenario, it would be even worse for a referee to decide to cancel a goal that was scored before the referee became aware of a player injury that was only then judged serious enough to stop play.  It would be ludicrous for a referee to decide that he or she wasn’t aware of the injury when it occurred and then, after the fact, decide it had been serious enough that he or she should have stopped play when it occurred, and then, to top it all off, negate anything that happened between the injury and the actual stoppage.  We don’t know of any experienced referee who would, for example, apply the same rationale for canceling a foul and/or a card! Unless there are facts related to play making it unassailable that the goal was scored only because everyone else on the field was affected by the player being on the ground, the goal should stand.

We don’t have the slightest idea what your referee meant when you report him saying “the hardest part of his job is when he knows a player is injured and there isn’t anything he can do about it.”  The fact of an injury is not the issue, it is the seriousness of the injury that has to be judged.  Furthermore, assuming the referee understands this part, it is not in the slightest way difficult to know what to do about it.  We train referees to exercise their judgment, which they must do throughout the game anyway, on situations involving possible injury.  The issue of concussions has been made very easy (a good thing) by declaring that ANY contact between the head and a hard object or surface constitutes a potential serious injury for which play must be stopped no matter the age or circumstances.

Injuries

Dave, a HS and College referee, asks:

In a high school soccer match, a defensive player is hit in the face with the ball 30 yards from their goal. The ball pops over her head towards the goal. An attacker gains possession. Before the injured player sits down, her teammates rush over to her which gives an attacker a 1 v 1 with the goalie. The attacker scores a goal. This happens in the span of 5-10 seconds. Should the referee have stopped play for an injury before the goal was scored? (The play had continued a safe distance from the injured player.)

Do you typically wait a few seconds before stopping play for an injury when the ball is not near the injured player? The AR said the goal should be disallowed because the players were inexperienced and ran over to the injured teammate instead of defending their goal.

Answer

With as much emphasis that has been expressed in recent years regarding the importance of dealing quickly with potential concussion injuries, we are surprised that any referee would allow play to continue even seconds following a player being struck in the face with the ball.  It doesn’t matter when in the game it occurs, it doesn’t matter where on the field it occurs, it doesn’t matter what is going on in the game when it occurs. it doesn’t matter if the injured player “sits down” – play must be stopped immediately and medical assistance for the player called onto the field without delay.  No matter what happens after the decision is made to stop play, play has officially stopped – remember, play stops when the referee makes the decision to stop, not when the signal to stop is given.

Of course the goal should have been disallowed and any player who scored the goal should weigh her happiness at gaining a goal against the possibility that it might easily have been her face that had been struck by the ball.  There is no difference whatsoever regarding this issue among the three major sets of rules governing the game because (a) every soccer organization is equally concerned about the issue of concussions and (b) it is a simple common sense emphasis on safety.

We don’t care who might get upset (if anyone actually does, shame on them!), if the referee announces that, Oh by the way, the goal does not count because I stopped play before the ball went into the net … and then glare fiercely at anyone who might want to dispute the decision.  It has nothing to do with the experience level of the players – common decency alone would draw the attention of both attackers and defenders alike to the injured player.   And there is no weight whatsoever to the idea that “play had continued a safe distance from the injured player,” in fact what constitutes a “safe distance” anyway?  Far enough away that you could ignore the condition of the injured player?  Let’s get real here.

Stopping for an Injury

Brian, a U-12 and under Referee, asks:

During a youth game (U-8 or U-9), there is a stoppage for an injury. The coach comes on to check on the player.  Since the coach entered the field to help the player, does that player need to step off the field before play resumes?  I know at older levels, this is the case, but am curious about at the younger levels.

Answer

Actually, some of your question assumptions are incorrect.  Under the Law, an injured player must leave the field if play has been stopped due solely to an injury.  It has nothing directly to do with the coach coming onto the field because, under the Law, the coach cannot enter the field without the express permission of the referee and no referee is going to give that permission until and unless play had already been stopped.  Some referees read the Law “sideways” and forget that the Law is expected to be understood as a whole, not in pieces.  So, the fact that the referee has stopped play solely due to an injury means by definition that the injury is serious because only serious injuries can be the basis for stopping play.

Where things get a bit complicated is if the referee stops play for some other reason (e.g., a foul) and then determines that a serious injury occurring during the stoppage or as a result of the foul that caused the stoppage in the first place.  Then and only then does the referee call for the entry of a team official (coach, trainer, etc.) – which, also as a result, requires that the player leave the field.  There are certain exception to this “must leave the field” requirement – e.g., the injured player is a goalkeeper, the player was injured in a “common collision” with a teammate, the injury was so severe that the player cannot be safely moved, or the injury was caused by a foul for which a caution or red card was given.

And we would never say that “the coach comes on to check the player” because you have already performed such a “check” and thus the coach does not.  There are no circumstances under which a coach can decide whether or not a player is to leave the field if the referee has (a) stopped play solely for the injury or (b) waved the coach onto the field for an injury caused by an opponent’s foul.  The player must leave according to the Law.  The only time a coach has any “say” in whether the player leaves or not is if the injury has occurred under circumstances where the Law itself does not require the player to leave (e.g., the goalkeeper was injured).  In short, if the Law says the player has to go, the player goes.  If the Law says that the player doesn’t have to go, the player doesn’t have to go unless the coach/trainer/parent wants the player to go.

Everything said above applies to all age groups, not just for U-littles.  The only decision in which the age of the player is relevant is your decision as to what constitutes a serious injury in the first place.  Once that decision is made, all the rest of it happens strictly in accordance with the Laws of the Game — neither you nor the coach (or anyone else) has any subsequent say in it.  This is one of the reasons why we train officials from entry level upward that, if play is stopped solely because an injury has been determined by you to be serious or if it is already clear to you at the moment of stoppage for a foul that the resulting injury is serious, your very first task after whistling for the stoppage is to wave someone from the injured player’s team (coach, trainer, etc.) onto the field — not to “assess the injury” because you have already done that, but to arrange for the safe removal of the player from the field (unless one of the exceptions applies).

Goalkeeper Safety

Tabithia, a parent of a U12 player, asks:

My son is a goalie and like most of the kids he plays pretty rough.  At his last game I noticed that the attacking team would continue to kick the ball once he had his hands on it in an attempt to kick it out of his hands. He nearly got kicked in the face. Is this legal?

Answer

First, at the U12 recreational level of play, no one is supposed to play “pretty rough” — it is not expected and it should not be condoned with the argument that it’s simply playing “like most of the kids.”  If this is the case, it is the fault of everyone involved in the match — the parents, the league, the coaches, and the referees.

Second, what you describe is illegal at all levels of play, from little kids all the way up to the professionals and international players.  The Law requires that, once the goalkeeper has taken hand control of the ball, all challenges against the goalkeeper must stop and may not even be attempted, much less performed, so long as that control continues.  There are no maybes here.  In fact, the younger the players involved in the match, the more tightly this rule must be enforced.

Having the ball controlled by hand means that the goalkeeper is holding the ball with one or both hands or is holding the ball against any part of his body or against the ground or a goalpost.   Being “in control of the ball” also includes the goalkeeper bouncing the ball on the ground or tossing it up in the air and catching it or tossing it even slightly in the process of preparing to punt the ball. During this entire time, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper in any way.  “Cannot challenge” means there cannot be any attempt to cause the goalkeeper to lose control, whether by charging or tackling, much less by kicking the ball which is, by itself, very dangerous.  If no contact is made with the goalkeeper, this is at least a dangerous play and the goalkeeper’s team would get an indirect free kick where the action occurred.  If there was any contact with the goalkeeper, it would be a kicking foul and at least a caution, if not a red card, should be shown, followed by a direct free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.

Referees must respond quickly and firmly to any illegal contact or attempted contact by an opponent against a goalkeeper who has hand control of the ball.   At the U12 age level, we would expand that to cover even a situation where the goalkeeper is about to take hand control of the ball (remember, the game at this level is all about safety because the players are neither skilled nor experienced).

A soccer ball is not a golf ball and a goalkeeper should not be seen as a tee.

GOALKEEPER INJURY

Question:
Normally, if a player has a minor injury, I would allow them to step off the field, receive treatment, then reenter with my permission, or be subbed at the next stoppage. If a goalkeeper is injured but wishes to remain in the game, does he have to give his jersey to another player while he is being treated and can he go back to keeping goal at the next stoppage?

USSF answer (September 10, 2011):
Unless a goalkeeper is so seriously injured that he or she must be removed from the game and taken for more complete medical attention and care, the ‘keeper will be treated on the field. If the ‘keeper needs to be treated off the field and might return after the treatment, then an outfield player must assume the uniform and duties of the goalkeeper. See the following excerpt from the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees in the back of your Law book, under Law 5:

Injured players
The referee must adhere to the following procedure when dealing with injured players:
• Play is allowed to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in the opinion of the referee, only slightly injured
• Play is stopped if, in the opinion of the referee, a player is seriously injured
• After questioning the injured player, the referee may authorize one, or at most two [medical staff persons], to enter the field of play to assess the injury and arrange the player’s safe and swift removal from the field of play
• Stretcher-bearers should only enter the field of play with a stretcher following a signal from the referee
• The referee must ensure an injured player is safely removed from the field of play
• A player is not allowed to receive treatment on the field of play
• Any player bleeding from a wound must leave the field of play. He may not return until the referee is satisfied that the bleeding has stopped. A player is not permitted to wear clothing with blood on it
• As soon as the referee has authorized the doctors to enter the field of play, the player must leave the field of play, either on a stretcher or on foot. If a player does not comply, he must be cautioned for unsporting behavior
• An injured player may only return to the field of play after the match has restarted
• When the ball is in play, an injured player must re-enter the field of play from the touch line. When the ball is out of play, the injured player may re-enter from any of the boundary lines
• Irrespective of whether the ball is in play or not, only the referee is authorized to allow an injured player to re-enter the field of play
• The referee may give permission for an injured player to return to the field of play if an assistant referee or the fourth official verifies that the player is ready
• If play has not otherwise been stopped for another reason, or if an injury suffered by a player is not the result of a breach of the Laws of the Game, the referee must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when play was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was when play was stopped.
• The referee must allow for the full amount of time lost through injury to be played at the end of each period of play
• Once the referee has decided to issue a card to a player who is injured and has to leave the field of play for treatment, the referee must issue the card before the player leaves the field of play

Exceptions to this ruling are to be made only when:
• a goalkeeper is injured
• a goalkeeper and an outfield player have collided and need immediate attention
• players from the same team have collided and need immediate attention
• a severe injury has occurred, e.g. swallowed tongue, concussion, broken leg.

WHEN IS DECEPTION REWARDED?

Question:
In a recent viral video of a Conway AR high school match shows the center awarding a free kick to Conway and the Conway players setting up. Two players approach the area of the ball as if both are going to initiate the kick with one passing by the ball and then colliding with the other approaching player and both collapse on the ground while a third player initiates the kick. A score resulted.

Question is, has an offence been committed? My input would be yes that it is unsporting behavior in that the collision was set up as a distraction that is staged, much like a player taking an obvious dive after contacting a player of the opposing team. I can’t see the trickery rule applying because it only addresses playing the ball back to the keeper and trying to circumvent a law of the game. I believe the goal was awarded. Not that it matters to me being I have no interest or contact with any team in Arkanas. Just discussing it with some current officials on how we would have called it. I am a laspsed official (not one of the choices below)

USSF answer (May 19, 2011):
Ah, deceit, the mother of legal gamesmanship. The kicking team is allowed to engage in its little bit of deception at almost any restart. Provided that the players who collide don’t turn the event into a moaning, groaning, shrieking distraction, this was likely legal. Some playacting is certainly acceptable, but when an event is played to the hilt it could be seen as constituting either (a) exaggerating the seriousness of an injury or (b) the equivalent of shouting at an opponent to distract (either of which would be unsporting behavior). It all depends, of course, on the opinion of the referee, which would be based on how out of the ordinary the actions of these players were.

The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players, in this case the defending team that did not continue to pay attention to the subsequent kicker, the runner, and the ball itself.

CAVEAT: Please note that this is a high school game played under NFHS auspices, and not necessarily in accordance with the Laws of the Game. And the referee might be especially cunning and preempt any problems by stopping play for the “injury,” which occurred before the ball was in play, have the players attended to, and restart with original free kick.

A video clip of this incident may be seen at this URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haxdJT6MBoE&feature=player_embedded

GOALS AND INJURED ‘KEEPER

Question:
In order to play there are X number of players and a specifically appointed goalkeeper. This is a two part question. If the goalkeeper is injured does play stop? If the keeper is injured for a period of time and play is continuing does the goal count if it crosses the goal line?

USSF answer (July 29, 2010):
A two-part question gets a two-part answer.

1. Play is stopped only if, in the opinion of the referee, the player is seriously injured. That includes all players, whether field player or goalkeeper.

2. If the goalkeeper is not, in the opinion of the referee, seriously injured and play continues, a goal would be counted if the whole of the ball completely crosses the entire goal line between the goalposts and beneath the crossbar.

COACH PROVIDING TACTICAL ADVICE DURING AN INJURY STOPPAGE

Question:
My understanding is during a stoppage for an injury a coach (the team not with the injured player) is not allowed to call his players over to the bench area (technical area) and provide coaching instruction. Likewise, the coach of the injured player who comes on the field with permission cannot gather his field players and provide coaching /tactical advise. I cannot find this in the Laws, Guide to Referees, and Advise to Referees.

Can you direct me where in the USSF I can find this? Also, what is the ruling and where is it for NISOA and NFHS?

USSF answer (May 3, 2010):
We cannot provide official answers for NISOA or NFHS games. However, we can provide official answers regarding the Laws of the Game.

There is no rule against either coach or other team official calling his or her players over to the touch line to discuss tactics during a stoppage for injury. However, if a coach or other team official is permitted on the field to see to the status of a seriously injured player — the only reason for stopping play for an injury is if the referee believes it to be serious — he or she may not share any information with any players of that team who are on the field. That would be regarded as irresponsible behavior, forcing the referee to expel the coach.

However, the intelligent referee will preempt the coach from coaching by stopping him early and letting him know that coaching on the field is not permitted. If the coach persists, then the referee should take more drastic action.

SHOULD THE REFEREE ADMINISTER FIRST AID?

Question:
During a match a while ago, a very unique situation occurred – one that I have never seen nor heard of before. I was observing a close under 14 girls mid-level match on a wet day while I waited for my ride after my last match of the day and I did talk to the Referee after the match to pin down some of the details.

So, here we go. A defender was dribbling at speed into her own penalty area playing for time to pass the ball to the outside to a team mate who was running into position to accept the pass. The dribbling defender had an attacker just off the back of her left shoulder. The defender touched the ball forward and then ran up on it. As the defender’s right foot moved forward to kick the ball, the attacker lunged forward with her own leg between those of the defender, missing the ball, and causing the defenders kicking leg to impact with the attacker’s ankle, at which point the defender tripped, and fell awkwardly with the attacker falling next to her.

The Referee blew the whistle, and awarded a direct free kick to the defender (for tripping) and pulled the yellow card from his pocket to award a caution for Unsporting Behavior.

Let’s leave questions as to the correctness of the decision up to now, because what occurred next was the strange part. The Referee had the card in his hand held straight down by his side, presumably to show to the attacker once she regained her feet. However, the attacker was more seriously injured than she had upon first glance, and she apparently had dislocated her knee when the defender’s legs scissored her own as the defender fell. Now to add to the strangeness of the situation, I know that the Referee, a friend of mine, is a certified Emergency Medical Technician in the State of Colorado. As such, when he observes a serious injury to someone, he is required by State law to render assistance to the best of his ability. To this end, he quickly stuck the card back into his pocket, called both coaches onto the field (the defender was shaken up on the play as well), yelled for the lead AR to enter the field to keep and eye on the players, identified himself to the running coaches as an EMT and knelt to begin examining the attacker. He quickly determined that an ACL tear was likely and had a parent call for an ambulance.

He remained with the attacker until the ambulance arrived and he could hand off custody of the case to the arriving paramedics. After the ambulance left, but before play was restarted, he informed the attacker’s coach that his player had been cautioned for UB, before restarting play with the direct free kick for the defender’s team.

Under these very narrow facts and circumstances, were the Referee’s actions correct? While his personally tending the player is not in line with USSF policy, State law regarding medical professionals clearly overrides USSF policy. Secondly, when the Referee officially removed his EMT hat and put back on his Referee hat, the girl was in the ambulance already. In both of our opinions, he would have looked foolish showing the yellow card to the back of a moving vehicle. He would have looked equally foolish, not to mention cruel and uncaring, if he had shown the card to the player while she was curled up on the ground in tears. He had already pulled the card out, and the foul, in his opinion, most certainly warranted a caution. Could he simply take no action at all? Or, as he actually did in this case, could he consider pulling the card out to be “showing” it and verbally inform the coach of the caution? We both agreed after the match that things would have been simplified if he had left the card in his pocket and used the “slow” carding method (book then show), in which case he would have seen the extent of the player’s injury before the card was ever out. However, he was still determined to caution the player, as in his (and my) opinion the self-injury did not wipe out the reckless tackle and injury to the defender. Had he gone the slow path, when would the correct time to show the card be? While the player was on the stretcher? Finally, a hypothetical situation – if a referee was not an EMT in this same situation, and therefore left the player to the attention of the local athletic trainers, when (if at all) should he or she show the card? In this case, there is not the eminently justifiable reason of needing to tend to the player’s injury, but there also does not appear to be an opportune moment to show the card. We both agreed that in a higher-level match we would just show the card in the general direction of the player while they were on the stretcher, but at this age, we both felt that such an action would necessarily outrage the protective instincts of the watching parents, and cause the referee an even worse headache in the long-term.

Hope you can help sort this one out with me.

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
The referee’s grasp of procedure appears to be quite good. As to exercising his skills as an EMT, if it has to be done, it has to be done, particularly if by not doing so he would have placed himself in legal jeopardy. Clearly a quick request for someone in the crowd with similar skills would have been good, but, . . ..

The referee will normally wait until the player has been treated or has risen before showing the card, but each situation is up to the decision of the referee. There is no definite schedule of events here. In a worst case situation, the referee could do as he did, informing the coach of the caution, or less usual but still acceptable, show the card to the captain (but be certain to explain the action).