Player Shenanigans

Abdikidar, an adult amateur Referee, asks 2 questions:

1. A GK passes a goalkick to his teammate within the penalty area more than 3 times so what would be the punishment and a referee call?
2. A player went to the fan area for his opponents and, while inside the field after the halftime break, removed his shorts exposing his underwear while jeering them.  What should the referee do to that player?


Question 1: I assume that the “3 times” is because each time the referee understood that the goal kick must be retaken because the ball was not properly put into play.  If this unsuccessful restart occurs 3 times, the referee should caution whoever did the third kick (regardless of whoever did it either of the first two times) for “delaying the restart of play.”  The intelligent referee, after the 2nd unsuccessful goal kick, would have warned the third kicker that the 2nd attempt was an unfair delay of the restart and, if it happened again, he “would deal with it” (don’t get any more specific than that).  The really intelligent referee would also evaluate the circumstances of the first unsuccessful attempt and, if the delay under those circumstances appeared to favor the kicking team (e.g., a favorable score for them with little time remaining), give this warning after the 1st unsuccessful kick and caution if it happened again.  Finally, this approach should be used even in situations where the second or third unsuccessful kick wasn’t on the same restart (i.e., this happened on a goal kick at the 88th minute and then happened again less than a minute later).

Question 2 : Caution immediately for unsporting behavior (showing a lack of respect for the game).

Goalkeeper Tactics

Jeff, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

When the goalkeeper is challenging for possession of the ball, are there restrictions on bringing his/her knee up when they are jumping to grab the ball?


No … and yes.  Perhaps not a very helpful response so let’s explore below the surface.

Can goalkeepers raise their knee during the process of gaining possession of the ball?  We know, that’s not exactly how the question was posed … stay tuned.  Of course, why not?  Add in the phrase “while challenging for the ball” and there is now a significant dimension that has been added; namely, the presence of someone else (an opponent, presumably) who is also attempting to gain possession of the ball.  The big difference, of course, between these two — the goalkeeper and the opponent — is that one can legally handle the ball inside his/her own penalty area but the other one cannot.  Put them both outside the penalty area and they are on exactly the same level, at least legally.

So, let’s assume we are talking about all this happening inside the goalkeeper’s penalty area.  We can tell you that virtually all goalkeeper camps and trainers include the “raising the knee tactic” in their programs.  These camp trainers also provide (by example and implication — wink, wink) two standard explanations that they encourage goalkeepers to use if asked : to protect themselves or to gain height while reaching upwards for a ball.  Actually, the reason is very simple.  It is to help create a space around the goalkeeper into which it is dangerous for the opponent to enter, thus encouraging opponents to stay back to avoid being contacted by the raised knee.    By the way,  we encourage doubters to simply visualize approximately where that knee winds up when raised.  In short, it is done to intimidate.

Would we as referees look askance at field players raising knees to intimidate opponents who might wish to challenge for possession of the ball?  Would we perhaps be inclined to punish a player at midfield trying for a descending high ball who raised a knee to back an opponent off?  If “I’m just protecting myself” is good enough for the goalkeeper, why not for any other player elsewhere on the field?  The answer, unfortunately, is that this has become one of those “urban legend” things that got started long ago and has become ordinary in the minds of many officials who haven’t thought more deeply about why this behavior occurs.  Further, it involves goalkeepers who continue to benefit from their favored status as “special.”  We like goalkeepers — they are brave, interesting, funny, and as egotistical as anyone with a whistle, but sometimes this can be carried to extremes.

Accordingly, what this issue boils down to is not the fact of a knee being raised but why it is being raised.  Seriously, think back over the many games you have officiated and ask yourself how often you have seen a goalkeeper raise his/her knee when there is no opponent around.   Actually, if you do see this, more often than not the goalkeeper is trying to establish it as a routine action so you will be less likely to question it when they do it for the real reason.

So, keep a close eye on such encounters.  Obviously, if the knee is raised to intimidate and contact is made, don’t be so ready to give the goalkeeper a free pass.

Shielding the Ball

Erich, an adult amateur player, asks:

Throughout the game I am writing about, the other team would “shield” us off the ball (which as an experienced player I am fine with and do myself): however, rather than attempt to maintain control of the ball within a playable distance they were initiating contact with our players, often by backing up away from the ball or to their sides specifically to initiate the contact. This was often accomplished with substantial physicality, to the point that several of our players were repeatedly knocked down throughout the game while attempting to go around opposing players or to defend them. It was never called because the referee judged the ball to be within a playable distance (which he arbitrarily defined as 3 feet, which I know is not the rule and is not part of my question).

The question is essentially this: at what point does “shielding” with the ball near enough to be controlled become a foul? Does it matter that the player be actually trying to control the ball? If you are at least nominally controlling the ball, can you just back over a defender rather than trying to go around him/her?


We know you said this is not part of your question but we feel compelled to point out that, currently, there is an official, lawful, and therefore controlling definition of “playing distance” … and it is not 3 feet.  For the first time ever, the International Board has provided a clear statement on this subject which applies, actually, to a several different scenarios in soccer, of which “shielding” is only one of them: it is the “Distance to the ball which allows a player to touch the ball by extending the foot/leg or jumping or, for goalkeepers, jumping with arms extended. Distance depends on the physical size of the player”.  There you have it.

Now, as for “shielding,” let’s return to the Law (as we always should when starting on the path to enlightenment), and we find the following in Law 12: “A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”  While we might wish that this would answer everything, it doesn’t.

Your scenario is a dynamic situation that often occurs a yard or so inside the field and is performed usually for the purpose of allowing or preventing the ball from leaving the field depending on which team would gain the restart.  Shielding can be either a defensive or attacking team tactic.  The dynamic can become particularly intense the smaller the field space is available for ball movement and the greater the number of players being shielded.  These factors are important to keep in mind because they help us understand why players do what they do.

Two critical issues are raised by the Law’s language.  First, while a shielding tactic may start with the ball within playing distance, it must continue to be in playing distance for the shielding action to continue to be legal.  If the ball is allowed to move beyond the defined distance or if the shielding action moves sufficiently away from the defined distance, the shielding itself becomes impeding an opponent (assuming no physical contact).  Second, even while still within playing distance, the otherwise legal shielding action can become converted to a foul by either the shielder or the opponent being shielded.  The shielding player could extend an arm to prevent an opponent from getting around the shielder’s body and thus commit the foul of holding if contact is made (the same would be true of extending a leg sideways to achieve the same result).  An opponent, who remains allowed to perform a legal challenge against the shielder, must not allow the challenge to become illegal in any way — for example by using excessive force or by using any force to make contact with the shielder’s back.

Most of this is generally clear, understood, and accepted.  Where we find the greatest debate is when the shielder, instead of standing solidly, attempts to push backward with the shielder’s back against the opponent, thus making contact.  While the intent is clear (to gain more distance to maneuver), the end result is usually an offense.

Simple contact is often made between opposing players due solely to inertia, and the innocence of the contact is shared by both players.  When such contact proceeds to include pushing (forcefully using the body to displace another player), we are into foul territory and guilt falls on the player who initiates, not the contact, but the forceful displacement.  If the shielder moves back to displace the opponent, the shielder must be called for pushing.  Likewise, if the opponent moves forward to displace the shielder, the opponent must be called for pushing.  And if the shielder moves far enough backward in an attempt to make contact (forceful or not) but the opponent evades and this results in the shielder moving beyond “playing distance,” the shielder must be called for impeding.  Pushing, of course, is a direct free kick foul whereas impeding is an indirect free kick foul (in the given scenario involving no contact). And if there is force which is deemed reckless or excessive, there must be a card.

It need hardly be added that deciding what happening in a shielding situation calls for close observation by the Referee and/or the closest AR.

Playing Distance (and Happy Holidays to Our Readers)

Scott, an adult amateur Referee, asks:

Is there a distance from the ball when a referee should call an impeding foul instead of allowing the defender to “shield” the ball from the attacker. For instance, the ball is rolling quickly and is on a path to go out of bounds if no one touches it and there is an attacker running full speed towards the ball from a distance and the defender steps in 5 yards from where the ball is and shields the attacker so the ball will go out.


Good question and, as with many similar good questions, there isn’t a simple answer.  Fortunately, the answer became less complex in 2017 when the International Board published the 2017-2018 Laws of the Game.

At the core of your query is the concept of “playing distance” which arises in several different scenarios in soccer generally as well as in the Laws.  For example, it arises in Law 12 when the offense of “impeding the progress of an opponent” is discussed:

Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player. [emphasis added]

A bit later on in the same section of Law 12, your scenario is targeted:

A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent. [emphasis added]

Other places where the concept of “playing distance” arises include “interfering with an opponent” as one way of committing an offside violation, as one of the criteria for DOGSO (denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity), and as one of the ways that a legal charge can become illegal.  Clearly, knowing what “playing distance” is and is not is an important element of refereeing.

Years ago, it was common for referees to treat “playing distance” as some absolute value – e.g. one or two yards or several steps – in all cases and circumstances.  More recently, the 2014 version of Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game made the following observation:

The referee’s judgment of playing distance should be based on the player’s ability to play the ball, not upon any arbitrary standard such as a specific number of feet or steps a player is away from the ball. The decision as to whether a player is or is not within playing distance of the ball belongs solely to the referee.

In 2017, the International Board for the very first time provided an operational definition of the concept as follows:

Playing distance.  Distance to the ball which allows a player to touch the ball by extending the foot/leg or jumping or, for goalkeepers, jumping with arms extended. Distance depends on the physical size of the player

In essence, the now-official definition is completely consistent with USSF’s 2014 Advice to Referees that the concept has to be defined by the “player’s ability to play the ball” and adds the critical reminder that, even so, it has to depend on “the physical size of the player.”  Obviously, for most referees, this means that an average-sized U14 player will have a shorter playing distance than would an average-sized adult amateur player – all of which takes us back to what we said at the start of this answer and what Advice to Referees said in 2014, that decisions about playing distance belong solely to the Referee. What has changed (and improved) is that the International Board has now given us a “yardstick” for exercising this judgment – the distance between the ball and how far a player can stick his or her own, individually-sized leg out (or a goalkeeper can jump up or out while reaching for a ball in the air).

A Clarification Unrelated to Any Question

(Originally published on 10/22/17, “Operation Restore”)

From time to time, we become aware of an authoritative clarification of some element in the Laws of the Game and it is our intention to make sure that this website’s readers are informed.  This posting relates to a relatively brief, somewhat unexpected, and a bit confusing new sentence that was added in 2016 to Law 12 immediately following the list of those seven actions (a.k.a. fouls) for which a direct free kick should be the response if the action were careless or reckless or performed with excessive force.  Here is the sentence (p. 82 in 2016, p. 95 in 2017):

If an offence involves contact it is penalised by a direct free kick or penalty kick.

Among the seven offenses in the list prior to the above sentence were three which explicitly included the attempt to perform the action (striking, kicking, or tripping).  Attempting to do something like striking, kicking, or tripping normally implies that, being unsuccessful, the action missed — i.e., did not involve contact.  Adding a bit of mystery to this issue was the introduction into the 2016 edition of the Laws of the Game (continued in this year’s edition) of the first specific and concrete distinction between impeding involving contact and impeding not involving contact with the added admonition that the latter was an indirect free kick foul while the former, because of the contact, must be considered a direct free kick (or penalty kick) offense.

The explanation in 2016 did not clarify the reason or purpose of this sentence and was primarily a simple restatement of its language.  It has now been clarified.  We thought that the positioning of the new sentence was unusual (right in the middle of Law content related to direct free kick offenses).  It turns out that the reason the sentence was added was because a disturbing number of Referees (no numbers, no indication of where they were, etc.) were treating a “dangerous play” event involving the so-called “high kick” as still an indirect free kick offense even if the kick was not only high but also made contact with the opponent!  To disabuse Referees of this notion, the sentence was intended to advise all Referees that an indirect free kick offense can become a direct free kick offense if it includes contact with an opponent.

This was abundantly clear given the International Board’s Law revisions involving impeding (with and without contact) but, for some reason, the Board handled the application of this concept differently in the case of dangerous play.  We personally felt that that the principle the Board was setting forth here (an eminently reasonable one which has been part of USSF training for years, we should add) might have been more clearly understood if the sentence had, for example, been located in the section on IFK offenses or if each of the IFK offenses that might involve physical contact with an opponent could have been rewritten (as the Board did with impeding) to emphasize that an IFK foul which included physical contact raised the level of the offense to that of the DFK/PK offense.

Impeding (of course) and now dangerous play have this contact/no contact distinction but the principle could just as well be extended to interfering with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play.  It seems to us reasonable, for example, to treat kicking the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hand(s) as a DFK offense since a ball in the goalkeeper’s possession is an extension of the goalkeeper and therefore kicking a ball held by the goalkeeper is the functional equivalent of kicking the goalkeeper — ergo, a DFK restart (with possible misconduct punishment levied the same way as would be considered appropriate if the kick had been delivered directly to the goalkeeper’s body).  This also, by the way, has been the guideline used in USSF Referee training for more than 20 years.

Yelling “Mine”

(Originally published on 7/21/17, “Operation Restore”)

Sue, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Is it an offence for a player to call out “mine” to let his teammates know he is intending to play the ball?


Maybe.  It depends on the circumstances as seen at the specific moment by the Referee.  Here are some issues or concerns that the Referee would probably consider before deciding what (if anything) to do about it.

  • Was the shout done in such a way as to startle, confuse, or redirect the attention of a nearby opponent who might also be “intending to play the ball”?
  • Did the shout actually result in startling, confusing, or directing the attention of an opponent?
  • Was the shout performed in close proximity to the opposing goalkeeper who was also in a position to receive the ball?
  • Had there been a history during the game up to this point of shouting such claims?
  • Was the shouter easily identifiable at the time of the incident  as in fact an opponent (i.e., not coming from someone directly in view rather than behind or out of the peripheral vision of a player hearing the shout) or could the hearer believe that the shout came from a teammate?

All these factors come together to form an opinion in the Referee’s mind as to whether the shout of “Mine” was or was not either intended to distract generally or to confuse the identity of the shouter such that a player might be deceived and allow the ball to be left to someone the hearer thought was a teammate.  It doesn’t really matter what the shouter intended, which may have been entirely innocent, but what happened as a result — much the same as what happens with other offenses, such as fouls, particularly with younger player.  One of the most common aphorisms among Referees is that the older the players the less likely anything that happens is by accident.

If the Referee decides that the shout was not permissable, it becomes a misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior) but the Referee might also decide that, while the intent to deceive was there, it might not be worth a caution if, for example, it was unsuccessful (i.e., the misconduct was trifling).  Alternately, the Referee might decide that it was misconduct, it deserves a caution, but play ought not to be stopped because “advantage” should be applied (the practical consequence of which is to hold the caution until the next stoppage and then show the offender the card).


Rules of Competition

(Originally published on 7/18/17, “Operation Restore”)

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

My son’s U12  team recently won a game 4-3 but scored a goal on a PK which was awarded in error when the opposing GK touched the ball outside the penalty area. It should’ve been a free kick, but the ref awarded my son’s team a PK. The PK was converted and we won 4-3. The next day we received an email from the opposing coach who said he was protesting the game as the ref told him AFTER the game he had awarded the PK in error. The game was over-turned and the game is going to be replayed. Is this correct?


Yes, probably, on both counts.  First, the referee clearly “set aside a law of the game” which is the official reason for a protest.  It doesn’t require any admission by the Referee that he or she made a mistake to file a protest, merely a recitation of the facts of the case.

Second, it is entirely up to the rules of competition under which your game was played whether a protest would be considered at all.  Most tournaments don’t but, for regular season games, the local league probably does but usually only for an issue which clearly involves a rule of law.  Usually this means that issues which are based solely on judgment, no matter how wrong they might be, are not allowed to be protested.  In this case, for example, deciding if an offense occurred inside or outside the penalty area is a judgment call, but deciding that stopping play for an offense occurring outside the penalty area could be restarted with a PK is governed solely by the Laws of the Game.

Third, once a protest is allowed and decided, again the local rules of competition determine what the person or body of persons who made the decision can do about it.  This could certainly (and often does) include ordering that the game be replayed in its entirety.   The close score could be a factor but often this solution is taken no matter what the score was … on the theory that a wrongfully given PK-which-converted could affect the playing dynamics for the rest of whatever time remained in the match and, literally anything could have happened.  But the decision could also have been to replay the game from the point of the erroneous decision but using the correct restart.

In brief, what you described would not be an unusual decision, but everything depends on the local rules of competition.  This is not something that is determined by some single rule or law that covers the entire country.  We wonder, however, whether either team sought to bring the mistake to the Referee’s attention or whether either of the assistant referees saw the location of the foul and, as would be their duty, sought to prevent the Referee from compounding the error.  Given that a PK is the most ceremonial of all restarts, there certainly would have been time and opportunity to do so.  Just wondering.


Helpful(?) Dissent

(Originally published on 7/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Roy, a U12 – U19 referee, asks:

An attacking player, feeling he was fouled, expressed his frustration with me (the referee of this U19 game) by talking with his fellow players – “he’s not calling anything.”

Does this rise to the level of dissent? This was a player already on a yellow card and someone with whom I had been talking all game long about not complaining to me about calls or non-calls.


OK, please don’t take this the wrong way but, you care about this why?  What is it about what was going on that you would feel justified in pulling a yellow card for dissent and then, perforce, showing a red card because the yellow card you just showed was the player’s second one of the game?  We are not asking these questions as an indication that we are about to tell you that you are all wrong about this and you should just “man up” about it.

Dissent is misconduct for a reason.  Publishing (i.e., making public) negative, argumentative, abrasive, disrespectful, derogatory, etc. comments directed at an official (Referee and/or ARs) is an insult to the game and to its long history of “gentlemanly” conduct upon which its Laws are based.  In the match, dissent which continues becomes insidiously pervasive to the detriment of the sort of communal trust which makes the sport enjoyable for its participants (including the members of the officiating team).  We think there should be and probably is widespread agreement regarding this.  And yet … there it is.

Sometimes you can see (and hear) it coming.  It may build slowly and incrementally until it crosses the line and becomes like the roaring sound of an approaching tornado.  Sometimes it just jumps out at you, full-blown, unexpected, and caustic enough to strip skin on first touch.  Are these inevitable end-points?  Only if left untouched or undiverted.  Rarely does dissent cease of its own volition because the very essence of dissent is “try war, not diplomacy.”

Was the player’s comment “he’s not calling anything” dissent?  Who’s the “he”?  You?  Did you automatically assume the “he” is you because of your history during the game of talking to him about his expressed unhappiness regarding your decisions?  Do you think the player expressing this opinion now to his teammates is an escalation of the situation?  Senior referees should already have been exposed to the “3 P” philosophy about dissent — the need to deal with dissent grows according to the degree to which it is or is becoming Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • Personal – directed at an official by eye contact, by name, by nearness
  • Public — increasingly easily heard or seen by an increasing number of persons
  • Provocative – the specific content of the speech or the common interpretation of the nonverbal communication — e.g., wagging the finger versus “the finger”

How effective is any concrete act of warning about possible dissent watered down by repetition without retribution during the game?  Is running by you and suggesting that “you’re not calling anything” as a quiet aside more “dissentful” (a word we just made up to express the concept of a qualitative amount of dissent) than shouting it out loud in a stadium full of people or than saying it to some of the speaker’s teammates loudly enough that you and perhaps a few others could hear it?

At some point, the dissent virus begins to spread, which is exactly what you don’t want because, if you are at that point, you will either have lost control entirely or, alternately, it will take a huge amount of your professional resources to halt it.  Far better to kick the snowball apart at the top of the mountain than to be crushed by it at the bottom.

Oh, and by the way, get in the habit of listening carefully to what players are saying, even if it is disagreeable, because you might need to hear it even if you don’t like the manner of expression.

Goalkeeper Possession

(Originally published on 7/16/17, “Operation Restore”)

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.


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.

Sorting Out a Flurry of Kicks

(Originally published on 7/11/17, “Operation Restore”)

Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:

Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?


OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene?  Fess up.  By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift.  What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul?  How about, no one committed a foul?  Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?

We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed.  Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical.  This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.

To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force.  Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle.  Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed.  And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it?  And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks?  Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact?  Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?”  Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent?  All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.

If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker.  The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way.  And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all,  and old enough to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.

Sorry.  It still comes down to — you hadda be there.  All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.