Question: Acceptable behavior on a free kick?

How much movement are the players in a defensive wall allowed leading up to a free kick. Where does it cross the line from acceptable to misconduct?

It seems players are allowed to jump up and down, but what about waving arms or other physical behavior apart from simply jumping up and down with arms at sides?

Answer (July 23, 2012):
Prior to 1997, the Law required that if “any of the players dance about or gesticulate in a way calculated to distract their opponents” at a free kick they should be cautioned and shown the yellow card for unsporting behavior (then called “ungentlemanly conduct).” This is no longer true. Jumping by members of the wall is common practice throughout the world. The referee should allow this activity unless it goes to extremes. Examples of extremes would be members of the wall jumping forward and back — and thus failing to respect the required distance from the ball — or doing handstands or other acts designed to bring the game into disrepute.…


We were debriefing after a match and the following technical restart questions came up. As part of my U18M Premier Division pregame I instructed the AR’s to not call technical throw-in violations unless the attacking team gained an unfair advantage or was creating a match management problem; I specifically included stepping on the field as a potentially trifling technical violation. During the match I chose a goal kick when an offside player booted the ball over the goaline – after the AR raised his flag, but without my whistle.

1. We know from Advice for Referees on the LOTG that given a choice of IFK for offside infraction and a goal kick or throw-in, to choose the latter in deference to game flow. How about if the offside player kicks the ball over the goal or touch line? Does the obvious game interference take precedence and result in the IFK restart?
2. We know from Advice for Referees on the LOTG that the primary purpose of the throw in is to get the ball quickly in play, and, at competitive levels, technical throw in infractions should be considered trifling. Obviously if the thrower gains an unfair advantage or the infraction may result in a match management problem, the throw in infraction is not trifling and should be called. How about if the thrower has one or both feet completely on the field (no unfair advantage gained nor a match management problem)?

USSF answer (March 23, 2012):
The referee is permitted a certain amount of discretion in enforcing the Laws of the Game, taking into consideration just the sort of things you suggest: game flow, level of skill, effect on match management, etc. However, the referee’s judgments must not be perceived as setting aside the Laws in his or her discretionary acts.

1. Only the referee knows which choice better fits the situation in this particular game. This one clearly comes under the advantage concept as well as the “easier to explain” concept.

2. Infringements of Law 15 are usually trifling (and occasionally doubtful), with the exception at times of being in the wrong location. The infringement needs to be blatant and obvious before the referee calls a “bad” throw-in when it comes to feet. In youth play, even “U18 Premier Division,” the referee should be proactive in dealing with this by stopping the throw-in before it is taken and having the player do it right. Game flow is one thing, but flouting the Law is another. However, having one or both feet fully in the field of play – and well beyond the touchline — is usually more than a trifling infraction.…


Having a debate here about definition of ‘delay of game’.

On a kick-off from the half line, after a goal, or starting a game, if a team does an improper kick-off (i.e. ball does not move forward, and cross over the half line) several times, is this delay of game? I have seen teams do this in the past. I would allow this twice, then give an IDFK to the opposite team. I was recently told by a senior official that this is not a delay of game and not IDFK. Well, if so, what do you do about it?

USSF answer (November 17, 2011):
The tactic you describe could be considered to be delaying the restart of play. A number of examples are given in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

The following are specific examples of this form of misconduct (some of which may also be committed by substitutes):

• Kicks or throws the ball away or holds the ball to prevent or delay a free kick, throw-in, or corner kick restart by an opponent

• Fails to restart play after being so instructed by the referee

• Excessively celebrates a goal

• Fails to return to the field from a midgame break, fails to perform a kick-off when signaled by the referee, or fails to be in a correct position for a kick-off

• Performing a throw-in improperly with the apparent intention of being required to perform the throw-in again, thus wasting time

• Unnecessarily moving a ball which has already been properly placed on the ground for a goal kick

• Provokes a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play

Because the ball was out of play at the delay, the restart after any caution in this case would still be the kick-off.…


Instruction was given at the Region II youth championships that a referee need no longer caution for a tactical foul if that foul was committed by the defending team, was penal, and was committed within their own penalty area, resulting in a penalty kick. Can you please confirm or deny this instruction/interpretation change. In the past this never mattered; a player who committed a foul which in the opinion of the referee was tactical, and did not meet the 4 D’s requirement of Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity, was cautioned and shown the yellow card, regardless of location of that foul or resultant restart.

USSF answer (July 19, 2011):
The instructions you were given at the Region 2 Youth Championships are part of a concept approved by FIFA and the IFAB. This concept does not yet have final approval, but a position paper will be issued in the near future.…


Do all penalties within the 18 yard box automatically result in a penalty kick? If I recall during my “ref” days (now retired), penalty kicks occur only if the ref determines the offensive player who was fouled had a clear ability to score a goal. That is, if an incidental hand ball (hand hits ball, not ball hits hand) occurs within the 18 yard box and the ref determines there was no scoring opportunity a free kick at the point of contact (even within the 18 yard box) is award the offensive team. Defensive line must be 10 yards away or as far as possible (even if they must stand on the goal line).

Just want to make sure; I’ve haven’t ref’d for many years and wonder if the laws have changed.

Now a spectator.

USSF answer (July 19, 2011):
What you describe has NEVER been part of the Laws of the Game. We hear of this concept every now and then in various parts of the country and welcome the opportunity to address the matter. Thank you for asking.

All — let us stress it: ALL — direct free kick fouls committed by the defending team in its own penalty area must be punished with a penalty kick, whether or not the player who was fouled had a clear chance to score a goal. Other punishment may also be meted out, but that is outside the parameters of your question.

Accidental (or “incidental”) handling of the ball such as you describe is not a foul of any sort, so should never be punished in any way — although we are aware that some referees do it.

If an indirect free kick offense (foul or misconduct) were to be committed within its penalty area by the defending team, the restart would be an indirect free kick and the defending team would have to remain at least ten yards from the spot of the kick , unless it was within the goal area. Again, other punishment might also be levied, depending on the particular offense and its consequences.…


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…


In a match this past weekend, our team committed a foul resulting in a direct free for the opposing team (about 30 yards from goal). The winds were roughly 20-30 miles per hour that day. In this case, the wind was at the kicker’s back. Our boys set up a wall and the opposing player kicked the ball harmlessly over the crossbar. The referee blew his whistle and showed the kicker a yellow (I’m presuming for kicking when directed to wait, but that was not clarified). The referee had him kick it again. It did not score, but was a much more exciting and potentially costly attempt. My question is even though he was cautioned, should he be given another attempt or should we have been given a goal kick? If it is a “do over”, it may be a strategy to teach since it is only a yellow and the player reaps the benefit of judging the weight and reaction of the ball in the types of winds we were experiencing. Thanks for your advice!

USSF answer (February 1, 2011):
Coach, you don’t give us enough information to give a quick answer, leaving us to go three ways, although it appears alternative 1 was operative in this situation.
1. If the referee had told the kicking team to wait for his whistle (generally done by holding the whistle up and pointing to it) before taking the kick, then his action in cautioning the kicker and ordering a retake was correct.
2. If the referee had not instructed the kicking team to wait for the whistle, then the caution and the retake were not in order.
3. If the caution was for something NOT directly related to the taking of the kick, then alternative 2 may be misleading. It is also possible that the caution might have been for something else entirely unrelated (e. g., maybe the kicker committed dissent or used unsporting language — short of a red card), though we cannot imagine what it could be along these lines that it would have made it necessary to order the kick retaken. (For example, if the kicker had dissented, the referee could have given the card at the next stoppage.)

If you start coaching this, most referees will figure it out and simply go with the first kick (provided it misses the goal).…


A DOGSO question that has been subject to some vigorous debate: “[O]ffence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick” in the context of DOGSO-F clearly includes both IFK and DFK offences listed in Law 12 (except for the goalkeeper IFK handling offences).

Does it also include “infringements” of Laws other than Law 12? For example, if a defender takes a free kick outside of the penalty area passes the ball back to where he thinks his goalkeeper is, but the goalkeeper is not there and the ball is rolling towards an empty net;

The defender realizes an attacker is charging towards the ball; just before the attacker reaches the ball to shoot it into the empty net, the defender taps the ball away with his foot. The second touch by the defender is an infringement of Law 13 resulting in an indirect free kick — can it also be DOGSO?

USSF answer (January 19, 2011):

Law 12 is clear on the matter. A player, [etc.], is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offenses:

• denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
//rest clipped//

And Law 13 tells us:

Free kick taken by a player other than the goalkeeper
If, after the ball is in play, the kicker touches the ball again (except with his hands) before it has touched another player:
• an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team, the kick to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred (see Law 13 – Position of Free Kick)

In the scenario you present, an offense punishable by a free kick, which may or may not have denied an obvious goalscoring opportunity (OGSO), has been committed by the defender. To be certain that the offense has denied the OGSO, the referee must apply the 4 Ds, as spelled out in the “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

Denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick
In order for a player or substitute to be sent off for denying an “obvious goalscoring opportunity by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick” (number 5 under the seven send-off offenses), four elements must be present:
* Number of Defenders-not more than one defender between the foul and the goal, not counting the defender who committed the foul
* Distance to goal-the closer the foul is to the goal, the more likely it is an obvious goalscoring opportunity
* Distance to ball-the attacker must have been close enough to the ball at the time of the foul to continue playing the ball
* Direction of play-the attacker must have been moving toward the goal at the time the foul was committed
If any element is missing, there can be no send off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Further, the presence of each of these elements must be “obvious” in order for the send-off to be appropriate under this provision of Law 12

Just to make it absolutely clear, and to put an end to any further debate: If, in the opinion of the referee, all four of the “Ds” are present, then an obvious goalscoring opportunity has been interfered with and the defender who has committed a second-touch violation should be sent off for DG-F. The real question is, why would he NOT be sent off? What he did was an offense, punishable by a free-kick restart, and all four Ds were determined to be present by the referee. All free kicks are created equal as far as DG-F is concerned.…


alright so first question is about the penalty box and penalties committed by the defending team. is there such thing as an indirect free kick in the box and if so is it taken from the spot of the foul? what is done then about moving players ten yards away if its within 10 yards of the goal? hand ball fouls, is there a difference between intentional and unintentional as pertaining to penalties, beside a obvious handball being a cardable foul?

and this is half question half opinion, it seems to me fouls that could be called direct penalties and then fall under a penalty kick restart aren’t all goal scoring opportunities. Is there any way of dealing with these types of fouls besides awarding a penalty? and in my opinion it seems more just that they award a corner much like field hockey’s penalty corners. just doesn’t make sense to award a player who had his back to goal on the edge of the area near the endline should receive a pk for being fouled in a non scoring opportunity.

thanks for clearing everything up.

USSF answer (September 1, 2010):
1. Yes, the referee may award an indirect free kick (IFK) to the attacking team in the defending team’s penalty area. That would be done for any infringement punishable by an IFK.

If the IFK is to be taken from closer than 10 yards to the goal line, the defending team may stand on the goal line.

There is no such thing as an “unintentional hand ball.” Handling is either deliberate or it does not exist.

2. Sorry, life is very hard and the Laws of the Game are quite explicit. A penal foul (direct free kick/DFK foul) is a DFK foul, no matter where it occurs, unless it is in the penalty area. In that case, if it was committed by the defending team, it becomes a penalty kick. There is no connection between most penalty kicks and a goalscoring opportunity.…


In the April 16 question about failure to respect the distance, my question is how do we call this at the lower levels when it is not called at the higher levels? I don’t think I’ve ever seen failure to respect the distance enforced in a professional match in spite of it occurring on nearly every foul called.

USSF answer (April 27, 2010):
The argument given by those who are reluctant to enforce the distance at a free kick is that the players do not expect the rule to be enforced and are willing to put up with it. It is clear that this is not true and the Federation has launched a campaign on this problem. Ask your State Director of Referee Instruction to let you know when there will be a clinic on the “Managing the Free Kick” module.

In addition, please note that this is an important consideration at the professional level and is certainly called at every level of the professional game. However, we acknowledge that referees at all levels are sometimes a bit lax and need to be more forceful in enforcing the law.…