Doubtful or Trifling

Michael, an adult/amateur fan, asks:

Have referees been instructed to be lenient with the foul throw rules?  The reason I ask the question is according to the official rules of the game, 75% of throw ins are foul throws standing on the field of play, lifting foot, walking with the ball away from the point the ball left the field of play.  It may sound petty but rules are rules .


Ever make a right turn on red with no one coming toward you?  Ever throw piece of trash out the car window?

The requirements for a throw-in are very clear – (1) throw the ball into the field where it left the field; (2) use both hands over the head; (3) face the field; (4) make the throw within 2 yards from the left, right, or back from where the ball left the field; and (5) have both feet on the field at the moment of the throw (this includes each foot being any combination of on the touchline or behind the touchline).   Compare this list of offenses with, say, that the goalkeeper can remain in control of the ball with his/her hands for no more than 6 seconds and that a restart after an offense must be taken from where the offense occurred (there are exceptions from this rule but they are generally rare).  All of these offenses are routinely ignored to some extent – even though there are 5 things to remember regarding throw-ins , one criterion for the goalkeeper’s time for holding the ball, and one criterion for where most restarts are supposed to be taken.

One of the first “rules” a referee learns about 2 seasons into officiating is that you call what matters.  What offenses make a difference?  What offenses give the offender or the offender’s team an unfair advantage?  One of the most fundamental rules at the core of the Laws of the Game is that an offense, all other things being equal, should generally not be called and play stopped if the offense is doubtful and/or trifling – “doubtful” means it may or may not occurred and you lack the facts to know for sure, “trifling” means that the offense occurred but didn’t affect either team one way or the other.  Both concepts have been at the core of soccer for more than 50 years (including the 35 years that we have been officiating, training referees, and evaluating referee performances).  Sometimes you call an offense which is doubtful or trifling early in the game to make clear that you understand what is happening.  Sometimes to make a point.  Sometimes to slow down the game at some particular moment.  Lots of reasons.  The “beautiful game” is action and motion, not constant stopping.

We pick and choose what needs to be called, and sometimes those needs are not clear to those off the field who almost always focusing on a certain team and/or a certain player and don’t see the rest of the field.  How often do you see or hear a spectator or fan yelling about the wrong behavior of the fan’s team or of one the fan’s relatives?  Practically never.

The Law says the ball is thrown in where it left the field but I have often allowed as much as several yards deviation if the thrower is a couple of yards from the “correct” throw-in point but otherwise prepared quickly to restart.  Why?  Because that much variance is less important the farther away it is from the goal that team is attacking.  The “lifted foot” is only an offense if it occurs at the exact moment of the release of the ball – easy to see if the thrower is standing or walking to the touch line but very difficult to determine if the thrower has grabbed the ball and is running toward the touchline.  And what does “facing the field” mean exactly?  There is no definition but, as a practical matter, most referees would agree that it is a lot easier to define it in the negative – i.e., what is illegal NOT facing the field.

We instruct referees to know what is and is not permitted behavior or actions, but we also advise them that constant whistling for every violation makes the game no fun for anyone.  By the way, we would strenuously dispute the allegation that 75% of throw-ins involve a violation of the Law.


Throw-Ins from Where?

Sid, an adult amateur parent, asks:

Why don’t referees enforce the throw-in point? I can understand a little if a ball flies across the sideline because exact point is a judgment, but I see players easing up the sideline, often several yards beyond, to point the ball rolled across the sideline when doing throw-ins.


There are several ways we could answer your question.  One is to simply admit that referees don’t enforce the throw-in location as much as they should.  Another is that many referees simply don’t pay that much attention to exactly where the ball leaves the field (they are focusing on who made the last contact with the ball) and, as a result, they see it as easier to simply take the throwing player’s location as OK.  A third reason is grounded in one of the most basic and fundamental principles of officiating, though not expressly stated in the Law because the writers of the Law believed it was so fundamental that it shouldn’t need to be stated (they don’t understand Americans too well also) and that is the notion that (to paraphrase how it was in the Law more than 20 years ago) “constant whistling for doubtful or trifling offenses” is contrary to the spirit of a sport whose core is constant and continuous action.

When you get right down to it, this apparent oversight falls into the same category as the 6-second restriction on how long goalkeepers are allowed to maintain hand control of the ball.  We would venture to say that the percent of goalkeeper possessions whistled at the 6-second mark is virtually zero.  Is that bad or good?  Maybe yes, maybe no – it depends on what is going on and whether a longer time is being taken for an unfair reason.  Same with the throw-in location.

The Law allows one yard.  Occasionally it happens.  More often it is ignored and the throw comes from 2-3 yards from the exit point, but what should not be ignored is when the “extra” distance taken is excessive and/or for an unfair or unsporting reason.  Most people get up tight about the failure to enforce the precise location if it brings the thrower closer to the goal being attacked but a throw being taken closer to the thrower’s goal could be just as unfair for tactical and other reasons.  On the other hand, it is statistically demonstrable that, in roughly two-thirds of all throw-ins, control of the ball changes to the opposing team within 1-2 plays.

What it comes down to is this … did the problem with the throw-in location make a difference?  If no apparent gain is achieved by the erroneous throw-in location, is it really worth stopping play?  Remember, if you whistle, there is no flexibility in the Law as to what must then occur (the other team gains possession and the throw is retaken).  It would be a major officiating error to whistle for this offense and then direct the thrower to do it over but this time from the correct location.  The referee can choose not to whistle (and could certainly verbally warn the thrower as play continues) but, once whistled, the offense must rule the restart.

Taking the 6-second and the 1-yard limitations together and enforcing them strictly would certainly reduce playing time, burn up whistles, and leave a lot of people on and off the field grumbling.  That’s not what makes the game beautiful.…


I am confused about the rules of your feet for throw-ins. Do you have to have 2 in completely or what? Thank you!

Answer (October 14, 2014):
Here are some illustrations of foot positioning that is allowed or not allowed. The shaded areas indicate where the thrower’s foot touches the ground.…


Player takes a throw-in, throws ball at opponent (not hard or violent) bounces off opponent, throw takes possession of ball.
This was happening all game and I think thrower was intentionally doing hit.
Can you help me?

Answer (September17, 2014):

This tactic, if performed as you describe it, is perfectly legal. U. S. Soccer’s guidance to referees is that if a throw-in taken in such a way that the ball strikes an opponent is not by itself a violation of the Law. The act must be evaluated separately as a form of striking and dealt with appropriately if judged to be unsporting behavior (caution) or violent conduct (send off from the field). In either event, if deemed a violation, the restart is located at the place where the throw-in struck the opponent. If the throw-in is deemed to have been taken incorrectly, the correct restart is a throw-in.…


When defending a free kick, is there a law that forbids a team from erecting a human pyramid on their goal line, i.e. standing on each other’s shoulders to obstruct the goal mouth. If there is no specific law, would it come under ‘bringing the game into disrepute”?

Answer (November 24, 2012):
No, there is no “Law” on this, but there is an old International Board Decision from the International Football Association Board, the people who make and change the Laws. It declares that using a teammate’s shoulders to boost one’s height in order to make a play for the ball was misconduct. It was originally IBD #4 under Law 12 but became IBD #2 in 1995. So, yes, there is at least an interpretation of the Law that remains valid guidance for such situations. In addition, there is tradition, which holds that other than when they are jumping into the air to play the ball, players are expected to remain earthbound, not stacked high like cheerleaders, circus acrobats, synchronized swimmers, or cans of soda. They may kneel (although not when taking throw-ins) or jump into the air, but definitely may not build a pyramid. Doing so would constitute the cautionable act of unsporting behavior and bringing the game into disrepute.…


As a referee, I have always been told that the lines on a field are part of the area of which they “contain”. However, this seems to be in conflict with the law regarding throw-ins and the placement of the feet of the individual taking the throw-in along the touchline.

I recently had a game in which I had to explain the lines are part of the area of which they contain and he brought up the fact that on a throw-in as long as both feet are touching the touchline in some form that the throw-in is considered legal. However he then pointed out that by my description, would not that be illegal since in a throw-in the player must take the throw-in from outside of the field of play, however the line is considered in play?

The only reasoning I can come up with for this is that at its most basic form the throw-in is a method of restarting the match and thus follows a slightly different set of circumstances or rules than normal course of play.

But is there any further reasoning as to why a player is allowed to be completely in the field of play when taking a throw-in (in the case where they keep both heels on the inside edge of the touchline) and yet the throw-in is technically taken to put the ball back in to play?

USSF answer (November 24, 2011):
The answer to your question lies in applying Laws 1 and 15 as they are written, not in finding reasons to doubt them. “He,” whoever “he” may be, was totally wrong in suggesting that having one’s feet on the line had anything to do with a dichotomy in the Laws. Your original understanding is correct. Your interlocutor is talking apples and applesauce, two different things, and creating his own muddled version of the Laws.

Law 1:
Field Markings
The field of play must be rectangular and marked with lines. These lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.

Law 15:
At the moment of delivering the ball, the thrower:
* faces the field of play
* has part of each foot either on the touch line or on the ground outside the touch line

This is the Law and it is also tradition. Where the Law is clear, follow the Law; where it is not, do the best you can (including applying logic).…


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.…


What is the rules for talking to a referee? Does a player have a right to ask a referee what he was penalized for or is there a strict ‘no talking to the referee’ policy?

My main question is about two incidents I was involved in the following two incidents at a recent game and I disagree with both of the refs decisions. In the first half while I was in an offside position, the oppositions defender turned to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper without realizing I was behind him. I intercepted his pass and scored but the referee said I was offside, surely I’m not offside if I didn’t receive the ball from a team mate?

The second incident happened with ten minutes left and the game all but over as we were leading 4-0. A team mate played the ball up the line too far ahead of me and left the oppositions defender with plenty of time to deal with it. He controlled the ball, took 3 small touches and brought the ball to the sideline where he deliberately hit the ball with force into a group of spectators on the sideline who were having a picnic and drinking from glasses. It was lucky nobody was hurt. He stood about 5 meters away from me as I took the throw in and I directed the ball straight at his face. The red sent me off for this. Should I have received a red throwing the ball at his face (I threw the ball correctly) and should he have been punished for almost injuring spectators?

USSF answer (August 23, 2011):
A player is certainly permitted to ask about the reason for an infringement being called, but the referee is under no obligation to respond with more than a general comment. Some competitions do have a no-talking-to-the-referee policy, simply to prevent problems on the field.

1. No, the referee should not have called you offside in this situation — if all is as you describe it.

2. in the first instance the opposing player should have been sent off for violent conduct for kicking the ball at the spectators. However that does not give you the right to take revenge on him for his act. Yes, you should have been sent off for violent conduct for throwing the ball in your opponent’s face.…


1. The ball deflects over the goal line to give Team A a corner kick. Player A1 retrieves the ball, which is about 15 yards beyond the end line and in line with the side of the penalty area, and throws it to teammate A2 who is positioned by the corner flag. A2 quickly takes a corner kick while A1, who is still a couple of yards out of bounds, is running diagonally towards a position on the field in front of the near post. A1 enters the field unmarked as the kick is in the air, and he scores on a header. Even though he was off the field when the ball was initially played, is this a legal goal since he had a legitimate reason for being off the field? Does it matter that he did not re-enter at the nearest point of the field instead running diagonally towards a spot nearer the goal? Is there any reason that the referee should delay the corner kick until he returns to play?

2. Same general scenario, but the ball goes out of touch at the 35-yard line for a throw-in for Team A in its offensive end. A1 retrieves the ball in line with the 25 yard line – about 10 yards out of bounds – and throws it back to A2 to take the throw-in. A1 then runs diagonally towards the field, entering at the 18-yard line, behind the defense who apparently hasn’t noticed him. He runs onto a long throw-in and eventually scores. Good goal? Should the referee hold up play in a situation like this?

USSF answer (June 6, 2011):
1. If it is clear to the referee that there was no duplicity in this situation, then it was probably legal. To avoid such situations (and their concomitant problems) in the future, the referee should hold up play until the player has returned to the field of play. There is no requirement that the player must return to the field at the same point from which he left.

2. Same answer. Plus, the referee must be aware of this player’s position in situations where, depending on the sequence of play, the returning player might be in an offside position.

The referee should always ensure that all players (other than the taker) are on the field when play is restarted from off the field.

NOTE: The referee is not responsible for poor defensive play. The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of the players.…


In a U8 game, players get to redo a throw in if there is an infraction. This player lifted his foot the first time and was given a second chance. On the second chance, the ball never came in. Does he get a THIRD chance or does the other team get the throw in?

USSF answer (May 18, 2011):
According to the USYS U8 small-sided rules, this is the procedure:
Law 15 The Throw-In: some U8 players do not yet have the eye-hand coordination to execute a throw-in to the letter of the law. However, some U8 players have sufficient eye-hand coordination to attempt the throw-in. One ‘do- over’ per thrower should be the normal response if the throw-in is incorrect. The adult officiating the match should explain to the child how to execute the throw-in correctly.…