Quick Restarts

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

I coach a U12 boys team, and experienced a peculiar incident with a referee this past Saturday at one of our games. We were winning the game 2-1 and, within the last 10 minutes, our team committed an indirect free kick offense within the goal area.
What was peculiar is that the referee immediately directed the attacking team to place the ball on the goal line and raised his arm, all within seconds, and two attacking players that were directly in the area initiated a kick-pass and solid shot on goal, and subsequently scored. There was no time given for our goalie to prepare, nor any time whatsoever for our defense to establish protective positioning. My concern and following question is this. We are dealing with U12 boys and the safety of the our goalie was my first concern as he was not even looking towards the kick when it was made and, secondly, is there not a rule that puts responsibility on the ref to give the defending team at least adequate time to prepare and/or the right of the defensive team, especially the goalie , to acknowledge preparedness? Although the goalie did not get injured, it could have ended with a much different result. This all seemed very unsafe and unfair for these boys.


We regret to inform you that the Referee’s mechanics and procedures, as described, were 100% correct and far from being “peculiar.”  The call itself was correct (which you acknowledged), the placement of the ball was correct, and the signal for the restart was correct.  What you are questioning (the quick restart) is also correct.  Indeed, it is entirely consistent not only with the letter but also the spirit of the Law.

Every restart performed by a player with the exception of the kick-off and the penalty kick is, and is intended by the Laws of the Game  to be, taken as soon as the attacking team meets two conditions: the ball is properly placed and stationary.  Being the party aggrieved by an offense that was committed against them, they have the right to take the restart with no delay — even foregoing such ordinary requirements placed on the defending team as “respecting the required distance.”  Here (and we are only theorizing), the attackers exercised their legal right to take advantage of the confusion and disarray of their opponents by restarting play when the necessary conditions were met (stationary ball on the goal area line).  It was a gamble on their part that the likelihood of scoring (keeping in mind that it was an IFK restart) was greater if they did it quickly despite the increased risk of the ball being intercepted by nearby opponents.  They certainly would not be better off by waiting for all the things you wanted your team to be able to do — delay the kick, give us time to regroup, get more of our players between the goal entrance and the location of the kick, and get our goalkeeper primed and ready to defend.

We understand your frustration.  We would feel it also under the same circumstances but with one exception: we would know there was nothing we could do about it and that we were the ones that set up this scenario by committing the offense in the first place.  With very few and rare exceptions, a team which commits an offense resulting in a free kick restart has no rights … and certainly no right to detract from the Law’s award of the ball to the offended party.  Indeed, almost any attempt to interfere with or delay the attacking team’s right to a quick restart would be a cautionable offense.

There is nothing in the Laws of the Game contrary to this nor is there any expectation that the age of the players would affect this basic principle.  The only time a safety issue might be invoked is if a player had been seriously injured and the Referee was obligated to hold the restart until the injury was properly dealt with (not wishing to leave the impression that this might be a good strategy, we remind everyone that a faked injury is also a cautionable offense).  It is one of the core tenets in training referees that they should do nothing to cause a delay in taking throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, or free kicks unless there is a clear, legal, and compelling reason to step in with an order to “Wait!”

Several Ways to Mess Up a Throw-In

Stephen, a U13 – U19 fan, asks:

What is the correct restart if a player takes a throw-in incorrectly but the ball touches the ground before entering the field of play? It appears that in the past there was a clause in the interpretations to the Laws that explicitly stated that, in this situation, the throw-in was given to the other team, but that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Could you provide evidence that shows what the correct call is? Thanks.


It’s always nice to see fans who have a desire to know, and keep up with changes in, the Laws of the Game. Unfortunately, sometimes there are complexities that only Referees (at least most of the time) are aware of even when the language seems pretty clear.  You are partially correct in your basic question.

Specifically, for many years the interpretation of Law 15 (The Throw-in) was that, if the ball hit the ground before it entered the field, it was considered not to have entered the field at all (even if it physically did).  In short, for the ball to be in play, it must enter the field of play and do so without hitting the ground outside the field.  However, that’s all it was — never properly put into play and therefore retaken by the same team (but not necessarily the same player on that team) in the same location as the original throw-in attempt.  Let’s shorten this to “legally put into play.”

On the other hand, and separate from the issue of the ball being properly put into play, Law 15 has several requirements for how (the mechanics) the ball must be put into play — both feet in the ground, at least a part of both feet either on or behind the touch line, ball thrown over the head, taken from within a yard of where the ball left the field, etc.  If a player violates any of these requirements, that can make the throw-in itself illegal even if it is properly put into play by entering the field without making contact with the ground outside the field.  If this happens, the control of the ball is given to the opposing team for a throw-in at the original location (a requirement that is often forgotten or not known, thus leading to the new throw-in frequently being taken from the wrong location … which, surprise!, makes the first retaken throw-in illegal, which leads to ….  well, you get the idea).  Let’s shorten this to “legally thrown.”

So, on a throw-in in years past, the ball can be (a) legally put into play and legally thrown, (b) legally put into play but not legally thrown, (c) not legally put into play and legally thrown, and (d) not legally put into play and not legally thrown.  In (a), the throw is entirely good and play continues but this is not the case with (b) – (d), in each of which the throw-in is not completely good and play must be restarted.  But how and by whom?

In scenario (b) — the throw-in restart is given to the opposing team.  In scenario (c) — the same team is allowed to retake the throw-in.  In scenarios (c) and (d) — the same team was allowed to retake the throw-in because the controlling factor was the correctness of the throw-in itself and it didn’t matter how it failed to legally go into play.  Now it apparently does.

The current language of Law 15 is both clear and specific — there is a difference in who gets the restart if the ball fails to go into play as a result of making contact with the ground outside the field of play and then continuing on to enter the field versus all other possible ways for the ball to have failed to legally go into play (i.e., at no time entering the field regardless of whether or when or how the ball made contact with the ground.  In the case of the “all other possible ways,” the result is the same as in scenario (c) above.  However, now, if the “not legally put into play” is caused by the ball making contact with the ground before entering the field but was legally thrown, the result is that the throw-in is taken by the original team (as in scenario (c).   However, if the ball makes contact with the ground before entering the field and was not legally thrown, the thrown-in restart goes to the opposing team (as in a revised scenario (d).

Frankly,  we are uncertain as to why there should be two versions of how a ball has not legally gone into play or why that should make a difference, but there it is.  Nevertheless, until such time as the International Board states otherwise, Referees are advised to follow the clear wording in Law 15.  Fortunately, we have rarely seen actual throw-ins in which the thrower perfectly executes the throw itself, only to have the ball bounce on the ground and then enter the field.

Speaking of good and bad throw-ins, we are going to exercise our ability to mount a soap box and rant about a related topic.  While the above discussion necessarily was wrapped up in part with illegal throw-ins, we would like to emphasize once again (as we have in prior posts about Law 15) that an illegal throw-in does not necessarily call for a whistle.  Most illegal throw-ins are harmless transgressions (another name for which is “trifling offenses“).  Purists, hardnoses, brand new referees, and the like would gasp at this heresy and that is their right.  But, for the good of the game, plus experience with skilled play,  at least admit (and maybe follow through on it at least occasionally) that pristine throw-ins are about as rare as motionless balls at a free kick because players (and hopefully referees) know that the purpose of these restarts is to get the ball back in play and to do so as quickly as possible.   Except for enforcing the location of the restart as it edges closer to the goal the thrower’s team is attacking, the significance of faults in the performance of a throw-in is vanishingly small.

Throw-in Location

Clay, an adult pro player, asks:

Regarding throw-ins, how far behind the touch line can a player take the throw? For example, counter attack occurs with players still on the other end of field. Ball is cleared out of bounds. Player of counter attacking team runs to the ball and takes the throw while standing more than 5 yards/meters behind the touch line.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Players just love to push the limits, don’t they?  The formal Law on the subject is very clear — the throw-in must be taken from the point on the touchline where the ball left the field.  Period.  And we all know exactly where that is, don’t we?  Let’s be serious, except for a ball rolling slowly across the ground, no one really knows where the ball left the field (particularly when the ball is high in the air!).

So, whereas the Law is specific and clear, real life isn’t, and thus we offer three connected answers.

  • First, the ball left the field where the Referee (assisted by the AR) says it left and this, in turn, is indicated by where the Referee allows the throw-in to be taken.  In other words, the player has retrieved the ball and begins walking toward some point on the line — the Referee nods OK or points semi-vaguely to some general area or says nothing or (if dissatisfied) indicates to the player to move upfield or downfield or the player asks (verbally or otherwise) the AR where to take the throw-in.
  • Second, the thrower has traditionally been given an allowance of up to a yard in either direction (including back from the line) from where the ball probably left the field.
  • Third, Practical Refereeing 101 (what you learn on the field and from experienced officials) teaches us that variances greater the one yard can be tolerated the farther away the thrower is from the goal the thrower’s team is attacking.  The theory here is that it is a technical violation of the Law but, in essence, trifling and so can be ignored or given a warning since the ball was put into play without delay and without a demonstrable unfair benefit gained.

Where we Referees start to grumble is when a player takes advantage of our good will by accepting our allowing the throw-in to be taken from somewhere in accordance with answers 1, 2, or 3 and then trampling on our good will by using that point to begin a lengthy and totally unnecessary run yards farther away, thus displaying contempt for answers 1, 2, and 3.  Unfortunately, this is also often when we make a mistake by calling the player back after he or she throws the ball from a place which unexpectedly was many yards away from where we were allowing the player to take the restart and indicating that the player should take the throw-in again but this time from the correct place.  If it was bad enough to call back, it was bad enough to be subject to the penalty specified in Law 15 — give the restart to the opposing team.  If you don’t want to do that, then realize that you can’t call it back.

By the way, 5 yards back from the line is really pushing the envelop, no matter which of the three answers above you use.

Wasting Time on a Throw-in

Liam, an adult amateur referee, asks:

If a player wastes time at a throw-in, is warned, but wastes time again on the next throw-in and I caution him, does his team still have the throw-in?  Or can I give the throw-in to the opposing team?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Yes to the 1st question.  No to the 2nd question.  By the way, the warning you gave is often a good mechanic because “delay the restart of play” (which is the official reason for the caution) is subject to interpretation and it might not occur to a player that this is what he is doing.  The warning sets a standard so when, as here, he does it again, there should be less likelihood of there being an argument that the caution is justified.  Note that some actions which waste time are so obvious and egregious that they might deserve a caution with no warning at all.

However, the core fact of this scenario is that, before the throw-in occurs, a misconduct is committed (delaying the restart by wasting time) and therefore a throw-in by the same team is still the correct restart.  The only way a throw-in is given to the opposing team is when a throw-in which is actually taken that puts the ball into play (i.e., leaves the hands and entirely crosses the touchline) is judged to have been in violation of Law 15’s various requirements for a legal throw-in (e.g. both feet on the ground, no part of either foot entirely across the touchline, etc.).  In fact, one way to attempt to get away with delaying the throw-in restart without a caution and without losing possession of the ball is by deliberately (in the opinion of the Referee) throwing the ball correctly but in such a way that it doesn’t enter the field, thus forcing the throw-in to be retaken by the same team  You may let one of these go by — because everyone can have a bad day — but don’t let it happen twice without showing the yellow!


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.

Foot positioning for throw-in
Foot positioning for throw-in


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.