Injury Issue and Absent ARs

Chris, a U13 – U19 player, asks

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

Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injuries and Type 1 Versus Type 2 Errors

Ken, a U12 and under coach, asks:

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

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

Answer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Field Conditions and the Referee

David, a U-12 and under player, asks:

Referee called a foul in the penalty area. Walks over to the coaches and says the match is terminated due to unplayable field (rain). Should he allow the PK to continue?
Should he allow players to remain of the field?

Answer

This will be one of our shortest posts in at least the last year and a half.

For the first question, Yes.  The only “maybe not” is if the field generally is unplayable (meaning, not safely playable) but, at one end of the field, there is a penalty area which is safely playable (relatively speaking).  If this is the case, the penalty kick could be taken but under “extra time” rules — meaning that the kick ends either in a goal not with, in the latter case, no further play and an official termination.

For the second question, of course the players can remain.  Once the referee terminates the match, the referee’s authority effectively ends.  Others might take over — e.g., the field owner, the coaches, etc. We dislike putting it this way but, absent someone else stepping in, the players can do whatever they want.  Even in the case of dangerous weather conditions (e.g., lightning), the referee’s direct authority stops once the match is terminated (not merely suspended) and the officials would have no responsibility to do anything more than encourage the players to leave (along with getting out of there themselves!).

Dismissing a Team Official

Gareth, a U-13 – U19 player, asks:

What happens if a coach has been ejected and asked to leave the field of play but does not go far enough to be out of sight and sound? If the same person returns to the field after regulation time to instruct players, what is the next action to be taken?

Answer

First, if a team official (e.g., coach) has been dismissed from the field, the game should not be restarted until and unless the referee is satisfied that the dismissed team official is in fact “out of sight and sound.”

Second, if a dismissed team official reappears in “sight and sound” at any time prior to the end of the match, play should be stopped again, the team official removed again, and the match only then restarted.  Although not a “rule” regarding team official dismissal, we would recommend terminating the match if the dismissed team official reappears a second time.  The reappearance should be included in the match report.

Third, depending on the local rules, the formal dismissal lasts only until after the game is over.  Once it is over, the referee’s authority over the dismissed person ends but, even after the match ends and while the referee is still in the area of the field, any further irresponsible behavior from the same person should be included in the game report.

Stopping for an Injury

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

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

Answer

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

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

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

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

Injuries, Fouls, and Misconduct

Enos, a HS and college coach, asks:

What does the rule book say about the following situation in a HS Soccer game?

During the play, a defender player came in with a 50/50 slide tackle against an attacker with the ball.  The tackle looked bit hard.  The Referee issued a yellow card on the play and the whistle was blown.  Unfortunately, the attacker sustained an injury.  During the visit of the sideline coaches and trainer, it was determined that the injured player might have a broken leg. The Referee came to the sideline and issued an additional red card stating that she is changing a card due to injury.  Is that allowed or should the report be made where yellow card is recorded and explanation is added to the match report?  What would be suspension in that case?

Answer

First and foremost, readers may recall from the information under the “About” tab above that our primary focus is on the Laws of the Game.  While we are fairly familiar with such other rules as those used  by NFHS and NCAA, we avoid interpreting them or offering guidelines about their implementation except where their meaning is crystal clear.  Accordingly, for the most part, we will treat this question as though the scenario occurred in a match controlled by the Laws of the Game.  Perhaps, later, if we are feeling frisky, we might branch off briefly into high school play.

Also, one minor observation — we hope that, in this scenario, the Referee had sufficient presence of mind to have whistled play stopped before actually issuing any card, no matter what it’s color.  We also wonder why the Referee felt it necessary to come to the sideline in order to change the card from yellow to red.

Anyway, two principles are in play here.  One is that the Referee has the authority to change a decision as to any matter (including, in fact, whether to have stopped play in the first place, though that leads then to the issue of how to restart play if this is the case) before play is restarted.  Accordingly, the Referee has a right (arguably even a responsibility) to change a decision in pursuit of more accurately implementing the Law upon private reflection or becoming aware of additional relevant information or receiving information from a member of the officiating team.  So, changing a card, by itself, is certainly permitted by all Law/rule sets.  Here, it was yellow to red but it could also have been red to yellow or to no card at all, or it could have involved removing the card from one player and charging a different player with misconduct.  There are only two misconduct-related changes that can occur even though play has restarted (we have dealt with them in other Q&As).

The other principle, however, is a bit more problematical.  We referred above to “relevant information” as the basis for changing a decision.  Suppose the Referee had announced that, upon reflection, she thought the defender should receive a red instead of a yellow card because his hair was red.  Does the Referee have the right to change the card?  Yes.  Is this information about hair color relevant?  No.  The seriousness of an injury is not a relevant fact.  Law 12 provides that, for each of seven specifically-named player actions, the Referee is to  decide the action is a direct free kick foul if the act was careless or reckless or if it was performed using excessive force.  Any one of these is sufficient to make the decision that it was a direct free kick foul.  As for the possibility that the action might also be misconduct, the Referee is advised in Law 12 that carelessness by itself does not involve misconduct, that recklessness by itself is cautionable, and that the user of excessive force should be sent off.  Nowhere here or in the subsequent explanations of each of these three critical terms is the word “injury” used.

Injuries can occur any time, caused by anyone or by no one, be the result of deliberate action or simple accident.  Even carelessness can result in an injury.  Furthermore, the seriousness of the injury is not, by itself, any indication of how to treat the action.  Clearly, the risk of serious injury increases with the use of excessive force, but a “serious injury result” does not make its cause a red card offense.  When the tackle occurred, the Referee’s job was to assess carelessness, recklessness, or the presence of excessive force.  None of these three things can be inferred by the subsequent decision that an injury was serious, just as the lack of a serious injury cannot infer that the action did not involve excessive force.  Neither can the presence of a serious injury be cited as proof that the safety of an opponent had therefore been endangered any more than the absence of a serious injury be offered as proof that no opponent had been endangered.  The seriousness of an injury is a function of the injury’s impact on the player, not a function — an element perhaps, but not a function — the Referee should take into account in deciding the color of a card.

In the given scenario, it would have been entirely appropriate (indeed, good officiating team communication) if, before play was restarted, an assistant referee had advised the Referee that the “50/50” tackle, in addition to being a “bit hard,” had come in uncontrolled from the attacker’s blind side, and with studs up.  Any of these factors, much less all of them, would have been clear-cut grounds for the Referee to decide that the caution should be changed to a red card.

A Plethora of Cards

Steve, an adult amateur fan, asks:

If a Referee plays advantage with the intention of going back to book the player once the play has stopped but that same player makes another tackle worthy of a yellow card in the same passage of play, can the Ref deliver 2 yellow cards and send the player off?

Answer

Absolutely  …  assuming the original misconduct was also a cautionable offense.   If it was a sending-off offense, however, then only the red card would be shown at the next stoppage with no following yellow card for the subsequent misconduct because, by tradition, no additional cards are ever shown following a red card.  Nevertheless, in this sort of situation, the additional misconduct (cautionable or sending-off) is included in the match report but clearly identified as conduct occurring after a red card.  Keep one thing in mind – the International Board has strongly recommended that, if a sending-off offense has indeed been committed, advantage should generally not be applied, particularly if the red card offense involved violence of any sort (e.g., serious foul play, violent conduct, or spitting).

Getting back to your original question, it is entirely possible, at the same stoppage, for the Referee to display a yellow card, then to reshow the yellow card, and then to display a red card – three cards at one time (they are still showed sequentially, not literally at the same time)!  Finally, in a case like this, the restart would be determined by the original offense, not by what happened afterward, during the “advantage time.”  The exception would be if, in the Referee’s opinion, the advantage had been fully realized: if so, the restart would be dictated by the second offense.

Coaches and Cards

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

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

What happens when a coach gets a yellow card?

Answer

Consider the following:

Case 1:  What happens?   Well, it shouldn’t happen because, technically, coaches cannot get a yellow card. Under the Laws of the Game, only players, substitutes, and substituted players can be carded (yellow or red).  We draw your attention to Law 5 where it states that the duties of the Referee include “takes action against team officials who fail to act in a responsible manner and may expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.”  This is routinely interpreted to mean that the only basis for disciplinary action against coaches (or any other team official) is “irresponsible actions” and the only discipline allowed is to “expel them from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).

Case 2:  What happens?  Well, that’s easy, the coach (or any other team official) has been cautioned.  In general terms, the yellow card is a warning about present behavior and a statement that subsequent misbehavior will likely result in a red card — in which case, the team official is “expelled from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).  How can the Referee get away with doing something which is contrary to the Laws of the Game?  Because a local competition authority (league, tournament, association, etc.) has decided they want this done in their games and the Referee has agreed to accept the assignment to officiate that game.

In either case, what constitutes “irresponsible behavior”?  Basically, it includes anything a player could do which is described in the misconduct section of Law 12 (under cautionable offenses and sending-off offenses).  The Referee is advised, even when local rules allow cards to be shown to team officials, to state in the match report that the team official was expelled (in case 1) or cautioned or sent off (in case 2) for irresponsible behavior, followed by a list of the specific indiscretions leading to the punishment.  Further in case 2, if the warning were unsuccessful in changing the team official’s behavior and the irresponsible actions continue, the Referee would be justified in showing directly (no second caution) the red card with the straightforward explanation that, despite a warning (the caution), the team official persisted in behaving irresponsibly, followed by a list of the additional specific actions.   In fact, if the first instance of irresponsible behavior were sufficiently irresponsible (i.e., equivalent to player actions that would immediately draw a red card), the Referee should deal with the team official the same way.

 

Sorting Out Injury Restarts

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

Adam, a U12 and Under coach, asks:

My question is, if my team (U8 players) kicks the ball and one player on the other team stops it with his face and gets injured, is that team then rewarded with a free kick in the penalty area?  Or would it be a drop ball or my team’s ball?

Answer

Let’s at least take a moment of concern for the poor opponent who stopped a ball with his face!

OK, now let’s see if we can sort this out.  First of all, teams don’t kick a ball, individual players do.  Second, these individual players can kick the ball during play or at a restart.  Finally, these individual players kicking balls may, on any given kick and regardless of whether it occurs during play or a restart, strike the face of an opponent with evil intent (i.e., on purpose) or by accident.  Getting things down to this level helps us work out the answer.

If the kick occurred during play and the stoppage-by-face was not intentional, then play must be stopped for the injury and, under the Laws of the Game, once things have settled down, the restart must be a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped (note: special rules apply if that location happens to be in a team’s goal area). Same scenario but the kick that started it all was on a restart, then everything stays the same assuming that, depending on the restart, the ball was in play by the time the stoppage-by-face occurred.

If the ball didn’t make it into play (and, offhand, we think that the goal kick is probably the only restart in which this might or could be an issue), then play must be stopped and, after the dust settles, retake the original restart.

Ah, but now, if the kick (and this would apply as well to a throw-in) was directed at the face of an opponent, then play must still be stopped quickly but, in this case, the stoppage is not “for the injury” but for the offense (kicking).  Further, given the violent way it occurred and after the higher priority matters related to the injury are taken care of, a red card should be shown for violent conduct (not “serious foul play” because it didn’t happen while competing for the ball) — unless this game is being played under standard small-sided rules for U-8 players, in which case your duty is to explain what a bad thing was done while you escort the miscreant off the field.  Because “kicking an opponent” is a Law 12 offense, the restart is a direct free kick for the opposing team taken from the location of the opponent whose face stopped the ball (penalty kicks are not allowed for U-8 games).

As above, if the kick leading to the evilly intentional stoppage-by-face result was on a restart and the ball had not gone into play by the time of the face smashing, then retake the original restart but don’t forget the card if it is allowed or at least the removal of the player by some means.

By the way, under no circumstances and by no stretch of the imagination could your team, even theoretically, ever “get the ball” if it was one of your players that kicked the ball in the first place (unless it was on a restart by your team and the ball was not in play by the time your player smashed an opponent’s face with the ball).