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.


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?


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?


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?


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?


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).

The Field and Objects Around It

(Originally published on 7/6/17, “Operation Restore”)

Matt, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

What is the required clearance on touchlines for obstacles such as fences and light poles?  I’m asking for US Youth Soccer guidance and field side clearance.


We do not speak “for” US Youth Soccer anymore than we speak “for” USSF.  We suggest you contact US Youth Soccer directly and ask if they have any specific guidelines on the matter.

However, we also don’t like to seem as though we are shirking our responsibility to give whatever advice we are able to provide — particularly because doing so is quite easy.  There is no such thing as “required clearance,” at least not in the sense that the Laws of the Game deal with this issue.  The field is the subject of various requirements (mostly in Law 1) but they all have to do with (a) the layout and constituent parts of the field itself (e.g., lines, goals, dimensions, etc.) and (b) the technical areas just outside the field.  Advice to Referees added guidelines about “appurtances” (things attached to goals)  and “pre-existing conditions” (e.g., overhead wires, overhanging branches, pop-up sprinkler heads, etc.) — none of which connect directly to your question.

What do you do when a potential problem pops up which seems important but which is not covered explicitly by anything in the Law?  You step back to common sense and the three ultimate objectives of officiating — safety, fairness, and enjoyment.  The Referee has a duty to inspect the field and to deal affirmatively with any condition reasonably pertaining to what goes on in and around that field related to the match.  Suppose you saw a large trash bin on the ground less than 2-3 yards away from the goal line.  What would you do?  What can you do?  You can go to the home team coach (the person traditionally held responsible for providing a safe, legal field for the match) and advise him or her about a dangerous condition that potentially affects the safety of players on both teams and urge that it be corrected.  This sometimes works.

If it doesn’t, then you have another decision to make — how important (i.e., dangerous) is the situation?  Important enough that you would be willing to declare that the field was unsafe and an officiated match could not be held at that location?  If so, stick to your decision.  If the teams can move to another field, well and good.  If they want to play anyway despite your warnings and final decision, let them (just walk away, after making clear the basis for your decision).  Finally, include it in your game report and know that you have upheld one of the prime principles of the Laws of the Game.

Goalkeepers and Control of the Ball

(Originally published on 7/5/17, “Operation Restore”)

An adult amateur referee asks:

Does pinning the ball on the ground with one hand for even a split second constitute “control” of the ball for the goalkeeper?


Yes.  You must sort out the actual sequence of events when things like this happen.  If your conclusion is doubtful as to the core issue of whether the pinning occurred before, during, or after an attempt to challenge for the ball by an opponent, you should add to your decision the factor of safety for the players involved.

Thus, if you have a clear view of things and are certain that control was established before the opponent’s challenge, you must signal for a stoppage and give the goalkeeper’s team possession of the ball for the restart.  If the decision is that the challenge clearly occurred before control was established, then (other things being equal) the challenge should be allowed.  However, if “other things” are not equal — for example, the challenge was performed in a dangerous manner and caused the goalkeeper to pull back to avoid injury , then you must call the offense against the challenger.

If it was so close that you really cannot tell, then you should decide what to do based on our high priority concern for the safety of the player who was unfairly most placed at risk.  Keep in mind that this factor must take into account the age and experience level of the players.

Hijinks Outside the Field

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

What are the rules governing the behaviour of parents at a game? Last week my son’s under 12s played a match during which one of our players was quite rightly sent off after hitting one of the opposing players. He has since received a fine & ban. However, the parent of the child that was hit not only went onto the pitch, but threatened our player & his family then let loose with a tirade of the most foul language I have to say I have ever heard. This delayed the game for at least 10 minutes. In addition, more threats were received at the end of the game & missiles were thrown at cars as they left the ground. Should this parent receive a warning regarding his behaviour & should he receive a ban/fine too?


Oh, my! Parents acting badly.

Asking this question as a parent puts you in a different position than if the question were asked by a referee.  The Laws of the Game, with only one exception, do not control or manage the behavior of anyone other than rostered players/substitutes and team officials (anyone who is also on the roster and allowed to be in the team area but is not a player).  All such persons are termed “outside agents” and are not under the authority of the Referee.  They are, however, under the control of the competition authority (i.e., the organization – league, tournament, etc.) which is responsible for the game.  That authority should have rules governing the behavior of outside agents.  Many leagues, for example, require that an officer or agent of the league be present at or in the vicinity of matches it is sponsoring and it is to that person that the sort of behavior you described should be reported.  Lacking a presence at the field, however, anyone present is free to file a complaint or protest with the league or tournament concerning the behavior of persons associated with a team.  If the game is held in a public place, such as a park or school field, complaints could also be directed immediately to persons representing the game site who possess police authority over the conduct of anyone there.

The only authority the Referee has in this regard (note the “one exception” mentioned above) is to suspend the match where spectator behavior is deemed to be interfering with the game (keeping in mind the ultimate objectives of youth soccer – safety, fairness, and enjoyment) and to terminate any match immediately if, in the opinion of the Referee, outside agent behavior makes continuation of the match a danger to the players, team officials, or the officiating team itself.  Further, the Referee has an obligation, whether or not a match is suspended and/or terminated, to include in the match report full details of any incidents that bear on the conduct of the match, including disruptive behavior of outside agents.

Referees are strenuously advised not to deal directly with obstreperous outsiders.  At early stages of a spectator/parent problem, Referees should work through one or both coaches to achieve a resolution of the interference — which can include a statement that the match could be terminated if the disruptive actions continue.  Where this is unsuccessful (or where the source of the problem is team officials themselves), the “nuclear option” of termination should be invoked.  Immediately contacting the Referee association or assignor is also advised.