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?

Answer

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.

Let’s Have Some Fun!

Goran, an adult amateur fan, asks:

Players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass if their team is ahead and there is little time left. Obviously this is allowed.  What would happen if a whole team made a tight circle around one of their players ( or even around just the ball) to prevent the opposition to get hold of the ball while match time counted down?

Answer

Every once in a while, we have a “oh, what the heck” moment and let a question like this one slip through our tight quality control filters just for the brief thrill of offering an answer to an essentially unanswerable question.  So, tighten your seatbelts because what follows will likely be a bumpy road.

The first step on our journey to enlightenment … “players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass ….”  Really?  Does someone serve snacks down there?  Are there lounge chairs?  The soccer games we tend to watch rarely have such extended periods of boredom. Can anyone join in?  Would they move over to another corner if play started to approach them?  Is this actually allowed?  More pertinently, why would it not be?  Our guess is that the International Board never thought the issue would arise because, well, this is soccer, not American football.

So, the short answer to the question of “what would happen if …”  is rampant perplexity would ensue.  More accurately, it would likely depend on whether everyone wanted to just chew up time or whether there was some reason why one team wouldn’t mind this but the other team might take exception to it.

Sidebar regression: We are reminded of a true news report a few years back in connection with a match played in Asia in which (for reasons which could be understood but not without a lot of time lost in the explanation) one of the teams, in reaction to events happening elsewhere while this game was going on, discovered that it didn’t want the other team to lose (!).  Unfortunately, they were ahead at the time and so they did the only thing that occurred to them on such short notice — they deliberately scored against themselves. When the opposing team realized what impact this would have, they decided to restore “the balance” by doing likewise.  Talk about “rampant perplexity”!  Wanting to lose produces some interesting dynamics.  OK, enough reminiscing.  Back to the question.

Could a team withhold the ball from active challenge by building an impenetrable wall of bodies around it?  Sure.  It would be directly contrary to the very essence of sportsmanship which lies at the core of soccer.  It seems to us that, assuming the opposing team had a problem with this, it would do something to indicate that they wanted the ball — things like pushing, shoving, climbing, and jumping being among the less aggressive actions they might take.  At that point, obviously, someone would be doing something that would violate the Law.  The problem with this is that the punishment would fall on the shoulders of those who, from a different perspective, might appear to be the aggrieved parties.  Or … they might look at you (the Referee), point out how mean the opponents are being, and expect you to make it right.

Can you?  Not without being inventive.  You could just purely make something up, of course, on the theory that the opponents sure looked guilty as sin for something but you’re just not exactly sure of what.  Just remember two things: (1) you can stop play for any reason you want at any time and (2) you never have to explain why.  You do have to get the restart right.  If you truly have nothing (your bag of tricks is totally empty), the restart would have to be a dropped ball.  Ugh.  A foul?  That would be a real stretch (maybe, impeding the progress of an opponent but some essential characteristics of this offense are missing).  Aha!  A good argument exists for misconduct (Note To All Referees: “shows  a lack of respect for the game” — p. 86, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game — covers a lot of territory) so an IFK for unsporting behavior for the opposing team.

The problem with misconduct, however, is that, by definition, you gotta give at least someone a card.  So, who gets the caution?  Anyone.  Everyone.  Those within two yards of you.  Any player shorter than you are.  Anyone smirking.  Take your pick.  Just do it, get it over with, restart play, and then clearly indicate that all that lost time is being added back to the clock.

The Officiating Team and Misconduct

Karyn, an adult/pro fan, asks:

If neither the Referee nor either Assistant Referee saw a foul but the fourth official did, can the Referee still give a straight red card?

Answer

Yes.  The referee is obliged to take into account any information provided to him or her by a member of the officiating team – including the ARs and the 4th official but not including the reserve assistant referee or a volunteer linesman – and then render a final decision.  The referee is not required to accept the information but is required to listen.  However, the referee’s ability to follow through on the advice and information remains limited by the Laws of the Game.  For example, if at the halftime break, an AR or the 4th official indicates that Blue #14 had used abusive or offensive language in the 20th minute, the only way the referee could issue a red card to Blue #14 is if there had been no stoppages between the 20th minute of the half and the midgame break.  The Law requires that a card to any player, substitute, or substituted player must be given no later than the next stoppage (which includes the end of a period of play).

There are only two exceptions to this mandate.  The first is if the referee realizes or is advised by a member of the officiating team (excluding the reserve assistant referee or a linesman) that the referee had issued a second yellow to a player but had failed to follow through with a red card as prescribed in Law 12.  In this case, the red card can be given whenever the Referee is made aware of the oversight.  The other is a bit more complicated.  The referee can issue a red card to a player, substitute, or substituted player if an assistant referee observes an act of violence (including spitting), raises the flag, and continuously maintains the raised flag until the referee becomes aware of the signal, at which time the red card for violent conduct can be given even if one or more stoppages and restarts have intervened.  Since this particular exception depends entirely on the AR performing in a certain way, it should be covered in the pregame discussion prior to any match in which such behavior might occur.

Stopping Play and the End of Time

Ricardo, a Referee of youth players, asks:

When is the referee allowed to stop the play? Can he stop the play when time expires but the ball has already been kicked and is in the air going towards goal?

Answer

Your two questions are slightly different.  When is the Referee allowed to stop play?  By Law and tradition, anytime he or she feels it is necessary.  The stoppage could be for a specific reason or for no reason not specifically provided for in the Law.  Sometimes play stops despite the Referee.  For example, technically, play stops when the ball leaves the field and there is no specific action the Referee is required to take to implement or authorize the stoppage.  Nowhere in the Law does it say that the Referee stops play when the ball leaves the field but, on occasion, some action is needed to remind players that the ball has left the field (particularly if they keep on playing it) and, indeed, in such cases a whistle sounds solely to get their attention.

Other times, the Referee has discretionary authority to stop play.  The most common example here is the commission of an offense specified by the Laws of the Game — fouls, misconduct, offside, etc.  First of all, the Referee has to recognize that an offense has occurred, then decide that it is not trifling, then decide not to apply advantage, and then, finally, whistle play to stop.  Just as with a stoppage due to the ball leaving the field, it is not the whistle which forces the stoppage but the decision that play must be stopped.  Most times, the whistle merely marks that the decision has been made but happens so quickly following the decision that there is no appreciable time between the two.  Sometimes, this is not the case: advantage is often an example because, until the Referee has had a chance to determine that the advantage has been achieved and maintained for several seconds, there could be at least a short while before a whistle is blown or the actual advantage signal is made.

Now we come to your second question.  Every match has a specified length of half.  Law 7 (Duration of the Match) sets this at 45 minutes.  Although it can be less time for certain categories of players as determined by the competition authority, but it is always a specific number of minutes.  That time may be extended officially by the need to conduct a penalty kick despite time ending.  The time may also be extended due to time lost as a result of excessively lengthy delays but the Referee is required to carefully monitor such situations and decide, to the nearest whole minute (rounded down) how much time must be added.  The period of play (first, second, or any subsequent additional period to break a tie), then, is an exact measurement.

Unfortunately, there are many so-called rules or notions about how Referees are supposed to mark when a period of play is over.  By Law, no such rule exists or is authorized with the exception of the penalty kick in extended time.  Myths abound.  The Referee is supposed to wait until the ball is in the middle third before signaling the end of a period.  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of a period if either team is attacking the goal (a version of this is that it applies only if the team which is behind has the ball).  The Referee is not supposed to signal the end of time if play is already stopped — which is taken to mean that the Referee must always perform the restart (goal kick, kick-off, free kick, etc.) before whistling the stoppage due to time expiring (apparently, this often gets the additional requirement that, after the restart, let the players play for at least a little bit).

Every Referee has a theory here, or was told “this is how it is done” in their entry level class, or was told by an assessor, or heard it on the grapevine, or from a TV commentator (!).  None of them is correct … or all of them are correct (though some are sillier than others).  Decide for yourself but, whatever you do, do it consistently regardless of what’s going on at the moment.  Time is up when it is up but, in a match governed by the Laws of the Game, no one knows for sure when this is except for the Referee and, as the Referee, you must be able to justify to yourself whatever you come up with.  We will advise one thing further and that is never to talk to anyone about “your rule” because none of them hold up to challenge.  Just smile mysteriously and simply declare that time was over.

One serious problem in all this is that the players in their current game will get all bent out of shape if the Referee does (or does not) whistle the end of a period when they think it should be — which is why they frequently ask how much time is left and which is why you should not answer this question except in the most general way.

Fouls and Restart Locations

Gary, an Adult/Pro Coach, asks:

If there’s a foul off the ball, despite the ball being in the center circle, can the Referee award a penalty ?

Answer

Not only “can the Referee,” the Referee must.  With rare exceptions (and fouls are not one of them), the Law sets the location of the restart to be where the foul occurred, not where the ball was.  In this case, if it was a direct free kick foul and it was committed by a defender inside his or her own penalty area while the ball was in play, the restart is a penalty kick even if the ball was at the far other end of the field at the time.

For example, Red is attacking the Blue goal with play occurring just above the Blue team’s penalty area.  At the Red end of the field, however, the Red goalkeeper and a Blue opponent are having an intense debate inside the Red penalty area over something that happened several minutes earlier, during which the Red goalkeeper shoves the opponent.  The trail AR sees this and signals for the foul, the lead AR (down where play is currently occurring) mirrors the signal, and then directs the referee’s attention to what is happening behind the Referee’s back.  Trusting the judgment of the experienced ARs, the Referee stops play immediately (no advantage is applied), deals with the misconduct (if any), and orders the ball brought back to the other end of the field for a penalty kick by Blue.

The consequences would be much different if, instead of striking by the Red goalkeeper, it was the Blue opponent who committed the shoving.  Here, advantage might be applied depending on the seriousness of the offense (it is not recommended if violence is involved).  If the Red team’s advantage is maintained, then play should be allowed to continue and, at the next stoppage, the Blue player might be cautioned if the shove was deemed reckless.  If advantage was not maintained or if the shove was violent, play should be stopped and then restarted with a direct free kick by Red where the shove occurred after any misconduct with dealt with.  If the shove did not require an immediate stoppage, the trail AR would simply wait for the next stoppage, signal for the Referee’s attention, explain what happened, and let the Referee decide what action to take.

In situations like this, it is imperative that the AR observing this behavior understands the implications of signaling for a stoppage.  The AR’s decision must be based on believing — based on experience, the pre-game conference where the Referee made clear his or her preferences, and the AR’s observation of the Referee’s decisions in the match so far — that the referee would have stopped play (i.e., not considered the event doubtful or trifling and not have applied advantage) if he or she had seen the event.  The other AR must be aware of the trail AR’s signal and have the presence of mind to mirror it.  Finally, the Referee must trust the trail AR’s judgment that, under the circumstances and based on standard mechanics, play must be stopped.  The system works … when everyone understands their respective roles and acts accordingly.

What’s My Line (and other matters)?

Abdullah, an adult pro player, asks:

1- if a Goalkeeper holds the ball exactly on the penalty area line , is that allowed ?
If that is allowed, what if he holds the ball and 80% of the ball was on the line and the rest is outside of the line ? (What are the punishments if..)

2- if there is a foul or an offside inside the PA, is it right the goalkeeper can put the ball anywhere in the penalty area to play ? Because I see goalkeepers take the ball up to the penalty area line even if the offside or the foul was near to the goal.

3- if a defender deliberately passes the ball back by his shin, is the goalkeeper allowed to hold the ball ?

Answer

Actually three answers.

  1. Yes.  Still yes.  None
  2. No.  They are wrong (and so is the Referee).
  3. Yes.

OK, perhaps you would like a bit more detail.

  1. All lines (except the midfield line, which is special) are a part of the area they enclose.  As with the touchline, a ball which is on the touchline — or even just 80% on the touchline — is still in the field.  So, a ball held by the goalkeeper which is even a little bit on the penalty area line is still in the penalty area and is thus being legally held.  By the way, considering the diameter of a soccer ball and the maximum width of the penalty area line, it ought to be obvious that it is physically impossible for the ball to be held “exactly” on the penalty area line — at least some part of it has to not be on the penalty line.  Also by the way, it doesn’t matter (so there is no punishment).
  2. It is one of the usually accurate generalizations in soccer that restarts are taken from where the offense occurs.  Some exceptions are obvious (e.g., DFK offense committed by a defender inside his own penalty area = penalty kick).  Some are specifically provided for in the Law (e.g., stopping play for a violation of Law 4 = taken where the ball was when play was stopped).  While in practice there is usually some “wiggle room” in actually spotting the ball for most free kick offenses (e.g., the farther away the official restart location is from the goal being attacked, the more “wiggle room” there is), the Law itself is quite clear as to what is required.  What you have described is the result of players being allowed to push, if not actually exceed, the limits of the Law by Referees lacking either a spine or good sense.  Allowing a variance of as much as, say, 5-6 yards might be justified under some circumstances, but moving a restart from in front of the goal to nearly 18 yards away  (just inside the penalty area) is ridiculous.  We are actually hoping that you have mistaken the goal area with the penalty area.  A free kick given the defending team for an offense which occurred within that team’s goal area is allowed to be taken from anywhere within the goal area.
  3. One of the very first questions that was asked and answered after the Laws of the Game were modified in the early 1990s to make illegal what quickly came to be called the “pass back to the keeper” offense was: what was meant by “kicked”?  The answer was swift and sure — it meant played with the foot.  This is not a case of “the hand” including the entire arm (as in a handling offence): “the foot” means “the foot” and only “the foot” as defined by a human’s anatomy.  The most common definition of “the shin” is the front part of the leg from the knee to the ankle (most often associated with the tibia).  “The foot” is thus defined as the rest of the leg at and below the ankle.  So, a ball played by the shin is not counted as having been played by the foot and, accordingly, there is no restriction regarding the goalkeeper handling the ball if it was was propelled by the shin (or the knee, the chest, the head, etc., just not the hand (including the arm).  By the way, as we have said in earlier answers regarding the “pass back to the keeper” offense, this is one of the worst ways to describe what this violation of the Law is all about: it doesn’t have to be a pass, it doesn’t have to be back, and it doesn’t have to be to the keeper.

Communications within the Officiating Team

Dave, a Referee of younger players, asks:

Red 1 is guilty of dangerous play. The assistant referee makes the call but the Referee does not see the raised flag and allows play to continue and a goal is scored by Blue 10. The Referee then sees the AR with his flag still raised and goes over to discuss the situation with him. The Referee disallows the goal and restarts play with an IFK for Red at the spot of the foul. Is this the correct decision? I have been instructed that, as soon as the flag goes up and is not waved down, subsequent play basically hadn’t happened.

Answer

Either you have not been instructed correctly or you have misunderstood the Instructor’s point.   Law 5 provides that the AR’s input (information, advice, etc.) should be listened to and may be accepted, but it remains the Referee’s decision.  Let’s look at an example of this in a very practical situation (which may, in fact, be what you heard the Instructor say but, through miscommunication, failed to catch the context).

Red #9 is dribbling the ball downfield near the touchline.  In the process, the ball temporarily leaves the field but is played back onto the field and Red #9 continues to attack downfield.  The AR raises the flag upon seeing that the ball did indeed fully leave the field but the Referee doesn’t see the signal … until, after dribbling the ball another 4-5 yard, Red #9 is pushed by Blue #25.  This does draw the referee’s attention and, at the same time, causes him to see the AR’s flag straight up, followed by the AR pointing the flag at a 45 degree angle upward from the horizontal for a throw-in by the other team (The AR’s mechanics are correct because the ball was still being played as though it had not left the field — the AR initially holds the flag straight up to get the Referee’s attention but the actual throw-in signal is not given until the AR and Referee make mutual eye contact).

Under these circumstances, the AR’s signal does indeed mark when the ball went out of play and therefore when play stopped (even though the physical motions of play continued).  And this, in turn, means that the push by Blue 25 was not a foul (because it happened when play was stopped) so Blue #25 gets at least a verbal dressing down or, depending on the force of the push, a caution for unsporting behavior or at worst a red card for violent conduct.  In other words, when the referee accepted the AR’s signal, play was considered to have stopped at the moment of the AR’s signal.  Theoretically, the Referee could have refused to accept the AR’s signal, in which case the push happened during play, there will be a DFK restart, and maybe a card.  Why the Referee might do this is largely immaterial to the immediate consequences.

Now, let’s deconstruct your scenario.  First, it is stated that Red was “guilty of dangerous play” — technically, this is only a supposition, it may be the AR’s interpretation of what he saw but a player isn’t “guilty” of anything until and unless it is declared so by a decision of the Referee.  Second, the AR does not ever make “a call” as that term is used and understood in soccer — the AR provides information and advice.  Third, it does not become “a call” until accepted by the Referee but, if this happens, then the Law provides that the “effective time” of the call is when the AR signaled whatever it was that the Referee accepted.  Fourth, the Referee could decide not to accept the AR’s flag (the delayed equivalent of having waved it down when the signal was made)  There could be any one of several reasons for this.  Fifth, the Referee could accept the AR’s advice as to what happened but disagree as to the consequences.  In other words, the Referee could agree that there had been a dangerous play offense but either the action was trifling because it had no negative effect or (more likely given what followed) advantage should be applied (after all, Red may have committed an offense but the offended team scored the goal!).

As we read what went on, the Blue goal should stand and the restart would therefore be a kick-off.   While we do not see a correct decision path leading to what the Referee ended up doing, the AR is not without fault.  The AR should not signal for what he determined in his mind was a dangerous play until he has a chance to see what happens as a result.  It is not his job to signal a foul just because he thinks it is a foul but, rather, to decide what the Referee would have done if the Referee had seen what the AR saw.   In short, the AR has to decide that the Referee would have decided to stop play, i.e., that this Referee so far in this game would not have considered the action to be doubtful or trifling and that advantage would not have been applied.  Perhaps, seeing that Blue kept or gained control of the ball despite Red’s actions and even scored a goal would have led to the AR not even raising the flag.

By the way, it passes all understanding why the Referee would punish Red for Red‘s dangerous play offense by giving the ball to Red for the IFK restart.  We are assuming (hoping would probably be a better word) that this was simply a misprint in your question and that the Referee actually gave the ball to Blue (that, at least would have been a mistake in judgment whereas giving it to Red would be a mistake in Law).

Restart Management

Hyung, a referee of U12 players, asks:

It’s not clear to me how to manage restarts for free kicks when the attacking team doesn’t know the procedure/options (e.g., ceremonial vs quick ).  Should the attacking team always initiate asking the Referee for a ceremonial restart? What if they don’t ask?  Is it the Referee’s duty to ask the attacking team?  A few seconds pass and it’s obvious the attacking team will not take the free kick quickly.  Also, they didn’t request enforcing the minimum distance (10 yds).  Is it at this point the Referee should take charge and do the free kick ceremonially?  If the attacking team doesn’t ask for 10, is 5 yds acceptable? Is this in the rules? Is it best for the Referee to lead in this confusing situation and restart ceremonially?

Answer

You have some good questions here, all of them pertaining to issues of correct or preferred mechanics and procedures but not so much matters of Law.  In fact, the term “ceremonial restart” is not found anywhere in the Laws of the Game — it is entirely a matter of tradition and recommended procedures.  In short, you will not find answers to any of your questions except in publications which, mostly unofficially, attempt to explain the art of refereeing.

We can, however, start with some fundamental principles and work from there.  First, the core definition of a free kick (Law 13) is a restart given to a team because the opponents have violated the Law in some way and the Referee has stopped play for it.  It is called a “free” kick because the team awarded this restart must be given the opportunity to put the ball back into play without hindrance or interference (i.e., freely).  To this end, all opponents are required by Law to retire (move away) at least ten yards from the location of the free kick in every direction.  This is a legal burden placed on the shoulders of every opponent and the Referee’s job is to punish any opponent who fails to do so (before, during, or after the kick).  In a perfect world, what should happen is that, as soon as the Referee whistles for a stoppage and signals a free kick restart (indirect or direct), all opponents hurriedly move at least ten yards away in the spirit of sporting behavior and the attacking team is able to take its free kick in a matter of seconds.

Unfortunately, this expectation is rather akin to also asking players who commit an offense to publicly admit their error, apologize to the opposing team, hand the ball over to them, and clear a path between the kick and the defending team’s goal.  Needless to say, this is not what happens in our imperfect world.  What usually occurs, depending on the circumstances of the stoppage, the temperature of the game, what’s at stake, and simple hormonal imbalances, is that some opponents will try to interfere — by not moving at all, by standing near the ball, by kicking the ball away, by blocking the likely path of the kick so as to diminish the attacking team’s ability to recover from their opponent’s commission of a violation, and other tactics limited only by the inventiveness of wily soccer players trying to gain an advantage at almost any cost.

All of this is summarized briefly in the general principle that the Referee’s obligation in these cases is to allow, expect, and protect as much as possible the taking of the quick free kick.  Why?  Because a quick free kick (a) gets play moving again — usually a good thing, (b) restores as much as possible the condition of the harmed team prior to the offense, and (d) serves as a better deterrent to future illegal acts.  The antithesis of the “quick restart” is the “ceremonial restart.” (more…)

Player Arms

John, a HS player parent, asks:

Watching high school soccer, I see a) players extending arms away from their bodies to shield or to prevent the opponent from going by and b) two players in pursuit of a ball and you can see the outside arm swing but the inside arm is not, one player is holding the other arm in close quarters but the REF does not call a foul.  Do these offenses deserve calling?

Answer

There are at least 2-3 distinctly different questions packed in these four lines.  For example, who said that what you described are “offenses”?  Or, do all offenses “deserve” to be called (where “call” means “blow the whistle”)?

Keeping in mind that we here at askasoccerreferee.com focus only on the Laws of the Game and rarely cross over to other rule sets (like high school), we have a question back at you.  Sports aside, have you ever tried running — at any speed, much less full out — with your arms tightly held at your side?  It’s very difficult.  Arms move all the time to maintain balance and to translate the extra effort into a stronger forward motion.

Neither the Laws of the Game nor any other rule set we know of demands that players must hold their arms straight down at their sides.  Of course, at times and in certain ways, not doing so can lead to committing an offense (holding, striking, handball, etc.) so it is very important to recognize when the entirely understandable and even unavoidable pressure to hold one or both arms away from the body during the normal course of play turns into an offense.

If the hand (or arm) is used to make contact with another player, it could be striking or it could simply be a handshake.  It could be an attempt to interfere with the path of an opponent by “making the body bigger” or it could be an attempt to prevent a teammate or even an opponent from falling.  It could fall into one of those “grey” areas where two players are running side by side and using their elbows in mutual attempts to cause the other to lose their stride.  It could be something that one of the players in this pair really doesn’t like it or it could be a more or less friendly competition which each expects and believes they have the skill to play through.

If contact is made and the referee determines that the action is aimed at preventing an opponent from getting around a body which is now larger (taking up more space) than would be the case if the arm were not held out, then the referee could certainly recognize it as an offense.  But what to do next?  Recognizing that something is an offense is only the first step in a process of deciding what to do about it (actually, deciding that something is not an offense is probably the single most common “call” in any game).  Perhaps the offense is doubtful — the referee is momentarily seeing it at only one angle and maybe there was contact, but maybe not.  Perhaps it was trifling — both players are doing the same thing and neither is bothered by it.  Perhaps there was a hard push by one of the players but the player he or she pushed was able to gain control of the ball, break away, and race down field — keep the whistle down but apply advantage (by the way, applying advantage is calling the offense, just not stopping play).  Perhaps the player who gave the hard elbow push was, as a result, able to gain the ball unfairly — whistle play stopped.  And then there are all sorts of “add-ons” like whether the action was a simple offense with no misconduct, or perhaps it was reckless (caution) or overly aggressive (red card).

Every one of these decisions is a “call” — calls are not just about blowing the whistle.  Anyone with a whistle can blow it — only trained, experienced, and perceptive referees know when not to blow it.  Figuring out what an offense “deserves” is at the heart and soul of effective officiating.