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).

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.

Answer

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?

Answer

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?

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.