Goalkeepers and “Challenging for the Ball”

Steve, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

In open play, goalkeeper saves the ball in his area. To restart play does the ball have to go outside the area or can the keeper roll it to one of his defenders who is inside the area so he can dribble up field taking the ball out of the area?


Let’s clear out some underbrush in this scenario before getting to the central issue of your question.  There is an important distinction in the Laws of the Game between taking a ball out of play and taking a ball out of challenge.  The simplest way to take a ball out of play is to kick the ball off the field — the ball is automatically out of play the moment it entirely crosses the field’s outer perimeter lines (touch line or goal line, including the part of the latter which is between the goal posts).  Players can also take the ball out of play by becoming injured or committing an offense, for either of which the referee stops play.  Finally, the referee can take the ball out of play simply by whistling for a stoppage for any reason (weather, outside interference, or any other reason).  Obviously, if a ball goes out of play, it means that no one can play it until there is a formal restart (unless the stoppage is when the final period runs out of time).

This is completely (and importantly) different from taking the ball out of challenge.  This is the chief difference between a goalkeeper and any other player on the team because only the goalkeeper can do this but they can only do it within their own penalty area (anywhere in that area) and only by taking hand possession of the ball.  “Out of challenge” means that, from the moment the goalkeeper takes hand control of the ball until the ball is fully released from hand control, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper for the ball!  The ball is still “in play” during this whole time, but an opponent cannot attempt to tackle, charge, or otherwise challenge for the ball.

Having “hand control of the ball” is operationally defined as the goalkeeper holding the ball with a hand (including having the ball resting on the hand, usually but not necessarily on the palm) or between both hands or between one or both hands against a surface (the ground, the body, a goal post, etc.).  Once hand control is achieved (in the opinion of the referee), all challenges must cease.  Period.  Any attempt to challenge could result in the referee stopping play, issuing a caution, and restarting with an indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.  Referees understand that, in general, goalkeepers prefer for this not to happen,  They are, at heart, egotists who firmly believe they are far more capable of getting rid of the ball their own way and for their own purposes than via an indirect free kick and so referees understand that (a) they should try to prevent interference from occurring in the first place and (b), if it is so blatant as to be unavoidable, the added punishment of a caution should be given.

The interesting part of all this groundwork is determining what constitutes releasing the ball back into challenge.  Basically, it means getting rid of it — throwing it, kicking it (punt, dropkick, etc.), or setting it on the ground and kicking it.  The Law allows the ball to be tossed up in the air and then to catch it or to bounce it on the ground and catch it, all without losing hand control (tossing it up, allowing it to hit the ground, and then catching it on the rebound, however, is a second possession offense — don’t do this, goalkeepers, just kick the ball on the rebound).  All of these actions are considered part of “releasing the ball into play” and are as protected from challenge or interference as is simply holding the ball.

OK.  That’s the groundwork.  Now to your scenario, which basically has nothing to do with everything we just talked about.  You asked about “restart play” and now we know that play never stopped in the first place!  What stopped was the ability of an opponent to do what he or she would normally do while the ball was in play — challenge for it.   Accordingly, there is no restart issue here.  There are special things to remember about restarts from within a team’s own penalty area and the issues you raised involve that, none of which are relevant to how a goalkeeper puts a ball back into challenge.  Most players, coaches, and spectators (plus many well-paid commentators) commonly call this “putting the ball back into play” but this is incorrect.  Referees know that this is “putting the ball back into challenge” because the difference is crucial.  Except for leaving the field or the referee stopping play or time ending, the ball is always in play.…

Soccer and Physics

Ben, an adult amateur player, asks:

Why does the air pressure affect the distance the ball travels?


Interesting question – ready-made for an answer chock full of equations and lots of physics, but we’ll rein in our enthusiasm and try not to get technical.  The answer depends on what the ball is traveling on.

When the ball is in continuous contact with the surface of the pitch (i.e., it is rolling), the pressure of the ball determines the rigidity of the surface of the ball (higher pressure = more rigidity) which in turn has a measurable though not easily visible effect on the total surface area of the ball that is in actual contact with the ground’s surface.  At higher pressures, the area of contact is smaller (because the ball is “rounder”) and thus there is less friction on the passage of the ball across the pitch surface.  There is a smaller, secondary effect at higher pressure caused by a somewhat greater “lift” that makes the ball ride a bit higher on the pitch surface.  Remember, a ball is, in effect, a type of balloon – the more air there is in it, the lighter it is and, as with “roundness,” this reduces slightly the contact surface area.  In short, a higher pressure produces a speedier ball, all other things equal.

However, the other medium on which a ball travels is the air.  Here, again, air pressure acts similarly (see above).  A rounder ball (a function of air pressure)  encounters less “drag” while in the air and has greater buoyancy.  There is a third factor regarding a ball traveling in the air that is not found when a ball is rolling on the ground and that is the fact that, inevitably, a ball in the air comes down and makes contact with the ground.  Holding all other factors equal, a higher ball pressure makes for a higher bounce (a factor that you can often actually hear by listening to the sound of the contact – a ping rather than a thud in extreme cases!).  Now, however, something else comes into play (no pun intended) and that is the angle at which the ball is traveling just prior to contact with the ground.  It isn’t speed as such (as is the case with rolling) but it does directly affect distance – which, in a soccer game, may be just as important as the speed of the ball.  With higher air pressure comes greater bounce when the contact occurs – the more acute the angle, the greater the distance for any given air pressure as a result of the bounce effect.

So, the higher the pressure (within the range permitted by Law 2, of course), the greater is the rolling speed and the greater the rolling speed, the longer is the distance the ball will roll (assuming someone from the other team doesn’t stop it!).  This generalization also assumes a relatively constant consistency in the surface (one of the reasons why, again all other things equal, soccer balls travel faster on artificial surfaces relative to grass, and faster on short grass than taller grass).  Further, for a ball launched into the air, the higher the pressure is, the greater the distance traveled both before and after “the bounce” for contact at any angle of less than 90 degrees behind the ball (disregard all forms of spin … it gets too complicated).

There — not a single formal physics lecture and no equations!  Instinctively, though, a home team which has been coached to engage in fast play will likely provide the Referee with game balls at the upper end of the allowable pressure range.  A different team, which may not like or be used to fast play, is likely to provide game balls at the lower end of the pressure range.  It is not the Referee’s job to deliberately favor one team or another by changing an allowable ball pressure up or down based on personal preferences.  If it is in the allowable range, leave it alone.  If it is not, give it to the home team (it’s their ball anyway) for correction but be sure to check a corrected ball again and, again, leave it alone if it is in the allowable range.…


When is the referee authority end? Does it end as soon as he whistles the end of the game? We had a game when the referee blew his whistle 3 times to signify the end of the game while a ball was still in the air. After the whistle was blown, the girls stop playing and the ball continued into the net. The referee then signified no goal and then changed it to a goal. The tournament head referee said it was a bad call, but upheld the goal. So how can that be if the referee duties and authority are over as soon as he blows the whistle.

Can he then change his mind, but he doesn’t have any authority at that point. Nonetheless that the call shouldn’t have been a goal since he indicated the game was over. His excuse was he accidently blew his whistle. You don’t accidently blow your whistle three times. Just looking for some clarification.

USSF answer (January 16, 2012):
This is not a case of the referee’s authority — which ends when he has left the environs of the field, not as soon as the final whistle is blown. Rather , it is a case of poor refereeing and a particularly uninformed decision by the “tournament head referee.”

By tradition, custom, and practice, the referee’s whistle brings the game to a complete and immediate halt, whether the period of play is over or not. If the ball is in the air at that moment, life is hard, but no goal can be scored, no matter that the whistle was blown “accidentally.”…


Does the ball have to leave the area on every free kick? For example: Offside is called and the ball is in the area coming out. I play the ball to a teammate who is also in the area. Is this legal? Or, my keeper makes a save and he rolls the ball to me and I am in the area, can I collect it or does it have to leave the area.

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
You have actually asked two completely different questions. We will rephrase them and answer each separately.

1. Must a free kick taken by the kicking team from within its own penalty area leave the penalty area to be in play? The answer is yes. If the ball does not leave the penalty area and enter the remainder of the playing field directly, the kick must be retaken.

2. If the goalkeeper makes a save in his/her own penalty area and then releases (rolls, throws, or kicks) the ball to a teammate who is inside the penalty area, may the teammate play the ball? The answer is yes.…


After many years of being a very involved parent with rec, select and high school soccer matches and a parent of certified referees I have never encountered what I witnessed on 5/11/2009 at a high school play-off match and I am seeking the law or rule which governs a center referees actions. During the match, the scoreboard clock was halted many times during the match, but predominatly during the 2nd half every time the ball was turned over due to out of bounds play and any other time the center would signal the clock/scorekeeper.

The half ended up being around 55 minutes ending with a tie, there was a 5 minute overtime and still tied, then there was another 5 minute overtime, of which only 4 minutes of play was allowed and the center halted the match and immediately went into a shoot-out. I am concerned that there was an injustice to the outcome of the game. I know there is a lot of discretion given to the center referee during a match regarding how to apply the different laws, but I also know there are parameters of a match that are not meant to be discretionary in nature. Is there any recourse or appeal that can be made to make things right? Looking forward to your response.

USSF answer (May 12, 2009):
We don’t do high school rules here, but we can give you some idea of how timekeeping is handled in that game. It differs considerably from the game of soccer as played throughout the rest of the world.

NFHS rules require that the clock be stopped after a goal (until the kick-off occurs), for an injury (but only if signaled by the referee), whenever a card is given, and at the taking of a penalty kick.  We are not aware of any other clock stoppage events.  The referee is supposed to signal (arms crossed at the wrist above the head) all such events, but the timekeeper is supposed to stop the clock automatically for after goals and for penalty kicks — only the referee knows if/when the injury requires time be stopped or if/when he will give a card, so the referee’s signal is needed in these cases.  The timekeeper restarts the clock only when the ball is legally put back into play (though often an uneducated timekeeper restarts when the referee signals for the restart).  The referee has the authority to order a clock readjusted if it is seriously out of synch with the referee’s time.  A stadium clock MUST be used as the official time if (a) there is a stadium clock and (b) it works.  It is common, however, for there to be some sort of announcement via the public address system (or for the state association to permit) at some point near the end of the half that “official time” is being kept on the field and the clock is stopped, say, with 5 minutes remaining.…


I was watching a game on TV from England’s premier league and was surprised to see a player with a diamond on each ear lobe during the whole game. I’m concluding the center referee didn’t care about this infraction because it was obvious that four officials couldn’t possible have missed this glaring jewelry. I suppose he thought it was not hazardous.

It was demeaning to the game to see a player in repeated closeups flashing his elegance right at the referee team. Then I thought assisting the assigned referee does not mean capitulation to his peculiar whims. So, what course is available to the assistant referees and fourth official? Can they refuse the assignment until the center referee gives way or should they just take it in stride and report it in their game report?

USSF answer (November 17, 2008):
The longer we live, the more we see — and the more we notice that both players and referees sometimes flout the Laws of the Game, or at least fail to follow them clearly and logically.

No, the assistant referee and the fourth official may not boycott the game for referee failures of this sort. They can certainly make their observations known and must then cooperate with all instructions from the referee that do not cause the assistants or fourth official themselves to violate the Laws. If the failure by the referee is an egregious one, then the assistant(s) or fourth official should report it to the appropriate authorities.…


This is a field equipment and out-of-play question. The field where I was AR at had portable goals with retractable wheels attached outside bottom side bar. During the course of the game, an on-the-ground shot was taken that hit the front of the wheel and rebounded back into play. I was well positioned to observe that the entire ball did not pass over the goal line, so I not raise my flag.

At half time, the center and I, both agreed that the wheel had prevented the ball from going out of play but neither of us were sure if the correct decision was for play to have continued. Comments?

USSF answer (July 17, 2008):
The answer is that the referee should not have allowed the goal to be used in the first place. However, once accepted by the referee, the wheel becomes part of the goal post and thus is part of the field, a pre-existing condition that does not benefit one team over the other. This makes it different from the football crossbar, which is easily seen as not part of the soccer goal structure. Therefore, because the wheel was part of the goal structure and the referee and the players were all aware that the wheel was there (and thus aware of the possible problems that might occur), then it was correct to allow play to continue.…


I was the center ref in a boys under-12 match. An orange defender and a white attacker were side by side chasing the ball and entered the PA at full speed. I was trailing the play and observed the white attacker take a shot. I followed the flight of the ball and seemingly at the moment it passed over the goal line, the orange defender took down the attacker with a hip. It did not appear intentional but more a consequence of the pair’s momentum. I called a PK, but later I considered the position of the ball at the time of the foul. If it had already passed the goal line, and was therefore out of play, would the correct procedure have been a misconduct on orange (yellow, not red since I didn’t consider it serious foul play) and restart with a goal kick?

USSF answer (June 16, 2008):
If the ball had left the field — only you can judge that, not us — then it was out of play. If the ball was out of play, then no penalty kick could be awarded. If the act was not deliberate, then nothing should have been done to punish the orange attacker or his team; no caution, no send-off, nothing. Restart with a goal kick. And if the ball had been out of play, it could not have been serious foul play, because players cannot contest a ball that is out of play.…


I was recently refereeing a recreational U14 Coed game as an AR. A player during the course of play stepped completely over the touch line and kicked a ball that was still in play. The center referee blew his whistle and called for a throw in, not because the ball had passed completely over the touch line but because the player had left the field of play to prevent the ball from crossing the touch line. I had a discussion with the center referee in which I contended that a player was allowed to step completely beyond the touch line in the course of play. The laws of the game seem pretty clear that a throw in is only called when the ball completely passes the plane of the outside of the touch line.

Who is correct? Are there any rules that prohibits a player from temporarily leaving the field during the course of play?

Answer (October 9, 2007):
The referee may not stop the game to award a throw-in until the ball has left the field completely. If the ball had not left the field when the player touched it, then this was a referee error.

As to the act of leaving the field to play the ball, we answered that question as far back as 2001, but it is worth answering it again, just so everyone is aware of it. See the just-published 2007 edition of the USSF publication “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game, section 3.9, which says:
If a player accidentally passes over one of the boundary lines of the field of play or if a player in possession of or contesting for the ball passes over the touch line or the goal line without the ball to beat an opponent, he or she is not considered to have left the field of play without the permission of the referee. This player does not need the referee’s permission to return to the field.

Those are the only cases in which a player would normally leave the field without the referee’s permission and live to play again. There might be others, but those would be at the discretion of the referee.

Your referee would seem not to have read any edition of the Advice (1998, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2006), much less the new one.…


This may seem like an obvious question. I have been a referee for many years and I always believed that a ball is not out on the touch line unless no part of the ball is touching the line.

At a recent “A” division soccer tournament game that I was coaching, a veteran AR strongly insisted that the correct interpretation of the rule was that a ball is out if 3/4 of the ball is outside the touch line. He then proceeded to call approximately 20 balls out of which about half were still touching the line. Being a fellow referee, I did not make much of an issue of it at the game, other than to ask that he confirm the rule with the CR, which he did not.

Has FIFA recently altered the interpretation of when a ball is considered out?

Answer (September 12, 2007):
No, there has been no change. As long as any part of the ball breaks the vertical plane (we are talking outer side here) of the touchline, the ball is in play. Unfortunately, many “veteran” referees start coming up with their own rules. It beats reading the Laws each year.…