Timewasting and Goalkeepers

Andrea, a parent of HS/College age players, asks:

Can a keeper waste time by falling on a pass back every time?


Yes … and no.  First of all, we are assuming that, when you use the term “pass back,” you are referring to a situation in which a teammate kicks the ball to her goalkeeper such that, if the goalkeeper were to pick up the ball, she would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.  We are also assuming you know that the goalkeeper is allowed to play the ball in any otherwise legal way (i.e., with feet, head, torso, knees, etc., just not with the hands).

So, yes, it is entirely legal for the goalkeeper to “fall on the ball” as a means of taking possession.  It is not “wasting time” any more than would catching the ball in the absence of the “pass back” problem.  Unless you are a goalkeeper and have tried to do this, however, you may not appreciate how difficult it would be for her to recover from this “falling on the ball” without at least accidentally, if not instinctively, touching the ball with one or both of her hands.

On the other hand, the goalkeeper is subject to the same constraints that any other player would encounter should she “fall on the ball” during play.  In “Refereeing 101,” soon-to-be new officials are taught that a player on the ground covering the ball or with the ball trapped between the legs is a flashpoint problem because the first instinct of opponents is to attempt to play the ball and do not always recognize that there is likely no safe way to do this.  Goalkeepers may think they can rely on the protection normally provided by the Law’s requirement that no opponent can legally attempt to challenge for the ball in the goalkeeper’s possession, forgetting that this applies only to having hand possession, which in this case the goalkeeper cannot legally have.

This particular flashpoint problem is normally resolved by allowing a reasonable amount of time for the goalkeeper (or any other player similarly situated) to safely extricate herself from the situation and thus free up the ball to be safely competed for (it is not illegal for the goalkeeper, or any other player who is in this difficult situation, to attempt to get out of this problem by playing the ball safely while on the ground).  Any opponent who, ignoring this, attempts immediately to tackle or kick the ball is committing a dangerous play offense and, if there is actual contact by the opponent’s foot with the downed goalkeeper, the opponent would be guilty of a direct free kick foul (kicking) with the added possibility of the Referee deciding that the opponent was being reckless and thus earning a caution.  On the other hand, if the goalkeeper does not make a reasonable attempt to get up and thus extends unfairly the inability of any opponent to safely challenge for the ball (which may have been the intention of the goalkeeper all along), then it is the goalkeeper who could be charged with a dangerous play offense.  All of this is affected significantly by the age and experience of the players — meaning that the younger the players the quicker the referee must make the decision as to who is creating the danger.…


My son plays u9 soccer and has been sliding as an offensive move to shoot the ball. They keep saying that he is slide tackling…which I believe is a defensive move..can you help me determine the difference, so the organization can discuss what is permitted. I think there is some confusion between the two.

Answer (May 13, 2012):
Unless there is some well-intentioned but totally unauthorized (and unfounded in Law) prohibition on slide tackling in the rules of the competition in which your son plays, there is absolutely no rule that a player cannot slide tackle for the ball. The concern in the Laws of the Game (the rules the world plays by) is that all play shall be fair and safe. As long as the sliding tackle is carried out safely, with no danger to the opponent, then it is not illegal.

As to sliding to shoot the ball, it is hard to imagine how anyone would consider that to be illegal. In order for a play to be called a foul, it must have been committed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force.

The referee must judge whether the tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless, or involves the use of excessive force. Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized.

“Careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play. It does not include any clearly accidental contact.

“Reckless” means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.

“Involving excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.…


This came up the other day during play and I cannot get a straight answer except for “playing the ball on the ground is against the rules.” I did check the league rule book and surprisingly it does not specifically address this issue. I definitely understand it for U6, U8 and U10 games but this is U12 boys. Here it goes;

Offensive player (off) is dribbling the ball towards defensive player (def). Off and Def both attack for the ball. Because of size, the Off player being physically larger than the Def player, the Def falls to the ground. The Def is left lying on his right side facing the Off in front of the ball, not on top of it. The Def never tries to trap the ball with his legs. The Off in his haste to move past the Def kicks the ball multiple times into the Def legs who is trying to get up off the ground. The Off does not try and go around the Def or pull the ball back away from Def. Needless to say the Def was having a hard time getting up when the ball kept hitting his legs. The Def does try to clear the ball away unsuccessfully once or twice by kicking at it. At one point the Def kicked the ball about a foot away and stood up. The whistle was immediately blown and a indirect free kick was awarded to the Offensive player for the Def “playing the ball on the ground.” Needless to say this event lasted about 6 seconds start to finish.

My thought is the Def player has the right to protect themselves and fight to get to their feet. Neither player is required to retreat from the ball. I understand there is a lot of “you had to be there” with this question and there is going to be some judgement on the referee’s part as to each player’s actions. But am I missing something when it comes to playing the ball from the ground. If it does not endanger either player then by itself it does not get an indirect free kick?

I guess I was expecting play to be stopped, possibly one or both or none of the players verbally counselled and a drop ball taken. What’s the call?

USSF answer (October 12, 2010):
There is nothing illegal, by itself, about playing the ball while on the ground. Playing the ball while on the ground is NOT NECESSARILY considered to be playing dangerously. It all depends on what the player is actually doing. It becomes the indirect free kick foul known as playing dangerously (“dangerous play”) only if the action unfairly takes away an opponent’s otherwise legal play of the ball (for players at the youth level, this definition is simplified even more as “playing in a manner considered to be dangerous to an opponent”). At minimum, this means that an opponent must be within the area of danger which the player has created. These same acts can become the direct free kick fouls known as kicking or attempting to kick an opponent or tripping or attempting to trip or tackling an opponent to gain possession of the ball only if there was contact with the opponent or, in the opinion of the referee, the opponent was forced to react to avoid the kick or the trip.

If this is not the case (for example, the player had no opponent nearby), then there is no violation of the Law. If the referee decides that dangerous play has occurred, the restart must be an indirect free kick where the play occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).
Note that even if a dangerous play infringement has been called, the referee should never verbalize it as “playing the ball on the ground,” as there is no such foul in the Laws of the Game.

In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are experienced and skilled may be more likely to accept the danger and play through. Younger players have neither the experience nor skill to judge the danger adequately and, in such cases, the referee should intervene on behalf of their safety. For example, playing with cleats up in a threatening or intimidating manner is more likely to be judged a dangerous play offense in youth matches, without regard to the reaction of opponents.

In the situation you describe, with the player on the ground attempting to rise and get out of the way, the player to be called for playing dangerously would be the one who was kicking at the ball. Serious misjudgment by the referee.…