Coach in Trouble

A Premier League coach from an Asian country asks:

[Revised and summarized]  I’m the Assistant Coach in a Premier League for one of the Asian countries. We had an eventful match last week. Around minute 65, an opposing player made a very harsh tackle against my team’s striker and created a very heated situation involving both teams. I felt the Referee did not control the situation and I ran onto the field to help him control things. The situation became more heated when the Referee only gave a yellow card for the tackle. After the game, I approached the Referee and said ” Hi Referee —  it should be a red card — come on Referee. I hope next time you can make a better decision.” I didn’t use any vulgar words. However, the Referee wrote in his match report that I pulled his hand and used vulgar words towards him. How can I defend myself when there was no video evidence showing either of these things? I was fined by my football federation. How can I defend myself?


We’re sorry that this occurred and that you feel the punishment you received was not justified.  Unfortunately, there is no way we can assist you either generally or in particular.  We cannot comment on what goes on in other countries, much less on what is essentially an internal administrative matter.  What punishments are assessed after a game is over are outside the scope of the Laws of the Game, particularly where it involves a coach.

What we can say, however, it that you should not have come onto the field “to help [the Referee] to control things” unless you were actually given permission by the Referee to do so.  This would be considered a violation of Law 3 if a player had done it and, if done by a team official (which, as an assistant coach, you are), could be the basis for a dismissal from the field for “irresponsible behavior.”  It is also the case that having any conversation with members of the officiating team after a match is over — particularly if the conversation goes beyond how nice the weather was — is not a good idea.  First, nothing you might say would likely educate the Referee.  Second, you might in fact be wrong.  Third, even if right, immediately following a difficult, heated match, is not a conducive time for “educating” anyone (I’m sure you would agree were the situations reversed and the Referee wanted to talk to you about your coaching strategy!).  We Referees have a saying, “if you don’t want the coach to referee, don’t try to coach the players” and it applies here as well.

Finally, coming onto the field as you did, with the conversation not being documented by film or sound recording, merely sets up a “he said/did, no I didn’t say/do” debate which, on balance, will usually be decided in favor of the Referee.  We cannot comment directly regarding your federation but our experience has been that there are almost always channels for filing complaints after the match using official forms and giving everyone a chance to cool down at least a bit.  Most such opportunities provide for responses and offers of proof or extenuating circumstances.

While we can’t help in your case, we hope that all team officials will take note of our advice here and respond to similar situations accordingly.

Recalcitrant Coaches

A HS/College Referee asks:

I was officiating a U15G game. Before the game even started, I and my ARs took our positions on the field. I blew my whistle to get the teams to take the field. The Home team came right out and took their side of the field. The Visiting Team stood on the sideline listening to their coach give last minute instructions. I proceeded to wait another 15-20 seconds (to let him complete his instruction) then I blew my whistle a second time … no response. I then waited another 15-20 seconds and whistled a third time and stated loudly and within 10 yards of the team “Coach, let’s get your team on the field” … still no response. I then stepped closer and said “Coach, let’s go,” but he stuck his head up and stated “What???” I said “Let’s go” … but he proceeded to keep coaching. I said “Coach, you have a warning.  Let’s get them on the field” but again only “What??” I gave him a yellow card for dissent.  Is this the correct procedure, or is this a delay of game?


First off, any answer to this has to depend on a critical issue — namely, who or what was the competition authority?  In other words, (a) what set of rules were you under and (b) did those rules involve any local exceptions?  We ask because, although none of the standard rule sets (IFAB, HFHS, NCAA) has an explicit rule or ruling pertaining to a team failing to take to the field when requested by the referee, each rule set provides different tools the referee can use in such a case.  Moreover, specifically with respect to IFAB’s Laws of the Game as practiced in the US, many local competitions (leagues, tournaments, etc.) have special rules which can and do provide recourse.  Indeed, we are not familiar with a single tournament in this country which does have some sort of unyielding mandate to start and stay on time.

For example, many youth and adult amateur leagues around the US require that a game must start on the scheduled time and that, if a team does not or cannot field at least the minimum number of players at the scheduled time (or within some certain number of minutes thereafter), the referee is authorized either to consider the match as forfeited then and there or to go ahead and start the clock (this would apply to any period of play, not just the starting period) until some point is reached after which the match is considered abandoned by the players.  This can cover not only situations in which a team doesn’t have enough players present to start and either knows no more will appear or is waiting to see if more will appear.  This would also cover the situation you describe where a team refuses to take the field when required (which can also happen at any stoppage — a coach might decide to withdraw his or her team due to disagreement with circumstances or some specific decision with which the coach vehemently disagrees).

So, we cannot answer the core question without knowing the rules applied to the game.  And, if there are such rules, our answer would have to be, first, know what they are ahead of taking the assignment and, second, simply and faithfully follow them.  You might even engage the coach of the team which is ready to play in an effort to advise the visiting team of these rules.  However, if there are no local or competition-specific rules pertaining the scenario, we suggest you look to common sense and what you would do if, at the scheduled time, there was only one team present.  How long would you wait?  What reasonably could you do to ascertain the circumstances for the absence?  If this involved the very beginning of the match, could you adjust the length of the periods of play to accommodate the delay?  Are there following games which would be adversely affected by the delay?  Is it late enough in the day that the delay could result in unsafe lighting?

There is another approach that might be considered.  Even though the opposing team in your scenario is there, technically they are not “there” because “there” is defined as “on the field of play” and, as long as they are not, they are in effect not there at all.  This means that they are subject to any requirement that a game start on time or at least within some specified grace period … and that might become the most potent item of information you could bring to the attention of the recalcitrant coach.  “Coach, the game must begin in [x] minutes.  At exactly that time, I will whistle to start play, note the absence of the minimum number of opposing team players on the field, terminate the match according to Law 3.1, and include full details in my report to [the competition authority].”  Nothing needs to, nor should be, added to this little speech.  Then follow through.  Period.

By the way, don’t even consider formally cautioning the coach in this scenario.  First, it is not permitted under the Laws of the Game.  Second, it will only step on the tail of the dragon.

What’s Under YOUR Uniform? (with apologies to a popular credit card commercial)

A high school/college referee asks:

I have been seeing a lot of players in other sports lately wearing arm sleeves. I would judge this to be similar to wearing tights (compression shorts) which should match the main color or hem of the shirt and if there are more than one, the team should have the same color. Would I be correct in my thinking or are those pieces of cloth prohibited? Does the uniform / sock / undergarment language also address Captains bands or other arm (compression) sleeves?


First of all, until we begin seeing in soccer what you are seeing with respect to “other sports,” there is little basis on which to offer any sort of definitive answer.  All we can do at this point is speculate within the framework of what we already know regarding the Laws of the Game.

Some things are easy.  For example, don’t worry about captain’s armbands.  They are permitted and don’t come under any provision of the Law beyond the restriction that they must not present a danger to anyone (though we would be hard-pressed to contemplate an armband that might even faintly be considered unsafe!).  This, of course, assumes that it is not being worn over the sock.  Like anything, however, which is not part of the required uniform described in Law 4, it should be inspected — or at least given a brief glance.  Law 4 also includes “arm protectors” as part of the category it calls “protective equipment” and states that they must be “non-dangerous” (which is a wordier version of “safe”) if made of “lightweight padded material.”  Conceivably, if something worn on the arm did not specifically extend below the sleeve of the jersey but, rather, started from below the jersey sleeve, it could be considered as falling in this category.

The difficult question regards something worn on the arm that does begin from some point under the jersey sleeve and then extends downward on the arm.  This would give every appearance of being an “undershirt” which would then become subject to the rule about its color being the same is the main color of the shirt sleeve.  The sticking point here is that, without having the player undress to some point, there would be no way of telling whether this type of armwear was part of a true undergarment or just a sleeve extension.

Our recommendation, should you find yourself facing such a situation, is to treat armwear that starts under the sleeve and then continues on the arm as an undershirt and apply the Law appropriately.  If it begins below the sleeve, treat it as an arm protector and limit your concerns to whether it is safe.  Finally, you always have the option if things start to look sticky to point out to the player that, if the armsleeve is not a true undershirt but is otherwise not in conformity with the undershirt rules, simply pull it down far enough to show skin, thus demonstrating that it falls under a different rule.  Keep in mind the core objective of the undershirt rule is to standardize jerseys … and anything which appears to be an extension of the jersey.  Also remember that the wearing of anything other than compulsory equipment may be a topic covered by a local rule of competition.  The final thing to remember (so much to keep in mind!!) is that many technical violations may be considered trifling: choose to insist on those things that really matter (but include details of situations like this in your game report).



I watched a HS game last night in Wisconsin and Team A won in overtime and a number of the boys celebrated on the field by chasing the goal scorer as he ran towards his fans. A couple of them had removed their jerseys in celebration and the referee singled out one of them and yellow carded him for “unsportsmanlike”. This was his second yellow of the game so he also produced a red card. The ref literally chased him off the field to card him (after the game was over). Does the team have any recourse in terms of an appeal so that this player can play in the next game? What is the rule regarding carding a player after the game is over and the players are no longer on the field of play?

Answer (October 18, 2013):
As I consistently state in my answers (and the “About” section of the site), I do not answer questions regarding high school rules or referees. The rules are from another planet and some high school referees seem to have joined the migration.

Under the Laws of the Game, the rules the world plays by, the referee has no authority to punish players for purely technical offenses such as removing their shirts that occur AFTER the final whistle. (Look at all the international and professional games where this occurs on a regular basis.) Violent behavior or related actions, yes, but not removing the shirt. Please note, however, that if time had not actually run out when the disrobing and chasing occurred, then the referee was correct. On the other hand, if the game was truly over, then you should take this matter to the AD of the school for him or her to resolve.


My GU15 team played in a tournament this weekend with 30 minute halves. First off the referee declared he was starting his watch before either team was on the field. My team took the field, and the other team took an additional minute and a half to enter the field in which I assume the referee was still continuing the time. I had started my watch when the referee initially declared he had started time. 28 minutes into the game and my player is fouled just outside the 18-yard box. I call a sub and get another player on the field. My player takes position to have a shot on the free kick and the referee blows for halftime before the kick is taken and before he blows the whistle to allow my player to take the shot, and at 29 minutes. Is this allowed, from what I understand, the ball must be in play to call a game or halftime. The play was dead in result to the free kick. Was the referee right to be able to call for halftime?

Answer (May 30, 2013):
There are a number of possibilities in this situation, but I shall list only the possibility most flattering to the referee:
Because they have scheduled too great a number of games on too few fields–and do not want to engage more referees or more fields, both of which would cost more money–many tournaments instruct the referee to start the game precisely at the time specified in the tournament program and to end the game in time for the field to be cleared immediately for the next game. The referee is allowed no flexibility in the timing. You will likely find this in the small print of the tournament rules.

In addition, no matter what the tournament rules may be, referees should NEVER take away a scoring opportunity from any team. That should be a no-brainer.


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.


Question Regarding Substitutions at the U13 Level: Our league plays under this local rule, “The XXXXXX Soccer Association follows FIFA laws of the game as modified for Youth by the USSF and USYS. The League operates in accordance with the policies of YYYYY State. All coaches and players shall become thoroughly familiar with the FIFA laws of the game as modified for Youth by the USSF and USYS.

In addition to the substitution rules as modified for Youth, a coach has the right to request to substitute a player who has received a yellow card at the time the card is given and 1 for 1 substitution are allowed for an injured player coming off the field.”

Situation is as follows: Team A with a 1 goal lead, late in the game.

Team A repeatedly substitutes during every stoppage of play in the final 10 minutes of play. With approximately 2 minutes of regular time remaining another substitution is made and the referee clearly watches his game clock, and then announces after the substitution, that 1 minute of “stoppage time” will be added. Next stoppage, with under a minute remaining in regular time, another substitution is requested and denied by the referee. In the added time, another stoppage occurs with the same request and it is also denied.

Naturally, Team B scores in the final seconds of stoppage time to draw the match. There is naturally now some controversy as to the referee’s decision to disallow the substitutions. The question is that it appears that the substitutions were within the laws of the game and advice to referees regarding substitutions should have granted the substitutions, however the unlimited substitution clause in the USYS gives the referee an apparent decision point contrary to the advice? In addition, the referee felt that the substitutions were often “not prepared”, although they were all field players and not ever the GK.

Rule 302. SUBSTITUTIONS Section 1. Except as provided by USYSA or its State Associations, substitutions shall be unlimited except where specified otherwise in the rules and regulations for a special competition.

Section 2. Substitutions may be made, with the consent of the referee, at any stoppage in play.

Could you please provide an opinion? This is not an isolated incident as subs are frequently denied in the final minutes of either half, however, it only creates controversy when seemingly, possibly affected the outcome. (would you expect a question otherwise? 🙂

My answer (April 18, 2012):
Disclaimer: I am no longer allowed to prepare and publish items as officially approved by the U. S. Soccer Federation, so this answer will have to do. It is totally correct under the Laws of the Game and common practice in the United States and the rest of the world.

The referee, while clearly having the best intentions in trying to prevent further gamesmanship by Team A, has misapplied the Laws of the Game.

Except for situations in which the substitution is requested just as the ball is ready to be put into play, referees may not ignore or deny permission for a legal substitution that is properly requested. Although Law 3 requires that the referee be “informed before any proposed substitution is made,” this does not mean that the referee can deny permission for any reason other than to ensure that the substitution conforms to the Law. Even if it seems that the purpose is to waste time, the referee cannot deny the request, but should exercise the power granted in Law 7 to add time lost through “any other cause.” Rules of those competitions that permit multiple substitutions and re-entries can sometimes lead to confusion.

Unless the rules of the competition specifically forbid adding time for such gamesmanship or any other reason, the referee should follow the guidance in Law 7 for adding time.


We have three long tenured, hard headed referees sitting around after a match discussing what throw in signaling procedures the R and AR’s should perform and how. All disagree. So here we go:

What takes precedence: Laws of the Game or Guide to Procedures?

LOTG Referee Authority: In Law 5: “Each match is controlled by a referee who has full authority to enforce the Laws of the Game ….”

LOTG Assistant Referee Duties: In Law 6 the two “assistant referees … duties (are) subject to the decision of the referee ….”

In Guide to Procedures: THROW-IN

• Referee’s End Of Touch Line: Referee “Signals stoppage of play (whistle only if necessary); Points 45 degrees upward to indicate direction of throw-in”. Assistant Referee “Provides confirming flag signal after referee indicates throw-in decision. If referee makes obvious eye contact to ask for assistance before indicating a decision, uses signal to establish direction which was agreed to in the pre-game conference, and then provides confirming throw-in flag signal after referee indicates decision.”

• Assistant Referee’s End Of Touch Line: Assistant Referee “Signals with flag 45 degrees upward in the direction of the throw-in”. Referee “Points in direction of throw-in only if assistant referee signal needs to be corrected due to unseen contact with the ball”.

May pre-game conference instructions from the Referee overrule the Guide to Procedure procedures?

Discussion points:
• There is a different sequence in Guide to Procedures to signaling throw-ins which is different in the Referee’s and the Assistant Referee’s ends of the field. Must these be strictly adhered to?
• If the Referee during the pre-game conference instructs the Assistant Referees that they must always seek eye contact with the Referee before signaling and:
– The Assistant Referee will always seek eye contact with the Referee before signaling.
– If no eye contact (choice of the Referee), the Assistant Referee should not signal.
-After eye contact, both the Referee and Assistant Referee will indicate their choice of throw-in direction by signaling discretely with the appropriate hand or arm/flag. Then Assistant Referee will signal (and choice of Referee is indicated, that is, by hand signal but not always pointing upward).
– It also appears to be common practice for the Referee to signal throw-in direction on most all throw-ins, that is, in contrast to the above procedure to only signal to correct the Assistant Referee’s signal for Assistant Referee’s End Of Touch Line.

Two of us enjoy the eye contact as an opportunity for teamwork, communication, and camaraderie.

One of us feels his duties as AR are being encroached and inappropriately limited, and wishes to strictly follow the Guide to Procedures.

Please give us your thoughts. The more detail, the better.

USSF answer (March 21, 2012):
The Guide to Procedures is all about, well, procedures (i.e., mechanics) and, as such, is always secondary to the Laws of the Game. The assistant referee should use the procedures and mechanics specified by the referee in the pre-game (and will carefully ask questions to ensure that any instructions which are out of the ordinary are well and truly understood). The Guide is, as it states in the Foreword, the source of officially-approved mechanics. They were developed by officials at the highest competitive levels, tested at all levels, and are assumed to incorporate the “best practices” in the covered situations. Please note the following final statement in the Foreword:
“Alternate signals, procedures, and methods of communication within the officiating team are not authorized for games under the jurisdiction of the United States Soccer Federation using the diagonal system of control.” (emphasis added).

What this means is that, where the Guide does not include a pertinent scenario, the officiating team is free to develop additional mechanics, but they must not (a) conflict with those already established in the Guide, (b) are not intrusive, (c) are not distracting, (d) are limited in number and purpose, and (e) are discussed within the team in advance. However, assistant referee should realize that, if instructed otherwise, they are to follow the referee’s requirements and trust that the discussion between the referee and the assessor after the match will be very interesting.


I was attending the Association Cup Quarter Finals yesterday and in the pregame to officials, our State Youth Referee Administrator instructed us that he better not catch us using colored whistles. He further elaborated that only black whistles are to be used and if he any of the referee were to use anything but BLACK whistles we would not be working for him again. I simply have two questions. One is, does USSF support such comments and secondly does the State association or in this case, SYRA has the power to instruct the referees with this sort of demands?

USSF answer (January 16, 2012):

The Federation has no requirement that whistles be of any particular color; however, the traditional color for plastic whistles used by referees is black. Your SYRA would have a hard time enforcing such a requirement for referees who use metal whistles. However, at an independently-sponsored tournament the director could insist on this.


I have two questions:
1. I whistled once at a poor call by a referee. A simple whistle. No words were spoken. At the half, the referee came over to the entire group of parents on our side of the field and said if he heard a whistle again, he would throw all of the parents out of the game. Is this permissible/legal under the rules? The whistle did not sound anything like the referee’s whistle.

2. A player on the opposing team was purposely hurting my son and others on our team by spiking them and knocking them off of their feet to the ground with his shoulder. The coach seemed to be encouraging this and the referee would do nothing about it. If I video this behavior taking place, who can I report it to? I was seriously concerned that my son was going to be hurt. He was 12 years old playing on a varsity team with 17 and 18 year olds. Our coach would do nothing, the opposing coach did nothing and the referees did nothing.

What should I have done?

USSF answer (January 3, 2012):
First of all, we are not authorized to answer questions involving high school rules. That is the job of a high school rules interpreter. We answer only questions based on the Laws of the Game, the rules the world plays by.

1. If this game had been played under the Laws of the Game (and not including any special rules of the particular competition), then the answer is no, the referee cannot clear the spectators out of the area of the field. That does not mean that spectators at a soccer match are allowed and enabled to harass the officials. A referee can require proper behavior from the sidelines if it is interfering with his/her authority and/or affecting play unfairly. If proper behavior does not occur, the referee can suspend or terminate the match (after taking appropriate measures to have team officials or competition authority representatives resolve the issue before having to take such stringent measures).

2. There is no such foul as “spiking,” so we are uncertain what you mean. A player is allowed to charge his opponents fairly — generally shoulder to shoulder, with both players having at least one foot on the ground and without using excessive force. The use of excessive force (in the opinion of the referee) should result in the sending-off of the guilty player, but that decision is up to the referee, not the parents or other spectators. A younger player and his parents take their chances when the youngster plays with teammates and opponents who are much larger and stronger. The referee will certainly give the smaller player as much protection as the other players, but he is not entitled to special consideration. It would seem that the referee and the coaches knew what they were doing.

As to “reporting” player behavior, if the referee and both coaches were not concerned, it would seem unlikely that the competition authority (the league, etc.) would act.