Slide Tackles

Mike, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Can a keeper slide tackle an attacking player? More specifically can the keeper execute a slide tackle that is directly at the attacking player which causes a head-on collision? We play in two upper midwestern states primarily and just lost one of our best players to a knee injury because the keeper from another team performed a slide tackle in the box as she was coming straight at the keeper. I believe the keeper did get the ball first, but to me this comes in the area of dangerous play and should have had a PK awarded with a possible card given to the keeper.

Answer

This is a tough one to answer so please keep this in mind as we try to clarify certain things of which parents and other spectators are often unaware.  Apart from what follows, we’re sorry to hear of your player’s injury.

First, there is nothing in the Laws of the Game which makes a “sliding tackle” illegal.  Some leagues within some state organizations have made the sliding tackle maneuver illegal on general principles, usually forbidding its use by players under the age of (take your pick, usually 12, sometimes 14) but you need to understand that even this is itself illegal.  Technically, no soccer organization affiliated with USSF can have a playing rule that is not allowed by the Laws of the Game.

Second (ignoring the above paragraph), we train referees to understand that, although slide tackling is not illegal, it can quickly become illegal if not done correctly.  In short, there is nothing wrong with a slide tackle if it is executed perfectly.  The problem is that it is all too easy to make a mistake while performing a sliding tackle  and, as a result, the tackle not only becomes illegal but almost always seriously illegal (meaning it would also draw a red card).

Third, there is nothing about slide tackling that involves one player being allowed to do it but not another.  In short, goalkeepers can perform slide tackles just as other players can – provided it is done perfectly.

Fourth, there is no way an imperfectly performed slide tackle could be considered a “dangerous play” not only because dangerous play offenses are indirect free kick fouls but because any error in performance that would make a slide tackle illegal would involve a direct free kick/PK restart plus at least a caution if not a red card.  There is no way a “dangerous play” offense can result in a direct free kick or penalty kick.

Fifth, we are having trouble envisioning a slide tackle event, done well or done badly, which could “cause a head-on collision.”  Slide tackles, by their nature and definition are performed by using the foot (or feet) while sliding on the ground against an opponent’s foot (or feet). Unless the goalkeeper was sliding in toward the ball or an opponent head first (which is not a sliding tackle by definition), collisions can occur but not above waist level.

Sixth, it is a common misunderstanding that “getting the ball first” has something to do with a slide tackle being legal or illegal.  It doesn’t.  Not at all.  NOT getting the ball at all does and, in this case, it makes the tackle illegal.  But getting the ball first, second, third, etc. doesn’t make it legal.  In addition to there being no contact with the ball at all, other elements making the slide tackle illegal include the direction from which it is made, the speed at which the player is sliding, the height of either or both feet above ball level, and exposure of the studs.  The ultimate dangerous slide tackle is the two-footed, high speed tackle where contact is made above the ball with studs exposed!

Seventh and finally. we also train referees to understand that the probability of a slide tackle being performed legally is highly dependent on the age and experience level of the players … for a very simple reason.  Performing a legal slide tackle takes experience, training, physical coordination, good judgment, and the ability to weigh consequences.  Very few human beings below the age of 14 possess any, much less all, of these characteristics. They can be rarely found in persons below the age of 18 (one of the major reasons why auto insurance is sky-high for young drivers!).  Every slide tackle performed in a match involving players under the age of 14 should be  presumed illegal by chance alone and that presumption should be switched to “legal” only after the most careful review by the referee.

On the Ground

Jonathan, a HS and College coach, asks:

A defending player and an attacking player are challenging for the ball. Defending player is fairly tackled and falls on the ball. Defending player remains on top of the ball, intentionally shielding the ball. Attacking player kicks at ball, hitting defending player in the midsection and ribs repeatedly (three or four forceful kicks) until the referee blows the whistle to stop play. What foul(s) have been committed? What is the appropriate restart?

Answer

This is a grayish area.

In a dangerous play situation (which has always included scenarios in which a player is laying on the ball, or has the ball tangled on, under, or between his/her legs while on the ground),  the application of the Law depends significantly on (a) the age/experience of the players and (b) the specific sequence of events.

The simplest one is when a player covers the ball, thus preventing a safe attack by an opponent to gain possession of the ball by an opponent, but the player quickly gets up and resumes playing the ball and is thus open to being challenged legally.  No offense has occurred.

A slightly more complex situation is when the player lays on the ball and makes little or no attempt to get up but there is an opponent close enough to gain possession but deigns not to do so in the interests of the player’s safety.  If this continues for more than several seconds without any apparent good cause (e.g., the player is entirely unmoving and possibly injured, in which case play should be stopped immediately to deal with the injury), the player who is unfairly withholding the ball from challenge is called for dangerous play and play resumes with an IFK.

At the next level, a player is on the ground and is given no reasonable time to recover or to otherwise permit safe play but an opponent begins challenging dangerously — which would certainly be the case in your scenario (“hitting the defending player in the midsection and ribs repeatedly”).  The referee’s action should be swift and firm.  It should be taken upon the very first attempt to kick.  If this were done, the dangerous play offense would simply be called against the upright (but not upstanding!) opponent and an IFK for the downed player’s team would be the restart.

By not moving quickly to defuse the situation, the opponent has in fact not been discouraged from committing a direct free kick offense (kicking) which would, additionally, be deemed at least reckless (yellow) and more likely involving excessive force (red).

The younger the players, the more the application of “dangerous play” favors dealing quickly and aggressively with either the player on the ground deemed not injured to discourage any attempt by an opponent to launch an attack or the opponent who does not allow a reasonable amount of time for the player on the ground to recover before engaging in an unsafe attempt to challenge for the ball.

In your specific scenario, the player on the ground was intentionally (and therefore illegally) withholding the ball from a safe challenge.  However, the opponent also took the situation out of the Referee’s hands by not allowing sufficient time for the Referee to decide if (a) the player was injured or (b) was in fact intentionally withholding the ball from play.  The result was a series of reckless or, more likely, excessively forceful attacks on the player on the ground (which would have been just as illegal if the player hadn’t been on the ground!).  The Referee must consider the possibility that he or she had not been sufficiently “on top” of the situation to prevent either the initial dangerous play offense or the subsequent direct free kick foul and likely send-off.  The restart, of course, is the direct free kick because, when fouls are committed simultaneously, the restart is determined by the more serious offense (see Law 5.3, Disciplinary Action, 1st bullet point).

Injuries

Dave, a HS and College referee, asks:

In a high school soccer match, a defensive player is hit in the face with the ball 30 yards from their goal. The ball pops over her head towards the goal. An attacker gains possession. Before the injured player sits down, her teammates rush over to her which gives an attacker a 1 v 1 with the goalie. The attacker scores a goal. This happens in the span of 5-10 seconds. Should the referee have stopped play for an injury before the goal was scored? (The play had continued a safe distance from the injured player.)

Do you typically wait a few seconds before stopping play for an injury when the ball is not near the injured player? The AR said the goal should be disallowed because the players were inexperienced and ran over to the injured teammate instead of defending their goal.

Answer

With as much emphasis that has been expressed in recent years regarding the importance of dealing quickly with potential concussion injuries, we are surprised that any referee would allow play to continue even seconds following a player being struck in the face with the ball.  It doesn’t matter when in the game it occurs, it doesn’t matter where on the field it occurs, it doesn’t matter what is going on in the game when it occurs. it doesn’t matter if the injured player “sits down” – play must be stopped immediately and medical assistance for the player called onto the field without delay.  No matter what happens after the decision is made to stop play, play has officially stopped – remember, play stops when the referee makes the decision to stop, not when the signal to stop is given.

Of course the goal should have been disallowed and any player who scored the goal should weigh her happiness at gaining a goal against the possibility that it might easily have been her face that had been struck by the ball.  There is no difference whatsoever regarding this issue among the three major sets of rules governing the game because (a) every soccer organization is equally concerned about the issue of concussions and (b) it is a simple common sense emphasis on safety.

We don’t care who might get upset (if anyone actually does, shame on them!), if the referee announces that, Oh by the way, the goal does not count because I stopped play before the ball went into the net … and then glare fiercely at anyone who might want to dispute the decision.  It has nothing to do with the experience level of the players – common decency alone would draw the attention of both attackers and defenders alike to the injured player.   And there is no weight whatsoever to the idea that “play had continued a safe distance from the injured player,” in fact what constitutes a “safe distance” anyway?  Far enough away that you could ignore the condition of the injured player?  Let’s get real here.

Freedom, Honor, Safety, and Jewelry

Fred, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

A recreational youth player wearing religious headgear that covers her ears is questioned by the referee during the pre-match player equipment inspection,  She states that she is not wearing any ear rings but is unwilling to show her ears or remove the head gear. The referee decides that the player cannot participate because he can not prove she is not wearing Jewelry.

Law 4 states a player must submit for inspection, right ? If so should a referee require a player to lift their shirt to check for belly piercings?  How far should a referee go to discover uniform infractions in the pre-game?

Answer

We don’t wish to seem pretentious or to engage in pontification (OK, too late), but this is an extraordinarily important question because it involves the intersection of personal safety, freedom, and honor.  Let’s start with some basics.

First, Law 4 does not state that “a player must submit for inspection.”  It merely states that the wearing of jewelry (with certain very limited exceptions) is not permitted.  Everything else is procedures and mechanics.  For example, we personally get very irritated with referees who demand that players on a team line up and engage in some ludicrous Irish dance move where they must display the soles of their footwear and then tap on their shins.  This is rather like being “penny wise and pound foolish” because it focuses on two specific things — illegal cleats (which are, for kids, almost vanishingly rare) and shinguards (the existence of which is easily determined by simply looking).  Slapping the shins may demonstrate that the player has rhythm but does little to determine if the player has age-appropriate shinguards — which is far more likely a violation than not having shinguards at all.

Second, why no jewelry?  Because it is a safety issue and that makes it important enough to be diligent in ensuring that Law 4 is followed.  But, again, there are limits.  The most common, easily understandable, and briefest definition of “inspect” is “to look at” — not uncover, probe, dig into, or discover.  We personally experienced, early in our refereeing career, a match at the start of which it was easily confirmable by casual visual inspection that there was no jewelry being worn by anyone on either team.  It rained and, as a result, thin white cotton jerseys became stuck to the skin and somewhat semi-transparent, which in turn made unavoidably obvious the fact that one of the players was wearing an item of navel (not naval) jewelry.  With this new awareness, the referee advised the player that he/she (we’re being ambiguous here) could not continue to play while wearing the jewelry.  Did anyone complain that this could have been avoided if the referee had just required all the players to bare their midriffs before the start of the game?  No.  And, in any event, that would potentially have the effect of implicitly recognizing that there are far more places than the navel for jewelry (thus leading down a path which we refuse to follow).

Your responsibility for safety issues raised by Law 4 has practical limitations that do not cover forcing, without evidence, a player to reveal otherwise lawfully covered places — i.e., it does not include doing searches that ordinarily would require a warrant.

Look at what can be seen.  Require clear and reasonable evidence that something not permitted may be deliberately hidden.  The specific facts here are a bit more complicated by the fact that the player was wearing an item of religious belief.  This is not even remotely similar to seeing a piece of tape over an ear lobe.  The tape is (a) prima facie evidence of a violation and (b) a violation in and of itself.  Seeing it requires you to ask if it is covering anything (which usually elicits a positive response based on the common misconception that merely covering whatever is underneath makes it OK) and, if the answer is negative, then the player is advised that there should be no problem in removing it.  If there is nothing underneath but a hole where a stud had been taken out, then allow the player to put the tape back on because then it is merely, in effect, a bandage covering a wound.

In the case of the religious headgear, there are numerous, sensible options other than declaring that the player cannot play because she cannot remove the headgear and thus prove that she doesn’t have anything illegal underneath it.  Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?  No player can ever, short of entirely disrobing, prove that he/she is not wearing anything illegal.  What’s wrong with taking her word for it?  It seems more likely to us that a player with sufficient character to be wearing something that otherwise draws attention is not likely to lie about jewelry.  Or you could ask the player’s coach to attest to the absence of jewelry and note this in your game report.  Frankly, doing either of these last two things would bring far more honor to the officiating profession.

A Cool Drink of Water

Abdikadar, an adult amateur player, asks:

First, would there be a caution for a player to stand by the touchline and request water to drink though the match continues?
Second, in continuation of the above same question, what if he or she did the same by clearing a ball when he or she was holding a bottle of water in their hand?

Answer

First, could there be a caution?  Yes, potentially but there would have to be special circumstances.  Otherwise, no. This is an entirely ordinary action and is not considered misconduct.  However, technically, the player should make sure that he or she does not actually leave the field as this would be potentially cautionable.  Further, there is an express prohibition against throwing water containers onto the field (even at a stoppage!) and against players throwing water containers from the field in return.

Second. although we’ve never actually seen a player carrying a water bottle while actively engaged in play, it should be fairly obvious that this would not be permitted because the water bottle would be considered, in essence, illegal equipment.  It would be far better for a player at the sideline drinking water who feels the overpowering need to suddenly engage in active play to quickly return the bottle to someone or someplace off the field before rejoining the game.

Where Is the Danger?

Daniel, an adult amateur fan, asks:

In the penalty area, a defender bends to head the ball at a low level in front of an opponent who tries to kick the ball towards the goal. The attacker hits with the foot the opponent’s head. How should the referee decide?

Answer

This is, technically, not a Law question but a Refereeing question.  And it is interesting (very helpful also) that you phrased it as “How should the Referee decide?” rather than “What should the Referee decide?”  The difference between these two questions is that the second question wants to know the end result whereas the first question wants to know what information is relevant to making the decision.

We can’t answer “what” the Referee should decide because this is one of those situations where “you had to be there” to know exactly what the Referee saw, what further advice from a different angle the assistant referees might be able to provide, and particularly what led up to the described event.  Accordingly, we will focus on certain generalizations about this sort of scenario that come from listening closely to experienced Referees and by our own direct experience over many years.

The standard “formula” is that, below the waist, feet are expected to play the ball and a head invading the area below the waist would normally be considered potentially dangerous.  Chests and heads are expected to play balls in the area above the waist and an opponent intruding a foot above the waist would normally be considered a dangerous action.  Without actual contact in either of these scenarios (i.e., foot on head below the waist) we could have no offense at all or, at most, a dangerous play offense if an opponent is unfairly prevented from playing for fear of engaging unsafely.  With contact, there is great likelihood of a direct free kick offense — an offense which, moreover, would hover in the “careless” or “excessive force” misconduct realm depending on the specific circumstances.  So, where the ball is clearly above the waist level, safe play presumes the use of chest and head but not feet, and the higher the ball is above waist level, the stronger is this conclusion.  The farther the ball is below the waist, the stronger is the conclusion that play should involve feet, not heads or chests.

That said, there are lots of “ifs” and “maybes” that must be considered.  For example (and probably the biggest “if”) is the waist area itself – that is a sort of “no man’s land” where either head or feet might be used and in either case could be considered dangerous and worth close attention.  Here, we normally advise the Referee to evaluate the potential for danger by looking at the issue of which player initiated the play on the ball.  If player A clearly began a movement which involved putting his head down to the area of the waist to make a play for the ball and, despite seeing this occur, player B (an opponent) nevertheless responds with starting to play the ball with a foot also at waist level, we would usually consider that player B has created the danger because player A in effect set the terms of the play and player B now has an affirmative responsibility to avoid raising his foot to the same level as player A’s head.  Similarly, if player A had clearly made the first move at a waist-high ball using his foot, player B would be considered the one causing danger by bringing his head down to the waist level as a countermeasure.

But even here, there are problems.  First, what if the two players’ movements, one with the foot and the other with the head but both at waist level, occurs simultaneously?  Second, what if one player is not positioned to see what the other player is doing?  Normally, we tend to not give the benefit of the doubt to players who operate on the “blind side” of an opponent.  Third, the goalkeeper is often a complicating factor since goalkeepers more routinely engage in play at lower body levels with their hands, which tend to be accompanied by their head.  This is something attackers know and are commonly expected to take into account.  Fourth, there is a slight bias in favor of a player who is initiating a play of the ball with the head because, once started, the developing position of the head tends to result in obscured vision regarding what the opponent might be in the process of doing … until it is too late.  Finally, in all this, the age, skill, and experience level of the players must be taken into account.

We cannot cite any Law in support of these generalizations — beyond “safety, fairness, enjoyment, and the display of skills” as the ultimate objectives for all officials.  They are part of the “lore” of officiating, developed over a long period of time in practical response to real-world player behavior, and passed down in Referee tents all across the world.

The Plight of Goalkeepers

(Originally published on 10/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kaleb, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

Yesterday during my soccer game I was playing goalie.  I stopped the ball and started to get up so I could kick the ball up the field.  A person from the other team started running full force at me (note, I still had the ball in my hands) so I snapped one arm out in front of my body and the person from the other team hit my arm. The Referee immediately called a penalty on me for using my arm as a weapon.  I didn’t swing my arm at him I just put my arm up to protect myself and he hit my arm.  I would like to know if putting your arm up to defend yourself is a penalty.

Answer

Could be.  This is one of those judgment calls for which “you had to be there” in order to get some sense of what the Referee saw — the decision depends on so many variables.  We will say that, in general, the picture we get when you said that you “snapped one arm out in front of my body” is the classic football (American football) photo of a pigskin carrier running down field with an arm held out to fend off opponents trying to stop him.

Let’s just admit up front that the job of a goalkeeper is, as one observer noted, marked by “80 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of terror.”  In other words, it’s not easy and every goalkeeper walks a thin line in situations like this between trying to stay uninjured and doing their job, a job which often requires the goalkeeper to get into positions on the ground or in the air which are inherently risky.  Having had some experience with serving in this position, we also understand that some goalkeepers take advantage of the quick, brief dust-ups that are a normal part of the goalkeeper’s life to respond in ways that are, shall we say, unforgiving of opponents.  Opponents, on the other hand, generally are not very forgiving of goalkeepers (except their own, of course) when it comes to a willingness to take their efforts to continue attacking the goal right to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the goalkeeper’s safety.

All that said, it is the job of the Referee in situations involving challenges to or in the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper to remember that the Laws of the Gamer require such challenges to cease immediately once the goalkeeper has control of the ball. “Control of the ball” is marked generally by having both hands on the ball or one hand on the ball against any kind of surface (ground, body, goalpost, etc.).  Keeping in mind the need to factor in the age, skill, and experience of the players, Referees should be proactive in safeguarding the goalkeeper where the flow of play appears to include one or more opponents acting recklessly despite the goalkeeper arguably having control of the ball.  In your scenario, the Referee should have begun closely monitoring the actions of the opponent who had “started running full force” at you, repositioning to warn the opponent that his behavior was being observed, and even providing a strong verbal caution against violating the Law, all in an attempt to forestall the impending offense.  At some point, the apparent intent to interfere by the opponent would warrant a preemptive whistle.

On the other hand, you are not warranted in taking actions which go beyond mere “self protection” — after all, a more effective way to protect yourself in a case like this would be to simply sidestep the onrushing opponent.  This often does not appeal to more macho goalkeepers whose mindset is, “it’s his job to avoid me so I will simply stand my ground and maybe get in a bit of mayhem on my own which will probably be ignored or justified by the Referee.”

In short, while we would have preferred to see the Referee in this case act in advance to prevent or stop a rapidly building momentum which, if left unchecked, is only likely to end badly for everyone involved in the likely collision, you had other opportunities besides snapping your arm outward in what could only be termed an aggressive manner.  Hence our answer at the beginning of all this — yes, it could be a penalty (i.e., determined to be “striking” and, since it was by a defender within his own penalty area, leading to a penalty kick restart).

Better for all concerned, however, would have been a whistle by the Referee to stop play as the opponent’s run brought him close enough to justify a decision that there was an intent to interfere with the release of the ball into play, resulting in a caution for the opponent for unsporting behavior and an IFK restart for the defending team.  Better yet would have been proactive officiating aimed at getting it through the opponent’s head that he needed to stop running at the goalkeeper once control of the ball was established.

 

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.

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?

Answer

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.

Goalkeeper Safety

Tabithia, a parent of a U12 player, asks:

My son is a goalie and like most of the kids he plays pretty rough.  At his last game I noticed that the attacking team would continue to kick the ball once he had his hands on it in an attempt to kick it out of his hands. He nearly got kicked in the face. Is this legal?

Answer

First, at the U12 recreational level of play, no one is supposed to play “pretty rough” — it is not expected and it should not be condoned with the argument that it’s simply playing “like most of the kids.”  If this is the case, it is the fault of everyone involved in the match — the parents, the league, the coaches, and the referees.

Second, what you describe is illegal at all levels of play, from little kids all the way up to the professionals and international players.  The Law requires that, once the goalkeeper has taken hand control of the ball, all challenges against the goalkeeper must stop and may not even be attempted, much less performed, so long as that control continues.  There are no maybes here.  In fact, the younger the players involved in the match, the more tightly this rule must be enforced.

Having the ball controlled by hand means that the goalkeeper is holding the ball with one or both hands or is holding the ball against any part of his body or against the ground or a goalpost.   Being “in control of the ball” also includes the goalkeeper bouncing the ball on the ground or tossing it up in the air and catching it or tossing it even slightly in the process of preparing to punt the ball. During this entire time, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper in any way.  “Cannot challenge” means there cannot be any attempt to cause the goalkeeper to lose control, whether by charging or tackling, much less by kicking the ball which is, by itself, very dangerous.  If no contact is made with the goalkeeper, this is at least a dangerous play and the goalkeeper’s team would get an indirect free kick where the action occurred.  If there was any contact with the goalkeeper, it would be a kicking foul and at least a caution, if not a red card, should be shown, followed by a direct free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.

Referees must respond quickly and firmly to any illegal contact or attempted contact by an opponent against a goalkeeper who has hand control of the ball.   At the U12 age level, we would expand that to cover even a situation where the goalkeeper is about to take hand control of the ball (remember, the game at this level is all about safety because the players are neither skilled nor experienced).

A soccer ball is not a golf ball and a goalkeeper should not be seen as a tee.