Decisions About Ball Possession

Lisbette, a high school and college fan, asks:

What happens if the referee is uncertain of which player last touched the soccer ball that traveled out of play?


Your question seems simple but carries a lot of significance for the referee.

Don’t take this the wrong way but “the referee always knows who last touched the ball” and proclaims his/her knowledge clearly, strongly, and with no debate.

The only exception to this is that a good referee will always accept information from an AR (if there is one) who might have had a better view (or is frantically waving the flag to catch the referee’s attention) and, if this seems needed, consults with the AR before making a public announcement (if possible).  However, any unnecessary delay in announcing a decision carries the potential for trouble.

It is important to remember in all this is that, except for the ball going out of play across the goal line (where the difference between a corner kick and a goal kick can be important), it is rarely significant in the case of a throw-in restart – statistics indicate that, on a throw-in, the ball is often taken by the opposing team within 2-3 “plays” following the throw (of course, it can be more significant either way the closer the restart is toward either goal).

It does the referee no good to dither about ball possession: the response must be firm and clear because, if players become aware of indecision, a large chunk of the referee’s reputation is gone and increasingly constant arguments from the players will be the result.  Indeed, this is true for virtually every decision the referee makes.  Players “smell” indecision (much as predators “smell” fear in potential victims) and will use that to their advantage whenever possible.  This is not a matter of Law but of officiating techniques developed over many years.  Obviously, it is better to make the right decision: the problem is that making no decision, hesitating too long and/or too often, or becoming embroiled in debate is deadly.