I would benefit from some further clarification as to when making contact with the opponent before touching the ball is acceptable and when it is not. The situation concerns U 13 players at the premiere level, so there is intent in this move. The move does not concern an individual player but is a reflection of the style of coaching as it is consistent for the team.Let me describe a typical situation. The ball is 5 yards in front of 2 opposing player that both run as fast as they can to the ball. The 2 players start out say 2 yards apart and converge as they approach the ball. They have an equal change of reaching the ball. Just before they get to the ball, player 1 steps in front of the ball in such a way as to shield it from player 2. This requires an aggressive burst of energy but does not harm player 2 other than that player 2 ends up running into the back to player 1. Then player 1 touches and plays the ball. When player 1 steps in front of player 2 her distance to the ball is such that she could barely touch the ball but certainly not control it yet. It is my perception that the first objective of player 1 is to prevent player 2 from reaching the ball and shielding it before playing the ball.

My question now is, since the 2 players collide and tackle each other and player 1 consistently makes contact with player 2 before playing the ball, is that a foul under law 12? What criteria for consideration could you point out to me so that the judgement of foul or fair play becomes easier?

USSF answer (January 3, 2007):
You would appear to be confusing two separate infringements of the Law. Let’s see if we can explain it a bit–but you will need to remember that only you, the referee, can make the correct decision in any given event.

Making contact with the opponent before touching the ball applies ONLY to tackling for the ball, not to a charging offense. “Tackling” means going for the ball on the ground, not shielding the ball or (illegally) impeding the opponent’s access to it. There is no other prohibition on fair and reasonable contact with an opponent in competing for the ball.

Here are two citations from the 2006 edition of the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the laws of the Game” that may be helpful:

Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized. However, the fact that contact with the ball was made first does not automatically mean that the tackle is fair.Ê The declaration by a player that he or she has played the ball is irrelevant if, while tackling for the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force commits any of the prohibited actions.

A foul committed while tackling an opponent with little or no concern for the safety of the opponent shall be cause for the player to be sent from the field and shown the red card for serious foul play.


“Impeding the progress of an opponent” means moving on the field so as to obstruct, interfere with, or block the path of an opponent. Impeding can include crossing directly in front of the opponent or running between the opponent and the ball so as to form an obstacle with the aim of delaying progress. There will be many occasions during a game when a player will come between an opponent and the ball, but in the majority of such instances, this is quite natural and fair. It is often possible for a player not playing the ball to be in the path of an opponent and still not be guilty of impeding.

The offense of impeding an opponent requires that the ball not be within playing distance and that physical contact between the player and the opponent is normally absent. If physical contact occurs, the referee should, depending on the circumstances, consider instead the possibility that a charging infringement has been committed (direct free kick) or that the opponent has been fairly charged off the ball (indirect free kick, see Advice 12.22). However, nonviolent physical contact may occur while impeding the progress of an opponent if, in the opinion of the referee, this contact was an unavoidable consequence of the impeding (due, for example, to momentum).

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