Keith, an adult amateur coach, asks:
A player on the Red team attempts to pass the ball to another player on the Red team who is in an offside position. A player from the Blue team intercepts the pass and begins dribbling down the field. The player from the Red team who was in an offside position comes back and challenges the player on the Blue team for the ball. Is play stopped for an offside offense?
It would be a grievous error if any official decided this was an offside offense. This scenario is fairly fundamental and simple as regards the concepts of offside position and offside offense. For simplicity’s sake, lets call the initiating player Red #5, his or her teammate Red #19, and the defender Blue #45. Now, break this thing down.
First, when Red #5 played the ball, that established which (if any) teammates were in an offside position and which (if any) were not. Your scenario declares that Red #19 was in an offside position, presumably by virtue of being, at that specific moment, past the ball, the midfield line, and the 2nd to last defender. No offense has yet been committed.
Second, between Red #5’s contact with the ball and Blue #45’s subsequent contact with the ball, did Red #15 do anything that constituted “becoming involved in active play” — interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage by his or her position? Nothing in the scenario suggests this happened and thus, prior to Blue #45’s intervention, no offside violation was committed by the only Red player we are told was in an offside position and thus whose play of the ball was restricted by Law 11.
Third, Blue #45 made contact with the ball. This is the critical point. Merely “making contact with the ball” does not necessarily change anything but, in this case, the scenario’s wording (“intercepts the pass and begins dribbling down the field”) makes it crystal clear that Blue #45 has, in fact, deliberately played the ball. At this moment, Red #15 (and any other Red attacker who might also have been in an offside position when their teammate made contact with the ball) ceased to be in an offside position.
In short, the world got turned upside down. Defenders (Blue) are now attackers and attackers (Red) are now defenders and, for as long as this play continues past Blue #45’s intervention and the ball stays in possession of the Blue team, no Red player can be in an offside position and thus could not under any circumstances commit an offside offense. Now that Blue #45 has deliberately played the ball, only Blue players can be in an offside position and the possibility of a Red player committing an offside offense is, flatly, nil.
Would that life were always so simple. The critical point was Blue #45’s contact with the ball and the decision that has to be made here is whether that contact constituted a deliberate play. Here it did and so the decision is easy. Change any one of the elements of that contact and the decision could become more difficult.
But that is for another question and answer ….