Offside — U-10 Version

Esther, a U-12 and under fan, asks:

I was watching a U10 game.  R9, a Red forward, had been hanging out offsides. The ball got kicked up the field towards the goal Red was attacking and it passed R9. He ran after it and kicked it. The ref called him offsides. My question is this: was he offsides because he was offsides before the ball passed him or was he onsides because he didn’t touch the ball until after it passed him? Note: the other team’s defenders weren’t involved–they weren’t even on their side of the field!

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

We are sighing (metaphorically) as we face once again a question regarding Law 11 (Offside) which we can’t really answer because crucial information is missing.  Why is this so?  It’s not because someone is deliberately withholding it but, rather, because (we’re guessing here but guessing based on a lot of experience) so many people don’t know what “offsides” is and therefore don’t know what the Referee has to know in order to make the correct call.

Pardon us if we vent just a little bit more.  There is no such thing as “offside” — indeed, there is no way using proper English that the word “offsides” would ever be correct.  Moreover, in the offered scenario above, the word (plus it’s kissing cousin, “onsides”)  was used five times and in each case it is arguable as to which of the two standard meanings was intended.  So, let’s start:

  • Offside Principle #1: There is no such thing as “offside” unless the word is paired with one of two other words — position or violation.
  • Offside Principle #2: An “offside position” is a condition an attacker acquires by being in a certain place at a certain time.
  • Offside Principle #3: An “offside offense” is a violation of the Law and, in most cases, is punished by stopping play and giving the opposing team an indirect free kick.
  • Offside Principle #4: Every offside offense requires being in an offside position but being in an offside position is not by itself an offense.  In logic, this is can be stated as “An offside position is a necessary but not sufficient condition for an offside offense.”

One more thing before we move on to the substance of the question.  Most U-10 recreational soccer teams (boys or girls) use what are called “small-sided” soccer rules rather than the “full blown” Laws of the Game and these “small sided” rules were set up years ago by the US Youth Soccer organization affiliated with US Soccer.  Those rules do not include Law 11.  In brief, therefore, we were confused right at the very start when the scenario implicitly declared they were two U-10 teams which were apparently using “offside” in their game.  Certainly, this is possible because many local organizations have their own special local rules that don’t always follow what the national or state soccer organizations say they should.  Given this is is apparently the case here, it becomes impossible to guess what those rules may be since, technically, they shouldn’t be there at all.

Accordingly, the only thing we can do is to discuss the scenario as though the teams involved were using Law 11 exactly, without any special local rules.

R9 had every right to be where he was (although it must be noted that Law 11 was intended to be a specific deterrent to “hanging out offsides”) — which we are going to translate as “offside position” because that is the only meaning it could have at this point.  This makes the further assumption that the designation of “offside position” was used in the meaning of Law 11 that R9 was past the midfield line, passed the ball, and past the second-to-last defender while one or more of his teammates had possession of the ball.  We assume that, when the ball was kicked “up the field,” it was kicked by a teammate of R9.  When R9 “ran after it and kicked it,” he committed an offside offense (becoming involved in active play by interfering with play — kicking the ball — while in an offside position.  He was, therefore, correctly and appropriately called for this offside offense.

R9’s offside position was created the moment his teammate kicked the ball while he occupied the position we described above.  He kept the offside position through anything and everything that happened between the time his teammate kicked the ball until he committed the offside offense … which is when play was stopped by the referee’s correct decision. No other issues were involved.  A9 could have not run after the ball and, though still in an offside position, would not have committed an offside offense.  A9 could even have started running after the ball and still not have committed an offside offense so long as he did not touch the ball or interfere with an opponent.