John, a HS player parent, asks:
Watching high school soccer, I see a) players extending arms away from their bodies to shield or to prevent the opponent from going by and b) two players in pursuit of a ball and you can see the outside arm swing but the inside arm is not, one player is holding the other arm in close quarters but the REF does not call a foul. Do these offenses deserve calling?
There are at least 2-3 distinctly different questions packed in these four lines. For example, who said that what you described are “offenses”? Or, do all offenses “deserve” to be called (where “call” means “blow the whistle”)?
Keeping in mind that we here at askasoccerreferee.com focus only on the Laws of the Game and rarely cross over to other rule sets (like high school), we have a question back at you. Sports aside, have you ever tried running — at any speed, much less full out — with your arms tightly held at your side? It’s very difficult. Arms move all the time to maintain balance and to translate the extra effort into a stronger forward motion.
Neither the Laws of the Game nor any other rule set we know of demands that players must hold their arms straight down at their sides. Of course, at times and in certain ways, not doing so can lead to committing an offense (holding, striking, handball, etc.) so it is very important to recognize when the entirely understandable and even unavoidable pressure to hold one or both arms away from the body during the normal course of play turns into an offense.
If the hand (or arm) is used to make contact with another player, it could be striking or it could simply be a handshake. It could be an attempt to interfere with the path of an opponent by “making the body bigger” or it could be an attempt to prevent a teammate or even an opponent from falling. It could fall into one of those “grey” areas where two players are running side by side and using their elbows in mutual attempts to cause the other to lose their stride. It could be something that one of the players in this pair really doesn’t like it or it could be a more or less friendly competition which each expects and believes they have the skill to play through.
If contact is made and the referee determines that the action is aimed at preventing an opponent from getting around a body which is now larger (taking up more space) than would be the case if the arm were not held out, then the referee could certainly recognize it as an offense. But what to do next? Recognizing that something is an offense is only the first step in a process of deciding what to do about it (actually, deciding that something is not an offense is probably the single most common “call” in any game). Perhaps the offense is doubtful — the referee is momentarily seeing it at only one angle and maybe there was contact, but maybe not. Perhaps it was trifling — both players are doing the same thing and neither is bothered by it. Perhaps there was a hard push by one of the players but the player he or she pushed was able to gain control of the ball, break away, and race down field — keep the whistle down but apply advantage (by the way, applying advantage is calling the offense, just not stopping play). Perhaps the player who gave the hard elbow push was, as a result, able to gain the ball unfairly — whistle play stopped. And then there are all sorts of “add-ons” like whether the action was a simple offense with no misconduct, or perhaps it was reckless (caution) or overly aggressive (red card).
Every one of these decisions is a “call” — calls are not just about blowing the whistle. Anyone with a whistle can blow it — only trained, experienced, and perceptive referees know when not to blow it. Figuring out what an offense “deserves” is at the heart and soul of effective officiating.