Could you go in a little more detail about the ATR’s explanation of a Charge? I’m still having a tough time understanding the language it is trying to imply.

Answer (June 12. 2013):
Not sure why there is a problem, but let us go beyond the Advice to Referees and bring in what is (or should be) taught in the entry-level refereeing courses.

A legal or fair charge is defined this way:
A fair charge is shoulder-to-shoulder, elbows (on the contact side) against the body, with each player having at least one foot on the ground and both attempting to gain control of the ball. The amount of force allowed is relative to the age and experience of the players, but should never be excessive. This is as detErmined by the referee on the game, not some book definition, adjusted as necessary for the age and experience of the players and what has happened or is happening in this particular game on this particular day at this particular moment. It all boils down to what is best for the referee’s management and the players’ full enjoyment of the game.

Although often overlooked by spectators, it is important to remember that a player’s natural endowments (speed, strength, height, heft, etc.) may be superior to that of the opponent who is competing with that player for the ball. As a completely natural result, the opponent may not only be bested in the challenge but may in fact wind up on the groundÑwith no foul having been committed. The mere fact that a player fails in a challenge and falls or is knocked down is what the game is all about (and why coaches must choose carefully in determining which player marks which opponent). For their part, referees must not handicap players by saddling them with artificial responsibilities to be easy on an opponent simply because they are better physically endowed in some way.

Fair charges include actions which do not strictly meet the “shoulder-to-shoulder” requirement when this is not possible because of disparities in height or body type (a common occurrence in youth matches in the early teenage range where growth spurts differ greatly on an individual level within the age group). Additionally, a fair charge can be directed toward the back of the shoulder if the opponent is shielding the ball, provided it is not done dangerously and never to the spinal area.

The arms may not be used at all, other than for balance, which does not include pushing off or holding the opponent.

To be a fair charge must not be careless, reckless, or use excessive force. These definitions from the Advice may be helpful:
“Careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play.
“Reckless” means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.
“Involving excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

If the foul was careless, simply a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player who committed it, then it is a normal foul, requiring only a direct free kick (and possibly a stern talking-to). If the foul was reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, then the referee must award the direct free kick and also caution the player for unsporting behavior, showing the yellow card. If the foul involved the use of excessive force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play or violent conduct, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.

The referee (and the players, their coaches and parents, as well as the other spectators) must remember that the occurrence of contact between players does not necessarily mean that a foul was committed. Contact occurs and it is accepted and welcomed, as long as it is accomplished legally — and that includes most accidental contact.

There is no other sort of charge than a “shoulder charge”; no hips, no hands, no holds or pushes. Each player must have at least one foot on the ground and both players must be attempting to gain/retain control of the ball. The arms may not be used at all, other than for balance, which does not include pushing off or holding the opponent.

“Momentum” should not be a factor in the referee’s judgment of a charge. Beyond the definition given above, there are only two criteria for judging the charge: (1) Was it fair or unfair? (2) If unfair, was the charge (a) careless, (b) reckless, or (c) using excessive force? After these two questions have been asked and answered, the referee makes a decision.

If the charging player’s momentum is too great, it is likely that the player is using excessive force; however, please remember that a player can be knocked over by a fair charge and the charging player should not be punished for that. If the charge is either reckless or done with excessive force, the player must be either cautioned for unsporting behavior or sent off for serious foul play.