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AYSO 114 Long Beach

Laws of the Game Made Easy

Laws of the Game Simplified
55 pages

Offside Made Easy
35 pages

Other Referee
Educational Resources

Misunderstood Referee Calls

Before You Go Yelling at the Referee...

The Laws are relatively simple, there are only 17, and rely on the interpretation of the Referee within the “spirit of the game”.  The Laws are intended to provide that matches should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Laws and that impact play (are not trifling).  Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.

Before you yell at the referee, consider the most common reasons why you might disagree:
●  Referee(s) are usually in a better position to see the action, the offside line, etc.
●  Referee(s) usually know the Laws of the Game better than coaches and parents.
●  Many judgments are “in the opinion of the referee”.
●  You are entitled to a different opinion but Law 5 makes it abundantly clear that only the referee’s opinion matters - they make the final decision.

Finally, referees are only human, and volunteers. Even FIFA World Cup referees don’t see everything.
Referee(s) have enough to keep track of as it is, with 14 or 18 or 22 players on the field; they don’t need coaches and parents yelling at them too. If you’re driving on the freeway in heavy traffic, does it help if all the passengers are yelling at you?

Here are some of the most common ways in which parents and coaches often get it wrong:

How is that (not) offside?

When parents and coaches disagree with an offside (non-)call, they usually miss the timing and/or the angle.

Timing: offside involves two points in time: 1) when the ball is played by a teammate, and 2) when the offside player becomes involved in active play. The AR flags at time #2, but the player was in offside position at time #1. When the AR flags, there may not be a player in an offside position. This is particularly hard to spot on a through ball, when there is more time and distance between the ball being played and the player being involved.
Angle: the AR is on the offside line, the only place from which to judge offside accurately. It’s hard: even the world’s best referees get the offside call wrong about 1 in 4 times. Ask yourself: do you know exactly where each player was when the ball was played?


Handling the ball is only a foul if it is deliberate, in the opinion of the referee. If the referee does not whistle, s/he has decided that the player had no time to move his/her hand out of the way, and that the hand was in a natural position. It does not matter whether the player gained advantage from the handling. Most cases of handballs are not fouls.

How is that (not) a foul?

Physical contact involving kicking, charging, tackling, etc., is a foul if, in the opinion of the referee, it was careless, reckless, or using excessive force. If a player gets the ball first, but then kicks the opponent in a careless manner, it’s still a foul. The referee will let play continue for contact that is trifling or doubtful. You may disagree with the referee, but Law 12 makes it clear that this is a judgment call, not an absolute standard.
Just because a player ends up on the ground doesn’t mean a foul was committed. If two players come charging at each other to get to the ball, and one or both go down, it’s not a foul if they were trying to play the ball and not each other, and were not careless or worse.

The ball was out of bounds!

The ball is out of bounds when it wholly crosses a boundary line.  Even if a ¼” of the ball has not passed the plane, (wholly over the outside edge of the line), on the ground or in the air, the ball is still in play.  

That’s our ball!

When the ball goes out of bounds, the referee and AR have to decide who last touched it. You may think an opponent touched it last, but maybe the ball was already out. Again, it’s a judgment call. The ball has to completely cross the line to be out (or to be a goal). If the ball touches the ground outside the line but part of the ball is still above the line, it is still in play.

That’s a bad throw-in!

Law 15 does not require a throw-in to be elegant. It can be ugly, the ball can spin, the ball can drop in front of the player, as long as both feet touch the ground on or behind the touchline at the time of release, and the ball comes from behind the head. Moreover, minor violations are usually trifling, and many advanced referees will let play continue. It’s soccer, not a throw-in beauty contest.

Passback to the Goalkeeper!

It is an infraction resulting in an Indirect Free Kick (IFK) when a teammate passes the ball back to their goalkeeper, generally with their feet, and the goalkeeper handles the ball (picks it up with their hands).  It has to be a Deliberate Passback to be called.  A deflection off a teammate or kick that unintentionally goes to the keeper is not a violation of the passback law.  If the goalkeeper attempts to clear the ball (kick it into play) but fails, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball (cannot be a "deliberate" fail).

Shoulder Charge Knocked a Player Down!

Soccer is a contact sport and sometimes physical contact is specifically allowed.  A shoulder tackle is where two opposing players are running near a playable ball and one uses shoulder-to-shoulder contact to push his opponent off the ball.  This can be a non-reckless "fair charge" and perfectly legal even if a player falls to the ground.  The initiating player must keep one foot on the ground and make contact in a staccato manner.

Slide Tackle!

A slide tackle is a perfectly legal play in 10U and up divisions (see commentary by AYSO).  A legal slide tackle can still lead to the opponent tripping and falling over the sliding player, i.e., tripping over a "log".  A legal slide tackle can become illegal if while on the ground a leg or arm is raised into an unnatural position that causes the opponent to trip.  A foul can be called when the play is dangerous, like when the defender makes contact with the opponent before he/she makes contact with the ball, i.e., a "battering ram", or make the tackle 'cleats up'.  

A player is injured!  Stop the game!

Referees are trained not to stop play for every player who falls down unless it appears to be serious (e.g., fainting, head injury, cardiac). If a player falls down the referee will keep an eye on the player and let play continue. If the ball goes out of play for a normal stoppage of play, the referee will check on the player before allowing play to continue. Falling down is a part of the sport and spectators (parents) should attempt to keep their emotions in check while the injury is assessed.

Coaches are not allowed on the field during the game or at halftime breaks unless the referee invites them on the field. There are no exceptions to this. Good intentions on the part of the coach do not give them the freedom to come on the field. Spectators are never allowed on the field. In the case of a severe injury to a player, the referee will probably summon the coach onto the field. The parent must also request approval from the referee.  If the referee invites the coach onto the field, the injured player must leave the field and the team either play short until the injured player requests to rejoin the game, or the injured player may be substituted for the remainder of the "quarter".

They're touching our players with their hands!

Touching an opponent is not a pushing foul. Often the hands are used to gage distance to another player without exerting force.  The referee team will determine when the player crosses the line between touching and pushing.

Finally... How often has a referee changed a call because you yelled at him/her? Probably never. The only effect is that the players are now focusing more on the referee than on the game, everyone enjoys the game less, and less people volunteer to be referees in the first place.

Ray Winstone Respect Video

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