“I used to head 100 balls a day and I don’t remember good times so well.”

You are probably aware of ongoing discussions regarding head injuries in soccer (it’s much much worse for (American) football, of course, but it’s an issue for soccer too).

Full-blown concussions typically take center-stage, but medical professionals are now also worried about the many smaller sub-concussive blows to the head.

And there is increasing evidence that even just rapid head movements can cause long-term damage.

In response, U.S. Soccer recently introduced a powerful educational concussion video and the no-heading rule for players up to and including twelve years of age.

This caused some frustration, including concerns about our youngsters not being able to head the ball well when they are older. 

Some also felt that this was an overreaction and that heading the ball safely (with the front of the head instead of the top or sides) can be taught from a young age.

The risks associated with heading balls is not yet properly understood. Scientists and medical professionals are working to understand this much better, but it will take some time.

In the meantime, I would like to share the experiences of a family friend with you.

Chris Nicholl was a professional soccer player and manager in the English Premier League. He played as a central defender for Aston Villa (1972–1977) (210 league appearances) and then Southampton (1977-1983) (228 league appearances).

Chris also played internationally for Northern Ireland (51 caps). After he retired from his playing career, Chris managed Southampton amongst other clubs.

I’ve added a vintage clip at the end of this article showing Chris’ most famous goal, scored during the League Cup Final against Everton.

But arguably his most memorable feat was scoring all four goals in a 2:2 draw between Aston Villa and Leicester City. 😁
Chris was interviewed by the Daily Mail a couple of weeks ago and I’m pasting a key passage below. Click here for the full article.

“I know I’m brain damaged from heading footballs. I used to head 100 balls almost every day. When I was at Aston Villa I would watch all my team-mates going home in their cars and I would still be there on the training pitch with Ray Grayden who used to send them long. It’s definitely affected my memory. The balls were a lot heavier then.” Nicholl points to his nose which is unnaturally curved and crooked. “Maybe you can tell, I used to head more with my nose,” he adds. “It’s not recommended.”

To be clear, Chris’ example doesn’t prove that heading the ball causes brain damage nor how many headers per day/week/month are safe. His memory loss might simply be age related (he is 70).

However, the medical research community in England and now also the English FA is looking into pre-mature deaths and behavioral changes of former players.

Early evidence is showing that some died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the same condition as American football players.

And three members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, believed to be caused by heading.

According to one health advocate in England, 75% to 80% of the players that contact her are centre-halves and centre-forwards.

“Obviously not all of them are, but the vast majority are. Although any player on the pitch can head the ball, centre halves and strikers head the ball more, especially in those days.”

Researchers at the University of Stirling, UK, found heading the ball just 20 times could make “small but significant changes in brain function” for the next 24 hours, when memory performance was reduced between 41 and 67 per cent.

I hope this serves as a cautionary tale. 

Unfortunately, as a referee I still see too many coaches who ignore or down-play players’ head injuries during games and practices.

Let’s err on the side of caution for our youngsters, folks. The brain is precious and damage to it often doesn’t become apparent until later in life.

That damage is irreversible and fundamentally changes who you are as a person well before your pre-mature death.

Limitations of referee offside calls

This post introduces one of the most difficult decisions a referee has to make. But before we get into the details, I strongly suggest you test yourself using the below video.

It will show you 25 very brief clips that ask you to decide if the player is offside or not. Then at around 4:20 you will be given the answers for each of the 25 clips. How did you do?

What makes it so difficult to correctly decide if the player is indeed offside is the limitation of the human eye and brain. It’s called the Flash-Lag Effect, which makes a moving object appear to be ahead of its actual position.

Click here for a great webpage if you want to dig deeper. I’m quoting:

Top referees are aware of the Flash Lag Effect and practice hard to factor it into their thought process when considering whether a player is in an offside position. They also know that the faster the players are moving, the more tolerance they have to factor in to their decision making.

This is why close offsides are the most difficult calls in the game. The AR has to override what his own eyes and brain are telling him and, if they make a correct call, when it appears to every person in the stadium including himself that he is incorrect, then that call is of genius proportions. 

Here is probably one of the most ‘genius’ decisions in World Cup history. Look very closely at the final still image showing the heal of the defender keeping Chicharito onside.

However, as Offside Explained says, “this decision could have gone either way – at this speed had the pass come 0,02 seconds later we would see a clear offside in the still-image. There is no way for a (human) referee to know if it’s offside or not.

Also, according to the laws we have to evaluate head, body and feet. When players are running fast it is very hard to recognize the position of the feet vs body.

This is why we have to accept marginal mistakes when the player is offside and there is fast movement. But the players and the fans do not accept nor understand this, but there is no other way for the referees.”

The only solution to this is technology – either video replays (as is currently being tested successfully at the top level in select leagues) or somehow tagging and then sensing in real-time the position of every part of each player’s body and the ball, which is much more complicated than video replays.

In the above World Cup example a video replay would have been an obvious decision. The game was halted anyway because a (suspected) goal was scored. The referee would run to the sideline to watch a replay in super slow motion and then determine if the restart is a kick-off for blue (if Chicharito was indeed onside and scored a valid goal) or a free kick for blue (if Chicharito was offside after all).

Unfortunately, at the youth level coaches, players, and spectators will have to accept the errors that the Flash-Lag Effect introduces into the game.

 

Offside during recent Liverpool game

Probably one of the two most contentious issues during soccer games are offside decisions (the other is ‘handball’). This comes up during pretty much every game – coaches and parents protesting ‘obvious’ bad offside calls by the referees.

I’m not going to get into the technicalities of precisely what offside is here, but if you want further background please click here for a blog post that includes a discussion of offside and why it’s so very difficult to determine unless you are the AR in the right position. Even the CR can’t make that decision unless it’s blatantly obvious.

Instead, let’s take a look at a very difficult offside decision during a very recent EPL Liverpool game.

First, what does this screen shot tell you? White #8 is clearly offside, correct? He’s closer to the goal than the red defenders when his teammate heads the ball towards him.

liverpooloffside1

Next, let’s rotate our field of view. What does this next screen shot show?

liverpooloffside2

It clearly shows White #8 NOT in an offside position because he is level with Red #11 the moment his teammate heads the ball towards him.

Quite amazing the difference the angle of view makes, right?

However, the play isn’t over yet. Let’s take a look at the next screen shot.

liverpooloffside4

The white player at the top headed the ball towards White #8, but it lands short in front of the white player barely visible in front of Red #6. Both that white player and Red #6 stretch their left leg to reach the ball.

The moment the white player’s leg touches the ball is another potential offside infraction by White #8. However, White #8 is again NOT in an offside position because the red player’s outstretched left leg (or more precisely his left foot) is closer to the goal than any body part of White #8 (please note that hands and arms don’t count for offside decisions).

The ball then landed in front of White #8 who scored. The referees rightfully awarded the goal.

Now imagine all this unfolding in realtime and you’re one of the referees. This is very difficult to get right unless you are highly trained and have the experience to apply the laws of the game in realtime as the action unfolds.

Please consider giving the referees the benefit of doubt during your youth games. Referees do make mistakes, of course, and they are the first to admit it, but please keep in mind that coaches and parents simply aren’t close enough to the action, nor have the right angle of view, nor fully understand the offside law and how to apply it.

For the good of the game and your kid’s enjoyment please think twice before reacting to an ‘obvious’ offside ‘mistake’.

Sportsmanship message from NorCal Premier Soccer – unfortunately too easily forgotten as the season unfolds

As we head into the fall season, we would like to encourage players, coaches, family members, club officials, and referees to take a moment to consider how they will behave around their upcoming soccer games. All play an important role in our small piece of the “World’s Game”, all deserve to be treated respectfully.

While we absolutely encourage everyone to give their best effort, trying to win, we also believe a sense of soccer fellowship should be maintained at all times ­among opponents, opposing fans, and referees.

Treat each other with courtesy, remember your opponents are just like you, fans of the game, only in a different uniform, playing for a different club, supporting a different team, or in the case of referees, with a different role to play.

Whatever part you play, be a role model. Set an example. Your positive example is incredibly valuable to those who witness it!

The rules must be respected – they maintain a player’s health and safety, provide everyone a fair chance to win each match, and provide necessary checks and balances to govern a game full of emotions.

Referees must be respected and treated properly ­- without them the games cannot be played. Remember they are sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They are our fellow soccer fans and they deserve our patience. Our praise, respect and admiration should be shown to them for taking on what is often a thankless task.

Finally, respect the game! Soccer, futebol, fussball, football, whatever you may call it, is the greatest sport in the world – for it to continue to grow and remain healthy in our country it absolutely needs us to respect… its fields, its players, its fans, its referees and its coaches.

Thank you very much,

Norcal Board of Directors

First in-game use of video replay in soccer last Saturday – and it worked well!

New dropped-ball law – who cares, right? Well…

A blog post on this topic? Nothing ever happens during a dropped ball, right? Well, here’s what happened during a recent U17B tournament game that I officiated.

I stopped play because of a suspected head injury when the attacking team (white) was in possession of the ball in the final attacking third, close to the penalty box.

(By the way, referees should not stop play in these attacking situations unless the injury might be serious, including a possible head injury.)

As you probably know, the restart in these situations is a dropped ball at the spot where the ball was when the referee blew the whistle.

And as has been customary (for decades probably?), I suggested that the blue player kick the ball back to the white team. This isn’t really an ‘instruction’ because every player and coach knows to do this for sportsmanship reasons. So it’s more of a reminder or clarifying statement to make sure there is no confusion about what is going to happen next.

What do you think happened next?

I dropped the ball (near the blue team’s penalty box) and the blue player boots the ball hard diagonally across the field and into the open space behind the white team’s defensive back line. The blue left forward takes off and scores a goal.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen and I believe that the blue forward truly didn’t understand what was going on. He was completely focused on scoring.

I had no choice but to let the goal stand. Referees have no power to overturn this kind of goal. You can probably imagine the confusion on the field and the sidelines (to put the best possible spin on this) and the reaction of the white team coach.

To the blue team’s coach’s credit, he asked the white team to kick the ball to his goalkeeper during kick-off, who then kicked the ball into his own net for an own goal.

So at least the goal difference was cancelled out, but the white team didn’t get the extra point that one typically gets at tournaments for a shut-out (white won 5-1).

Now, with the above context in mind, here’s the change in the Laws of the Game that went into effect worldwide this summer (bolded):

“The referee cannot decide who may contest a dropped ball or its outcome.”

In other words, referees are not allowed to ‘manufacture’ the outcome of a dropped ball anymore.

So my reminder during the U17B game to blue to kick the ball back to white (to make sure the outcome of the injury stoppage was going to be ‘fair’ as has been custom) wasn’t correct in the strict application of the new law.

The new law is meant to preempt precisely what occurred during my U17B game.

I was also assigned to officiate the U19B Final for that tournament the following day. Guess what happened? Stoppage in play due to injury in the attacking third, but this time, with the previous day’s event fresh in my mind, I told the players that the new law now forces me to execute a properly contested dropped ball. There was a little confusion, but the players and coaches accepted it and we got on with it.

Now here’s the tricky part.

It is not obvious what “the referee cannot decide its outcome” actually means. Referees can’t ask/tell/instruct the players what to do anymore, but the moment one of the players asks a question we can simply tell them to “ask your coach what to do”, for example. Or, in general terms, referees could describe the options the players have, but that the referee will not get involved in that decision.

So the referee will execute a proper dropped ball and will refrain from making any suggestions regarding the ‘right/fair’ way, but the players/teams, either on their own or through coach’s instructions, might decide to kick the ball back to the team that had possession. And that’s completely fine.

Also keep in mind the age and level of the players. For example, nine year old boys and girls mostly don’t know what to do with a dropped ball, so you’ll probably see some referees be more actively involved in creating a ‘fair’ outcome. And parents and coaches will support that fair outcome.

There will be some amusing/unusual dropped-ball situations until everyone adjusts to this modified law.

When coaches lose perspective and hurt youngsters and the beautiful game

Take a look at the 30-second clip below showing one serious foul and then one reckless foul by the same player during the U13G semifinal at US Futsal Nationals this past weekend in San Jose.

These fouls were about 7 minutes apart during the last 15 minutes of the game and earned the offender two yellow cards and then a red.

The first foul could have been a straight red card, especially in a futsal context where the laws of the game are tighter than for outdoor soccer.

The coach had assigned the offending player to man-mark orange #6 and had berated her repeatedly for not being physical/aggressive enough. This coach got increasingly frustrated as the game unfolded and then channelled that into his players.

I don’t believe that this girl had the intention to hurt orange #6 earlier in the game, but she was eventually pushed too far by her coach. She was under increasing pressure and finally snapped.

Orange #6 could not continue playing and had to be carried off the court. Later she had difficulties walking and her lower back and right hip was very painful. She was lucky to avoid serious injury.

And by way of context, the orange team was winning 6:0 when the first offense occurred. And let’s remember that futsal in particular is about footwork, skills, and creativity. So let’s coach those aspects of the game, win or lose.

This is an example of what can go wrong with youth coaching when coaches lose perspective.

The offending player learned nothing from this kind of coaching and ended up evicted from the game. She didn’t strike me as someone who would wear that with pride. I very much doubt that this experience furthered her interest in soccer.

And the injured player could have sustained career-ending injuries, which would have a been a major blow for her, of course, but also soccer more broadly – orange #6 is very talented and very likely to make the U.S. Soccer national player pool soon.

[Update: turns out, this player did take pride in her red card afterall. Due to some social media sleuthing by an observant parent, we also know that at least two parents on that team congratulated this girl on the red card. So it’s clearly not just a coaching problem as was pointed out in the comments below. Disgraceful in my view.]

Biggest changes to the Laws of the Game in 135 years starting June 1

The 22,000 word Laws of the Game (LOTG) and their interpretations have been reduced to 12,000 words and a lot of the wording has been modified/clarified/updated.

These changes were approved in January and are only subject to one more ratification in March. They will then go into effect on June 1, including for all of our youth games here in the Bay Area.

A couple of key changes:

  • kick-off: the ball can now be kicked in any direction. One consequence is probably going to be that we will see kick-offs taken by only one player instead of the usual two.
  • off-side: free kicks will now be taken where the opponent commits the offside offense which is typically where he/she touches the ball or interferes with play, not where the player was when they first were in an offside position. So, for example, an attacker who is running back, say, 20 yards from an offside position five yards inside the opponents’ half to receive a pass will now be penalized at the point he or she touches the ball (here 15 yards inside his/her own half) not where the attacker was first in an offside position (5 yards inside the opponent’s half).
  • infraction off the field of play: the restart will be a direct free kick instead of a dropped ball. And a penalty kick if the infraction occurred behind the penalty box. For example, if a player tries to grab another player to prevent him/her from returning to the field of play while both are anywhere behind the penalty area then that’s going to be a penalty kick.
  • modification to DOGSO red card: if a goalkeeper or defender genuinely tries to challenge for the ball in the penalty area, then the punishment will be a yellow card, not a red card anymore. This is meant to reduce the ‘triple punishment’ concern…eviction from game (playing down a player), suspension (for a second game), and penalty. The challenge is going to be for the referee to now determine ‘intent’, which is subjective and can lead to inconsistencies. Well, nothing is perfect.

There will be many more changes, but we will have to wait until the new LOTG are published in March.

Click here for more information.

Advantage explained

‘Playing advantage’ is an essential yet underrated part of the game. It’s essential because it gives the referee the authority to let play continue if the fouled team gains more from it than being awarded a free kick or, in rare cases, even a penalty kick.

It helps the game flow more and removes the incentive for the defending team to commit fouls/tackles just to slow the game down.

And keep in mind that when a foul is called the defending team can bring all of their players into a defensive shape behind the ball. This is typically a big benefit to the offending team and should not be enabled.

Probably the least-understood part of this Advantage Rule is that the referee can still eject, caution, or give a stern talking-to during the next natural stoppage in play such as a corner kick or throw-in, and irrespective of the outcome of the Advantage.

Here’s an excellent description of the Advantage Rule by former pro referee Randy Vogt. I’m including parts of it here (with some edits for brevity and audience):

Advantage is a wonderful clause in the rules in which whistling the foul would actually be hurting the team being fouled by not letting play continue.

Officials properly playing advantage do a terrific job of letting the game flow, increasing the enjoyment of the game for everyone. Generally, the better the skill level, the more opportunities there are to play the advantage.

To properly maintain game control, referees typically give the proper signal of arms outstretched and yell “Play on!” They also later often tell the fouled player, “I saw the hold but did not call it as your team had the advantage” and the player who fouled, “No more holding. I did not call your foul as the other team had the advantage.” 

When should the officials play the advantage and when should a foul be called? Here are some guidelines:

A foul by the attacking team inside the defensive team’s penalty area.

The ball is so far from the other goal that there is little rationale for playing advantage here. The defensive team would probably much rather have the free kick and get their team in position to receive it upfield.

One item to consider is when an offensive player fouls the goalkeeper who has hand possession of the ball. If the foul was neither a hard nor a deliberate foul and the goalkeeper is still standing, one should probably play an advantage as the goalkeeper would rather have the option of distributing the ball by punt, drop-kick, throw or dribble than have the goalie’s team kick it from the ground by a free kick.

A foul by the attacking team just outside the defensive team’s penalty area.

With nearly all fouls of this nature, advantage is rarely played here. Here’s an example why:

A gray defender is dribbling outside the penalty area and is tripped by a white forward with the defender falling on the ground. The ball rolls to another gray defender who plays the ball. You yell, “Play on!”

The gray defender then loses the ball to a white forward who passes the ball to a teammate who scores. The gray defender who was fouled and had fallen left that white scorer onside.

A foul at midfield.

One can certainly play the advantage here, particularly if the team with the ball has open space in front of it.

A foul by the defensive team just outside the defensive team’s penalty area.

If the attacking team has a clear advantage, even on a ‘bad’ foul, then play typically continues as many of these advantage situations with the attacking team going toward the penalty area wind up as goals.

A penalty kick foul by the defensive team inside the defensive team’s penalty area.

Teams score on penalty kicks most of the time. Advantage is typically played only if the attacking player has the ball near the goal with an open goal beckoning.

Should the referee give an advantage but quickly (within a couple of seconds) realize that the advantage did not materialize, the ref should blow the whistle and call the original foul.

 

 

DOGSO explained – and how I messed it up

This is one of the rarest infractions in soccer, but has a considerable impact on a game when it does occur. And because it occurs so rarely it is actually often missed by relatively inexperienced referees during youth games. And when called, it can often cause, shall we say, confusion for both coaches and parents.

Experienced professional referee Randy Vogt wrote an excellent piece on this so I’m sharing most of it below.

Also, take a look at the clip at the end that shows how I messed up during one of my recent U17G games – I only gave a yellow card to the defender because I thought the second defender was much closer and thus able to intercept the attacker.

The clip clearly shows that the second defender was too far from the attacker to have made a difference. Oddly enough it looks like she even slowed down instead of accelerating to try to intercept the attacker.

I suspect that running from behind didn’t give me the right depth perception to judge the distance accurately. It’s obvious in hindsight and with the benefit of a replay.

Denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity (DOGSO) is a red-card offense. This rule is to prevent the defense from fouling to destroy their opponents’ most dangerous scoring opportunities and takes into account handling the ball and fouling an attacker moving toward the goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or penalty kick.

Let’s take handling the ball first. This obviously does not apply to a goalkeeper within his or her own penalty area but applies to the keeper who comes out of the penalty area to deliberately handle the ball or a field player who deliberately handles the ball on a shot that was going into the goal.

Please be aware that it is not a send-off, just a direct kick foul, when a keeper makes a save inside the penalty area and his momentum takes the ball outside the area while still holding it.

Should a defender (not the goalkeeper) deliberately handle the ball that winds up going into the goal anyway, the goal stands and the defender is cautioned for unsporting behavior.

Now let me write about an attacker moving toward the opponent’s goal fouled by a defender. Four elements are required for an obvious goalscoring opportunity before the foul becomes a red card offense. They are described as the four Ds:

• Defenders: Not counting the player committing the foul, there is at most one defender between the foul and the goal. That other defender is generally the goalkeeper. The keeper committing a foul can be sent off for this offense as well.

• Distance to the ball: The attacker must be close enough to the ball to continue playing it at the time of the foul.

• Distance to the goal: The attacker must be close enough to the goal to have a legitimate chance to score. So being in or near the opponent’s penalty area is more likely to be an obvious goal-scoring opportunity than the attacker being in the team’s defensive half of the field.

• Direction: The attacker must be moving toward the opponent’s goal at the time of the foul, not toward a corner flag or away from the goal.

So there’s an element of judgment by the referee involved here. Two reasonable persons can come to reasonable yet opposite conclusions. For example, for one person the ball might be close enough to the attacker to be played, for another person the ball might just be out of reach. This is why the Laws of the Game state ‘In the opinion of the referee [officiating the specific game]…..’.

And let’s also keep in mind, as Andy points out, to use common sense when applying this rule to (younger) youth games. It would be harsh and not in the spirit of the game to send a 8, 9, or 10 year old last defender off for accidentally tripping an attacker.

 

Mini-documentary on refereeing in the MLS

Position of feet during throw-ins

IMG_0938This is a relatively small issue and typically doesn’t have much impact on the game, but worth taking a quick moment to clarify.

Most folks assume that the player’s feet have to be behind the touchline during a throw-in, but a throw-in is legal as long as part of each foot is in contact with the touchline, including when most of the feet are inside the field of play as shown in the images on the right and below.

IMG_0939It is also legal when the feet are completely outside the field of play, of course. They don’t have to make contact with the touchline in this case.

I hope this helps reduce unnecessary “bad throw!” calls.

Parents, coaches, players and the Laws of the Game

Referees have to apply the laws of the game to a fast moving game, and they have to do so consistently and avoid errors, especially those that impact the safety of the players and the outcome of the game.

It is probably fair to say that, despite best effort, we referees make a handful of wrong/suboptimal decisions every game. This happens across all levels of the game, including the professional leagues and big tournaments like the World Cup.

The referees I know care about doing their best for the good of the game and for the enjoyment of players and spectators.

We attend training sessions, seminars, and digest rules clarifications from Fifa and U.S. Soccer. We read websites and books focusing on refereeing. This preparatory background work is all volunteer time and we don’t get reimbursed for any cost incurred.

Understanding and then applying the Laws of the Game to live, fast-moving game situations isn’t easy. I thought I knew what ‘offside’ or ‘handball’ is based on my life-long playing and watching of the game in Europe and here. I thought I knew how to move as a referee on the field – just stay close to the ball, right?

Well, I was wrong. And I had to eat a lot of humble pie when I first started refereeing.

So please trust me when I say that parents and coaches are rarely correct about the interpretation of the laws of the game and how those apply to specific game situations, especially during the more controversial situations.

Parents and coaches are also typically too emotionally vested in the outcome of decisions to make them impartial and consistent decision makers. Passion is good, of course, but not when it comes to correctly interpreting specific circumstances.

Let me give you a couple of specific examples:

Offside

offside angles 1

The only person to be able to accurately judge whether a player is in an offside position is the Assistant Referee (AR) standing parallel to the second to last defender. Even just a slight misaligned positioning of the AR or slightly different positioning of the players can lead to an inaccurate decision as the image on the right shows.

Even the Center Referee (CR) cannot accurately determine offside positioning unless it’s blatantly obvious. This is also why the CR will (practically) never overrule an AR when it comes to deciding if the player is in an offside position.

offside 2Now how likely is it that untrained parents and coaches sitting along the sidelines at various angles and distances to the action can accurately call offsides? Take a look at the screenshot on the right – would a coach or parent sitting 50 yards away along the sideline really be able to make an accurate call whether or not the white/blue player is offside or not?

And keep in mind that just because a player is in an offside position doesn’t mean that it’s an offside infraction.

Much more on ‘offside’ in a separate blog post soon.

Handball

Mansfield Town v Liverpool - FA Cup Third Round

Players, parents, and often also coaches who see the ball touch someone’s hand or arm scream, “Handball!”. They think the call is obvious, but about 75% of the time when the hand or arm touches a ball it is not a handling foul.

Take a look at he image on the right. Is this a handling foul? Yes, the ball touches the arm, but you need much more information than this to determine if an infringement occurred.

Please click HERE for my recent detailed discussion on ‘handball’.

And click HERE and HERE for footage of actual ‘handball’ examples from one of my recent games.

So if we accept the premise that making the right decisions is often difficult and that parents and coaches simply don’t know enough about the laws of the game (nor are they typically close enough to the event to see clearly what happened), then is it worth the disruption caused by screaming parents and/or coaches?

It just distracts the boys and girls, creates a negative atmosphere, and makes game management more difficult for the referee.

I often see players lose focus after their coach’s and/or parents’ outburst and that clearly doesn’t help the team.

They feel ‘wronged’ and are now focusing on moments past. In some cases players lose their heads and make bad decisions that can cost games.

They tend to act more aggressively toward other players and show more dissent toward the referee. Both types of behaviors increase the risk of conceding fouls and being cautioned or even evicted from the game.

Again, referees make mistakes (and sometimes game changing ones) which can be frustrating for all involved. But the odds are very low that your view of an event is correct according to the laws of the game. So, please, for the good of the game and the boys and girls on the field, try not to interfere with the officiating.

P.S.: The one case when parents might be in the best position to determine the correct decision is on throw-ins within yards of the sideline where they are sitting. The AR might be, say, 20 yards away at the halfway line (they are not ‘allowed’ to cross the halfway line) and the CR might be 15 yards away. Parents sitting right there could well be in the best position to see a little deflection or toe poke or similar. In those cases there’s a 50/50 chance the referees get it wrong, but the referees can’t go with what the parents think happened. They have to act based on what they saw. What makes throw-in mistakes less of an issue is that throw-ins very rarely have a game-changing impact.

The whole ball, the whole line

Players, parents, and coaches often complain that the ball had clearly crossed the touchline or goal line, especially for a throw-in.

There are two key reasons for this:

First, many players and parents (and even some coaches) don’t understand that for a goal to be scored the entire ball has to cross the entire goal line. The same applies to corner kicks and throw-ins. If even just a fraction of the ball hasn’t crossed the line then we play on.

Second, parents and coaches simply don’t have nearly as good a viewing angle on the lines and proximity to the ball as the Assistant Referees that are looking directly along the lines. If your viewing angle is off by just a few degrees (sitting in a chair three to five yards back from the touchline) you can easily convince yourself that the Assistant Referee made a mistake.

But please realize that you are almost certainly wrong.

The image above shows a perfect example from a very recent game between West Ham and Chelsea in the English Premier League when a West Ham defender cleared a Chelsea shot off the goal line.

The league recently introduced goal-line technology that captures and analyses video of the goal mouth action and then sends a goal/no-goal signal to the referee.

The above image captured by this technology shows that the ball did not completely cross the line (the goal is to the right of the ball) and therefore no goal was awarded.

Btw, even the Assistant Referee standing ~25 yards away at the corner flag probably mistakenly would have signaled for a goal. Imagine parents and coaches trying to call this accurately from the touchlines!

So for the good of the game please realize that the referees are in the best position to get this decision right. It won’t be perfect because we don’t have this goal-line technology available to us, of course, but odds are high that the referees will be much more accurate than parents and coaches.

Another handling offense? What do you think?

I hope you had a chance to read the first of two posts showing ‘handball’ examples from actual game footage from this last weekend.

Here’s footage of a second handball controversy during that same game that I officiated. This incident took place during the second half, after the first controversial handball incident.

Take a look at the clip first and then read on below. Handling infraction in your view? Yes or No?

According to the Laws of the Game this was a handling infraction because the player’s left hand and arm was in an unnatural position during contact with the ball. In my opinion, the player made herself larger the moment she jumped for the ball.

She turns her face away from the ball but you can see in slow motion that she sticks her left arm out and moves it toward the ball as she jumps. She made this decision just before she jumped while she was closing in on the goalkeeper.

If she had truly wanted to protect herself from the keeper’s shot or avoid the ball-arm contact then both arms would have been tucked against her body or covering her face or chest. She would also have jumped into the shot mostly with her back, not mostly frontal or sideways.

So I blew the whistle and disallowed the goal she scored in the moment after the handling infraction.

You can imagine that the folks associated with the white team weren’t happy, especially given that I had not awarded them a penalty for a similar situation earlier in the game. This frustration is understandable, of course.

Their main argument (which you can hear in the clip) was that the white player in the above clip also had no time to react to the shot from the goalkeeper, just like the earlier incident.

However, the key difference here is that the above white player had her left arm in an unnatural position in an attempt to gain an advantage. The blue player earlier in the game did not, as explained in my earlier blog post.

I hope you agree that it’s worth walking through these examples to show how the Laws of the Game are applied during actual games. It’s important to understand the nuances of the laws and how to interpret them according to FIFA and U.S. Soccer instructions.

And please keep in mind that referees have to make split-second decisions during fast-paced live action such as those shown in these two blog posts. We try our best but it won’t always be the correct decision, unfortunately.

And two reasonable people can come to different yet reasonable conclusions. This is why FIFA’s Laws of the Game include the phrase “…in the opinion of the referee…”.

Handling offense? Yes or no?

The below 30-second clip shows a potential handling offense in the penalty box during one of my recent U17G games. Watch this first before reading on – would you have let this go or whistled for a handling infraction?

Obvious handball, right? Well, NOT according to the Laws of the Game so I did not give a penalty kick for the white team.

It is probably fair the say that pretty much everyone associated with the white team disagreed with me and that everyone associated with the blue team was pleasantly surprised.

The easiest decision would have been to blow the whistle for a penalty kick – it almost certainly would have been accepted by pretty much everyone present. But it would also have been the wrong decision.

Here’s why this wasn’t an infraction (confirmed through slow-motion review of this clip):

  1. The ball was kicked hard and from very close range – probably a yard or so. The defender had no time to react. She could not have avoided the contact.
  2. The defender shows no deliberate attempt to deflect the flight of the ball or otherwise deliberately gain an advantage after the ball makes contact with the arm.
  3. The arm flops backwards on impact which typically strongly supports the notion that there was no deliberate attempt to control the ball. The arm would have been rigid and shown some forward movement or leaning into the ball if this was a deliberate attempt to control the ball.
  4. The arms were moving in a natural position given the movement of the player. Watch the couple of seconds before impact when the blue defender runs toward the attacker and even changes direction. She uses her arms to balance her body in a natural way. Keep in mind that the rules don’t say ‘straight down the side of her body’ but rather ‘natural position’. This natural position depends on the specific moment and context.

Please note that the location of this incident has no bearing on the decision. In other words, the fact that this happened in the penalty box doesn’t change how we apply the rules.

In fact, this would NOT have been an infraction even if the blue defender had been standing on the goal line and the arm contact had prevented a goal.

For additional background you might want to read one of my earlier posts on the ‘handling’ rule.

I hope this helps clarify a tricky part of the game.