Monday, March 30, 2009

US Soccer 2009 Directives...Broken Down

Hopefully by now all of you have visited the US Soccer webpage and read up on the 2009 Directives (if you haven't, then please do so).

One of the elements of this edict from above is "Keys to Identifying Handling the Ball" and deals with a subject that is probably debated at least once every single game. This, again, is one of the topics that is directly applicable to our games, not a high-level theory that we have to adapt for use. Consistency, or the lack thereof, is a common complaint amongst coaches which is why it is so imperative to read, understand and implement these concepts. When we as a group apply this interpretation of the Laws of the Game uniformly it will makes things easier by educating and conditioning players, coaches and fans to what is handling

I won't post the entirety of the memorandum here so make sure and read it now...

Personally I find it best to break down offenses into a set of criteria; that's what helps me remember the information when in "the moment of truth." Let's look at the handling offense as five elements:

  1. Making yourself bigger.
  2. Is the arm or hand in an unnatural position?
  3. Did the player "benefit?"
  4. Reaction time.
  5. Hand/arm to ball.

We often recognize the hand/arm to ball and unnatural position, but how many times have you thought about an offense when the player makes themselves bigger? This often is a more subtle gesture and can slip past us but we need to try and catch it. Remember that we have to take into consideration the player skill level when making this call. The higher the skill level, the less of a benefit of the doubt you'll give to players.

Some information from this article is owned by US Soccer and its affiliates, used in accordance with the terms and conditions posted on, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Priority of Assistant Referee Responsibilities

Talk about good timing! Just this last weekend during the Game of the Week training I was discussing with some referees the importance of the AR staying on top of the offside position. My argument was that you should always be focusing on that second to last defender (or the ball) and that if you have to ignore other things to be on top of offsides, then let them go. Even during my most abbreviated pregames I make sure to touch on the topic.

Well, apparently US Soccer agrees.

From the U.S. Soccer Communications Center:

Subject: Priority of Assistant Referee Responsibilities

In a recent professional exhibition match, a group of referees, instructors, and assessors was discussing an incident in which the assistant referee was faced with a conflict in priorities – whether to hang back and observe the goalkeeper with the ball in case the goalkeeper went outside the penalty area with the ball still in his hands (a handling offense) or to move up field to get in position for assisting with offside in case there was a quick counterattack after the goalkeeper released the ball. The conversation was vigorous, but the matter should have been easily settled by reviewing the relative importance of the two possible violations.

A similar conflict in priorities can arise when a team is attacking along the touchline and the assistant referee must choose between looking up the touch line to signal if the ball leaves the field and looking across the field to monitor whether an attacker moves into an offside position. Dividing attention this way is not impossible, but both responsibilities will suffer.

The single most important responsibility for the assistant referee is making timely and accurate offside decisions. All other duties outlined in Law 6 are secondary.

Offside decisions are often “game critical” regardless of their specific result. A decision for offside is just as likely to be challenged as a decision against an offside violation. Whether the issue is offside position or involvement in active play, if a goal is called back, allowed, or interrupted as a result, the decision will be controversial. It must therefore be supported by the best fitness, mechanics, communications, and concentration that the assistant referee can bring to bear.

If there is not much difference between where the assistant referee must focus to handle each different duty then clearly both duties should be attempted. As one duty increasingly becomes a distraction for the other, the assistant referee should attempt to adjust positioning to reduce the conflict. Where the distraction is too great, the only solution is to focus on offside, leaving to other members of the officiating team the responsibility of covering to the best of their abilities the less critical conflicting duty.

Among the topics which must be covered in the officiating team’s pregame discussion is the issue of what the assistant referee should do to resolve a conflict between offside and such other responsibilities as determining if the ball has left the field, which team has possession, and the occurrence of violations which do not involve violence.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Goalkeeper Violations

The Goalkeeper is a unique position on the field. He or she has certain special rights under the Laws of the Game and that can cause some confusion. It's no surprise, then, that the additional rights of GK's and their general proximity to the goal makes the situation prime for controversy. Let's clear up the common misconceptions and look at some scenarios you might encounter:

  1. Pass Back Violation. In order for this to be a violation remember that three things need to happen per US Soccer: The ball is kicked (played by the foot) by a teammate of the GK. The action is deemed to be deliberate rather than a deflection. The GK handles it directly without an intervening touch from an opponent. This includes a pass back that the GK dribbles back into the area and then picks up. Restart: Indirect Free Kick from the spot of the infraction. [Video]
  2. Handling by the Goalkeeper. Of course once the GK leaves the penalty area he is not allowed to use his hands. Consider a GK sliding, with the ball in their hand, out of the penalty area. Be completely sure that they are clearly out of the area before calling it and remember its where the ball is, not the keeper's body. Restart: Direct Free Kick.
In addition to these clear cut cases there are other situations to consider. For example, the GK leaving the area when punting the ball. Again, make sure before punishing it that you are absolutely sure they committed the violation. This is a good opportunity for AR involvement by warning the GK. If the behavior is repeated and obvious, then the call can be made. We only care about where the ball is while in his hands, not where the GK is or ends up after the kick.
This would be considered handling and the restart would be a Direct Free Kick. Usually this is considered unintentional and shouldn't be cautioned.

Speaking of cautions, what do you do when the GK comes out of the area and handles the ball? We know the violation is there and its a Direct Free Kick but what else? You'll need to read the situation carefully to make your decision. Did the keeper know he was out of the area? Where the Four D's of DOGSO present? In the Spirit of the Game, should there even be a card? I would say most times this would be at least a caution, but only if it was a deliberate tactical play.

Whenever you are penalizing the GK, be it a pass back violation or handling, err on the side of the GK. Never give such a severe penalty to a team merely on a hunch. Thinking it was a deflection on the pass back? Let it go...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Own Goal?

You can be around the game for a long time and still learn something...

Let's see if you can get this right on the first try. Answer the question as if you were presented with the situation in a live game and had to decide without the luxury of looking it up in a book. As before, first person to email me the correct answer will win a prize/small trinket.

It's a beautiful sunny day at the complex. Not a cloud in the sky but its still brutally cold due to the 35 mph winds blowing north to south. You've done three games today but the last one will prove to be the most challenging.

Team A is playing a rival club (Team B) and the match has challenged you since the first whistle. Although play is often one sided due to the wind your legs are burning from the constant sprints to keep up with the ball. You rest briefly as the goalkeeper chases after the ball. He gets it back and sets up to put the ball in play from a goal kick.

The ball is kicked, it clears the penalty area and is immediately caught in a stiff wind gust. The ball hangs momentarily, losing a battle of physics as it slows, reverses course and rides the wind back towards the goal.

It goes right in.

What's your call?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

2009 US Soccer Referee Directives

These directives are extremely important to read! You can check them out here or by going through the US Soccer mainpage.

Also note the 2008 Week in Review archives are posted at the bottom of that page. Many have asked for those and now they are available. Any referee looking to upgrade or travel for Regional/National tournaments needs to be familiar with these documents.

Spread the work to your fellow referees!

Terminology of the Week

As promised, here is another concept that is important to recognize and understand.

Advantage: The “4 P Principle”

When considering the application of advantage, the following principle is provided as a guideline for officials. Remember, advantage application may differ depending upon the skill level, age level, and general atmosphere of the game.

The “4 P Principle” of Advantage Application:
1. Possession of ball: control by team or player.
2. Potential for attack: ability to continue a credible and dangerous attack.
3. Personnel: skill of attackers, numerical advantage.
4. Proximity to opponent’s goal: closeness to goal.

For this concept its important to remember that "advantage application may differ depending upon the skill level, age level, and general atmosphere of the game." Skill level and age level are pretty easy to grasp; if you're doing a U9 game you probably won't be calling very many advantages. But what does "general atmosphere of the game" mean? Well, it can mean a lot of things and that's what makes advantage a tough one.

As a referee we must be able to read the game, understand how the players are feeling and see the potential for conflict before it happens. Yes, that's as difficult as it sounds. So when we are deciding whether or not to let play go without calling the foul, we need to consider the 4 P's as well as the "temperature" of the match. Read how the player who was fouled reacted to the incident: Did they understand your decision? Or are they getting up and looking to retaliate? A hotly contested game can explode if players feel they were cheated by a poor advantage call. Sometimes in those situations you'll want to lean towards simply calling the foul.

Remember, the beautiful thing about advantage is you can always bring it back. Take a view seconds, observe the situation and decide what to do. If it doesn't pan out the way you had hoped then blow the whistle and bring the ball back.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Triangle of Control": Mass Confrontations

Mass Confrontations hopefully don’t occur in your matches too often, but when they do, what are you supposed to do about it? After all, there isn’t really a way to get practice or experience handling incidents like these if we are actively trying to keep them from happening.
US Soccer has published a lot of information on this topic, which would be very beneficial to add to your pregame.

Often times mass confrontation manifests itself in one of two ways:
Several players confronting the referee, assistant referees (ARs) or fourth official – players are trying to intimidate one or more official(s) to influence a current or future outcome/decision.
Multiple players confronting each other – swarm of players exhibiting aggressive behavior toward each other. Physical contact is often a by-product of the acts.

Mass confrontations where the officials are surrounded and being intimidated by aggressive players, who hope to influence the referee, is never positive, and invokes a negative public image, slows the game down, ignites further aggressive behavior, and ruins the entertainment value of the game. Referees must work to stamp out these types of mass confrontation from the game. The referee team must work diligently to identify the main culprits and address their actions as misconduct (issue a caution – yellow card, or send off – red card).

In general, mass confrontations share many similar characteristics that referees can use to react quickly in handling these situations:

Caused By a Trigger Issue – Typically follows an issue or foul that is sensitive to players like a hard foul in front of the bench, or a foul where player safety is compromised. Be aware of fouls against the goal keeper or play-maker, or the player running to retrieve the ball from the goal after scoring.

Recognize the Trigger Issue – Officials must immediately recognize these flash point triggers. Failure to recognize, or a delay in responding will result in further escalation. Discuss potential trigger points with the crew pre-game and be prepared to address when they arise. Being aware of the teams and players involved can often help in anticipating when flash-points are more likely to result in mass confrontation issues.

Get there to diffuse – Once mass confrontation amongst opponents arises, a member of the referee team must get there immediately to prevent escalation. For each step you are late, it allows one more player to participate.

Separate and disperse – The first official on the scene should work to carefully separate the immediate players. Once three or more players enter the scene, the referee should step back and observe the situation. The two assistant referees should also take a clear vantage point to observe the actions of the players while the fourth official maintains his position and monitors the bench area. This procedure forms a triangle around the confrontation and provides a process to monitor the situation and gather information. As the situation settles, in a positive, non-threatening manner, officials should attempt to channel opposing players into safe zones away from the hot spot.

Prevent others from joining in and observe – All four officials should not focus on the same hot spot or become too involved in gaining control of the situation. As stated above, form a triangle around the situation, observe, and make notes (mental and otherwise). Look for positive ways to prevent other players from joining in as these players often add “fuel to the fire.”

Consult and dispense the appropriate misconduct – Once the situation is under control and players have been channeled to safe zones, the referee team must quickly dispense the appropriate misconduct. The referee should ensure he has solicited the input of the other officials prior to taking action. Violent conduct should be the first line of focus.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Sometimes its the little things...

There are a lot of special names applied to concepts that we've probably all heard once or twice. If you aren't familiar with these acronyms or terms they can be confusing. I can remember when I was younger and traveling to regional and national tournaments there were a few times when someone would throw a term out that I had never heard of. It was embarrassing but a great learning opportunity.

I started to learn that I wasn't so much learning new concepts as I was applying terms to concepts I had already learned. Being able to recognize those terms quickly and understanding what they mean will help you hold your own during training and assessments be it a Far West Regional game or a Sunday afternoon match. That way you don't have to learn the hard way like I did.

So starting today we're going to try and go over one term a week. Have you come across one of these terms and want to know what they mean? Shoot me an email and I'll feature it next week.

Denying Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunities - DOGSO

The Four D's of DOGSO

A foul is a foul regardless of who commits it. Soccer is a fast-paced game with lots of counter attacks. Consequently, referees and ARs can anticipate many chances to make decisions relating to DOGSO. Positioning and fitness levels must be commensurate with this style of play, and referees must be reading to evaluate the 4 conditions of DOGSO:

  • Defenders - Are there any defenders between the attacker and the goal that could dispossess the attacker of the ball and prevent a scoring opportunity?
  • Direction - Is the attacker’s position on the field such that he is headed/moving directly to goal? Consider the attacker’s touch on the ball, is it headed toward the goal area or at an angle away from the goal?
  • Distance to Goal - As the attacker plays the ball, is his proximity to goal such that he is close enough that he would have a reasonable opportunity to advance the ball without opponents tracking him down. The further the distance to goal, the less opportunity for a scoring chance.
  • Distance to Ball - Is the attacker close enough to the ball to be considered to have “possession” or a clear chance to play the ball or will the goalkeeper or another player get to the ball before the attacker?