Ask the Ref

This feature was created to help coaches, referees, players, parents and spectators get answers to questions about refereeing from the Region 13 Referee Staff.

Use the text box below to submit your question(s) about calls made, or not made, during a recent game. In addition, your questions may be about Region 13 policies, such as whether or not slide tackles are allowed (Yes, they are, provided they are done correctly), or about how many quarters a player may play in goal in a U10 game. While all questions and answers will be treated confidentially, those of general interest will be posted below for others to benefit from, without the names of those who submitted the questions.

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   Goal kicks

Q: I am VERY new to thus and am trying to go over my notes before games begin. Can you please give me a scenario when a goal kick would be taken.

A: glad you're reviewing to get ready for the season! A goal kick is awarded when the ball goes over the goal line last touched by someone on the attacking team. Often that is a shot that misses or a pass that doesn't get to the player it was meant for. I'm guessing you are reffing either u10 or lower. You might find our Region 13 guidance documents a good way to review. They are towards the bottom of the Referee page, listed under the Laws of the Game section - the is a version for u10 and a version for u6/u7/u8. Have fun out there!

   Changing goalkeepers without telling the referee.

Q: what happens when a field player switches with a goalie and they dont inform the referee? what does the ref do when he sees the new goalie handling the ball?


Short Answer:

The referee should allow play to continue with the new goalkeeper until the next natural stoppage and then, if age appropriate, caution the players.   (See Law 3.)


A bit more explanation:

Law 3 states:

      If a player changes places with the goalkeeper
      without the referee’s permission before the
      change is made:

         • the referee allows play to continue

         • the referee cautions the players concerned
           when the ball is next out of play

In youth games, when players trade the goalkeeper  jersey without telling the referee, it is generally because they don’t know any better.  At younger ages, the best remedy to that lack of knowledge is simply to explain that the Laws of the Game require the players to notify the referee before making a change.  (See Law 3.)  At older youth levels, the players should know what the Laws require, and the referee should caution the players who are involved in swapping the jersey (showing both players a yellow card). 

During the time that play continues, the player wearing the goalkeeper jersey is the one who is considered the goalkeeper and is entitled to use his or her hands within the penalty area.  (In other words, it is not a penalty kick if the new goalkeeper uses his or her hands – the game simply continues until a natural stoppage for another reason.)

(Note that if the goalkeeper changes takes place during half time, or at the substitution stoppage halfway through a half, the referee is presumed to have recognized the change when the referee restarts play.)

(Answered April 1, 2014)

   Goalkeepers and penalty kicks

Q: What is the rule for the goalie movement during a penalty kick? At what point can she move? Can she move laterally on the line before the player kicks?


Short answer:

The goalkeeper may move side to side before the ball is kicked, but may not move off the line until the ball is kicked.

A bit more explanation:

Parents who played may remember a time when the keeper was supposed to be stationary until the ball was kicked – that is no longer what Law 14 says.  It says:

     The defending goalkeeper:
     • must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalposts until the ball has been kicked

 Accordingly, the goalkeeper may move sideways in advance of the ball being kicked, but may not move forward (or backwards) off the line.  Any part of the foot being on the line means the foot is on the line – a shred of toenail or sliver of heel will suffice.  (Some goalkeepers will line up with just their toes on the back of the line; more will line up with their heels towards the front of the line.) 

As with all infractions of the Laws of the Game, however, referees exercise judgment in making calls.  Not every technical violation of this provision may be called, as referees are advised not to call “trifling” infractions of the Laws.  If, in the opinion of the referee, a goalkeeper’s violation of this requirement was more than trifling, and a goal does not score, the referee would order the penalty kick to be retaken. 

Those interested in more details about penalty kicks can find them in USSF’s Advice to Referees under Law 14.  A link to finding the publication is in the Reference Materials section on the Referee page of the Region 13 website.

(These same guidelines apply in the case that kicks from the penalty mark are used following a tied game.)

Answered 12.4.2013

   Handling by the GK outside the penalty area

Q: The defending team's goalkeeper crossed the penalty area line with the ball still in her hands and I called a foul. Should it have been an indirect or direct kick? I thought it was direct since it was a hand ball.


Short Answer:

You were correct – deliberate handling is the offense, and it is a direct free kick offense.

A bit more explanation:

When the goal keeper leaves the penalty area, she no longer has any special privileges and is like any other player.  So if she deliberately uses her hands outside the penalty area, it is just as if any other players used her hands.  So you are correct that it would be a direct free kick from the spot she left the penalty area.  (This is different from what happens if a goalkeeper commits one of the goal keeper related handling infractions inside the penalty area.  As explained in Law 12, those offense (such as picking up a ball a second time or if it was deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper by a teammate) would warrant an indirect free kick.)

(Referees may, depending on the particular circumstances, consider it “trifling” if the goal keeper barely leaves the penalty area while releasing the ball.  In such a case, the referee may appropriately exercise his or her discretion not to call the handling offense at all, but may warn the goal keeper to be more careful about the line.)

Answered 11.10.13


   Minimum Number of Players

Q: What is the minimum number of players for U10? For U12?


Short Answer:

For Region 13 U10 games, a team must have a minimum of five players to start or continue the game.  For U12 games the minimum is six.

A bit more explanation:

The Laws of the Game require seven players to start a game in a full sized (11 v. 11) game.  AYSO follows this  for full sided games:  at U14 and above, the team must put seven players on the field to start or continue the game.

Since U12 games are only 9 versus 9 instead of the full 11 v. 11, we reduce the minimum by one player making the minimum 6.  Similarly, in U10, since we play only 7 v. 7, we reduce the minimum by one more player making the minimum 5.  All of the modifications used in Region 13 for U10 games can be found in the Region 13 Guidance and Interpretations for U10, which can be found towards the bottom of either the Referee page or the Coach page of the Region 13 website.

Answered 11-1-13

   Flipping fields in U6/U7/U8

Q: In a U6/U8 game, does the the Visitor team or the Home team switch fields after the half? Where do I find the official documentation about this?

A: Short Answer:
As set forth in the Region 13 Modifications for U6, U7 & U8 Divisions, the home team has its players switch fields.

A bit more explanation:
Region 13 Modifications for U6, U7 & U8 Divisions can be found on either the Referee or the Coach page of the Region 13 website and sets out the various modifications and procedures applicable to these non-competitive games.  The change of fields by the home team is simply a way of mixing up the game and letting the kids play against all of the players on the other team.  Coaches, referees, and parents are reminded that these are non-competive divisions designed for a fun introduction to the beautiful game.  The fact that a team flips fields is ultimately more important than which team does so -- if no one can remember that the home team is designated, please make sure that one of the teams does so to achieve the objective of the rule.

Answered Halloween 2013

   Slide tackles

Q: Is slide tackling allowed in Region 13 BU12? I think not, but today my son's coach told us it was.


Short answer:

Your son’s coach is correct:  a properly executed slide tackle is legal.

A bit more explanation:

Law 12 of the Laws of the Game tells us that a tackle is a direct free kick foul if it is executed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force.  A slide tackle is a kind of tackle to which these guidelines apply.  If, in the opinion of the referee, the player is careless (or more) in executing the tackle, a foul will be called. 

Referees will look at a variety of factors in determining whether the tackle was careless.  If the tackler makes contact with the opponent before the ball, a foul should be expected.   If the tackler gets to the ball first, the referee may still conclude the tackle was careless based on other factors, which can include (among others) whether the tackler was primarily playing the ball or the opponent, how high the leg was that was being used to attack the ball, how much force was used, the direction of the tackle (from the side or from behind?), and what the trail leg did on following through with the tackle.

If, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle was reckless, in addition to the foul, the player will be cautioned and shown a yellow card.  If, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle was done with excessive force such as to be dangerous to the safety of the opponent, the player will be sent off and show a red card (this is not common in AYSO games).

Answered 9/ 5/13

   Toe cleats

Q: Can players wear cleats that have a toe cleat in AYSO soccer games?


Short Answer

 It depends.  Players may wear shoes that, in the opinion of the referee, are safe for that player and the other players on the field.  There is no blanket prohibition against toe cleats.

 A bit more explanation

 As we oft repeat, at the core of what we do is the concept of Fun, Fair & Safe.  And soccer isn’t much fun if someone is wearing unsafe cleats that could cause an injury.  So the question for the referee is what makes them unsafe? 

 In days of yore, many considered toe cleats inherently dangerous – perhaps because the “toe cleats” they would see were the long, hard toe cleats on traditional American football cleats.  But shoe design and shoe materials have changed over the years.  AYSO recently explained:

It is a misconception that neither metal cleats nor toe cleats (rubber cleats extending from the sole of each shoe at the front) are permitted on soccer shoes. Both are allowed if, in the opinion of the referee, they are safe to all players. The toe cleat must be an unmodified part of a shoe from a recognized manufacturer. Examples of these athletic shoes can be found on the manufacturers’ websites or can be examined at a sports store. Sneakers, tennis shoes, running shoes, and basketball footwear are also permitted. Note that metal cleats can sharpen and develop burrs from the player walking on hard surfaces so they should be inspected carefully.

 AYSO Guidance for Referees, Coaches, Other Volunteers and Parents.

Ultimately, the Laws of the Game place the responsibility upon the referee to decide whether a particular shoe (including one with a toe cleat) is safe.  In considering a toe cleat, referees are likely to consider how hard the material is (most cleats these days are made of softer materials than they were in the past and metal cleats for youth players are extremely rare, especially on the dry fields of southern California) and how long the toe cleat is (a toe cleat that is longer than the back cleats is presents more hazard than a half-inch toe cleat).  The longer and harder the toe cleat the more likely the referee is to consider the cleat dangerous.

While players ideally wear soccer shoes designed for soccer, youth today often play multiple sports, and families reasonably want to be able to reuse shoes before players outgrow them.  So long as those shoes, in the opinion of the referee, are safe for that player and other players, they will be permitted.   But please note that under no circumstances should metal baseball or track spikes be considered safe.

(Players who have cleats that are not soccer-specific cleats may find it advisable to bring another pair of athletic shoes just in case a referee may find the shoes unsafe.)

Answered 9-29-13

   Hair beads and jewelry

Q: I know referees require girls to take metal hair pins and barettes out of their hair, but is it acceptable for them to have plastic beads braided into it? Many girls get beads braided into their hair so that it can stay neat looking for weeks at at time. Will girls wearing beaded braids be excluded from play?


Short answer

You are correct about metal pins or hard barrettes not being permitted for safety reasons.  Beads in the hair are not permitted for the same reason.

A bit more explanation

Law 4 of the Laws of the Game expressly prohibits players from wearing anything dangerous and includes jewelry within this prohibition.  The United States Soccer Federation has advised that the jewelry prohibition applies to hair adornments such that anything hard in the hair is not permitted.  In an official interpretive memorandum, USSF explained “Hair control devices which are elastic, flexible, and soft should be allowed.” The memo further expressly advised that “Beads or other similar decorative devices woven into or affixed on the hair are inherently dangerous and are not allowed.”  AYSO follows the teachings of USSF, and referees are asked to ensure that players have nothing hard in their hair for their own protection and for the safety of those with whom they may collide.

Answered 9/18/13

   Splints, casts, and safety

Q: I have a player who caught their finger in a car door last week. Currently the finger is in a splint. What is the rule regarding her eligibility to take the field this Saturday?


Short answer:

Consistent with the AYSO credo of “Fun, Fair, Safe,” an AYSO player may not play with a splint (or cast) and may not remove a splint (or cast) once at the field in order to play – this policy applies to practices as well as games.

 A bit more explanation:
The most important thing in these situations is to protect our players from further injury.  To do that, AYSO policy prohibits players from playing with a splint and prohibits players from removing a splint in order to play.  Specifically, the AYSO National Rules and Regulations (pg. 8, section VI, K) provide:

Team members shall not be allowed to practice or participate in any game with any type of cast or splint. Removal of any type of cast or splint at the field or surrounding area in order to participate shall disqualify the team member from practice or game participation.

You can find the National Rules and Regulations at

To protect the player, you should encourage the parents to consult with their doctor and to remove the splint only if it is in the best interest of the child.  That determination would need to be made before your player arrived at the game, as if she arrives wearing the splint she would not be eligible to play.  Simply put, her finger is more important than a soccer game – even a playoff game.  (This AYSO policy needs to be enforced by coaches as well as referees.)

 answered 11/27/12

   sporting restarts after injuries

Q: The Blue Team has an obvious advantage and is moving the ball out of their end. A White Team player slightly behind the play has fallen down injured. I blow the whistle to stop play and check on player well-being. How do I best return the advantage to the Blue Team when play resumes?


Short Answer:

When the referee stops play to check on an injury, the restart is always a dropped ball from where the ball was when play was stopped.  The referee can encourage players to be sporting about how play is restarted when the ball is dropped.

A bit more explanation:

Referees must use their discretion in determining when to stop play for an injury.  The Laws of the Game dictate that the referee stops play for a serious injury -- in youth games, we must keepin mind that "serious" is an age appropriate conisderation.  Once the referee decides the injury is serious enough to stop ongoing play, the referee needs to remember where the ball was, as that is where the dropped ball will take place.

As a technical matter under the Laws of the Game, the referee has no right to force players to do the sporting thing when the dropped ball occurs.  However, the referee does have the ability to use his personality to encourage the players to do the right thing.  (And given that one of AYSO's core philosophies is good sportsmanship, coaches should be assisting the referee in encouraging the players to participate in a sporting restart.)

To go back to your scenario, one way you can approach it is to announce there will be a dropped ball, explain to the white team that the Blue had the ball when play was stopped for the injury, and ask White if they will do the sporting thing and let Blue have the ball back.  They will usually agree.  If more encouragement is needed, you can point out that the pros always do it, which is usually enough to convince players to do it.  (If necessary, ask the White coach to help explain to the White players -- but this is usually unnecessary.)

There are different ways the sporting dropped ball can take place.  In your scenario, White could just back away and let Blue take the ball when it is dropped.  Or, especially if it is near the sideline, you could suggest that White kick the dropped ball over the touch line for a Blue throw in, or pass it back to a Blue player.  (When the ball is in the penalty area, an easy way to restart is to ask White to let the Blue goalkeeper have the dropped ball.  Explain to the the goalkeeper that you are going to drop the ball, and he or she can pick up the ball and do whatever he or she would like to do, just as if he or she had picked it up any other time in the game.)

[For those readers who may have high school players, the rules that govern games between high schools are different.  The answer above is correct for AYSO games -- as well as other USSF and FIFA games.]

Answered 11/4/12

   When to put down the flag?

Q: When I am an AR, if I raise my flag to signal offside, when do I put my flag down if the referee does not see me?


Short Answer:

If the referee does not see the flag, the assistant referee should keep the flag raised until either (1) the defensive team gains complete control of the ball, or (2) a goal kick or throw-in is awarded to the defending team.

A bit more explanation:

The advice above comes for Advice to Referees, which is put out by the United States Soccer Federation to provide guidance to referees. 

The purpose of the indirect free kick for an offside infraction is to ensure that the ball is turned over to the side that did not commit the offside infraction.  Once the offended team has the ball back clearly in its possession, there is no point going back to award the indirect free kick.  But while the attacking team still has the ball, the assistant referee should remain standing in the same place with the flag raised so that the referee can stop play.

These types of situations are why it is important for referees to look toward their assistant referee on a regular basis -- especially when there is a reasonable probability that there may be an offside infraction.


Answered 10/8/2012

   Record substitutions at injuries?

Q: Should assistant referees keep track of players who replace injured players at times other than recognized substitution opportunities?


Short Answer:

Ideally, yes, but for purposes of U10,U12, and U14 games in Region 13, the most important thing is to record the player who started the quarter. 

The player who starts the quarter is the one who gets "credit" for playing the quarter with respect to the Region's requirement that each player play 3 quarters of the game.  (If the injured player does not return for later quarters, it is important record the X's in the appropriate columns and provide an explanation on the game card as to why the player did not meet the 3-quarter requirement.)

A bit more explanation:

In addition to monitoring the 3-quarter requirement, the game card makes sure the assistant referee has a record of who is a player and who is a substitute at any time.  During regular season games, this is rarely an issue, and would only come up if a substitute improperly went onto the field.  In playoff or tournament games, it can important at the end of the game, as only the players on the field at the end of the game may participate in kicks form the penalty mark.


(Referees and assistant referees should remember that in the case of injury, the coach is not required to put in a substitute.  The coach may instead elect to play a player short until the injured player is ready to return.  In such cases, the player must have the permission of the referee before re-entering the field.  If the coach elects to make a substitution for the injured player, the injured player will need to remain out until the next substitution opportunity.)


Answered 9/22/12

   Whistle for goals?

Q: Should the referee blow the whistle when a goal is scored? If so, how many times?


Short Answer:

Generally not.  The whistle is only needed if the players are unclear that the ball went into the gaol and is out of play.  The referee signal for a goal is pointing to the center circle for a kick-off.

A bit more explanation:

As a general matter, referees blow the whistle only when needed.  We are advised as referees that a whistle that is used too frequently when it is not needed will have less impact when it is needed.  When the ball is clearly in the goal, everyone knows it so the whistle is unnecessary.  But when it is not clear that the ball went in the goal, the referee may need to blow the whistle to stop play before signalling for the goal.

More generally speaking, the whistle must be used

  • to stop play 
    • for a foul; or
    • for the end of a half or overtime period; or
    • when players don't understand play is stopped; or
  • to signal that it is OK to restart play
    • on a kick-off or penalty kick; or
    • on a free kick if the referee has had to assist in setting the 10-yard* distance;or
    • following substitutions, injuries, cautions, or dismissals.

But the whistle is not needed to stop play when the ball leaves the field of play for a throw-in, goal kick, corner kick, or a goal being scored -- unless the ball briefly leaves and comes back and players are not sure what happened.  A whistle is also not needed to give permission for free kicks, except when the referee has made the free kick "cremonial" by setting the 10-yard* distance for the free kick. 

To get back to the original question, when a goal is scored, the referee should look at the assistant referee to confirm the assistant referee agrees the goal is good and should then signal by pointing to the center circle. 

(The assistant refree signals to the referee that the goal was good by making eye contact with the referee and then moving toward midfield.  The assistant referee only needs to raise the flag to signal a goal if the ball has legally entered the goal and come back out, so that the assistant referee needs to advise the referee that the goal actually scored.)


* The 10-yard requirement is replaced by an 8-yard requirement for Region 13 U10 games.


Answered 9/18/12

   Changing Goalkeeper at Penalty Kick

Q: Can the goalie be switched during a game, for example right before a penalty kick? My understanding is that substitutions can only be made at the quarter and halftime breaks, or for an injury. Replacing a goalie for a penalty kick, and then going back the the original goalie directly afterwards, seems to violate this rule. Please advise, thanks.


Short Answer

Yes, a team may change the player designated as goalkeeper with a player already on the field before the taking of a penalty kick.

 A bit of explanation

The Laws of the Game (Law 3) require that one of the players on the field be designated as the goalkeeper.  Law 3 further explains that any player on the field may change places with the goalkeeper provided that (1) the referee is informed before the change is made, and (2) the change is made during a stoppage in the match.  Changing who is designated as the goalkeeper is not a “substitution” within the meaning of Law 3.  A “substitution” means a substitute (an eligible player not currently in the game) is joining the game and a player on the field is leaving the game.  (As alluded to in your question, AYSO rules  have modified the Laws of the Game as to when substitutions may take place (including limiting substitutions to half-time, about half-way through each half, and for injuries); AYSO has not modified the Laws of the Game as they apply to changing the player designated as goalkeeper.)

Going back to your question, the referee has stopped the match to award the penalty kick.  Accordingly, the defensive team may inform the referee that it wishes to change goalkeepers, and may make the change -- so long as the goalkeeper is changing places with a player already legally on the field. 


Answered 5/3/12

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