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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   Yellow and Red Cards

Q: At what age should AYSO referees begin using yellow and red cards?

A: Yellow and red cards are a communication too used by referees to indicate that a player has been formally cautioned or has been sent off for misconduct.  (They were first imagined in 1966 by Ken Aston (who later became a great friend of AYSO) to overcome language barriers in international matches.)  As a matter of philosophy, AYSO avoids them at younger ages, not because misconduct is acceptable, but to avoid the public nature of showing the card.  That means that referees can still caution or send off players for misconduct, but they would do so by the less public process of speaking to the player and the coach.  (Any such cautions or send offs should be noted on the game card.)  Fortunately, in the younger ages misconduct is unusual, so the issue rarely arises.  As a general matter in AYSO, the cards are not used as a communication tool until 12U.  (At 12U and even 14U, referees are encouraged to be kind and low key when using the cards, and to explain what is happening to the player and why the player is being sent off.)  In the unlikely event a younger player is sent off for misconduct during a game, in addition to noting it on the game card, referees should promptly contact the Division Referee Administrator.

Answered 10.25.17


   Goalkeepers and 6 seconds

Q: Another team's goalkeeper controlled the ball with hands in her own penalty area for more than six seconds on multiple occasions which would normally result in an indirect free kick offense. Unlike other calls where perception and judgement is involved, counting 6 seconds requires less judgement.


While the 6 second rule sounds like it is a simple black and white rule, that is not how the Game applies the rule.  The rule is intended as one of judgment--and it carries a very harsh penalty, as it creates a significant scoring opportunity for the opponent.  Accordingly, referees are not trained to count off the seconds the way a basketball referee would and catch the goalkeeper with the ball.  (Indeed, watch a professional match and goalkeepers routinely hold the ball for more than 6 seconds.  Yet I only know of only one example of the rule being infraction being called in a professional game--in the women's world cup between the US and Canada, which created a bit of a fire storm even though the goalkeeper had been consistently holding the ball for more than 10 seconds.)  The rule (which replaced a "four step" rule for goalkeepers) is simply intended to be applied with judgment so that game moves forward without excessive delays.  So despite the way the the rule is written, it is ultimately a rule for referee judgment.  When in the opinion of the referee it is necessary, referees should encourage goal keepers to release the ball more quickly.  Only when a goalkeeper continues to delay after being warned should a referee consider calling the infraction.  (As an aside, it often seems the goalkeeper has the ball longer than she does as nothing is happening.  And even from a technical perspective, the 6 seconds does not start until the goalkeeper has clear possession and, if necessary, time to get to her feet.)  Note for 10U:  the 6 seconds would not start until all opponents have retreated beyond the build out line.

Answered 10.9.17

   When is a goal a goal?

Q: There was one goal which we thought was scored. The ball was blocked by the goalkeeper, but while in the goalkeeper's possession, went across the goal line into the goal. It was not recognized as a goal by the AR. My question is: If the ball is touching and on the goal line (ie not completely over it) could that be a reason the goal was not recognized by the AR?

A: Exactly!  For a goal to score (and indeed any time the ball leaves play) the whole ball must cross over the whole line.  That is true whether the ball is in the air or on the ground--the line shoots straight up.  On close plays, one has to be very close to the goal line to know for sure whether the whole ball crossed the whole line, or whether than last smidgen of the ball is hanging over a smidgen of the line.  Assistant Referees should be trying very hard to be standing on the goal line when these events arise so they can make the close call.  One trick that Assistant Referees use is to see the goal posts, which should have their back edges on the back portion of the goal line.  If the Assistant Referee is on the goal line so that the goal posts line up, she can tell if the whole ball crossed the whole line by seeing if the ball passes the post.

Answered 10.9.17

   2017 Changes in 10U

Q: My son's 10U coach just told me about some rule changes for this age group, including an addition filed marking between the halfway line and the penalty area, changes to how a goalkeeper may restart play, and changes to offside. Where can I get details about these changes?

A: At the bottom of both the coach page and the referee page on the Region 13 website you can find two relevant documents: AYSO Region 13's Guidance, Interpretation & Modifications for 10U Referees on the Laws of the Game (revised July 2017) and FAQ Regarding the Build Out Line in 10U (revised July 2017).  (These topics will also be covered at the Region 13 Coach and Referee meetings on Tuesday September 5 and Thursday September 7.)

answered 9.3.17

   Goalkeepers outside the penalty area

Q: When a goal keeper catches ball along the penalty side line and steps across it with ball in hands what is the penalty?

A: Short answer: Direct free kick. A bit more information: When the goalkeeper is outside of the penalty area, the goalkeeper has no special rights or privileges.  Since deliberate handling is one of the direct fee kick offenses in Law 12, that means that if the goalkeeper deliberately handles the ball outside the penalty area, the offense results in  a direct free kick.  Outside of the penalty area refers to the position of the ball.  If any part of the ball is on or above even a smidgen of the line, the goalkeeper is still able to touch any part of the ball. On punts, referees need to keep in mind a couple of things.  What matters is where the ball is when the goalkeeper lets go of the ball -- not where the ball is when it is kicked.  Many goalkeepers will release the ball inside the penalty area, but kick the ball well outside, which is perfectly legal.  If referees or assistant referees suspect minor violations on punts, it is advisable to warn the goal keeper before calling the infraction. (Many wise coaches teach goalkeepers not to get right on the line to avoid an inadvertent violation.) 5.29.17

   This is the short title

Q: This was the original question.

A: Here is the new answer which should show up in the database.

   Restarting play after injuries

Q: After a stoppage of play due to injury, what are the restart protocols?

A: Short Answer: Either the restart that was already supposed to take place or a dropped ball.   A bit more information: If the game is already stopped when the referee becomes aware of an injury, such as if the referee had called a foul or the ball had left the field of play, the injury does not change the restart:  it remains a free kick, throw in, goal kick, or corner kick. If the referee needs to stop the game because of the injury, then the referee will restart play with a dropped ball at the location of the ball when play was stopped (but not within the goal area).  If one team had clear possession of the ball when play stopped, the referee may encourage a "fair play" restart by either dropping the ball to a player on the team that had the ball or asking the opposing team if they will pass it back to the team that had it or kick the ball over the touchline so that team can have a throw in. The referee should always blow the whistle before play starts after an injury to make sure that all players are aware the game is about to restart. (Note that if the refere stopped play just for the injury or if the coach is called onto the field, the player must leave the game, at least momentarily.  If the coach does not elect to put in a substitute, the player must receive the referee's permission to come back onto the field -- but the referee may give that permission by waving the player back onto the field immediately after play has restarted.)   Answered 10.1.2015

   Keeping Assistant Referees Safe on the Touchline

Q: What can we do to make sure that coaches and parents leave enough space between the sidelines and their chairs so the assistant referee can move along. Sometimes the chairs are placed too close to the lines.


    Short Answer
Ask them to move back! A Bit More Information Assistant Referees are entitled to enough space to do their jobs. Many parents (and some coaches) aren't familiar enough with what they do to really understand that Assistant Referees need space behind the touchline at that end of the field because they are running down the touch line, with a flag in one hand, while looking at the field, not the spectators. Before the game starts, Assistant Referees should check and make sure there is enough space. If there isn't, simply ask the parents too move back -- do it with a smile, and maybe say something like "I really don't want to land in your lap when I'm running!" If they inch up, or new arrivals come and set up to close, again, ask them in a friendly way to move back. In those rare cases that parents are not responsive, ask the coach for help -- explain that you can't do what you need to do unless he gets the parents to back up and give you enough space. In the unlikely event that the Assistant Referee working with the coach is not enough to solve the problem (and this should be extremely rare in AYSO), the Assistant Referee should call the Referee to the touchline to assist. If he needs to, the Referee can tell the coach that the game will not start (or restart) until the parents move back so that the Assistant Referee has enough space. But things shouldn't get that far -- polite requests should be enough to get parents (and their kids!) back where they need to be so the Assistant Referee is safe and can focus on doing his or her job well. Answered 9.9.2015

   Goalkeeper Possession and Assistant Referees

Q: What's the rule if the goalie has his hand on the ball but doesn't really have full control? May a player kick it out of his hand and then score? The head ref waved off the goal, and the lines person overruled after consultation. So this may be a two part question: 1) the rule re the hand; 2) the lines person overruling.


    Short Answer
: (1) If in the opinion of the referee a goalkeeper has possession of the ball an opponent may not kick the ball. (2) It is completely appropriate -- and encouraged -- for the referee team to work together and referees to consult with their assistant referees when the assistant referee has information that may help the referee make a final decision.
    A Bit More Explanation:
(1) When, in the opinion of the referee, a goalkeeper has possession, kicking the ball is a foul and a direct free kick would be awarded to the goalkeeper's team. In its Advice to Referees, USSF has explained goalkeeper possession: "12.B.4 Goalkeeper Possession of the Ball The goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball when the ball is: • held with both hands, • held by trapping the ball between one hand and any surface (e.g., the ground, a goalpost, the goalkeeper’s body), or • held in a single hand (gripped or in an outstretched open hand). "Once established, possession is maintained while the ball is held as described above, while bouncing the ball on the ground, running with the ball, or while throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, after throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to hit the ground. For purposes of determining goalkeeper possession, the holding includes contact with any part of the goalkeeper’s arm from the fingertips to the shoulder. "When a goalkeeper has possession of the ball, any attempt by any opponent to charge, tackle, or otherwise challenge for the ball is prohibited. Such a challenge is considered to be a direct free kick foul because it is directed at the person of the goalkeeper and not as a legal attempt to gain the ball. A ball controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than his or her hands is open to legal challenge by an opponent. The referee must consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and err on the side of safety." Thus, the goalkeeper simply touching the ball does mean the opponents have to let the goalkeeper then pick up the ball. If in the opinion of the referee the ball is still moving around uncontrolled, opponents are free to try for the ball, so long as they do so in a safe and appropriate manner. If, however, the goalkeeper (in the opinion of the referee) was actually holding the ball or has pinned the ball to the ground, that would be sufficient to establish possession and no opponent should attempt to kick the ball. Ultimately, this is a key question of judgment for the referee team and the final judgment of the referee is the only opinion that matters. (2) A bit of terminology to start. There is no such thing as a head referee or a lines person. The referee team is made up of a referee (who has the whistle) and two assistant referees (who have flags). Ultimately, the referee is responsible for all decisions on the field -- the role of the two assistant referees is to assist the referee. The referee team should always be working together to do the best they can to "get it right." On a play such as the one described, it is fully appropriate for the referee to consult with the assistant referee. Law 5 of the Laws of the Game make clear that a referee may change a decision based on input from an assistant referee if the game has not yet restarted. If, upon consultation with the assistant referee, the referee decides it was not a foul, he can reverse that decision -- it sounds as if that is what happened here. (That change could be based on considering what the assistant referee saw or on discussing how to evaluate if it was a foul.) And so long as the whistle had not blown before the ball entered the goal, awarding the goal would then be completely proper. Answered 11.17.14

   Coming back from offside position

Q: An attacking player is in an offside position but returns to an onside position before the ball is directed to him or to another teammate. Is it OK for him to participate in the play?


    Short Answer
: Offside position will be re-evaluated each time the ball is played by or touches a teammate. So if the player returns to an onside position and the ball touches a teammate, the player will no longer have offside status.
    A bit more explanation
: Law 11 tells us that offside position is evaluated each time the ball is played by or touches a teammate. A player in offside position at the time a teammate plays or touches the ball is off his side (off his team) and cannot become actively involved in play until one of three things happens: - play is stopped (the ball leaves the field or the referee otherwise stops play) - a teammate again plays or is touched by the ball (at which time the referee would again decide if here were in offside position or not) - an opponent plays the ball but the play is not a save Our question doesn't say how the ball was redirected. If the player was in offside position, for example, when his teammate took a shot, and came back to an onside position while the ball struck the goal post directing the ball to him, the player would still be called for an offside infringement as none of the three things occurred to re-set the offside analysis. If, however, it was another touch by a teammate that directed the ball to him, then his offside position would be reevaluated at the time of that next touch -- each touch by a teammate completely restarts the offside analysis. If the ball was redirected by an opponent, two things are possible: (1) If, in the opinion of the referee, the ball deflected off an opponent or was a save by an opponent, the player would still be called for an offside infringement as none of the three things that re-set offside occurred. (2) If, in the opinion of the referee, the opponent played the ball (other than a save) and directed it to the attacker, there would be no offside possible as the ball was last played by a defender. Answered 11.14.14

   Goalkeepers bouncing the ball

Q: Are goalkeepers allowed to bounce the ball like a basketball before they kick it?


Short Answer:

A bit more explanation:
The official Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees (second part of the Laws booklet) provides in its discussion of Law 12 that a goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball "while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing in into the air."  That means that when the goalkeeper bounces the ball, an opponent is not permitted to try to kick the ball away.

While a goalkeeper is permitted to bounce the ball, it may not be a good idea.  If, for example, the ball hits an odd clump of grass and bounces away, an opponent is free to challenge for the ball.  And since the goalkeeper released the ball, the goalkeeper would not be permitted to use her hands to get the ball back unless the attacker touched the ball first.  (If she used her hands it would be an indirect free kick for the other team as she touched the ball with her hands after releasing the ball from her possession before it touched another player.)  Of course, it is up to coaches, nor referees, to instruct their goalkeepers regarding bouncing the ball, as the bouncing is perfectly permissible under the Laws of the Game.

(Historical aside:  Once upon a time, goalkeepers were limited to taking four steps rather than limited to six seconds with the ball.  During part of the four-step era, a bounce counted as a single step even if the goalkeeper took several steps during the bounce.  So, back then, bouncing the ball made sense, as it allowed the goalkeeper to move farther up the penalty area before punting.)

Answered 10.12.2014

   Protecting the Goalkeeper

Q: This question relates to the notion of "protecting the keeper". The goal keeper makes an attempt to handle the ball inside his own penalty area. A charging opponent kicks the ball before the keeper has complete control of the ball. What is the appropriate call? Is this a foul? If so, what is the appropriate restart? Is this "playing in a dangerous manner" restarted by an indirect free kick or is it a direct free kick for an offense against the keeper. Thank you.

A: Short Answer:

If, in the opinion of the referee, a goal keeper has possession of the ball (which includes a single finger on a stopped ball), and it is kicked by an opponent, the offense by the opponent is kicking and a direct free kick should be awarded to the goalkeeper’s team.

A Bit More Explanation:

In order to protect goalkeepers, the Laws of the Game create a very broad definition of possession by the goalkeeper. USSF’s Advice to Referees (section 12.B.4) makes clear that goalkeeper possession includes a ball trapped or pinned by the goalkeeper against the ground, a body, part, or even the goal post. The Advice to Referees goes on to note that in deciding if the goalkeeper has possession, the referee should consider the age of the players and err on the side of safety. In other words, in a U10 or U12 game, all doubt in the referee’s mind about whether the goalkeeper has possession should be resolved in favor of the goalkeeper and a decision that he has possession. Once in the opinion of the referee the goalkeeper has possession of the ball, an opponent who kicks the ball (or the goalkeeper) has committed a kicking foul against the goalkeeper, and a direct free kick should be awarded to the goalkeeper’s team.

When, in the opinion of the referee, the goalkeeper does not yet have possession, an opponent is free to try to kick the ball – as long as it is not done in a dangerous way that makes it unfair for the goalkeeper who is trying to grab the ball. In deciding if the play by the attacker is dangerous rather than fair, the referee should consider where the foot is in relationship to the ball, whether the attacker has a reasonable chance to play the ball, and where the foot is in relationship to the goalkeeper’s face. If, in the opinion or the referee, the attacker’s behavior is unfairly dangerous to the goalkeeper, the referee may call the indirect free kick foul of playing in a dangerous manner, and award an indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team. Again, the younger the age group, the further the referee should go in erring on the side of protecting the goalkeeper.

There will also be occasions on which the ball is simply loose and two players – the goalkeeper and the attacker – are each trying to get the ball. By tradition, when a goalkeeper is trying to play the ball with his hands, we do not tend to consider that action to be the offense of playing in a dangerous manner to himself, as we have permitted goalkeepers to take a certain amount of risk as part of the game. But referees should be aware that sometimes goalkeepers go too far in their pursuit of the ball, and may be guilty of fouls for pushing, charging or tripping in their effort to get the ball, each of which would result in a penalty kick if occurring within the penalty area. Similarly, referees should observe whether the charging attacker unfairly charged or pushed the goalkeeper who was scrambling for the ball or kicked the goalkeeper while trying to kick the ball.

To loop back to the original question, if in the opinion of the referee what happened is the goalkeeper knocked the ball down such that it bounced in front of him, and the attacker kicked the loose ball before the goalkeeper could get a hand on it, unless the attacker did so in an unfairly dangerous manner or ran into the goalkeeper to do so, there would not be a foul. If, on the other hand in the opinion of the referee, what happened is the goalkeeper pinned the ball to the ground, but had not yet pulled the ball into his body, and the attacker kicked it away, the attacker would have committed a kicking foul and a direct free kick would be awarded to the goalkeeper’s team.

Answered 10.10.2014

   Indirect Free Kicks

Q: In an indirect kick the kicked ball must be touched by another player on either team before crossing the goal line, correct? If this is correct and the main judge does not see the ball deflect off a players foot prior to going over the goal line, however, the side judge does, what is the proper protocol to ensure the correct call is made, without being an interfering coach? In our particular game, the side ref stated 'the ball was deflected' but the main judge didn't hear the statement or look for confirmation. Is there a way to request a brief conference between refs to ensure the correct call is made while not questioning the main ref's call? Thanks,


Short Answer:

Yes, an indirect free kick cannot score unless, in the opinion of the referee, it touches a second player (from either team) after it is in play and before the ball entirely crosses the goal line.


A Bit More Explanation:

as the question notes, the key element of an indirect free kick (see Law 13) is that it cannot score directly – it must be touched (which includes a deflection) by a player from either team after the ball is in play in order to score.  If that second touch does not occur, it will be a goal kick or corner kick depending on which team took the free kick.

If an Assistant Referee believes that the ball was touched by a second player, and it appears the Referee did not see it, the Assistant Referee should raise his flag and seek to get the Referee’s attention to have a conversation about what each saw.  So long as the Referee has not permitted the restart (the goal kick or corner kick) to take place, the Referee may choose to change his decision and award the goal.  But the decision remains with the Referee (who may well have been closer to the play), who may decide that he had the better view and there was no deflection. 
(The question did not state whether the kick was by the attacking or defending team.  If the free kick was by the defense from within the team's own penalty area, the ball would not be in play if it had not left the penalty area, and it would not matter if it was touched within the penalty area, as the ball was still not in play and the kick would still need to be properly taken.)

Part of the question here was ultimately what can the coach do to ensure the Assistant Referee and Referee have a discussion.  Unlike some sports that have special provisions that allow coaches to call time out and request officials to consult or clarify a ruling, neither the Laws of the Game nor AYSO grant coaches any such rights.  Coaches have only the right to provide technical advice to their players – nothing else.  (And, of course, AYSO coaches are directed to do so according to “PIE” – Positive, Instructional & Encouraging.”)  That said, if a coach very politely lets a Referee know that the Assistant Referee has information for him, the Referee may oblige by speaking to the Assistant Referee.  But he also may not for a variety of reasons – perhaps he already understands what the Assistant Referee thought he saw and believes he as referee had the better view, or perhaps he saw something else  that prevents the goal from scoring.  Ultimately, coaches need to accept the decision of the referee and move on, notwithstanding the possibility that an error was made.

Answered 10.9.2014

   Deliberate Handling and Reflexive Protection

Q: A long throw-in went to the middle of the field where a player put up both her arms to cover her face and the ball deflected off her forearms. The referee did not call it a foul because she was covering her face to protect it from the ball coming at her, and anyway he said, the other team had advantage. Was that correct?

A: Short Answer:

If in the opinion of the referee the handling was not deliberate, then no offense has occurred.  As a general matter, referees will not consider handling as deliberate when a player reacts reflexively to protect herself from a ball.

A Bit More Explanation: 

While we often hear cries of "hand ball" from the touch line, the offense in Law 12 is not "hand ball" but "handles the ball deliberately."  "Deliberate" has a particular meaning in the Laws.  Among the factors that have long been recognized is that deliberate does not include reflexive protection -- there is only so much we can do to shut down our protective reflexes, and those reflexes should not be punished.  (See Advice to Referees section 12.A.9.) It can be challenging at times for referees to draw the line between when a player reflexively protects herself and when a player decides to use her hands to put in front of her face instead of playing the ball with her head or chest or getting out of the way.  A couple of the key factors to consider are how fast the ball is coming at the player and from how far away -- put another way, did she have time to decide what to do, or was it an instinctive act?  (What is enough time will depend on age and skill level -- a professional player will be expected to be much better at not using his or her hands than a U10 player.)  Often a long throw-in is slow enough and far enough away that a player has time to make a decision; if in the opinion of the referee she does have time, and instead decides to use her hands or arms, that is deliberate handling. 

This question also raised the issue of "advantage."  A referee uses the advantage clause to not call a foul (such as deliberate handling) when in the opinion of the refereethe offended team is better off if the foul is not called. (In other words, it applies only when the referee has decided a foul occurred and decided to apply advantage.). At lower levels, the advantage clause is not used frequently, in part because players are still learning what is or is not a foul, and calling fouls helps them learn.  When the referee does decide to apply advantage and not stop play, the referee should call out "advantage, play on!" And should give the advantage signal (both arms swept up above the head (see page 81 of the Laws of the Game for a picture of the signal). At younger levels, it is generally best to apply advantage only when there is a chance for the offended team to score and that chance is better than the chance would be to score from the free kick that would otherwise be awarded.

Answered 10.6.2014

   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)

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