Each season we send out an email to our parents highlighting common misconceptions about the game of soccer that come up again and again in our league. Looking back, the vast majority of parent complaints and controversy end up coming from a misunderstanding of the laws of the game. It is fairly long, but surprisingly, it gets read by many of the parents. I like to post it here each season as we refine it, highlight new rule changes, and as always, hoping to get feedback from other leagues on items we could include (or exclude). So comment away!

P.S. – Apologies for the lack of posting lately – the Fall season is kicking off this week and we’ve been very busy as most of you are familiar with. My first U10 match is tonight, minus two of my stronger players – should be interesting!


Here is the Rule Primer email we sent this week:

In preparation for opening day, I wanted to provide our parents with some info about our league and game rules that may come in helpful during matches. The vast majority of complaints we receive as a league are due to misconceptions about the laws of the game. Note that some rules have changed – be sure to read the rules for your child’s division AND the league at http://mebanesoccer.us/rules/MYSA_League_Rules.html

Players should arrive for their matches at least 15 minutes before the scheduled match time! Equipment checks will begin 10 minutes prior to the match at midfield. Remember – cleats with a single ‘toe cleat’ at the very tip of the shoe are for baseball and will not be allowed. Players without shin guards will NOT play. Shin guards must be under the sock (either completely against the skin or over a long sock with the top half folded back over the shinguard) Mouth guards are being handed out this week and are optional – we strongly suggest your children wear them as we have had chipped teeth, etc. Jerseys should be tucked into a players shorts.

Mouthguards are provided to U8 players and above and we STRONGLY recommend they be worn. The mouthguards provided by the MYSA must be fitted before use by heating in boiling water first – read the instructions on the package carefully! You will get the best fit if your child pushes the back of the mouthguard against the back of their teeth with their tongue while you push it up against the front of their teeth – THEN have them bite down.

All spectators must sit on the OPPOSITE side of the field from the teams. This helps reduce distraction on the sidelines. Spectators must sit 2 yards away from the touch line (this is indicated by a dashed line along the spectator side of the field – if it’s not there, try to stay this distance away) This helps reduce the likelihood of player injury as they run after a ball going out of bounds and ensures they have enough room to properly throw in a ball.

Spectators may NOT enter the field of play unless summoned by the referee. Any spectator that enters the field without being summoned is subject to ejection from the sports complex.

Unlike other sports, a soccer ball is NOT out of bounds until the entire ball crosses OVER the boundary. Thus, it will often appear that a ball has rolled out of bounds along the boundary when it is, in fact, still in play. The same rule applies to goals – a goal is NOT scored until the WHOLE ball completely crosses over the vertical plane of the goal line. It is legal for a goalie to stop the ball as it is crossing the line and throw/kick it back into play.

One change that will be confusing at first relates to throw-ins. Up until now our league has called an illegal throw in if a players foot touched the line. We discovered this summer that this was incorrect. Starting this fall, we will call throw ins according to FIFA rules. This means a players foot (or even both feet) may be ON the line. A foul occurs if one or both feet are COMPLETELY inside the field – not touching the touchline. So please don’t scream at the line judges if a player steps on the line during a throw-in. It’s legal.

A player must (in the referee’s opinion) DELIBERATELY handle the soccer ball to lose possession (indirect kick) If the ball inadvertently hits a players hands or arm it is NOT considered a foul and the match will likely play on.

There is often confusion and concern about contact between players. Many parents think of soccer as a ‘non-contact’ sport which is not true. Contact between players during a game is very common. Here is a great excerpt from an article written by Team Nelson – experienced coaches and referees (http://wwwwww.oceansiderevolution.com/HRDSMRT_content_1.HTM#9):

"Pushing with the hands is part and parcel of the six to ten age group game. It occurs all over the field. The player wants the ball and there’s always someone in the way, and half the time it’s their own teammate. Keep in mind the following questions: Did anyone gain an advantage? Probably not, no foul. Where they’re both pushing at the same time? Most likely, no foul. Was it excitement or frustration? A push to a player who just took the ball away is a frustration reaction and is a foul that needs to be called."

Again – its about the advantage. Two players jostling for the ball are not going to get called. A player deliberately pushing a dribbler down to get the ball likely will get called. The same goes for holding – there must be intent and advantage for holding to be called.

We’ve all seen it, a player is dribbling down-field with the ball on a breakaway and is tripped by an opponent trying to steal the ball. Team Nelson sums this up quite well:

"Watch the feet. If both players contact the ball first, it’s not a foul. If the attempt was from behind, then it’s probably a foul since most players at this level do not have the skill to execute this type of tackle correctly."

The key is the feet. A trip from foot to foot contact is usually a foul if there was no ball contact. But the most common occurrence is two players striking the ball at the same time and one goes down – that’s soccer and play continues.

Slide tackles are FORBIDDEN in ALL divisions EXCEPT U14 (outside the goal box), regardless of their impact on the progress of the game or proximity to the ball. There have, however, been key changes to playing the ball on the ground this season. In U5-U8, the ball CANNOT be played on the ground like previous seasons. However, in U10 and U12, players MAY make sliding saves, etc. so long as no other players are in their vicinity (at the discretion of the referee).

If a player falls onto the ball during play, the opposing team gets possession via an indirect kick. This may seem strange, but technically the player who falls on the ball is playing in a ‘dangerous manner’ (dangerous to themselves) The reason for this rule is to ensure the downed player is not kicked and injured as other players try to get the ball. In U5/U6 the kids get into a ‘zone’ of "I gotta get the ball!" and often don’t realize they could hurt someone on the ground as they try to kick the ball away.

Of course to make things even more fun, if a player falls onto the ball because they were tripped or pushed (vs just falling on their own trying to get the ball), his/her team WILL get the ball back via indirect kick because a foul CAUSED them to fall on the ball. Confused yet? :)

One of the keys to youth soccer is to let the game flow freely and avoid stoppages for incidental contact. The kids learn more this way. That’s not to say a referee will just ‘play on’ after an obvious foul because this teaches the players the wrong lesson. But we are also not going to be overly picky about calls causing frequent stoppages of play when there was no clear advantage. This allows for a fast paced match that our players learn from.

We also ask that parents respect our referees. We all may disagree with a call from time to time, but the ruling on the field is final and screaming at the refs about a given call does NOT set a good example for the players who are subject to ejection for arguing with a game official. Parents should not address the referee’s at all during a game. If you have a problem with the officiating of a game, you should take it up with your child’s coach or an MYSA official after the game. MYSA officials will be easier to see this year – they will be wearing bring yellow shirts with a large blue stripe that will say ‘League Official’

We have had MANY of our referees certified by the national referee association so like our coaches, we continue to strive to improve the knowledge and ability of our officiating pool.

Parents behaving inappropriately will be warned by the referee and are subject to ejection from the facilities. Soccer is a fast paced, exciting game and its easy to get carried away – just remember your kids are VERY aware of you on the sidelines.

Finally – please do not coach your child from the sidelines. Of all the things covered here, this is one of the most important. The children are there to play soccer and it can be very confusing and distracting to have parents yelling out instructions (even as simple as GET THE BALL), coaches trying to coach, etc. By all means cheer your child on. But leave the coaching to the coaches. You may be surprised at how much quieter our coaches will be on the sidelines this year.

This little story is very illuminating in this regard:

A mother is making a breakfast with fried eggs for her teenage son. Suddenly the boy bursts into the kitchen. He screams:

"Careful! CAREFUL! Put in some more butter! Oh my goodness! You’re cooking too many at once. TOO MANY! Turn them! TURN THEM NOW! We need more butter. Oh my! WHERE are we going to get MORE BUTTER? They’re going to STICK! Careful! … CAREFUL! I said be CAREFUL! You NEVER listen to me when you’re cooking! Never! Turn them! Hurry up! Are you CRAZY? Have you LOST your mind? Don’t forget to salt them. You know you always forget to salt them. Use the salt. USE THE SALT! THE SALT!"

The mother stared at him. "What’s wrong with you? You think I don’t know how to fry a couple of eggs?"

The son calmly replied, "I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I’m trying to play soccer."

Something to consider.

See you on the fields!

We also send out a separate offsides refresher for divisions that have offsides (yes, we call offsides in U10 unlike much of the country). This was the email sent this season:

Parents,

We wanted to share some additional information regarding offsides, one of the most misunderstood laws of soccer.

The FIFA Laws of the Game state in Law 11:

******

It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position. A player is in an offside position if:

  • he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

A player is not in an offside position if:

  • he is in his own half of the field of play or
  • he is level with the second last opponent or
  • he is level with the last two opponents.

A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.

There is no offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from:

  • a goal kick or
  • a throw-in or
  • a corner kick

*****

FIFA says a lot in as few words as possible.

The one easy thing about offsides is determining when a player is in an ‘offsides position’ If an attacking player without the ball is in his opponents half of the field and there is no defending player between them and the keeper and they are not even with that defender – that is an offsides position. Note they keep it generic and say opponent. If the keeper comes far out of the goal but a defender hangs back in goal, the attacker must stay even with the keeper. If the last defender and goalie are standing next to each other and the attacker is even with them, that is not offsides. Note the rule talks about the ball. If attacking player A dribbles up the field past the 2nd to last defender and Player B sprints past them (and the ball) – they will be in an offsides position.

That’s the easy part. Now for the fun. The law makes clear that being in an offside position is not an offense. You are called offsides if you gain an advantage from being in that offsides position. This is where it gets tricky.

Note they state ‘is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team’ Offsides is determined when the ball is kicked, NOT when the ball is received by the offsides player. Take this example. Player A is even with the 2nd to last opponent (onsides) when their teammate kicks the ball ahead of them. Player A darts past the opponent into what appears to be an offsides position when they reach the ball. This is legal because they were onsides *when the ball was kicked to them* In other words, if a player is already in an offsides position when the ball is kicked to them, then they get called for the foul.

The last three bullets are what often make offsides confusing. Lets go through them one by one, but in reverse.

  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.

This is very important. If a player goes into an offsides position and stands there away from the action – they gain no advantage – thus they are not called offsides. But supposed a player is standing offsides on the left while their teammate drives to the goal on the right. The teammate drills a shot into the post and the ball ricochets to that player who is still in an offsides position. NOW they get called for offsides because they gained an advantage (ball possession) by being offsides.

  • interfering with play or an opponent

This is often applied in combination with the first bullet. A player can gain an advantage an never touch the ball. Consider this. Player A gets the ball onsides and runs toward the goal up the right side of the field. Player B is up ahead on the left, in an offsides position and starts running towards the goal as well. Player A never passed, but instead drills a shot into the net as the keeper shifts left to cover Player B who is running at the goal at high speed. By distracting the keeper and affecting the play (i.e. the keeper defense) Player B has gained an advantage from their offsides position and thus can be called for offsides without even touching the ball.

Another scenario would be Player A is offsides directly in front of the keeper. Player B takes the ball towards the goal, using Player A as a screen, darts around Player A and scores. This is offsides because by screening the keeper’s view of the ball, Player A gained an advantage, again, without ever touching the ball.

FIFA released a clarification (Decision 2) which highlights some of these very scenarios.

  • Interfering with play means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
  • Interfering with an opponent means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.
  • Gaining an advantage by being in that position means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.

One scenario that happens more often than you think can also cause the most controversy because the scoring player is often clearly offsides when they score.

Player A is standing near the goal in an offsides position. Player B dribbles up field and passes to the offsides teammate, but the ball deflects off a defender before reaching the offsides player. The offsides player scores and the goal stands. A player cannot be offsides if they receive the ball from an opponent.

Finally – note the exceptions. With our short fields, it is quite common for keepers to punt the ball well into the far penalty box. A player may be in an offsides position to receive the goal kick.

As with many Laws of the Game, the decision to call offsides is at the discretion of the referee and the referee only!

Hopefully this clears up some common misconceptions about offsides. FIFA has an excellent Flash animation regarding offsides on their website. It takes about 10 minutes and a broadband connection. Many scenarios and examples are given. Simply click ‘Launch Flash Version’ at the bottom of the Law 11 web page (http://fifa.com/en/laws/Laws11_01.htm)

Offsides is a tough rule to understand, for parents and players alike. It also is one of the rules that gives soccer its mystique. However the basic concepts are easy to grasp and after watching your first match or two, you’ll start to recognize when players are really offsides and when they aren’t.

If you have a question about a given call – ask your coach after the match or even the match official. After the match of course :)

See you on the fields!

Not the shortest primer, but it touches on many of the questions we’ve gotten over the years.

After we sent out the offsides primer, one of our coaches sent back some additional thoughts he had for offsides related to specific situations that happen enough to confuse parents:

The last point you make should refer to a drop kick/punt as they can’t be offside from a goal kick. They can be offside from a drop kick.

Without trying to confuse them further, they can’t be offside from a ball played back to them. IE, 2 players break away with only the keeper to beat, Player A takes it to the near post and draws the keeper to him. Just before the keeper gets to them they pass the ball across the goal but slightly backwards to player B, who shoots and scores. Player B is not offside as the ball was not played forward.

So there you have it. Our seasonal crash course for our parents. Does your league do something similar? If so, what areas do you find most useful to cover?