When our league was forming, I spent a lot of time visiting the websites of various established soccer leagues, trying to get a handle on what type of modified rules they played by. This was in the midst of the movement to small sided soccer, but regardless of the field size a league used, almost all had this magic phrase:

shall play matches governed by the latest FIFA Laws of the Game, with the following exceptions

Most of the exceptions are for field size, match length, goal size, roster size, ball size, and a few foul/penalty adjustments. But that’s it. Some may institute more detailed punishments for fighting, drug use, things like that. But overall, FIFA rules apply.

This brought up an interesting situation in a recent match in our league. In a 6v6 small sided match, there was an indirect kick awarded about one yard away from the penalty box. The team did a tap and shoot which the kicker executed perfectly. The ball was headed right over the head of a player in the wall towards the upper corner of the goal, until the player whose head it was whizzing by swatted it down with both hands.

FIFA rules dictate a red card in this situation for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity by handling the ball in the penalty box. In addition, many associations, ours included, have rules stipulating automatic one match suspensions if a player receives a red card. These automatic sanctions are meant to discourage fighting, but technically – they apply for ANY red card.

So what do you think should have happened?

Should the kid have been shown Red? If he was, should the one match suspension have applied? Should the referee just warn him? Yellow card instead? Does age matter? What if it was Challenge/Select vs Recreational? Lots of interesting questions.

Obviously, the kid who swatted the ball away didn’t deserve a suspension for a knee jerk reaction. In our recreational league, we encourage referees to yellow card when appropriate because it gets the kids attention. In U10 and above, the kid likely would have been shown a red card because we try to enforce the rules properly so the kids can learn them as some prepare to move to the travel team level. We’ve yet to have a red card for any of our players, which is good, and the coaches know to teach the seven deadly sins early. In U8 – they’re still learning, so the only thing that might earn a red card would be a kid physically fighting with another kid. That said, when I talked about it with our referee coordinator, we both felt there’s no way a match suspension should apply. But the rules would call for it.

Obviously common sense would prevail in a situation like this and the league likely would have not applied any suspension if the kid had been sent off. Most referees would probably not have shown red unless the kid clearly meant to swat down the ball vs. just trying to swat it away from their head, which is what happened for us. However, this was also a ‘coachable moment’ for our league and we realize our rules need some tweaking over the summer to ensure they don’t apply in unexpected ways.

So the moral of the story is – check your rules. They might apply in ways you never intended. Some leagues don’t show cards at all in Recreation or only for fighting, others try to enforce the rules properly in older Rec divisions to make sure the kids get familiar with them. Showing a kid a card is a huge coachable moment if handled properly, but your rules may have unintended consequences.