Tackling From Behind

I love responding to comments from readers – it’s part of what makes writing a blog fun. But occasionally I find a comment and/or the response warrant a full blown post, so don’t be surprised if you ask an intriguing question and it ends up on Page 1 😀

Recently a parent posted a comment on an old post about slide tackling, wondering when a tackle from behind warranted a caution or sending off:

My daughter (u-12) had a break away and was tackled from behind resulting in a concussion. No foul was called and when I went to league officials they told me that it was not intentional, so it was not a foul. The league told me that there is no such rule stating tackling from behind was a foul. I thought that any tackle from behind was prohibited and normally a red card, am I wrong? Any thoughts on this rule?

This should be fun. Now remember that I am not a certified referee, so take my interpretations with a grain of salt and all of you Grade 8’s and above out there feel free to chime in. But a good reading of the laws provides a pretty clear answer. Clear as mud!

In short, the league officials were right and wrong. IAFB Decision 4 for Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct states the following:

A tackle, which endangers the safety of any opponent, must be sanctioned as serious foul play

There is no talk about intent. Read Law 12 in the FIFA Laws of the Game and advice to referees (Page 55 and beyond) Intent is not brought to bear when the safety of a player is involved. The section above used to be just for ‘tackles from behind’, but they removed it recently to emphasize that direction did not matter. Serious foul play is a sending off offense – period. So the trick is did the tackle endanger the player. The fact that your daughter hit her head so hard makes that pretty obvious. So your league was correct that there is no FIFA rule prohibiting a tackle from behind, but incorrect in saying that intent mattered. Besides – if you take someone down from behind trying to tackle the ball on a breakaway – of course there was intent :)

Now things get fun. In the 2007 Advice to Referees, US Soccer makes clear that committing a foul while tackling from behind is a cautionable offense, even if the ref felt it wasn’t a dangerous play. ANY direct kick foul when tackling from behind (say tripping) is cautionable (yellow). Section 12.28.1 makes it clear:

The following specific actions are considered cautionable as unsporting behavior: A player commits a direct free kick foul while tackling for the ball from behind without endangering the safety of an opponent.

Part C (Serious Foul Play and Violent Conduct) goes even farther:

Referees must be particularly vigilant regarding offenses which are too severe for a caution and which include one or more of the following additional elements: Tackling from behind during which a foul is committed.

But you didn’t mention one thing – when she was brought down, was it really a foul – i.e. did the defender trip her up or did she fall over the ball? If it was ‘all ball’, the current laws make it pretty clear that it’s OK, even if it was from behind. Over at AskTheRef, they seem to agree. But your league’s concern over intent makes it seem like a foul was committed and if so, there certainly seem to have been grounds for a foul or card, even if it was unintentional.

Even worse – if she had a breakaway and was likely to score, an argument could be made that she was denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity and the player should have been sent off for that. But the devil is in the details like was any foul committed or did the referee feel it was a clean tackle and your daughter just tripped over the ball.

So in short your league is right – tackling from behind is not a foul, but committing a foul while tackling from behind, at least in the US, is enough to show a yellow.

What do the rest of you think?

Leave a Reply

  1. I think you got it right.

    It seems hypothetically possible, though highly unlikely, that a defender could accelerate from behind the attacker fast enough to knock the ball away without first knocking into the attacker, but that would be exceptional play – I’d love to see it.

    Most likely the defender would contact the player before contacting the ball, and that’s the criteria as I recall it for a foul. It is not a foul if your tackle contacts the ball and then contacts the player – but that would be very hard to do from behind since the ball is on the other side of the attacker.

    At any rate, I think at U12 level any tackle from behind is going to be dangerous play, and when the pros tackle from behind they know to expect a yellow card.

    Caveat – I do not actively referee – my insurance won’t cover the potential bodily harm from parents and other spectators.


  2. Caveat – I do not actively referee – my insurance won’t cover the potential bodily harm from parents and other spectators.

    HAHAHAHAHA – That’s hilarious, but sadly true in many cases.

  3. As a licensed referee, your interpetation is correct. Of course, I say this without witnessing the play first hand.

    At this age level, I would expect the player making the tackle to try to prevent going one on one with the keeper….thinking it was a last ditch effort. I also expect that the player that tackled didn’t mean to hurt the other player.

    With this in mind, I would have sent off the player making the tackle immediately. Intent has nothing to due with the laws of the game.

    I would hope this would be a learning experience for the sent off player.

  4. With only a modest refereeing background, it’s hard for me to imagine that a player beaten by a striker, since no offsides was called probably b/c the striker was quicker/faster, could then accelerate sufficiently to catch up to the striker and then tackle the ball first. This is U12 girls soccer we’re talking about, not Premiere League (where slide tackles from the back are almost always yellows). While the league may have been technically correct that there is no absolute rule against tackles from behind, it was clearly dead wrong to say that no foul occurred b/c there was no intent to injure. As referees and league administrators we have to protect the kids first, not make hypertechnical excuses. My view is that, if she was clearly going to get a good shot on the goal with her breakaway, that the tackler be given a yellow card and a penalty kick awarded.

  5. Caveat: I actively referee, but it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the U-littles. Experienced players know how to foul and fall without endangering their opponents or themselves. Inexperienced players are more clumsy and that makes things more dangerous for everyone.

    Your analysis of the Law and Advice is correct. I also appreciate your even-handed analysis when you point out that the tackle could have been executed fairly and safely. I would add that for a foul there must be “careless, reckless, or excessive force,” committed by the player in the opinion of the referee. It’s easy to forget on the discussion boards that everyone has a unique (and usually biased, even if unintentionally so) perspective. I’m sure the mother believes this was a malicious tackle from behind, and perhaps it looks that way from the midfield touchline.

    However, I’m unwilling to pass judgment on this play unless I was actually there to see it. As Coach Tim says, this is indeed U-12 girls soccer, and in my experience, U-12’s are often less skilled at dribbling, so a faster player can easily (and often does) catch up on a breakaway. I can see several scenarios where this tackle is committed safely and fairly and legally–without careless, reckless, or excessive force (even though it appeared unsafe and illegal to the parent).

    Perspective matters.

    But I keep coming back to the type of injury the player suffered: a concussion? A (truly) tackle from behind is dangerous mostly to a player’s legs/ankles. If the player got a concussion, then I’m tempted to believe the real cause of this injury is not the supposed foul tackle (even if the tackle was every bit as bad as the mother said it was). This is a head injury from falling down (after the tackle); this injury is the really result of playing on a field that is too hard. Dangerously so.

    Particularly in light of your discussion on Sever’s Disease, do you think too many players are playing/practicing on field surfaces that are too hard?

    But then, I’m a biased referee: What do I know…

  6. I actively referee the “little guys” and a tackle from behind is 99.999% a foul with at least a yellow card, if not a send off. Like many pointed, the pros know how to do this, but we need to teach the kids that tackles from behind are dangerous in most cases… hence a caution will at least make them remember that so they don’t do it again.

  7. Thanks for the feedback! OS – my only thought would be your thought about the concussion. An overly aggressive tackle from any direction can cause a player to hit the ground very hard in addition to any leg/ankle injury. But related to that, when I see players tripped up and it’s ‘all ball’ I rarely see that type of flat smack down into the ground – they almost roll through the air as theri foot slides across the ball. But a cleat to cleat tackle will take a player down very quickly – especially if it’s right as they are extending a foot forward in stride – off balance, hard to catch yourself.

  8. ObliviousScout- I agree with your reasoning.

    And being a U-12 girls travel coach myself, I have taught them how to slide tackle. I think it is important that they learn the correct way to execute it.

    The first thing I teach is that the slide is to occur IN FRONT of the player holding the ball – and most times this happens from behind very easilly. There really is no point in sliding when your opponent is in front of you. Why waste valuable time on the ground if your opponent hasn’t beaten you?

    So I am sorry I have to disagree as my U-12 girls all know how to properly slide from behind by correctly landing their sliding foot in front of the ball and making absolutely no contact with their opponent.

    And as OBLIVIOUSSCOUT mentioned, at this level, it would be very easy for a defender (w/o a ball at her feet) to catch up to an offender on a breakaway.


  9. I’ve been actively coaching and refereeing in the AYSO and USSF leagues here in Hawaii for quite a few years. The interpretations mentioned were quite accurate, but what needs to be mentioned is that league officials will support a referee’s decision regardless of right or wrong. Case in point:

    Here in AYSO Section 7, slide tackling is not allowed up through the U12 division due to safety concerns. In a tournament game during the Select season, my forward beats the last defender so it’s only the keeper remaining. By the time my forward reaches the penalty box, that last defender catches up from behind and tackles him, face planting him into the ground (notice I said tackle…as in NFL…not even a slide tackle). The forward gets hurt, that defender gets off of him and takes the loose ball, and the referee allows play to continue in which the other team scored a while later with my forward still on the ground injured. No red card, no penalty kick, no stoppage of play to check on the injured player…no nothing! Since no call was made, other players on that team decided they could get away with dirty play such as cracking my players in the head with their elbow while jumping up at them and slide tackling from behind to name a few. And they were right…no calls! As a referee, I’m wondering what’s wrong with that referee…as a parent, I am very upset…as a coach, I was about to pull my team off the field for safety reasons when time expired. So I spoke with that referee, and he admitted it was his first game refereeing, and that he wasn’t even certified (though the tournament required certified referee teams). Since there was an injured player, I had to fill out an injury report, and brought the incident up with the league. The result, I was chastised for not supporting a new volunteer and that as an experienced referee, I should’ve remembered what it was like my first time…nothing about player safety, nor the certified referee requirement. And I wasn’t the only team to experience situations like this. Another team had their large forward scissor slide tackled by a smaller defensive player, have that defender (with his legs entwined around a leg) dragged a few yards by the forward, and still no calls.

    The leagues will support their referees no matter what. Over the years, I’ve seen the quality of referees go downhill as they are being “encouraged” to allow play to continue…with play getting rougher and dirtier. Many parents are being “volunteered” as referees, so they have no desire to get better and to learn what we have to teach. The only time I’ve ever seen anything done was when it involved a potential lawsuit in which the league would be a defendant. So if you want your child to participate in youth sports, this is the situation you’ll have to deal with.