I’ve written a number of times before about youth soccer referees not wanting to use their cards. Initially it seemed to be due to the age of players that I coached. But now that my older girls team is in high school, I haven’t seen many more cards, even though I’ve seen plenty of fouls to warrant them – from opponents AND my own players. Just this past season, my keeper came WAY out to play a ball (we play a pressure defense, so our keeper often plays sweeper while the defense is at midfield) and it bounced off the opponent towards the open goal, with the opponent in pursuit. One of my defenders comes from out of nowhere and slide tackles the opponent hard just outside the area – but barely touched the ball. A strong argument could be made it was from behind (it was a very sharp angle). Ref awards a free kick at the top of the box!!!! I was stunned. Not one, but TWO red card offenses (Denial of Obvious Goal and Tackle From Behind), and not so much as a yellow. No, they weren’t malicious – she was just trying to get the ball – but the Laws of the Game do not stipulate that. She should have been red carded and I told her so. I’ve had a player laid out on the ground from a two handed shove in the back, 3 yds directly in front of an official and when I protested that was a yellow, he said to me “that wasn’t even close to a yellow”. Uh…

That said, soccer is pretty hard core compared to other sports where you have just fouls/penalties. Sure you have a technical in basketball (equivalent to a direct kick or MAYBE a penalty kick in soccer), and varying yardage in football (say difference between direct and indirect kicks in soccer and maybe a penalty kick when it’s a 15 yd penalty since you get a 1st down), but that’s it. You have to practically maul someone to get ejected. So in a sport where ‘cautions’ aren’t really the norm, how do you handle a situation like this?

How any sports official let that player continue to play after the clothesline takedown of an opponent is beyond me.

The wildest part is the reaction of commentators on various articles about this game and player. The Yahoo blog entry has over 21,000 comments on it. A number of people said the referee’s made the right call. I’m not a basketball expert, but he never played the ball and the clothesline HAD to be grounds for at least a technical, if not an ejection. Same for the elbow to the head. Soccer allows a yellow card for ‘persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game’. I know that basketball is known for bruiser players (most sports are, including soccer), but it boggles the mind that those officials had no recourse to deal with that.

Maybe more sports need a Blue Card! If you aren’t familiar with it, in indoor soccer you play in the equivalent of a hockey rink with artificial turf. The ball is played off the walls and since you have players running full speed towards solid surfaces – the risk of injury is higher. So the Blue Card is mainly to prevent boarding, but also is issued for ‘persistent fouling/tackling’. If a player receives a Blue Card, they sit out two minutes and the team plays down a player – just like in hockey. Yellow and Red cards come after Blue and result in longer sit outs. In one of my son’s recent matches, things were very physical, but when a player shoved another player in the head – out came the blue.

Think how cool that would be in other sports. Basketball would be a shot fest (rain down the 3 pointers!). Football as well – less pressure on the QB, so more time for them to pass (or more holes for the RB’s to run through).

I’m NOT advocating taking the physical nature out of sports – and, yes, this post is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it’s fun to think about the possibilities. For those of you who have younger kids playing soccer, you won’t believe how the game changes when they get older. MUCH more physical (and exciting). I’m still stunned at how the game changed at U15 for my girls team. They love it, and as long as the officials keep a lid on things getting too far out of control, they get to play intense, physical soccer. Sports are meant to be intense and all carry some level of risk, but flagrant fouls have no place in any sport.

When players in ANY sport cross a line to where they are intentionally trying to foul and possibly hurt an opponent, the rules AND officials have to push back to avoid serious injury. Can you imagine if that basketball player that got clotheslined had rotated backward just a little more? And in sports where the rules clearly give officials the power to penalize flagrancy, they need to be enforced, even if the players are children.