Rules of the game

I am a bona fide soccer mom and coach’s wife. I’ve seen the game from both sides of the pitch, the good and the bad.

My daughter began playing soccer when she was five. She’s still involved in the game, playing on club teams in college, and refereeing and coaching rec league games.

My husband played soccer as an Air Force kid living in England, and when our children were younger, coached rec league and travel teams. He stays in the game as a referee – a green and black striped zebra – at city and premier league, middle school and high school games.

I’ve seen the worst in other parents – from facing down an irate dad I thought was going to punch me for telling him to stop yelling at my own kid during a game, to dealing with those parents who don’t understand the rules vulgarly berating my coach/referee husband.

Soccer is a complex game. After being involved (albeit vicariously) in the sport for nearly 20 years, I’ve picked up a lot simply by osmosis, but there are so many nuances that I still don’t grasp. I think a lot of the misunderstandings other parents have with the game is that many city league coaches (even some middle or high school coaches) are not that knowledgable in the game either. Their first love may be American football or baseball, and are coaching soccer because no one else volunteered.

The problems come when these parents, and sometimes coaches, try to tell referees how to call a game. Many of these refs are like my husband, people who are lifelong veterans of soccer and know exactly what they’re doing.

It’s probably not common knowledge how much training referees have to go through to be sanctioned. How many hours of continuing education they are required to maintain annually, the yearly skills tests they have to pass, and the incredible amount of time they expend so that your child can participate in this sport.

They do this because they love the game, they see the benefits kids get from organized sports, and because they want to be positive role models for younger referees coming up through the ranks.

When you’re screaming at that ref over what you think is an obvious missed call, consider first if you truly understand what happened. From your seat on the side line, 20-30 yards away from the game, do you really think you have a better view of the play than the referee did standing on the pitch only feet away? Do you really understand the rules of a game your child just began playing better than an official who has 10, 15, 20 years experience?

A few of the more confusing rules…

Off-sides: there must be a minimum of two defenders between the goal and offensive team at the beginning of a play. The goalie can count as one, but isn’t required to be. Play begins when the ball is kicked, not when the forward offender takes possession. If the defensive team plays the ball and it’s intercepted by the offensive team, off sides does not apply. There is no off-sides during a throw-in, or on your own end of the field.

Simulation (taking a dive or acting): over-reaction by a player to physical contact. A player is marginally hit and goes down in a heap of wailing and thrashing. This is delay of game, and can result in a foul call from the ref. If it’s a persistent infringement, a yellow card is possible.

Throw-ins: when a ball goes out-of-bounds along the length of the field, the player must throw the ball directly overhead with both feet securely on the ground and behind the sidelines. Lifting a foot, or throwing in sideways can result in the opposing team being awarded the ball. If a ball goes out over the end lines, this results in either a goal kick (if last touch was opposing team) or corner kick (defending team).

Fouls: sometimes a referee will let play continue even if a foul was incurred because the fouled team has advantage. Stopping play could prevent a chance to score. If the advantage never materializes, then the ref can call it, but if the ref allowed advantage then the foul opportunity is over.

Hand ball: If a ball simply hits a player’s hand, it’s not necessarily a mandatory hand ball call. There must be intent, actions deemed not part of natural play, or change in advantage.

Soccer is a contact sport. Both players may make contact with one another, but at all times must be attempting to reach the ball. If a defender is attacking the ball and doesn’t slide in “cleats up.” nor make the attempt in a dangerous manner, this is a tackle, not automatically a foul if the other player goes down.

If you are going to complain, at least know the game. Referees are trying to keep your child safe, while allowing play to continue at a rapid pace. You yelling at them is a distraction that takes the ref’s focus off the game and your player. If you believe officials were poorly managing the game, there are proper ways to complain to coaches and/or referee assignors. Keep it off the field.

Please remember too, that these refs could be someone’s parent, spouse, or child, and their families might be sitting in the stands around you. Would you want your wife or children to hear those things about you that you’ve yelled at an official?

*My daughter contributed significantly to the rules explanations.

Submitted as part of Shell’s “Pour Your Heart Out” writing prompt at Things I Can’t Say. Please stop by to read the other posts, and give a little comment love.

14 thoughts on “Rules of the game

  1. I grew up in a family that placed little importance on organized sports. So as an adult with kids of my own, I have always felt that there might be much that I don’t understand about the games. I find it rude and embarrassing when people yell at a ref or an ump. Not to mention, I have never, EVER seen an official change a call due to the demands of a spectator.


  2. I am SO GLAD that you wrote this cause I will admit that I don’t know much about soccer at all and now I feel like I at least have a basic idea! 🙂

    ps: Is that Scruff as your header!? CREEPY and I LOVE IT!


  3. It’s like when I go see live theatre and people talk during the show. People don’t know how to act since they’ve gotten used to not being heard when they talk back to their television sets.


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