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Mysteries Demystified Mysteries Demystified


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  Mysteries Demystified  

Wednesday, October 8
Need Help Understanding the Laws?

The purpose of this page is to provide information on various "mysteries" of the laws of soccer.  In an effort to enhance the understanding of the laws of the game, the United States Soccer Federation has a video entitled "The Myths of Soccer"  which deals with many of the misunderstood aspects of the game.  On this page we have posted many of the topics covered in the video and others topics to help coaches, players, and parents become better informed about soccer.  You can download a handout on the various topics presented here by clicking the link below.

If you have any questions or have recommendations for topics, email Wes Hocking at

Handout: Selected Soccer Laws for Coaches and Parents

Wednesday, October 8
Understanding Offside

Occasionally, when a parent or coach sees a player in an offside position, we hear a public demand that the referees seek the services of an optometrist for an annual eye examination.  And when the referees ignore the request to call the “obvious” offside offense, audiologic examinations are also demanded!  

Offside is probably the most misunderstood law in soccer.  What no one tells you is that it is actually composed of two parts – offside position and the offense of offside.

Offside Position

 A player is in an offside position if all three of the following exist:

1.        They are in their attacking half of the field

2.       They are closer to the opponents’ goal line than the ball (i.e. ahead of the ball)

3.       They are closer to the opponents’ goal line than the second to last defender (the goalkeeper is usually the “last defender” closest to the goal line, but not always!).  Being level or even with the second to last defender is okay. 

It is NOT an offense to be in an offside position.  

Offense of Offside

A player in an offside position at the moment the ball is touched or played by a teammate is penalized for offside if they participate in the ensuing play.  Examples of participation include playing or are about to play the ball, interfering with an opponent, or getting the ball after it has “rebounded” off someone or off the goal posts.                    

Note that a person is judged in an offside position at the moment the ball is first played to them (kicked, headed, etc.) by a teammate, not when they receive the ball.   Hence, a player who is not in an offside position when the ball was first kicked or played by a teammate can run forward and get the ball in an “offside position” and would not be guilty of being offside.   

Conversely, a player in an offside position when the ball is first played by a teammate may never participate in that play.  Therefore, he or she cannot run back to an “on-side position” to play the ball at anytime during that play. A play is over and a new play starts when someone else takes possession and control of the ball.   

For example, an attacker shoots the ball and it rebounds off the goal post to a teammate who was in an offside position when the ball was first kicked toward the goal.  That player would be guilty of being offside since no one else took possession and control of the ball. 

Likewise, if the ball bounces off another player or if the goalie just punches the ball away, no one has taken possession and control yet (the goalie controlled it but did not take possession), and any attacker in an offside position when the ball was first kicked, cannot participate in that play without being called for offside. 

No Offense

The rules state that anyone receiving the ball directly from a goal kick, corner kick, or throw-in shall not be called for being offside regardless of their position on the field.  Hence, savvy players will run ahead for a throw-in knowing they can’t be called for offside. 


The opposing team is awarded an indirect free kick from where the offside offense occurred.          


Saturday, January 10
Why Isn't Every Foul Called?

Small, picky or doubtful breaches of the law should NOT be called in soccer.  This is referred to as "trifling."  Older law books contained the following guidance: 

“The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of the referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law.  Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.”  -- Law 5, International Board Decision 8

For example, if a player lifts his or her foot a ¼” on a throw-in, is it a rule violation?  Yes.  Is it trifling?  Also, yes, and therefore, generally it is not called.  This, of course, causes more demands for another eye exam for the referee.

This statement has been omitted from recent editions of the law book because it is universally understood (well, maybe not by Americans, but the rest of the world understands.) 

Trifling also is skill and age related.  In professional games, you will see players holding each other all the time and we’re sure that referee hasn't seen his opthamologist.  As long as the holding doesn’t interfere with their ability to play the ball, professionals generally expect some holding and know how to play through it.  However, in a U19 boy’s game, uncalled holding can escalate into a fistfight.  

So the next time you see a small foul and the referee doesn't call it, ask yourself -- "Could that incident be considered a minor or trifling breach of the laws?"  If so, please congratulate the referee for his or her sound judgement!



Friday, January 23
Ball on the Line -- In or Out?

If the ball is on the line, is it in or out?  The laws of soccer state that the whole ball must be outside the whole line for it to be out.  Therefore, a ball on the line is still in play.

Since the whole ball has to be outside the entire line, the bottom of the ball may be sitting outside the line but still be in play because a portion of the side of the ball is still over the line.

Likewise, for a goal to be scored the whole ball must pass over the entire goal line.

Friday, January 23

Sometimes we hear coaches panic when their players aren't standing behind the line when making a throw-in.  The laws state that a part of both feet must be on or behind the sideline.  Therefore, no need to panic.  Even if a player has only part of both heels on the line, it is still a good throw-in.

Other aspects of a good throw-in:  a part of both feet touching the ground and the ball must be delivered with both hands from behind and over the head.

Friday, January 23
"Hand Ball, Ref!"

Handling (it's not actually called "hand ball") is called when a player deliberately touches the ball with any part of their arm (not just the hands).  The key word is "deliberate" touching.  Therefore, reflexsively putting your arms up to protect your face from a fast moving ball should not be called as a foul.  A ball that accidentally hits a players arm should not be called, even if it then happens to fall to a very advantageous position for the player.  The judgement of deliberateness must be made by the referee.

Friday, January 23
In the Opinion of the ________ (fill in the blank)

"That was a hand ball, ref.  Are you blind?"  Why didn't the referee call that?  Short of not seeing the foul (it's possible he or she was looking somewhere else or were screened by another player), the referee has made a judgement that, in his or her opinion, it was not a deliberate touch of the ball.

The laws contain many phrases like "If, in the opinion of the referee, . . . " or "at his discretion . . ."  The laws make the referee the sole judge in soccer.  Judgement calls (for example, if a player was tripped or if they just fell down) are based on the judgement of the referee, not the opinion of the coach, players, or spectators.

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