By Randy Vogt
Generally a person in the southern portion of the United States can play outdoor soccer all 12 months of the year yet in most northern areas of the country, this is not an option. Where I live on Long Island, the indoor soccer season is brief -- during the two months of January and February. But as you travel further north toward the Canadian border and it snows far more frequently, indoor soccer is played from November 1 to March 31.
Traditionally, indoor soccer was played in tournaments in school gyms. The advent of the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1978 helped create indoor soccer facilities whose fields had turf and boards.
More recently, indoor soccer facilities have been constructed with large turf fields that mimic outdoor soccer as much as possible. And futsal is more popular than ever. For the purposes of this article, I will write about some of the differences between refereeing outdoor soccer and on small indoor fields played on basketball courts.
The first difference would be what happens when the ball is played high in the air. In outdoor soccer, the ref need not watch the ball as it’s highly unlikely it will hit anything such as a bird, a plane or maybe even Superman. So the ref watches the players by the anticipated drop zone to see if any fouls are committed as the ball is arriving. In indoor soccer, you should do this while also watching the flight of the ball as it could hit the ceiling, resulting in an indirect kick to the opposing team.
The second difference comes from the lack of an offside rule in indoor soccer. Consequently, the offensive team will place an attacker near the opposing keeper on most restarts. The times when this occurs in outdoor soccer are during corner kicks and long throw-ins. The referee has to focus on the contact near the goal and deal with it quickly. The ref also needs to be aware that attackers impeding the keeper can also be a tactic used during the run of play in indoor soccer.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two different versions of soccer is that indoor soccer on a basketball court is played on a hard surface. A 2005 study from the U.S. Consumer Produce Safety Commission found that playing basketball resulted in the most Emergency Room visits by sport in the United States with 512,213 ER visits. Soccer was fourth with 174,686 ER visits after bicycling and football. These statistics are a warning to refs to not allow nearly the same amount of contact in outdoor soccer when the game is being played indoors as that’s too dangerous. At the start of the indoor season, I have to remind myself to call the game conservatively while the opposite remains true as I head outdoors in March.
Another difference to keep in mind comes from the number of goals. In outdoor soccer, there are an average of three goals scored per game. In indoor soccer, there can easily be 15 goals scored. The most goals I had in a game that I officiated were 33 and that occurred in an indoor men’s game. So denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity with the fouling player sent off should be considered a red-card offense only when the player blatantly disregarded the rules.
Another major difference comes from the referee’s positioning. In outdoor soccer, it’s a diagonal. In indoor soccer, it’s on or toward the touchline so you do not get hit by the ball in the quicker indoor game.
As refs do not need to move as much in indoor soccer, there’s an opportunity for the older official who had to retire from refereeing the outdoor game since he or she could no longer run up and down the field to still give back to the game by refereeing indoor.
I have found that officiating indoor soccer can provide a wonderful diversion for a couple of months from outdoor soccer. The above are some ideas to use should you referee indoor games this winter and I would welcome readers’ comments on what they have found works for them.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at http://www.preventiveofficiating.com/)