The Discipline of Being in Position for ARs

By Randy Vogt

In many game situations, I could make a case that the ref's best position varies but there is only one position that works for assistants. During normal play for nearly the entire game, the assistant referee's position is parallel with the second-to-last defender as that is the perfect position for determining offside. The first defender is almost always the goalkeeper.

It is very challenging for new assistant referees to have the discipline to stay with the second-to-last defender instead of watching play develop 40 yards upfield, especially when the ball is in or near the other penalty area. Half the challenge of being an assistant referee is having the discipline to be exactly in the correct position and I cannot stress that enough. Even me with lots of experience, I sometimes struggle during the game of being exactly in line with the second-to-last defender.

You will notice that with instant replay, unless the camera is exactly in line with the second-to-last defender, you do not know if the player was offside during very tight plays.

Being exactly in line with the second-to-last defender can be quite challenging when the ball is near your touchline and the defense is moving. You as the AR need to watch the ball to make sure that it does not go out of play while also watching the defense to remain parallel to the second-to-last defender.

Should 21 players be in the other half of the field with only the goalkeeper in your half, the assistant referee’s position is not with the second-to-last defender in this instance but at the halfway line.

Another exception to being parallel with the second-to-last defender is when the ball is closer to your goal line than the second-to-last defender is. Your position would then be parallel to the ball.

Other exceptions are during the taking of a corner kick and penalty kick. The assistant referee’s position both times is at the goal line.

On a corner kick, the assistant ref is behind the corner flag no matter whether the kick is being taken near the AR or in the opposite corner.

On a penalty kick in a game situation, the AR is at the intersection of the 18-yard line (side of the penalty area) and the goal line. During a shootout, the AR is at the intersection of the 6-yard line and the goal line. The reason for the change in position is the AR is closer to the goal in a shootout (called “kicks from the mark” by referees) and closer to the touchline during the actual game in case a goal is not scored off the penalty kick and play continues so the AR needs to assume the normal position by the touchline.

For good goals, the AR sprints up the touchline 15 yards or so, watching the players on the field at all times. Should the ball go into the net but the AR spotted a foul or some other problem that the referee did not see (that would nullify the goal), the AR should wait at the corner flag and the referee comes over. They then can briefly discuss what happened and determine whether the goal is valid.

This does not include offside with the player in the offside position scoring the goal, as the AR should have already raised the flag and the referee spotted it, whistling for offside.

If the ball goes over the goal line and comes out in one of those bang-bang plays that happen once or twice a year and it’s a good goal, the AR raises the flag to get the ref’s attention -- as soon as the referee sees the flag, the AR sprints 15 yards upfield. This is the only time that the ref blows the whistle for a goal.

I consider the assistant referee to be similar to a goalkeeper in that in some games, the AR and keeper will be very busy and in other games, there is little for them to do. As one example, with teams that gamble by often using the offside trap, the ARs will generally be busier than the ref. It’s particularly in these games that the AR must be exactly in the correct position.

(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 his book, "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
6 comments about "The Discipline of Being in Position for ARs".
  1. Kent James, April 2, 2014 at 1:39 p.m.

    I would add a few things to this excellent article. First, most people do not recognize the difficulty of calling offside at high levels, which is arguably one of the most challenging calls in sports. The AR (theoretically) keeps pace with the players on a fast break, and if they shoot, gets to the endline at the same time as the ball (to see if it crosses the goal line). More importantly, the AR has to constantly keep track of offensive players who are in an offside position, listen for when the ball is played, and then determine if the players in an offside position are involved with play when the ball was struck. And with players constantly bouncing back and forth between on and offside, or trying to judge the relative positions of the 2nd to last defender and an offensive player who is across the field (especially hard if the grass has been mowed diagonally, distorting your attempt to keep an imaginary offside line), is quite challenging. And as RV points out, trying to keep an eye on the offside situation while watching the ball on your own touchline to see if it goes out is also quite difficult. Finally, one thing that most players (and coaches, fans, etc.) don't realize is that in an intense game, an AR may miss an obvious foul that is physically close because the AR is watching the offside line, and does not see the foul because it was not in his/her line of sight.

  2. Steve Kearns, April 2, 2014 at 4:55 p.m.

    Another exception to the AR being parallel to the next to last defender that I learned the hard way is on a free kick from say 28yds out with the wall on the 18. My center had me placed on the wall line to watch for offsides, and when the kick was taken the keeper caught it in the air standing behind the goal line but holding the ball supposedly outside the goal. I was in no position to make the call, and the fans went nuts. Embarrassing to say the least. Next time I would be on the goal line and have the center on the 18.

  3. Kevin Leahy, April 3, 2014 at 8:41 a.m.

    Although the man in the middle has the target on his back more than the AR, I think the AR job is harder to get it all right. You try to focus the most on offside but, when play is going on near your touch line it, is a very complicated time.

  4. Randy Vogt, April 3, 2014 at 2:43 p.m.

    What I discovered in returning outdoors (after a rather cold New York winter spent refereeing futsal) is I've done pretty well refereeing but my role as AR could use some work. All because I need to get back into the routine of being exactly in line with the second-to-last defender so I can get the very tight offside decisions correct. I would not want to have been assessed in my first game as AR this spring as I was not exactly in line much of the game but have seen some improvement in this regard during the past couple of weeks. Randy

  5. James Madison, April 6, 2014 at 10:50 p.m.

    In re the comment by Steve Kearns, he makes a good suggestion to bring up to the CR in pre-game, because, IMHO, when a FK is within shooting distance, even an IFK, which may be touched into a DK, judging the goal line is a higher priority for the AR than offside. However, unless the CR agrees in pre-game, the AR should not take that position on his own.

  6. Randy Vogt, April 7, 2014 at 11:48 a.m.

    What Steve and James are suggesting above, bringing the AR to the goal line on free kicks near the goal, was often used a decade or so ago. The ref would signal for the AR to go to the goal line. The ref would judge offside until the AR took up position again with the second-to-last defender. But it's not used much anymore (at least in my games and the ones I have seen at stadiums and on TV). There's a lot to do with free kicks by the goal and no position is perfect. In keeping the AR with the second-to-last defender, I have sometimes used a deep position as the ref, closer to the goal than the AR at times. It's a good position to judge play by the goal but it's not a good position to see handling or pushing fouls in the wall or if the defense gets the ball and counterattacks quickly. Again, no position in this case will be perfect in all scenarios.

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