Referee mechanics on free kicks: handling delay tactics, the 10-yard rule, and wall scuffles

Generally, restarting play will not be challenging on free kicks when the ball is far from the goal. However, refs will find certain forwards and midfielders deliberately walk by the ball after a foul is called against their team. They are trying to delay the other team restarting play. Refs should not let them do this and need to verbally warn them that if they persist, they will be cautioned.

Should a player deliberately run up to a stationary ball, preventing a free kick from being taken, that player should be cautioned immediately for failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a free kick.

I’ve had teams where players were much more subtle and feigned believing it was their team’s free kick so they could stand by the ball. This happened in a boys U-14 game I refereed recently where the same forward stood by the ball after the first two fouls were whistled against his team, approximately 80 yards from their own goal. After the next foul, the midfielder who was also their captain feigned that he thought it was his team’s free kick. So I had a discussion with him that I recognized that his team was trying to delay the other team restarting play and I’d caution the next player who did this.

After whistling the next foul, the captain was near the ball but he retreated from it rather than approaching it. After play restarted, the coach said to him, “What happened?”

The captain responded, “The ref figured it out.”

No more approaching the ball in that game and the next game that I did for that team.

More challenging is restarting play when a free kick is in or near the defensive team’s penalty area. Opponents stand near or right by the ball and prepare to set up a wall. The referee should ask the offensive player(s) by the ball if they want 10 yards. Should they say yes, the referee points to the whistle and says so everyone can hear, “Wait for my whistle.” A ceremonial free kick is about to take place. I’ve seen refs then incorrectly allow the ceremonial free kick to be played without the whistle being blown.

In pro soccer, the refs spray by the ball, then march forward 10 yards and spray the required distance for the wall. But without having the vanishing spray, you as the referee would back up 10 paces (yards), always watching the ball to make certain that it is not moved. You then call the defensive wall to where you are.

Take your position as soon as possible by backing up while keeping both the ball and wall in your sight, glance at the AR to make sure he or she is in the proper position and is not trying to communicate with you, then blow the whistle for the kick to be taken.

Players in the wall can jump up and down but cannot wildly gesticulate. A player doing the latter should be cautioned for unsporting behavior.

It’s always a bit of fun when the attacking team decides to put a player or two in the wall. Defenders do not like them there and pushing often occurs. Attackers sometimes try to back up into and/or push defenders to move the wall back further. Refs need to watch out for these actions.

Remember that if the ball was not kicked yet when a push, or worse a punch, occurs, you cannot call a foul but you should caution for unsporting behavior (deliberate push) or send-off for violent conduct (punch). Should this occur after the kick is taken and the ball is in play, feel free to call a foul plus a caution or send-off too.

(Randy Vogt, the author of "Preventive Officiating," has officiated more than 10,000 games.)

10 comments about "Referee mechanics on free kicks: handling delay tactics, the 10-yard rule, and wall scuffles".
  1. James Madison, February 21, 2019 at 6:38 p.m.

    1.  If instead of backing up, you go sideways facing the lead AR for the 10 yards, you can keep the AR, the players between you and the AR, the ball, and the players around it all in view.

    2.  The easiest way to get the wall to move to your 10-yard spot is to pick out the defender on the side nearest you and say clearly, "No. X, here." That player will retreat to the desigated line and the wallmates will follow like obedient sheep.

  2. Randy Vogt, February 21, 2019 at 8:33 p.m.

    James, great if 1 works for you but one advantage in walking backwards is that it's quicker than walking sideways. We've got to use another visual instead of the boy with the blank FIFA badge as refs (including myself) are better looking than he is, even if he has more hair than I do. :)

  3. R2 Dad, February 22, 2019 at 8:24 a.m.

    Randy, can you explain why professional officials do NOT want to issue a caution for delaying the restart? Their refusal has lead to generations of young kids standing in front of the ball such that when I have carded them, players and coaches are incensed and/or incredulous. 

  4. Randy Vogt, February 22, 2019 at 11:52 a.m.

    R2, pro players are cautioned for this but not as much as you probably would want as they can be more subtle in their delaying tactics than the other levels of play. For example, they don't run up to the stationary ball so much as tend to stay around the ball after the foul is whistled. I agree that if refs enforced a Zero Tolerance policy, then the cautions would increase at first and the delays would eventually be cleaned up. You'll note that the BU14 team above delayed the restart 3x before I caught on to what they were doing. Part of my lack of understanding what was going on came from the fact that two of the restarts were by the other team's GK and what advantage they would gain by doing that? With young kids, they are generally very innocent and not at all subtle so I can tell immediately when they have been coached to encroach. It's too bad that the young player is being cautioned as it's the coach who is at fault. And I remember who that coach is so I'm prepared for the delaying tactics for the coach's next game, even if it's with another team.

  5. beautiful game replied, February 22, 2019 at 12:18 p.m.

    Every LOTG rule has lost its meaning when referees permit players to infringe on them. The intent of FIFA's rule interpretation is too broad and encourages "selective" enforcement. Too many referees do not employ due diligence, i.e., walking-off the full 10-yards on a free kick or closing their eyes to opposing players being several yards from the ball on a restart, or mayhem on cornerkicks in the box continues, etc. Thus, player infringement and lack of referee due diligence is part of FIFA's hubris and its board's incompetence.

  6. R2 Dad replied, February 25, 2019 at 1:36 a.m.

    BG, you've made this point before. To a certain extent I agree, but my understanding is that officials have to weigh the letter of the law with the intent--"What the Game Wants". This is a balancing act. With Collina involved in UEFA, I always have hope in competitions there. CONCACAF? Not so much. Randy, can you enlighten?

  7. Randy Vogt replied, February 25, 2019 at 10:08 a.m.

    Let's see. The rules are written for professional players and the further you move from that level, the more that the ref will need Law 18, common sense, to successfully officiate the game. I stepped in yesterday to ref a sick colleague's U9 futsal games before my U16 and U19 futsal assignments. My application of the rules was very different where I was more like the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka with U9 and much more an enforcer in the older age groups. As written about in these pages, I'm not a fan of "What the Game Wants" or "What Soccer Expects" regarding pro games, as defined "by what the soccer community in general expects." I guess that's referring to neutrals as one team's fans expect one decision and the other team's fans expect another decision. How are the officials supposed to know this? Aren't they there to enforce the rules and protect the players? In doing so, sometimes their decisions will lead to one team winning but the same could be said if the ref swallows the whistle. A pro ref's job is challenging enough making split-second decisions enforcing the rules and dealing with players and coaches whose jobs are based on game records. How should they figure out what the soccer community wants too while officiating?

  8. Fajkus Rules, March 5, 2019 at 12:48 p.m.

    USSF needs to take the majority of the blame for the sorry state of delayed restarts, as things currently stand.  Back when  the term "ceremonial" restart was added to the lexicon, we had a year or too where refs had license to try and move defenders to the proper distance without losing the quick restart.  Then after some of the "cheater" coaches and teams got burned by quick restarts taken while the ref was moving encroachers to the required distance, they complained to USSF and USSF rewarded them by changing guidance to telling refs that they could not move players or a wall without turning the restart into a ceremonial restart w/ whistle.  I bend that advice by trying to move encroachers verbally from a distance where I am not interfering with any quick restart, and also go directly to a caution where players come from somewhere outside the required distance to stand within 4-5 yards of the restart.  Sadly, the typical referee now gets the restart spot set while defenders encroach at 4-8 yards from the ball.  He then looks blankly at the attackers waiting to see if they will request that the required distance be enforced.  Sometimes 5 or 10 seconds go by while everyone waits for someone else to act.   Then, if requested, we now take another 15 seconds to move the wall and get the referee back into restart position.

  9. Alan Goldstein, March 12, 2019 at 6:11 p.m.

    In a u-14 tournament recently, an opponent team used that delaying tactic for every free kick. At first I called "10 yds" from the sideline  the ref informed me that a player must ask for 10 yds before he would move the offender. My repeated calls for a caution were not heeded. After the game I spoke to the ref about it he became incensed  claimed that he was well within the laws and that "all the teams were doing it" . We had played teams from SoCal to Illinois and I hadn't seen it used until then. 

  10. Bradley Rogers, March 13, 2019 at 4:33 p.m.

    I’m still confused about one issue. As the infringing team how close am I allowed to stand to the ball in order to provoke a ceremonial kick but without considered to be unsportingly preventing restart? I mean, if everyone stood sufficiently far away from the ball to begin with, the attacking player wouldn’t need to request the ceremonial kick. Right? So there must be some middle distance to quickly stand to defend shots or long balls that isn’t considered as preventing the restart.
    (Sorry for the late comment, but it’s been bugging me.)

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