Ref Watch: 'I got the ball' doesn't mean you didn't foul

Doing my best to help out during what seems an unprecedented referee shortage, I've have already managed to referee 14 games this fall. I've been pleasantly surprised at the good behavior of parents and coaches. Perhaps the parents, after watching from afar during the spring in accordance with pandemic protocol, have realized their kids do just fine without parental shouting. And maybe they've been informed of how dire the ref shortage is and comprehend the importance of not chasing them away with abuse.

As for the players, as usual, rule literacy is limited. Some of that is understandable, especially at the younger ages, because soccer's rules often lack precision or can be confusing. For example, I've had kids encroach on kickoffs as they storm forward into the center circle when I blow the whistle, before the ball is played. I get why they would think the whistle signals that the game is on -- when in fact it's not until the kickoff team plays the ball. That's learned quickly, though.

One thing that constantly confuses younger players is believing they need to wait for a whistle to take a goal kick, corner kick or free kick (when the appropriate defender distance isn't required). That's a minor issue and I try to communicate by word or gesture that they can restart play without waiting for the whistle. But with young kids, you gotta give them the go-ahead nearly every time.

The rule ignorance that I find most frustrating, and it's one even top level players and TV commentators often don't understand, is: a player "getting the ball" with a tackle doesn't guarantee that a foul hasn't been committed. If I had a dollar for every time players screamed "I got the ball!" at me I'd be able to pay my annual ref certification fee many times over. Nowhere in the rulebook, which too few players, coaches and TV commentators take the time to read, does "getting the ball" exonerate a foul.

Last year, U.S. Soccer issued a memorandum -- subject: "I Got the Ball" -- that I wish would be circulated widely. You can find it here, but key points are:

Getting the ball first does not make the tackle legal.
Not getting the ball first does make the tackle illegal.
Getting the ball first but following through with the rest of the body in a careless and or reckless manner or using excessive force does make the tackle illegal.
"Getting the ball" cannot be used as an excuse for committing a tackle which is out of control.

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Refereeing Around the Net

Random thoughts on systems, goalkeepers, and referees (Soccer America) by Paul Gardner

Soccer's unwritten LOTG, like it or not, they are here to stay (Soccer America) by Ahmet Guvener

Now who's making soccer's rules? Is it IFAB? Or the English Premier League? (Soccer America) by Paul Gardner

Elite refs Christina and Ted Unkel provide insight into the complexities of soccer officiating (Soccer America) by Dan Woog

A staple of Las Vegas’ soccer community hangs up his whistle after 40 years (Las Vegas Sun) by Ray Brewer 

'Perfect storm' of transportation issues, personnel shortages and COVID-19 devastating high school sports (Press of Atlantic City) by Patrick Mulranen 

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Download the 2021-22 FIFA rulebook (available English, Spanish and other languages) in PDF form HERE, or app.
Download U.S. Soccer's Pocket Guide HERE.

5 comments about "Ref Watch: 'I got the ball' doesn't mean you didn't foul".
  1. Wayne Norris, October 7, 2021 at 2:43 p.m.

    How about a good hard tackle that is "all ball"?

    I have seen calls where a player was (what we used to say) "stuck" on a firm hard all ball tackle where a foul was called and even carded.

    It seems as if the offensive player no longer has responsibility to be aware of his space nor a bad first touch into trouble.

  2. R2 Dad replied, October 7, 2021 at 4:58 p.m.

    The problem is the concept of "good" hard tackles. Hard tackles are always going to be subject to reckless/excessive force whistles from the ref. Better to teach our kids good positioning rather than how to extract a pound of flesh without getting sent off.

  3. William Shine, October 8, 2021 at 10:27 a.m.

    'following through with the rest of the body in a careless and or reckless manner or using excessive force makes the tackle illegal'

    Obviously ref judgement involved here.  In last night's USA v Jamaica, Aaronson was taken down in the box but the Jamaican got the ball first.  Certainly a ref could judge it to be reckless.  Personally I don't like PKs called in these judgement situations, and I'm a USA fan.  Is it wrong to be more lenient with game changing PK calls?  I know this isn't in the rule book but are 'good' refs more lenient in the penalty box?

  4. David Resley replied, October 8, 2021 at 11:29 p.m.

    WHEN is a FOUL NOT a foul. 

  5. Randy Vogt, October 11, 2021 at 7:09 a.m.

    I think that one of the reasons why young kids think a whistle is needed before restarting play is it is required before restarting play after a substitution. With so many subs in youth soccer, maybe half the restarts require a whistle yet kids do not know this (nor do coaches) so they think all restarts need a whistle.

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