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We, as referees, are routinely asked questions about laws of the game.  This normally comes in the form of someone screaming from the touchline.  This page is designed to help answer some of those questions.


Q: But I got the ball! - More Details
• Getting the ball first does not make a 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
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.


Q: Why is it that a "handball" violation is only sometimes whistled by the referee?
A: This is perhaps the most popular question.  The laws of the game actually do not address "handballs."  The laws do however address "handling."  The federation has released a directive to cover this topic which explains the nuances very well.


FIFA has a great interactive tutorial on Law 11.


Q: What is offside?
A: Offside is one of the laws that perplexes many individuals including some referees.  The videos below from USSF show different scenarios in which a player should or should not be penalized for offside.  Also see the related resources section for other links to offside discussions which include videos.

Kansas City at San Jose (11:53)
This clip illustrates the need for the AR to have both a clear understanding of the current offside interpretation and a working knowledge of the recommendations by U.S. Soccer in the “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials.”


Here is the offside model:

Offside Position
Active Participation (any of the three below)

Interfering with play = touching the ball

Interfering with an opponent = movement or gesture to impede or distract. Blocking theline of sight of an opponent

Gaining an advantage from the offside position = playing the ball from arebound off a goal post or the crossbar having been in an offside position orplaying a ball that rebounds off an opponent

Offside Infraction (raise flag to indicate offense)


When the player on the team with the black jersey heads the ball from his defensive third of the field, a teammate is behind the opposing second-to-last defender (white jersey) in an offside position. The ball is played (headed) by an opponent backwards (behind his position) toward the opposing attacker in an offside position. Because the ball was played by the defender, the attacker cannot be offside.


Why is the defender’s header considered playing the ball?

Because the heading defender (white jersey) was under no pressure from an opponent nor was he challenged by or interfered with by the offside positioned attacker or any other player who may have caused him to misplay or deflect the ball.


In evaluating the situation, the question for the AR and the referee is whether or not the defender in the white jersey played the ball or did the ball rebound off him?


Controlled play, misplaying or poor execution of play by a player under no pressure from an opponent are different than the ball rebounding or deflecting. The concept of playing may differ slightly depending upon the age and skill level of the players involved.


In the clip, there is NO offside infraction. Play should be allowed to continue.

The AR must be 100 percent positive the attacker is guilty of an offside infraction prior to raising the flag and signaling the offside infraction to the referee.


If the AR has doubt, U.S. Soccer guidance is for the AR to keep the flag down.


Subsequently, if a goal is scored and the AR still has doubt as to whether or not the attacker received the ball from a rebound off an opponent or a controlled play by the opponent, the AR should stand at attention with the flag held straight down at the side and be prepared to signal the referee in accordance with the pre-game discussion if further information needs to be given to assist in making the correct decision. 

Seattle at Houston (46:25)
AR awareness, focus and concentration are vital skills for making correct offside decisions. In this clip, the AR demonstrates the need to maintain focus and concentration while mentally processing offside decision points during a sequence of three separate attacking team “touches” of the ball which occur in a short time span.


Notice the time of the match: 46:25. The second half is just over a minute old. The referee team must be ready and alert at all times. It is easy to return to the field after the halftime break relaxed and inattentive. Concentration is mandatory at all times.


  1. The first decision pointThe give-and-go through ball played to the attacking team’s (blue jersey) forward penetrating behind the defense down the left flank.

  2. The second decision pointWhen the ball is played back across the top of the goal area to the trailing teammate (No. 6).

  3. The third decision pointOccurs at the moment the trailing attacker (No. 6) touches the ball forward past the on-rushing goalkeeper who is unable to play the ball. The touch by the trailing attacker goes directly toward his teammate who, at the time of this touch, is in an offside position.


The offside position can be confirmed due to the fact that, at the moment No. 6 (trailing attacker) touches the ball past the opposing goalkeeper, his teammate is ahead of the ball with only one defender (the orange jersey player who is running to cover the goalmouth for the keeper) between his position and the goal line. Just before No. 6 can get a second touch on the ball to shoot at goal, his offside positioned teammate plays (touches) the ball into the goal.


As a result of his “touch” of the ball, the offside positioned player interferes with play and should be penalized for an offside infraction. The AR makes a correct decision to disallow the goal for offside.

AR focus and awareness is needed to recognize the goalkeeper moving forward from his goal line position past the attacker as, now, the ARs normal second-to-last defender view is changed. Having the visual and mental acuity to make this change/adjustment is critical to making the correct offside decision.


Courtesy of U.S. Soccer

Ignorance of the law excuses no man. -- John Selden, English historian

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