Game Day Issues

Consistency - This is the number one complaint I receive about the differences from one weekend to the next in regards to referees.  This is typically not about the application of the laws of the game, but rather in more of the administrative function of our job (e.g., Max # players for an agegroup, cleats with toe cleat, players wearing jewelry, equipment checks, etc...).  Please review the policies for each league you are officiating (e.g., House, SFL, ODSL, 5v5DL, etc...) to ensure you are applying the correct modification to the Laws of the Game and guidance correctly.


Referee Appearance - The approved USSF referee uniform is a Gold (or alternate color) jersey, black shorts, black socks, mostly black shoes and current year US Soccer Referee Badge

As with any job that requires you to wear a uniform, you should wear it properly (socks pulled up and shirts tucked into your shorts).  The emails I have received previously have been about referees either not wearing socks or they were pushed down to their ankles and a referee wearing green sweat pants and shirt not tucked in.  I can only imagine how that looked. 

Your conduct on the field should be professional, not only in how you carry out the responsibilities of a referee but with your appearance as well. The club expects nothing less than your best performance each time you officiate a game, and so do I. Take the time to prepare for the games by reviewing any procedures or modifications that may be appropriate, especially if you haven't officiated a particular age group or league in a while.


Arrive early - Especially for the first game of the day that typically start at 9AM.  The referee and assistance referee should arrive 30 minutes prior to game time so you can ensure the fields are marked, goals are properly anchored, your field has corner flags and to go over any pre-game information.  Inspect both goals to verify they are secure (anchored), if on turf ensure the sandbags are in place and the wheels are flipped up.  If you can't see the field lining, then it will be difficult to determine if the ball is in or out of play.  If there are any issues with the field, let the coaches know so they can correct them.  It is better to delay the game for a short period to correct the issue rather than to have each referee crew behind you deal with the problem.

All game fields must have corner flags, there are more flags in the equipment sheds.  If the coaches can't find flags, have them check goal bags on other fields as some coaches leave them in the bags.


Equipment Checks - I received a few emails about equipment checks before games.  They ranged from not catching necklaces, earrings and bracelets to players not having shin-guards and in some instances the equipment check did not occur at all.   Other than where specifically noted (tournaments), equipment checks are always required.  Especially for the U12 and younger age groups - the referee should get them on line (easier to check) and look at each player.  For the younger agegroups remember to check the cleats for the toe-cleat (baseball style cleats) they are not allowed to play in shoes with the toe-cleat. 


Clarification - Policies, Rules and Laws of the Game

Heading Restrictions for U12 and Younger Age Groups

NVSC has implemented the policy rule and guidelines set forth by Virginia Youth Soccer Association (VYSA) effective immediately.  These policies will apply to all applicable club teams in our Competitive and Recreational Programs and our Super Y League with additional guidance for our recreational U11/U12 combined age group:

These guidelines apply to all players, coaches, and member organizations registered with VYSA, as well as those who train with players, coaches, member organizations registered with VYSA. 

U11 and Younger:
Players in U11 programs and younger shall not engage in heading, either in practice or in games.

NVSC policies also include the No Heading policy for our combined U11/U12 recreational age group.  The decision to include the U12 age group came as a result of coordination with VYSA, the guidance received and consideration of the combined age groups in our recreational program.  As more information on the implementation for U.S. Soccer's Player Safety Campaign - Concussion initiatives becomes available these policies will be reviewed and modified as necessary to align with the adopted policies of VYSA.

Recreational Program U12 and Younger:
Coaches shall ensure that U12 and younger players do not engage in heading the ball during practices or play the ball with their head in games.  In all instances when the ball strikes a U12 or younger player in the head (any part of the body above the shoulder including the neck area) play must be stopped.   Before restarting practice or a game players should be reminded that they are not allowed to use their head to play the ball.

This modification to the laws of the game applies to all levels of play including travel, recreational and academy programs as well as sanctioned tournaments.

Modification to Law 12: Whenever the ball strikes a player in the head, play is stopped.  The proper restart depends upon whether the player deliberately played the ball with his or her head.  If deliberate, the proper restart is an indirect free kick to the opposing team.  If this occurs within the goal area, the indirect free kick should be taken on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred.  If the play by the head is deemed inadvertent, then the proper restart is a dropped ball.


The referee will need to use his/her best judgment when determining if the action of the player was deliberate.  Did the player's action result in the ball striking the player's head (moving head into the path of the ball, jumping to make contact with the ball, etc...).  For the purposes of this modification, the head is any area above the shoulders to include the player's neck.


Player Equipment


Issue:  Referees not being consistent. 

Answer: This is very straight forward from the NVSC modifications, jewelry (of any type) is not allowed.  No jewelry is allowed to be worn by players (e.g., friendship bracelets, hairbands worn around wrist or neck, sports bracelets, earrings, etc...).  If a player has recently had their ears pierced and cannot or is unwilling to remove the earring or other piercing, then the player is not allowed to play.  We no longer allow players to cover jewelry with tape. 

The rule on no jewelry also applies to items worn as part of body piercings. The only exceptions for “jewelry” are medical-alert bracelets/necklaces and religious items specifically required by the wearer’s religion.  Although the referee on any particular game has the final authority to approve any non-standard equipment as to its safety, that decision must be made within the Laws of the Game. There are only two acceptable reasons to consider allowing such non-compulsory equipment — religious or medical reasons — and even there the referee must still determine that the item meets the Law’s safety standard.

Another instance of players equipment is in the use of a head covering.  Though our policy document does not directly speak to this, hard/rigid brimmed headgear (baseball style) should not be allowed to be worn by players.  The use of a soft brimmed runners style cap or other soft brimmed headgear by players should be limited to use for medical reasons (i.e. sensitive eye or skin conditions) or regilious requirements. This is a safety issue and the referee should take care to ensure the object does not become a hazard to the player or other players on the field (ex: the player wearing the cap attempting to head a ball in close proximity to other players). As a cap is not part of the basic equipment the referee is permitted to prevent its use if in the referees’ judgment the cap is or could become a hazard to the player or other players on the field.

If you have players being substituted and you observe them wearing jewelry after you have already addressed the issue with the player and coach, send the player off the field to correct the issue and remind the coach of the law.  

Excerpt from USSF Advice to Referees: Law 4  All items of jewelry are normally considered dangerous. Players may not tape, cover up, or otherwise hide prohibited items. The player must be prevented from participating in the match if the prohibited item continues to be worn. 

The willful refusal by a player to remove illegal equipment (including items of jewelry), having been previously warned that such equipment cannot be worn on the field yet continuing to do so, is considered unsporting behavior.  



Issue: Identifying shoes with toe cleats.

Answer: During the equipment inspection the referee is looking for proper or improper/ potentially dangerous equipment. Shoes with toe cleats are not allowed to be worn; these are typically found on baseball style cleats though not all baseball cleats have the toe cleat. The toe cleats may not be cut off in an effort to circumvent this rule.  The main difference between baseball and soccer cleats is the cleat pattern on the bottom of the shoe. It is illegal to have a "toe cleat" in soccer, which would be located directly underneath the middle toes and may be a single or double cleat. This is mostly for safety purposes because the toe cleat could cause more injury in soccer.


Law IV - The Players’ Equipment - NVSC Modification excerpt

B. It is recommended that all players wear legal, molded-sole soccer shoes or turf shoes. Metal or metal-tipped cleats are not allowed. Shoes with toe cleats are not allowed to be worn (typically found on softball or baseball type cleats). The toe cleats may not be cut off in an effort to circumvent this Law.

C. Illegal equipment is not to be worn. If an article of equipment is considered dangerous or confusing by the referee, that article must be removed or covered before play can start or continue. Hard casts may be wrapped with a soft cushioning material (bubble wrap) to reduce the likelihood of injury to another player. It will be at the Referee’s discretion to determine the safety and suitability of player equipment including the wearing of an orthopedic cast or hard brace.

D. Jewelry of any type is NOT ALLOWED to be worn (including earrings). Medical bracelets or necklaces may be worn, but must be taped to the body.

E. No metal, plastic, wood or other hard pins, barrettes or ponytail holders may be worn. Hair bands with hard plastic balls are also illegal. The use of elastic bands and soft headbands is allowed. 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is our Severe Weather Policy? - The club has posted the severe weather policy on the main page of the club website as well as on our referee web page.  On Saturdays there should be a club representative who will coordinate the closing of fields as necessary.  If the field is closed by the club representative, then the referee must follow the decision.  If the field has not been closed during a severe weather event, the referee should use good judgement along with the policy information to determine if it is safe to continue to play the game.  In most instances, games are suspended for a specified amount of time then resumed for the remaining time, assuming at least half the game can be played in the allotted time.  Travel leagues have additional guidance that must be followed. 


How many Sportsmanship Rules are there anyway? - There has been some confusion about a few of the league rules. There are two sportsmanship rules (1 for U7-U12 and 1 for U14-U19 games) and they are quite different. 

The referees role for the U7-U12 games is to remind the coach of the sportsmanship rule and try to keep the goal differential within 5 goals.  This can be done by various means (playing down a player, only allowing one attacker in the attacking half of the field, pass the ball, etc...) but all of these are for the coach to determine when and how to correct the goal differential.  You should remind him of the goal differential for each and every goal above 5 goals.  Include in your report the coaches effort to keep the games close.

For the U14-U19 games, there is a mandatory requirement for the coach with 5 goals more than the opposing team to reduce by one player for each goal at and above 5 goals (5-0 remove player, score 6-0 remove another player) until that team reaches the minimum required (7).  At this point the game will be played 7v11 until the differential is reduced.  There is a table provided in the Referee Quick Reference guide to help. 

Mercy Rule - Only applies to U14-U19 games (see Referee Quick Reference Guide)

Play Down Rule - Only applies to U14-U19 games (see Referee Quick Reference Guide)

Reduce to Equate - Only applies to U7-U12 game (see Referee Quick Reference Guide).  This rule applies when you have a team that doesn't have enough players to meet the maximum #.  For example, a U12 team only has 6 players (the minimum allowed) to start the game.  The opposing team has 14 players.  The game will start 6v6, the opposing team must reduce to equate for the game.  As additional players arrive and have had their equipment checked both teams can add players to the field up to the maximum for the game.  Another option is for the opposing team to loan players to the other team allowing a 8v8 game to be played.  This option is for the coaches of both teams to work out.


Keeper or No Keeper? - The laws of the game require that the minimum number of players must be present to start or continue a game, one of whom is the goalkeeper (for those agegroups that have goalkeepers).  In some games the coach wants to remove the goalkeeper from the field when he begins to play down, ensure you remind the coach that one of the remaining players on the field must be identified as the keeper (typically wearing a penny to distinguish the goalkeeper from other players).  The player does not have to stay in the goal or penalty area and may play any other position on the field, this also includes the original goalkeeper.  


What is a Roster Challenge (SFL Games)? - Before a game or at half time you may have a coach ask to challenge the roster of the opposing team.  The challenge is questioning the eligibility of a player or players.  This challenge does not make the player(s) in question ineligible, but does require the referee to determine the eligibility of the player(s).  If most instances you will find that the coach forgot to make the correction on the SFL Team Roster for the player's number (the coach is allowed to make 3 pen/pencil changes to the roster for player numbers only), no other information is allow to be changed or added to the roster.  In some instances you will determine the player to be ineligible to play in the game. Regardless of the outcome, you must include the challenge request in your game report. The procedures for the roster challenge are contained within the Referee Quick Reference Guide and the SFL Referee Guide in more detail. 


What time was the game supposed to start? - The time your assigned game starts and when you should arrive at the field is different.  You should plan to arrive 30 min before the game scheduled start time.  This allows you time to check the fields, check the players equipment and talk to the other referees officiating the game.  I have received feedback from referees and coaches that some of us are not getting there on time, arriving just before the scheduled time and rushing through the pre-game.  Let's make a concerted effort the rest of this season to arrive on-time not just in time.


What was that Teams #, I know they had a Blue Jersey? -    After each weekend of play, I submit a consolidated game and issue report to the club executive board.  This report is also shared with the coaches and Age Group Coordinators.  In some instances coaches have complained about the scores being reported incorrectly.  Apparently some of the teams wore the wrong color jersey (visiting was wearing blue) and this wasn't identified by the referee.  Do not go by the jersey color alone.  During your equipment check, verify the team’s # by asking the coach.  These incidents were caught by attentive coaches when they reviewed our weekly game reports.  I have received comments such as "I wasn't running up the score, it was the other team" or "we didn't lose that game, we won".  To ensure the most accurate report, ensure you verify which teams are playing.

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