LOTG: Law 9–The Ball In and Out of Play


Law 9: The Ball In and Out of Play

Ball Out of Play

Two things here regarding “Out of Play”:

  • “The ball is out of play when play has been stopped by the referee.”
  • The ball is also OOP when “it has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air.”

So, first of all, if the referee decides (and signals), for whatever reason, “we’re stopping play” for something (blows his/her whistle), the ball is considered out of play.  Note the inclusion of the word “decides” here; it’s when the referee decides in his/her mind that we are doing something that counts, not just when he/she blows the whistle. Therefore, the “decision” actually precedes the whistle, in case anybody questions “when” you made a particular call, folks. Oh, they will!

Second, when the ball goes completely past a particular boundary line is when it is considered either “Out of Play” or “In Play.” This has ramifications for when the ball is considered in bounds or out of bounds, when a goal kick (or free kick by defenders from within their own PA—more on that later) is taken/considered in play or not, and most importantly when a ball enters the goal or not!!!

Ball In Play

Per the LOTG written word, “The ball is in play at all other times, including when it rebounds off a match official, goalpost, crossbar or corner flagpost and remains in the field of play.”

This means it’s still in play if the ball bounces off you, as a Center Referee or Assistant Referee (assuming you are standing inside the FOP). So don’t stop play, let them keep playing! (Maybe a subtle apology to the player if you got in the way and the ball bounces off of you during a promising possession.)

Obviously (or not) if the ball bounces off the goal frame (or corner flagpost) and back into play, the ball is still “in play.” Keep playing.


Occasionally the stuff of relatively low-import controversy (throw-ins from midfield), it is also the sort of thing that can determine the outcome of a match (did the ball enter the goal?).

At issue here is whether or not “the whole of the ball has passed over” a (no greater than 5-inch) line painted on the ground. Unlike other sports where a ball simply touching the line means we have either gone out of bounds or scored a point (or points), in this round-ball sport what counts is whether or not the entirety of our little friend has passed all-the-way-over the line.

The Assistant Referee’s Vital Role

These situations are where you come off looking like a rock star ora parent that doesn’t hustle/care, or wasn’t in the proper position to make the correct call.” In the diagram below, balls “A”  “B” and “C” are still “In Play,” which might mean a couple things:

  • 1.  It has not gone out of bounds yet.  If we are running the touch line as an AR making a helpful “unofficial signal” to your CR will help him/her know the ball is still in play, like showing/pointing your free hand down and towards the ball while you are running along the touch line.
  • 2.  A goal has not been scored.  If this was as far as the ball went relative to the plane of Goal Line, then it can not be considered a “goal” because it has not completely crossed the plane of the Goal Line. This is when you will really earn your keep, and hear ooohs and ahhhs from one sideline (if not both)!

As the AR, this is precisely why it is so important to be keeping up with play and following that ball all-the-way-to-the-Goal Line.  If you are not keeping up with play, or even with that ball at all times (especially on shots on goal), making these occasionally game-changing ones becomes more difficult.

Don’t get caught being “that ref” everybody knows wasn’t where he/she needed to be in order to make a good call; even a mere 10 yards behind play (or the ball) makes seeing the position of the ball relative to a touch line (or goal line!) a guessing game.

Common Scenarios to Consider: GK’s and FK’s (taken by defenders from within their PA)

Another important issue to be aware of is whether or not the ball is “In Play” (or not!) on  Goal Kicks, or Free Kicks, taken by the defenders from within their own Penalty Area.

This becomes important because if the AR is sleeping on the job, things can get unfair (and go wrong) in a hurry—beware, it will happen!  Although this will be covered again in Laws 13 and 16, it bears mentioning while we are on the subject of interpreting the position of the ball relative to a given line, in this case the Penalty Area line (often referred to as “the 18”).

On a Goal Kick the ball is not considered “In Play” until it has completely crossed the PA line.  (The same is true for Free Kicks taken by the defenders from within their own Penalty Area) This means the ball must COMPLETELY cross the PA line before it is considered “in play.”  This means that no one can touch the ball (from either team) before it completely, and directly, leaves the Penalty Area. If they do, the GK or FK must be retaken.

The reason this is important is that if a wary opponent gets to the ball on a GK (or FK) before it leaves the PA, he or she will more than likely have an open invitation to a clear shot on goal guarded by a solitary keeper!  That’s one of the main ideas behind the Free Kick and Goal Kick: the team awarded that restart, from within their own Penalty Area, should be able to take it without the “worry” of their opponents encroaching and the ball not leaving the Penalty Area first.

As the AR, one of your important roles on a Goal Kick (and those Free Kicks taken from within the Penalty Area by the defending team) is to determine whether or not the ball is “In Play” (has left the PA directly) and therefore can then be played by another player! Determining this involves making a decision on whether or not the ball has left the Penalty Area, completely left the PA!  If it does not leave the PA (and you know what this means in terms of ‘the-ball-and-the-line’) before another player touches the ball, then it is not “In Play.” Therefore, the restart must be “Retaken.”  A re-do, if you will, is required of that Goal Kick–Law16 (or Free Kick–Law 13).

For the shortest “Law” it sure merits a lot of consideration!