LOTG: Law 12–Fouls and Misconduct

Law 12–Fouls and Misconduct

The AYSO referee’s role is to help keep the game “SAFE, FAIR, and FUN” for the kids. The AYSO “Team Concept” is made up of Coaches, Parents, and Referees all working together to support the Kids in the middle of this ‘triangle.’  Coaches coach, Parents cheer, and Referees make sure that the games are being played fairly and that the safety of the kids is of paramount importance. When everybody does their job, the kids have FUN.


To keep play fair and safe, we as “Match Officials” need to watch out for behavior that crosses the boundaries of what is acceptable. There are a lot of situations where the player does not intentionally try to play in an unsafe manner. Nor do they often wake up Saturday morning thinking to themselves “I am not going to abide by the Laws of the Game today. Let’s go commit a bunch of fouls. Mom, what’s for breakfast?”  Accidents will happen and usually (especially in the younger divisions) the contact was unintentional, but it is our job as “Stewards of the Game” to make sure any untoward behavior is kept to a minimum, and when/where the Laws are breached the guilty party is penalized appropriately. Remember, especially with the younger players, let’s not behave like dictatorial officials but rather as kind and understanding teachers of the game (or at least it’s Laws). Choose your application of words, and body language, carefully so as not to embarrass or harshly discipline the player– they are just kids and our goal is for them to learn from their mistakes and have FUN out there (not feel shamed).

When the Laws are broken–when an offence is committed–it is our job/duty/responsibility to uphold these Laws and award penalties (Free Kicks) and sometimes sanctions (YC/RC) when and where appropriate. As a new referee there is a lot to take in, and the action can be swift, which often makes it hard to determine: “Was that a foul or not?”  Sometimes it all can seem as a blur.  In many referee courses you will often hear: If it “feels” to you like something’s not quite right (a particular event), it’s usually a foul.  Go with your gut–but use your eyes–and common sense when deciding “Was that action fair or unsafe?”  “Did it have an effect on the player or the play?” If the answer is an easy ‘YES’ blow the whistle–to stop play–and award the free kick as appropriate (unless you are going to apply ‘advantage,’ but more on that later).

“But I’m not sure…”  That said, if you are not sure, it’s better to not call a foul.  “Foul recognition” will be a skill that you slowly develop over time. It’s not easy and one of the most rewarding player management skills. Be patient, pay attention, and it will come.  For now–if you didn’t see the whole thing clearly you can’t just say: “I didn’t really see it, but I’m going to call a foul anyway–better safe than sorry.”  Your gut is important, but if you didn’t see the “foul,”  you can’t call what you didn’t see!  Yes, you may have one sideline yelling and screaming, “That was a foul!” but you simply can not (and should not) call for a foul that you didn’t see and are 100% sure of.  (A quick and apologetic “I didn’t see it” towards the upset touchline is nice.)  See what you call and call only what you see. Period.

“NO FOUL !”   On the other hand, if contact is made (maybe somebody even goes down) and something looks like it could possibly be perceived as a foul by one side, but it was not a foul in your opinion, a clear and loud announcement, “No Foul !” from you so everybody hears it (with maybe a head shaking “No-No” and hands waving ‘safe’ out to your side as if to reiterate “No-No”) will come in handy.  The other ‘signal’ that tells people you saw exactly what  just happened and in your opinion it was not a foul  (like a clean tackle), is using your hand and arm to point towards the ball as it is still ‘in play,’ which unofficially signifies that ‘play will continue here and the ball is still live; we are not stopping play.’  It’s an unofficial signal, but comes in handy when things are getting physical but still staying clean. These forms of communication are just as effectively directed towards the sidelines (coaches and parents) for their edification–and to keep them under control–as they are for the players so they know you are dialed-in and looking out for their welfare.


We don’t blow the whistle for everything. “The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that matches should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of the referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law. Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feelings and loss of temper on the part of the layers and spoils the pleasure of the spectators.” (Once a quote from the FIFA LOTG, since removed and found in AYSO National Rules and Regulations.)

Hey, soccer is a contact sport.  This doesn’t mean you can just let them play and lose control of the match! The fact is—contact will be made (and made often) but not all contact means that a foul was committed. Even if someone goes down, it might not have been a foul!  There’s a lot of hands-out, getting a feel for where the players are in space, where players are in relation to one another. And there is a lot of good clean LEGAL shoulder-to-shoulder contact being made when players are within playing distance of the ball.  Sometimes there are incidental collisions where players go down, but the action did not consist of a foul (the 50-50 challenge or the unintentional collision).



You will often hear in your Regional and Intermediate referee courses to ‘Get your restarts right!’ When it comes to Fouls, this means identifying the offence correctly, but more importantly awarding the correct restart: Direct Free Kick, Indirect Free Kick, Penalty Kick. The restart will depend on the type of offence, and where it was committed. Direct Free Kicks (DFK) are awarded after a ‘contact’ foul has been committed. Indirect Free Kicks (IFK) are usually awarded after a ‘non-contact’ breach of the Laws. The majority of Free Kicks take place where the offence was committed.  Penalty Kicks (PK), however, are taken at the Penalty Mark when a defender commits a Direct Free Kick foul anywhere inside his/her own Penalty Area–this restart will be covered in Law 14–The Penalty Kick.

Direct Free Kick Fouls–there are 7 ‘conditional’  fouls   (…was it Careless?  Reckless?  or Uses Excessive Force?)

  • Kick (or attempts to…)
  • Trip (or attempts to…)
  • Strike (or attempts to…)
  • Charge
  • Jump at
  • Push
  • Tackle/Challenge

These conditional DFKs require that the referee determine whether or not the foul was committed in a Careless manner, or Reckless manner, or using Excessive Force.  A “Careless” foul is your typical foul, and doesn’t require that a card be shown, maybe a word or two to the miscreant. This will be the majority of contact fouls you encounter as a Referee. Just blow the whistle (to stop play), point in the direction of the DFK (toward the direction that the offended team is going) and play restarts.  As the intensity (and danger-level) of the offense rises, if you deem the foul a “Reckless” one, you must whistle (stop play) and formally “Caution” that player with a Yellow Card sanction. If the offence “exceeds the necessary use of force and/or endangers the safety of an opponent,” you must stop play and “Send Off” the player, showing a Red Card sanction. (Again, if you are “applying advantage” you don’t have to stop play; you can allow the team that was fouled to continue with the attack–more on that later.)

  • IMPORTANT NOTE:  AYSO and ‘Carding‘ young players
  • Do NOT show cards to players in 10U and below. Leave them at home.
  • For 12U we try to avoid carding players unless there is an extreme circumstance. Please try to work with the Coach if a player is exceeding the boundaries of unfair/unsafe play before considering the YC/RC sanction.

Direct Free Kick Fouls–there are 5 ‘unconditional‘  fouls.  If they do it, it’s a foul. Period.  There may or may not be a card sanction (in the older divisions), depending on the situation, but for the most part in the younger player’s games it will just be a DFK restart (or PK, depending on where it is committed ! ).

  • ‘Handball Offence’  (a NEW wording and lots of new text for 2019 — please refer to www.theifab.com — and I will create a separate essay on “Handball Offence”)
  • Hold an opponent
  • Impede an opponent with contact
  • Bite/Spit someone
  • Throw an object at the ball, opponent, or match official; make contact with the ball with a held object  (New 2019)


Indirect Free Kick Fouls–there are 5 that apply to outfield players…

  • Play in a Dangerous Manner
  • Impede an opponent without contact
  • Dissent, Offensive, Abusive, Insulting language or gestures or other verbal offences
  • Prevent a goalkeeper from releasing ball, or kick at the ball when the keeper is trying to release it
  • Commit any other offence, not mentioned in the Laws, for which play is stopped to Caution or Send Off a player

Indirect Free Kick Fouls–there are 4 that apply to the goalkeeper…

  • Control the ball with the hands for more than 6 seconds
  • Touch the ball with his/her hands after:
    • releasing it from his/her hands and before another player has touched it
    • it has been deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper from a teammate
    • receiving it directly from a throw-in from a teammate