LOTG: Law 5–The Referee


Law 5: The Referee

After all,   it   IS   all   about   us!!!      (Oops, was that my out-loud voice?)

For the new referee, this “Law” has a lot of descriptions of basically everything that you can do out there on the pitch. It throws around phrases like “authority” and “decisions,” and goes in to some detail about what your “powers and duties” include.

There is also a listing of the referee’s “Compulsory Equipment” (which you can also read about in our article “For the New Referee—Prepping Your Gear for the Match”) and diagrams of “Referee Signals” (you’ll want to get these sorted out quickly). There are very helpful video clips produced by USSF that show all of the standard signals used during a match, and can be found at this link.

The final section of this Law explains that the referee will basically not be held “liable” for any injuries or damages suffered by the players while under his authority. Basically, you (and/or Region 20 )won’t get sued for anything that happens to anybody or anything (which is nice). However, let me briefly touch on why “being registered” as a referee volunteer with National AYSO is so important and a necessary requirement. By registering with National every year (which you must do in order to be a volunteer referee), this is where the liability piece gets taken care of. If you are not registered, that opens a huge Pandora’s Box of trouble for the Region and for you in case something goes sideways. You may NOT be a volunteer referee in AYSO unless you have done this.


“The Authority of the Referee” — Congratulations, here’s your whistle, you’re in charge!

Per the LOTG, you have “full authority to enforce the LOTG.”  In kinder/gentler terms, people will refer to you as “a steward of the game.”  Your number one job will be to protect the players, keep them safe, and keep the play fair!

“Decisions of the Referee” — What you say, goes!

All you can do… is “do your best” out there. You will make calls and you will miss some. You may even make an incorrect call or misinterpret something that you thought you saw. The bottom line is that you try your hardest to keep the players safe and the match fair. Your decisions will be made based on your opinion (and interpretation) of what you just saw. The phrase “In The Opinion Of The Referee” (ITOOTR), though it may not sound that powerful, carries a lot of weight out there on the pitch. Period. End of discussion. Your decisions are final.

One of the newest additions to the LOTG this year, and one of my favorites is: “The decisions of the referee, and all other match officials, must always be respected.”   We’ll see how well this 2017/18 change to the Laws of the Game goes over with our esteemed coaches and spectators…


This brings me to a little item that bears mentioning, and that is there are more than a few enthusiastic/uneducated/misinformed (in terms of soccer) parents and more than a small handful of less than well-behaved coaches out there. For the most part, our Region is blessed with an amazing group of kind and understanding parents and coaches. The fact is, you WILL hear comments, loud grumblings, and even outright condemnations coming from the sidelines. For the most part you should try to let these remarks roll off your back; it takes a thick skin and forgiving heart (…”to forgive, divine”) to be a good referee. But when the level of this nonsense becomes too much (aka “irresponsible behavior”), you have to nip it in the bud. Remind them (at first gently and politely) you are just trying to do your best and that you are making decisions based on what you see (and it’s impossible to see everything), and that these decisions are based on your opinion of what you just saw (“ITOOTR”)!!   Sometimes, however, the vehement nature of their remarks warrants a strong “We are done discussing this!” tone. Use your judgement and respond accordingly. Start with the mild-mannered response and build as needed.

Region 20 Stands Behind You !!!

In those situations where the sidelines (coaches and/or spectators) are not behaving responsibly, you should do one or two things. First of all, make a note of this on the back of the “Game Card.” You can be general (or specific) with these comments and the Division Commissioner, who is supposed to review the Game cards after every weekend, should reach out to you for further explanation and to clarify what your experience was. Second, you can ALWAYS reach out directly to myself or Richard Krop by email  (arra@ayso20.org  or  rra@ayso20.org respectively)  Be prepared to explain the situations (and hopefully identify the relevant parties) as best as you can so we can take appropriate action to help prevent similar behavior in the future. Region 20 will not tolerate “Irresponsible Behavior” on the part of our Coaches or Parents/Spectators. We have a Zero Tolerance Policy (see link) for this type of behavior. Without your input we will not be as effective in reducing this sort of behavior in the future.


Everybody learns differently; some read books, some watch games on TV, some go to websites and others soak up what they can on referee blogs. Some will go to the “Region 20 Referee Corner” (wink-wink-nudge-nudge).  Build your confidence by doing more and more games–start easy and build from there; work with referees that have a lot of experience when you can, and slowly start working games that are a little stretch for you in terms of age, skill level, speed, etc., when you feel ready.

Besides reading the IFAB 2018/19 LOTG (which is absolutely required reading–found online at www.theifab.com), there are several more helpful publications. The good news is that these publications help explain (and elaborate on the written word found in the text of the LOTG) more specific situations encountered on the pitch and how to correctly deal with them. The bad news is that two of them were last published between 2012-2014, and obviously some of the penalties and appropriate restarts spelled out in these publications have been changed/modified/updated as the game has changed, and the LOTG themselves have been changed.  It should be noted here (as a gentle reminder) that if you have not read the most recent 2018/19 LOTG, you are slightly “outdated” and need to read the latest re-write as many changes have transpired over the past 4 years. The two other resources I refer to (and will supply links for) are:

In addition to these valuable resources, I will start to formulate a list of my “favorite referee books” that I have found useful during my search for clarity.  I will put this list onto the Region 20 Referee Corner.  Check them out.  If you have any books or other resources (you-tubes, blogs, etc.) that you have enjoyed, please let me know and I will add them to the list of good referee bits.

Soon you will begin to feel more confident in your “feel” for the game and in your ability to translate what you see happening in front of you (as well as to either side and behind you) into a little voice that says, “That was ok,” or “That was not ok.”   The time it takes to make that decision, and respond appropriately, will get quicker and quicker.   And don’t worry, we all make mistakes, even the most seasoned and esteemed National referees miss here and there–it’s impossible to get everything right; just so long as you are hustling out there, trying your best, and being as consistent as possible.

But what if I think I HAVE goofed?  

Hey, we’re only human (“to err is human…”). The good thing about refereeing is you are usually working with a team of Match Officials–as a team–and you are all out there to help, support, and back each other up. There are many ways to make sure you are all on the same team, but the BEST way to do this is to make frequent eye contact with one another–especially at/during any stoppage of play (ball goes out of play, after a ball enters the goal, after you blow the whistle for a supposed foul/offence, etc.) and preferably before making your “signal.”

Say, for instance, you blow the whistle for a supposed foul. You have until play restarts again to make sure you got everything right! This means make eye contact with your AR’s. You have a moment to think to yourself (while coaches, spectators, and players might be “informing” you on their opinions about what just happened), “Have I got this right?”  You should look to your AR (for a possible confirmation).  You don’t have to rush. You have a second (maybe two or three) to get yourself to the scene of the crime before announcing your decision. Plus, it’s also ok to take a moment and walk over to your AR to discuss what just happened. Most coaches (and players) will appreciate your willingness to discuss things with your “team” so that you are increasing the likelihood that you’re going to make the correct call!

You also have the right to change your call, penalize a different player, change what type of foul you are going to call, allow/disallow a goal (see important rule below regarding “Decisions of the Referee” per LOTG).  You even have the right to say, “Hey, I am sorry, I got that completely wrong. I shouldn’t have blown the whistle. No foul. We are going to restart with a Dropped Ball.”

It’s ok to make a mistake (just try not to make too many of them)!  As a matter of fact, it’s much better to admit you were wrong than to go forward with a call/penalty/restart that is incorrect, charging one team for an offence they didn’t commit, and/or giving the other team a free restart they don’t deserve. You would be creating a disadvantage for someone on top of making the wrong call—a double whammy. It’s harder, but better, to fess up to the players and coaches, let both sides know the situation (you don’t need to go into an elaborate explanation on the ins and outs of your decision or mistake), and move forward with what is ultimately “the right thing” to do–even though it may leave your ego a little bruised. Everyone will actually (eventually) respect you more for your integrity and guts to admit your mistakes.

***HOWEVER—“Decisions of the Referee” (a LOTG Important tid-bit)***  

“The referee may not change a decision on realizing that it is incorrect or on the advice of another match official if play has restarted… or the referee has signaled the end of the first or second half (including extra time) and left the field of play or terminated the match.” (Note–the message and wording of this will be changing for 2019!)

This means, once play has “restarted” after a stoppage of play, you cannot change your call or decision (meaning either a foul that you called, or, a goal that you allowed/disallowed). It also means once you have signaled the end of a half, or the end of a game and left the field of play, you cannot change a call or decision.

(There are two exceptions to this which involve a foul that results in a second yellow, and, the committing of a serious (violent) offense that was seen and signaled by the AR but the CR didn’t immediately see the signal and one or more stoppages occurred before the CR became aware of the problem. Refer to “Advice to Referees,” 2013-14, section 5.17)

So, bottom line—Match Official Teamwork (!)  make sure you check with your fellow officials (EYE CONTACT) before signaling the players to continue play with a given restart.  It’s better to take your time and get it right than to hurry and get it wrong. Make sure you check with your AR’s (did I say “eye contact?”)  before blowing the whistle to signal the end of a half or end of a game—a little glance to see that they are both ok with the current status of the game, and they are cool with ending this half of play (or the match).

Assistant Referees (!)  if there is something that just isn’t sitting right in your gut, raise your flag (this means ‘I need your attention and a word’) so the Center Referee can see you have something you need to discuss with him/her before he/she signals the end of the half or the end of the game. I know it might feel like you are standing alone, naked, on an island…but if you believe in your opinion, regarding a given situation or activity on the field, STAND FIRM with that flag up !!!   Don’t lower your flag or ‘let things go’ before you have a chance to get things clear between you and your Referee.  Again, taking the time to make sure you get things right is WAY BETTER than missing something just because you felt you were under the gun in terms of wrapping things up quickly (or on time)!  Also, know that if there IS an issue that needs resolving, and you have raised your flag before the final whistle blew, it is the Referee’s obligation to clarify the matter… which means the Referee can “change his call” on something even though he blew the final whistle.  The fact is that he blew the whistle after your signal that there is something needs discussing. Between the two of you, you can make sure you get things right, correct a misunderstanding, and wrap up the game knowing you all made the right call–together as a TEAM.


“POWERS and DUTIES”—a list of everything (in no particular order or level of importance) you can and will do on the pitch, the basic functions of refereeing:

  • Enforce the LOTG
  • Control the match in cooperation with your referee team
  • Keep the time, the score, and turn in a match report (the Game Cards) that provides relevant information regarding any serious injuries, disciplinary actions (especially Red Cards and ejections, as well as “any other incidents that occur before, during, or after the match.” This also means, AYSO Referees, any sideline misbehavior on the part of the Coach or Parents—the Region wants to know what specific Coaches or Parents need a little reminder about the Zero Tolerance Policy (refer to website).
  • Supervise/indicate the restart of play. This means you let them know what the next restart is after the ball has gone out of play or there has been a stoppage of play (a foul called, an injury, a goal, etc.).
  • You can “Apply Advantage” after a foul in situations that warrant continuing play (more on that later) rather than stopping it.
  • You can lay down the law with “Disciplinary Action(s).” This means you can punish for an offence and if more than one happens at the same time you punish the more serious one.
  • You can sanction players, give (or “show”) a Yellow Card or Red Card where appropriate.
  • You “have authority to take disciplinary actionfrom the moment you arrive on the pitch (before the game–checking the field/goals–checking in teams) until leaving the FOP after the match is over. This means if anybody does anything wrong during that time period you may “take action,” and this even means preventing a player or coach from participating in the match (if they commit a sending-off type of offence before the game has started).
  • There is a new wrinkle in the Laws about “Temporary Dismissals” (or Sin Bins) which we will not get into at this stage in AYSO.
  • You can “take action against” a Coach/Team Official that misbehaves, or “fails to act in a responsible manner,” which means having him/her booted from the field and its immediate surroundings. The new changes to the LOTG for 2019 are allowing Coaches to be carded when appropriate (YC or RC!)  Refer to the “Ask, Tell, Dismiss” protocol for dealing with Irresponsible Behavior on the part of a Coach.
  • You can act on the advice of other match officials (your Assistant Referees) regarding incidents that you have not seen. This is one of the AR’s most important jobs, helping you with play in their field of vision, and also keeping an eye on activity “behind play” (while you are closely watching the action around and in front of the ball). This is where “mirroring” will come in handy (more on that later). Assistant Referees, remember that you are there to assist (not insist) and the Referee has the final say. Work together as a “team,” share what you have seen with each other, and then it will be up to the Referee to make the final decision on how to proceed.
  • Handle “Injuries” appropriately. Some are minor and you can let play continue. Deal with the “injured” player when the ball next goes out of play (out of bounds). Some will be more serious and it is up to you to stop play immediately for a seriously injured player. In AYSO, the “severity” of the injury, and your responses, will obviously be age-appropriate. Your number one priority as a volunteer referee is to look out for player safety. Period. Nothing is worth allowing play to go on if someone has really been injured. Remember if you stop play for an uneventful injury (and there will be many, especially in the youngest divisions)–there was no obvious foul that you are going to call–the restart will be a “Dropped Ball”  from where the ball was at the time that you decided to stop play (and blew your whistle). This will happen a lot in the younger age divisions.
  • “Ensure” that a player who was seriously injured (that you stopped play for) is removed from (leaves) the FOP. This means (in AYSO) when you feel a player is injured to the extent that you invite the Coach on to the field to administer help,  the player is supposed to leave the field of play (along with the coach) and may only re-enter the FOP after the subsequent restart and only with the permission of the referee. This may or may not be necessary in AYSO games.  The reason for this way of handling “injuries” was to reduce the temptation for players/coaches to waste time (by feigning injury); normally—unless he/she was really injured—the player would not request that help come onto the field knowing that he/she would have to subsequently leave the field and would have to wait for a bit before being allowed to return to play. This requirement (to leave the FOP) may or may not need to be enforced at the younger age levels, say U9/10 and below, unless you are in a tournament or big playoff event.  Many people believe there is no reason to force the injured player to leave the field of play after an injury. In older divisions, it is common for the Referee to instruct that the player leave the FOP if a coach has come on to assess/assist with the injury. That player can then be given permission to re-enter the FOP after a few moments (it’s ok to allow them to re-enter during play).
  • So, according to the LOTG, if you have authorized a coach/doctor/team official to enter the FOP, the player must leave the FOP.  If the player refuses and does not comply, they must be Cautioned for “Unsporting Behavior.”  There are several exceptions to this rule, which can be found on pp.63 of the LOTG (see below).
  • Again, the most important thing that you need to be doing as an AYSO referee is to look out for the players’ SAFETY. Always err on the side of caution when it comes to stopping play for an injured player.
  • There are exceptions to the ‘must leave FOP if injured’ and these are:
    • Goalkeeper is injured
    • Goalkeeper and outfield player collide and need attention
    • Two or more players from the same team collide and need attention
    • Severe injury has occurred
    • Player injured as the result of a physical offence for which an opponent is Cautioned or Sent-Off, if the assessment/treatment is completely quickly
  • “Ensures” that a player bleeding leaves FOP (or with blood on uniform). Player may only re-enter after bleeding is stopped, cleaned up, and no blood is on his/her equipment
  • If an injured player, that needs to leave the field of play, needs to be cautioned or sent-off for an offence, the card must be shown before the player leaves the FOP.
  • The referee can stop play, suspend the game, or even abandon the match because of “Outside Interference,” (OI), as well as for any offences that might have been committed. Outside Interference is a slightly misleading phrase (in my opinion) that is used in this section of the LOTG. At first, my thought process goes immediately to a person running on to the field, but there are other scenarios that fit under this so-called “OI”:
    • The lighting becomes inadequate (during a night game)
    • An object is thrown onto the pitch by a spectator
    • A spectator blows a whistle which interferes with play
    • An extra ball, object, or animal enters (comes on to) the FOP during the match
      • Referee must stop play and restart with Dropped Ball if OI “interferes with play” unless the ball is going into the goal and the OI does not prevent a defending player playing the ball—the Goal is awarded if the ball enters the goal (even if contact is made with the ball) unless the ball enters the opponents’ goal. (Refer to Extra Persons on the FOP, Law 3, pp.50-52.)
      • Referee must allow play to continue if OI does not interfere with play and have OI removed at the earliest possible opportunity
    • Referee allows no unauthorized person(s) to enter the field of play. Please remember to review Law 3, “Extra Persons Entering the FOP.” An important part of your job is to keep people off of the FOP that don’t belong on it. It’s a sacred place for players and match officials only (for most of the time)!