Compilation of Input for Isolating a Player

“Compilation of Input for Isolating a Player”

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida


Either Cautioning a player for misconduct, or talking to a player whose conduct may not quite have reached misconduct, involves skill on the part of the Referee in order to get the procedure over quickly, professionally, and with a minimum of argument, dissent, or ill will. One important part of the entire skill of performing the procedure is to be able to successfully isolate the player so that no interference takes place while the Referee deals with that player. Interference by others (i.e., teammates or opponents) complicates the process. The ability to successfully isolate a player is not a standard field mechanic, and not a single, standard, successful procedure that can be performed by every Referee. The skill can be acquired by trying the different approaches used by successful Referees to see which one (or ones) might be successful for you.

The following comments were gathered from top NISOA Referees and Referee Instructors, and should provide some helpful suggestions for you to consider.


Don Dennison, NISOA National Clinician, Virginia, writes:

“When Cautioning a player, or when the need arises to have a more than casual discussion with a player involved in misconduct or possible misconduct, it is essential for the Referee to isolate that player from his teammates and opponents for a solitary talk and/or to issue a formal Caution. I normally approach the player and tell him to come to me (usually I say “number 6 you’re with me”) and them move away with that player about ten yards or more from the spot of the misconduct. While doing this I keep all of the other players away by extending my arm in a horizontal position with my hand upraised (the universal stop signal). If necessary, I will vocalize to insure that the other players keep their distance. When I have the player involved in the incident isolated and alone with me, I try to take a position so that I can see all of the other players to insure that they are not intruding, and then I have my discussion or issue the appropriate Caution card. This is not necessary for an Ejection/Disqualification. Merely display the red card above your head while facing the player so that that guilty player is aware that he is being ejected.

John Kipp, NISOA National Clinician, Ohio, writes:

“I isolate the player and ask “what’s going on” to try to bring out what the cause of his/her frustration may be. Without arguing, I then advise that his/her behavior is not acceptable and use the appropriate remedy: card, verbal, etc.”

John Van deVaarst, NISOA National Clinician, New Jersey, writes:

“I always tried to find an area on the field nearby where there were no players and went to it quickly, then called the player by number to me. This isolated the situation as a one-on–one situation. I stuck to the facts and did it calmly, quickly, and professionally. My goal was to correct the behavior and get the game restarted as quickly as possible to prevent other issues. As one variation of my normal procedure, on more than one occasion I isolated a player who I determined really did not have a behavioral problem, but the other team may have had an issue with him (e.g., momentum taking the player into the goalkeeper). I would then tell that player to nod his/her head as if they were agreeing with me and act as if I were dealing with a misconduct, and then I would ask the player: “do you know what time it is?” This would relax the player and the opponents would believe I was dealing with an unacceptable situation.”

Todd Abraham, NISOA National Clinician, Illinois, writes:

“What I tend to do is “wait for the dust to settle” and get the other players away from the offender, especially in a volatile situation. I have found it is easier to move others away than move the offender to a different (isolated) spot.  “Non-offenders” are typically more cooperative and you have more options with them. If they don’t comply their yellow card is the first”.

Dan Brady, NISOA National Clinician, Texas, writes:

“As a general rule of thumb, I never asked or demanded that a player “come here”. I always pointed to a spot and asked (when necessary, I strongly insisted) that the player joined me there, all the while moving to that spot myself. This not only disarmed the player, it allowed for separation of the player and me from the pack, and allowed me to choose a desirable spot for the required isolation.”

Charles Vela, NISOA National Clinician, writes:

“As with a booking so is isolation very important. I have found that a good technique is t steer the offender toward a neutral location. It can appear too confrontational to approach too close and dictatorial to require the player to come to you. There may also be teammates or even opposing players where your player is. Unless you need to intercede between opposing players, moving to a separate spot removes all distractions for both the Referee and player concerned. Beckon the player to the desired spot as you move to that spot yourself. Demonstrate a firm but unemotional demeanor as you call the player to the spot you indicate. Once there, inform the player of your expectations and then resume play with a minimum of interruption to play.”

Brad Buchner, NISOA National Clinician, North Carolina, writes:

“I always liked to get the player near the touchline where the AR can assist in keeping other players away. If that wasn’t possible, I would sometimes ask the Captain to keep his players back (mixed results with that). My best advice to Referees is to make as little a production of it as possible. If giving advice keep it brief and to the point. If issuing a card, get it done quickly and get play started ASAP.  Hesitation and excessive conversation open the door to argument.  In the worst case the Referee may be forced to deal with other players as a result.


As you can see from reading these seven comments, all offer good advice. Among these are some variations that are worth trying, because even the smallest variable may be more suited to your refereeing personality and style, and therefore be more successful for you. Being able to successfully deal with a player involved in misconduct, or possible misconduct, is a key soccer refereeing skill that you will want to acquire.

One Response to “Compilation of Input for Isolating a Player”

  1. The key in this situation is to be commanding without appearing imperious. What has always worked for me is, after the appropriate stutter whistle to indicate action is stopped (your whistle is saying “ah, ah, ah, ah), to move quickly toward the offender while calling out his or her number and seeking eye contact so all know that action is being taken. Simultaneously I becon the offender to me with one forearm and then veer off toward an isolated spot while holding my other arm straight out with hand open and up in the “stay or stop” sign in order that all other players know not to approach. When we reach that open area I tell the miscreant in very few but exact words from the rules how he has transgressed, and then issue the caution and show the card, or eject by arm extended straight at 45 degrees up and showing of the second yellow followed by the red, or the “straight” red if that is what the trangression requires.
    By no means should the match be restarted until the player has left the field, and preferably until he is “out of sight and out of sound”, as you should have stated loudly and clearly (so that all know exactly what must happen) as you made the above signals. Walk away to another isolated spot appropriate for the restart, but do not yet restart. Often the miscreant will refuse to leave, in which case do not lower your image or control by making any further attempt to eject him or her. When the players from his team see that their playing time is being eaten or delayed by the miscreant’s recalcitrance they will loudly demand the exit — you will need do nothing but wait for them to get him or her off and headed out of sight and sound as required. It is helpful after such a delay to face in the direction of the restart and loudly say something like “Here we go” to let all know that the restart whistle is imminent. On such restarts I find a short strong uplilting whistle always unmistakenly understood. Yes, this can be done with a Fox 40.