Review of Penalty Kick Management in NFHS Competitions

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

A. Introduction

It is important for the Referee Team to correctly manage the taking of a penalty kick. This is a point in a game where a decided advantage is given to the kicking team by penalizing the offending team with the award of a penalty kick. Most penalty kicks result in a goal being scored. More often than not, the offending team will disagree with, and be upset about, the Referee’s penalty kick award. It’s therefore important that the kick be managed in a way so that the opportunity for interference, dissent, or unfairness in the process is absent. By paying attention to the required elements of the penalty kick, and by considering some preventive behaviour-control techniques, you should help your overall game management. A periodic review of the elements of the penalty kick and its management is well worth the time and effort.

B. Key concepts about the penalty kick.

(1) A penalty kick is awarded as a punishment when a direct free kick foul is committed within the offending team’s penalty area.

(2) The ball must be in play at the time of the foul.

(3) This is an important call since the penalty kick most often results in a goal being scored, be sure of your decision.

(4) The official clock (or time) is stopped when a penalty kick is awarded; it restarts when the kick is taken.

(5) A signal (whistle) must be given by Referee to stop the clock when a penalty kick is awarded, and to restart time when kick is taken.

(6) The taking of a penalty kick initially involves only the kicker and the opposing goalkeeper.

C. Requirements for a penalty kick to be taken.

The NFHS soccer rules set forth a number of key specifications about the penalty kick that must be met in order for the kick to be completed properly.

(1) When taken? When all requirements are met.

(2) Where taken? From the two-foot penalty kick line, or the nine-inch diameter Penalty Spot.

(3) Who takes? Any player on the team awarded the penalty kick.

(4) Who defends? The offending team’s goalkeeper, who must stand on the goal line between the goal posts until ball is kicked. Lateral goalkeeper movement is allowed before ball is kicked.

(5) How taken? All other players must be outside the penalty area and the penalty arc until ball is kicked. The Kicker may start run on ball from outside the penalty area. The ball must be stationary and on the ground. The kicker may not interrupt movement once approach to the ball is begun. Failure to kick the ball as specified results in re-kick.

(6) Ball in play? The ball must be moved forward from the kick; otherwise re-kick.

(7) Special condition?  The kicker may not play ball after it is kicked until ball is touched by another player on either team.

D. NFHS Guidance for Referee Team Mechanics.

Your positioning, and the positioning of the Referee Team, is important. Your recommended positioning (and guidance) in any of the three allowed systems of control under NFHS rules stresses a position so that the Referee may oversee the kicker, the goalkeeper, and the goal.  The Assistant Referee position (in the DSC) principally helps oversee the possible problem of encroachment, and the scoring of a goal. Make sure to briefly cover positioning in the pre-game Referee Team briefing.

In discussing the rationale for guidance in the three systems of control about the responsibilities of the Referee Team, a key statement reads: “The Head Referee and the Referee have equal responsibility and authority in calling fouls. The judgment of decisions by either official cannot be questioned or set aside by the other, but joint counsel is often helpful when conducted by the two Referees away from everyone.”

While this seems to only address the Dual-Officiating System, the guidance for the NFHS Diagonal System of Control clearly states that “Referee’s duties …are as written for the Head Referee in the Dual-Officiating System within this rules book.” Likewise, the guidance for the NFHS Double Dual System also clearly states that: “Three qualified Referees work together as a team to manage the game…equally share in control…a decision by any one is valid.”

E. Advice – make sure to control the time.

Your signal for stopping the clock is important.

Time (the official clock) is stopped when the penalty kick is awarded. The NFHS rules specify that the Timer is to stop the timing device for a penalty kick when signaled to do so by a Referee. The official timeout signal is used to notify the Timer to stop the timing device. Make sure to cover in pre-game Referee Team briefing who is to back up the Referee and make sure the Timer correctly stops the timing device.

In the event the time is being kept on the field by the Referee (Rule 5) the official timeout signal should be used to indicate that time has been stopped.

Your signal for restarting the clock is also important.

The clock (timing device) must be restarted when the kick is taken. Your signal for restarting the clock is important. The official signal for restarting time (i.e., wind-up to start clock) is displayed by the Referee to do this. Make sure to specify in the pre-game Referee Team briefing who is to back up the Referee for the clock restart.

F. NFHS Guidelines on making the call and setting up the penalty kick.

The NFHS guidelines clearly state that when the penalty kick is called, the official closer to the ball shall pick up the ball, take it to the penalty mark, and hand the ball to the kicker. (At occasional times, an alternative procedure might be considered in a special circumstance where the penalty kick call causes controversy and dissent from the offending team – see further discussion in this article.)

From time to time a Referee will find that a player, (or players) move to try to argue and dissent with the Referee. This is the type of player misconduct that needs to be handled to avoid escalation into a game-delaying incident.

G. Advice about controlling dissent and player behavior.

In dealing with, or controlling, any dissent or protest about your award of a penalty kick, remember that the violation that caused the penalty kick award was committed by the dissenting or protesting team, and that anyone trying to place the blame on you, your decision to award the kick as required, or to question your competence in making the decision, is not to be allowed to do so. Such dissent or protest in NOT a privilege that is given to players or teams by the rules of the game.

Therefore, any unsporting behavior or misconduct that the disciplined team or players offer must be dealt with quickly, firmly and fairly.

If players try to follow or try to approach you as you move to the side to a position from which you intend to oversee the kick, gesture clearly and firmly with your hands and arms for them to stop heading toward you. (One indication is to hold your arms out towards the dissenting player(s) with hands up and palms facing the players as a clear indication to stay away from you.)

If necessary, gesture clearly and firmly for protesting players approaching you to move off. (One way to indicate is to hold your arms out, hands up, and making a pushing motion with the arms to indicate that players should “back off”.)

Do not reply to anything any player, or players, say to you in an attempt to dissent or protest. Your decision may not be questioned.

If a player (or players) persists, point to your pocket holding the yellow card to indicate to them that a caution might be the result of their dissent or protest. Most players will understand the significance of your gesture when pointing to your pocket.

If you do decide to direct a remark to a dissenting or protesting player, keep it brief, firm, and make sure it is phased so that a response from the player is not an option.

Of course, continued dissent after you’ve tried to avoid confrontation with players can then be penalized by a Caution, or – if dissent persists – by a Disqualification.

H. Consider a need to modify mechanics when behavior problems interfere with penalty kick management.

This article suggests some practical alternative procedures to emphasize the judgment that you must exercise when game conditions require.

From time to time Referees find that the positions and actions stated in the mechanics guidelines should be adjusted when the circumstances of play and participant behavior require Referees to either move closer to certain areas of play or players, or move away from guideline positions and actions in order to establish or maintain better control of the game and its participants.

A case in point when such deviation from NFHS guidelines might be considered concerns the penalty kick. Dissenting words or actions by one or more players are not uncommon immediately after your call.

Remember that you have awarded a penalty kick against a player, and the player’s team, as punishment for a serious, deliberate foul or rules violation. All of your actions during your management of the penalty kick should emphasize that protest or dissent is not an allowed option.

Understand that at least one-half of the players on the field will likely NOT agree with your decision. Nevertheless, your decision is (and should be understood by all as) final, and that the next step is for you to manage the taking of the awarded penalty kick, without having to spend unnecessary time trying to overcome dissenting or protesting actions by the penalized team.

Let’s discuss this circumstance.

When setting up the kick, do not move to the penalty spot. Instead, quickly move away from the penalty spot area to the side where you intend to position yourself to oversee the penalty kick. This begins an important procedure to separate yourself from among players who may try to dissent or protest against your decision. It’s preferable to not have dissenting players approach or confront you.

Do not place the ball on the penalty line or spot; instead, allow the kicker to place the ball. However, be prepared to advise the kicker to correctly place the ball on the line or spot, or to “hurry up” if he/she seems to be taking too long to place the ball for the kick. The sooner the kick is taken, the better it is for the game.

Indicate clearly to the kicker to wait for your whistle before taking the kick.

Separating yourself from dissenting players in this instance will help your control over player behavior and expedite the taking of the penalty kick.

I. Summary.

Your aim in managing the penalty kick process is to make sure the kick is taken promptly when all conditions are met. Unnecessary delay increases the possibility of control problems. Assure that the process is completed quickly and fairly.