The Traps of Offside and the Dual System of Control

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA, Florida


There are two offside-related tactics used by teams that affect the way the Referee Team needs to handle offside events in a game.

The first is by the team who uses the tactic of the “offside trap” to create offside offenses by the opposition when the opponents pass the ball on attack. The defending team does so by pulling up its “second to last” defending player(s) just before the moment the ball is played by the opposing attacking team in order to place the opposing attacking forward(s) offside at the play of the ball. Many teams use this tactic regularly to defeat attacks against their goal. The tactic is allowed but requires close attention by the Referee Team to make sure the decisions made are fair accurate.

The second tactic is when the attacking team has their attacking players (i.e., forwards) move up as close to level as possible (while staying onside) with the defending team’s “second to last” defenders, so that when an attacking teammate passes the ball forward, the lead attacking players try to time and make a break forward so that, at the moment the ball is passed by a teammate, the attackers are either level and onside with the “second to last defenders”, or slightly back and onside. Again, this tactic is legitimate and is often successfully used.

The challenge for the Referee Team is to make a correct decision when either tactic is used.


When the Dual System of Control is being used by the Referee Team, the responsibilities of anticipating the move, and of being in the best possible position, fall primarily on the Lead Referee. (However, there are also implications for the Trail Referee.)

Consider that the Dual System of control tends to emphasize paying more attention to the attacking portion of play through the use of the “boxing-in” approach. When an offside trap tactic is expected, the Referee Team must adapt their mechanics to pay increased attention to both attack and counter-attack play by the teams.

When it is known, or can be anticipated, that a team can be expected to use either tactic, the Lead Referee at all time must stay up with either the forward line of attackers, or stay up with the “second to last” line of defenders. In many cases this will require extra physical effort to keep moving abreast of the line you choose to cover, as opposed to the way you might constantly adjust position in a game where teams do not use this tactic.  Covering more ground means a commitment to physical fitness and to constantly press the ability to move in longer runs than if teams did not use the tactic.


The main implication for the Trail Referee when one or both teams use either tactic is during any counter-attack. Here, the play changes direction suddenly, and the Trail Referee needs to make sure of recovering into a Lead Referee position as quickly as possible.

In most games, the Trail Referee will usually try to keep a distance behind the Lead Referee of from 20 to 30 yards in order to “box” play in adequately. However, in a game where the Referees expect one or both teams to use the offside trap tactic a major concern is for the Trail Referee to be able to transit from that position to that of Lead Referee going in the opposite direction.

The physical fitness demand is obvious. Distance needs to be covered as rapidly as possible, and the job can only be done by a fit Referee.

However, one other measure can be taken. In a game where the offside trap tactic is expected to be used the Trail Referee should adjust his/her regular Trail Referee position during play to stretch the area being “boxed in” to make it deep enough so that, on a counter-attack, that Trail Referee has less ground to cover to quickly get into the required Lead Referee position.

This needs to be discussed and understood clearly during the pre-game Referee Team briefing.


Every game should be well-thought-out and discussed by the Referee Team before the game begins. One idea most Referees emphasize today is to “do your homework” before arriving at the game site.  That means getting information about the team tactics usually used by the two teams involved in the assigned game. In most regular-season games you are familiar with the teams involved, mostly because you have refereed them in other games either during that season or in seasons past.

When you receive a game assignment, review what you know about the teams involved, particularly their usual game tactics.  Teams who use the offside trap often do so regularly in their games. Knowing this can be to your advantage in managing a game. Of course, if you are not familiar with the teams involved, one way to find out about their usual team tactics is to ask around among your Referee colleagues about the tactics to be expected. Then use this information during the pre-game Referee Team Briefing.


When using the Dual System of Control mechanics, The Referee Team must adjust from the usual “boxing-in” tactic to a stretched “box”, in order to allow for quicker recovery from Trail to Lead Referee when a counter-attack occurs.

As Lead Referee, be prepared to make longer and more frequent runs at the lead of play, whether keeping up with attacking forwards, or with “second to last” defenders, at the moment the ball is played on attacks.

In preparing for any game, “do your homework!” Ascertain if either team is known to use the “offside trap” tactic and, if so, include a discussion about the tactic in the pre-game Referee Team Briefing.