Misconduct: Improper Behavior

By: Elie Ghawi, NISOA National Assessor, Illinois


Misconduct happens not only on the soccer field, it happens in every sport, on the streets, and in any aspect of our lives dealing with other people. For us, it happens in the World Cup; and it happens in Youth, Adult Amateur, High School and in College Soccer. It is a problem in our sport. This discussion concentrates on the problem of misconduct as it relates to High School and College Soccer across the nation.

Who causes misconduct in Soccer games? It’s been known that players, bench personnel, coaches, spectators and sometimes referees do so. We all go to a soccer game to have fun, to enjoy the game and to watch players exhibit their talents and skills. The excitement of scoring a goal goes beyond the fact that now the score is 1 – 0. It rejuvenates the player, excites and rewards the coaches, and fires–up the crowd. However, sometimes these benefits come as a result of misconduct.

An act of misconduct could be as simple as just the frustration of a player who utters non-directed profanities, or kicks the ball away to delay a restart. Or, it could involve an act as harsh as a violation that results in an opponent’s broken leg, arm, nose, or a career ending injury. No matter how insignificant or serious the misconduct may seem, it must be dealt with as soon as possible.

Defining Misconduct

Both the definition of, and punishment for, misconduct is very clear in both the high school and college rules book. For any misconduct committed there is a required penalty. The intent of the penalty is to help the Referee Team keep the game and the behavior of the participants under control.

In defining the various forms of misconduct, the rules specify that the Referee must Caution and display a yellow card for:

(a) a Player joining the team while the game is progress without reporting to the Referee or Assistant Referee,

(b) persistently infringing the rules, (Example – by a player, or players of one team targeting a star player on the opposing team.),

(c) showing dissent or objecting to the referee’s decision by word or action.(Note-When a player first demeans the Referee’s calls, the Referee should take care of the dissent promptly by cautioning the player).

(d) Using profane or vulgar language in an incidental manner, (Note – if the referee does not deal with language as required by the rules of the game, its continued use might escalate to become the accepted standard for that game.),

(e)Unsporting behavior, (Note-this definition could cover multiple other incidents such as baiting the referee, taunting, or simulating a foul).

Additional Forms of Misconduct

Acts such as serious foul play, violent behavior, fighting, spitting unfairly denying a goal-scoring opportunity, hostile or abusive language, or receiving a second caution in the same game all earn an ejection/disqualification from the game. The Referee Team must be aware of misconduct on the field. This should be discussed in the pre-game briefing, and how to best handle these acts. After the game, the Assistant Referee(s) should cooperate with the Referee in filing a full and correct report. It is very important to say whether the ejection/disqualification is for a second caution, or for one of the other several reasons on the report.

Misconduct by Players

A referee must deal with misconduct in one way or another. Not dealing with misconduct will cause larger problems.

If you think that by talking to the players, advising them about proper behavior, or verbally warning them of future consequences, takes care of the incident, do it, but only once! A brief talk to the player may help let the player know that you are aware of what is going on and you do not like it.

Sometimes talking does not send the message strong enough to let them understand that this type of behavior is not acceptable in this game. You may then want to immediately caution the player in order to set a standard of behavior for this game that can be seen by the others. Players know that an act of misconduct that requires another caution in this game (to the same player) means an ejection or disqualification from the game.

In some cases, the Referee has no choice but to eject the player immediately for reasons beyond his/her control. Remember this important point: as a matter of fact the Referee does not eject the players, it is the players who eject themselves because of their actions. In many cases of misconduct, players are trying to see what you are going to let them get away with in this game.

It is not in the rule book, but one expectation of the Referee is to keep players in the game by discouraging misconduct.

In addition, Athletic Directors for both high schools and colleges monitor the number of cautions and ejections/disqualifications in their soccer games. It reflects positively or negatively on the school reputation. Sportsmanship is promoted in every school, and in every sport, to provide positive attitude on the field as well as in the classroom.

Misconduct by Coaches

Coaches have the right to coach players during the game. A coach’s livelihood sometimes depends on winning games.

No one ever says ‘It’s only a game” when their team is winning.

Referees, Assistant Referees and an Alternate or Reserve Official should know that it’s not only a game. The Referee Team should treat coaches with respect and dignity.

If I may add, this should be done both ways; Referees should respect Coaches, and Coaches should respect Referees. We both have different responsibilities to get the game completed and in the record book without injuries. Safety of the Student-Athletes must be our common goal. Coaches sometimes seem to test Referees. They would like to learn what they can or cannot get away with in the game. If the Referee, Assistant Referees, or Alternate or Reserve Official finds the coach is negatively interfering with game, or does not respect the game and Referee Team, the first effort to correct the Coach’s behavior should be to talk to the coach about this type of behavior. When doing so, be fair, firm calm, and civil in your language.

If the coach persists, the next step is to administer a caution and display the Yellow card. Let the coach know that next time the Coach will have to leave the field. Do not issue such a warning more than one time! The second occurrence should draw an immediate ejection/disqualification.

Of course a coach’s negative behavior filters down to the players and affects the game. In some games the coach’s strategy is to get the first yellow card in order to wake up (fire-up) the team. In any case, this type of misconduct must not be encouraged by Referee inaction.

Misconduct by Spectators

You may have seen the following situation occur on television, or you may have witnessed it in person either in Soccer or other sports. It is not tolerable; it very quickly comes down to the players on the field. It happens also in many games that involve school rivalries.

It begins when one crowd of fans starts yelling and screaming at the other crowd of fans. From that, a brawl starts and continues. Finally, the game is suspended. After a period during which the fans settle down, the game restarts. A few minutes later, the crowds start again, this time throwing cups and other objects at each other. Finally, the game is terminated and the police or security is needed to restore order.

When the spectators start interfering in the game and possibly affect the safety of the players, it is the responsibility of the home team and the security at the school to restore order and discipline at their home field.

Misconduct caused by Referee

I have heard of referees making mistakes, but could they really be the cause of misconduct by a Player, Coach or Spectator?

How many times you have been to a game when, after a call you made or did not make, you hear a participant call out: “Referee, what game are you watching?” This could either be in favor of, or against, the Referee. It favors the Referee when he/she is close enough to play to make the call, and it offers dissent to the Referee when he is not near enough to from play and cannot make the same correct call. Can the Referee be frustrating Players and encouraging misconduct if not consistently near enough to play?

Also, if the Referee sees misconduct and intervenes to correct it consistently, it goes away and justice and fairness has been served.

However, if the Referee does not consistently handle unfair play and misconduct, won’t some Players try to do so themselves?

Further, when a Player or a teammate retaliates against unfair play or misconduct, we sometimes mistakenly punish the retaliation without taking care of the original act that caused the retaliation. If that happens, who caused the misconduct of retaliation?

Referees who are not consistent by enforcing the rules of the game can be the unintentional cause of further misconduct. One example of this might come to your attention if a player whom you have just penalized for a violation tells you: “But the other Referee last week said it was OK.” Try not to be the Referee who failed to consistently punish unfair play and misconduct.


This article points out that misconduct can be committed by any number of persons connected with the game: Players, Coaches, Bench Personnel, and Spectators. Sometimes, the cause for the misconduct of others might be the unwitting Referee who has not consistently carried out his/her game control responsibilities. Consider the information, examples, and suggestions in this article, examine your own performance, and see if your actions and game control can be improved.