Persistent Infringement

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

The goal of this article is to emphasize that the rule violation of “Persistent Infringement” is important to both the Interscholastic and Intercollegiate Referee. Since it involves miscoduct by a player, it becomes a matter of behavior control of participants by the Referee.

In studying the game performance of Referees, we know that “Persistent Infringement” is not recognized or penalized as often as it probably occurs. Some national statistics tell us that only a small percentage of the occurrences of “Persistent Infringement” are penalized. Studies also tell us that as a result, many avoidable game control problems occur, and that some Referees do not understand that one prime reason is their failure to handle the rule violation of “Persistent Infringement” properly. This is where it becomes important to you.  If “Persistent Infringement” is occurring in your games, and you are not handling the occurrence(s) properly, then your overall game control performance is probably less that it should be.

Referees need to know how to recognize the offense, and need to learn how to handle it properly.

In order to help you improve in your recognition and handling of this infringement of the rules,, this discussion deals with four issues concerning “Persistent Infringement”: (1) how to recognize (i.e., identify) it, (2) how to become and remain aware of it during a game, (3) how to handle it when a player commits “Persistent Infringement”, and (4) how it affects your game control.

Recognize the offense.

A good start is to construct a good working definition of “Persistent Infringement” that will help us to recognize it when it occurs in a game.

Both the NFHS 2009-2010 Soccer Rules Book and the NCAA 2008 Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules have essentially the same statement to describe the violation under their rule 12. NFHS states that: “A player, coach, or bench personnel shall be cautioned for persistent infringement of the rules of the game.” NCAA states that: “A player shall be cautioned by the Referee if the player persistently infringes upon any of the rules of the game.”
So, from this we learn that “Persistent Infringement”, when committed, is to be penalized by caution.

Checking with a recent dictionary expands an understanding of the term “persistent”, defining it as meaning “repeated, continued, constant, especially in the face of opposition.” This last phrase fits the description of the offense, since it is most often committed against opposing players, as opposed to violationg a technical or administrative rule.

Also the dictionary meaning of “infringement” is to “violate” or “trespass”.  In the definition we are building it means to violate either the NFHS or NCAA Rules, either as a rule violation or as an act of misconduct.

All this information helps us put together a practical working definition for recognizing “Persistent Infringement”.  An act of “Persistent Infringement” may therefore be described as:  (1) any violation(s) of the rules, (2) considered punishable by caution when committed  more than once, (3) does NOT have to be the same repeated act but could be any two – or more – subsequent rule violations, and (4)  committed by any given player.

Become aware during a game.

There are a number of ways to help you become aware of a possible problem with persistent infringement. Among these that the Referee must try to be alert to: (1) the level of participant behavior, (2) the number of violations or infringements that are committed, (3)the timing and frequency of violations and infringements, (4)whether or not repeated violations and infringements are against particular or “star” players, and (5)the severity of the unfair acts against opponents. Being alert to these and other acts could help you decide if a problem is building up and if particular players should be penalized for this conduct.

There are certainly additional ways for you to become aware of a possible problem. First, read the game. For example, it is not uncommon that some teams play in a way that encourages players to risk a “last resort” foul to stop an opponent’s attack on goal. Also it is not uncommon that some teams may assign players to “take turns” in using game delay tactics, such as encroachment at restarts. These acts can be signs that alert you to a potential problem.

Second, be aware in your game of the creative players on each team, the ones who are the “play makers” and around who their teams seem to find their game momentum. It is not uncommon that in more competitive games, opponents will assign players to mark, and when necessary more roughly challenge, these creative players to both discourage and intimidate them from exercising their skill and creativity to the fullest.

Third, be aware of negative tactics in your game. For example, the infringement committed against an opponent when a potential or “sure” goal opportunity arises which has no other apparent purpose than to take the opponent out of that play. Soccer is a game of individual and team skills.  The exercise of skill, free from fear of unfair play and injury, should be the only factor in determining the outcome of a game. To control this, you enforce the spirit of the game. You must make sure that a fair game is played.  Your actions, and what you allow and not allow, set the standard of behavior for players in every game. Fair play and sportsmanship are the marks of the spirit of the game.  The Referee is responsible to make sure that these dominate.

The fourth suggested way is that you alone must decide when “Persistent Infringement” occurs in your game. The suggestion here is that you be DECISIVE in your actions and responses to repetitions of rules violations. Indecisiveness on your part will only encourage “Persistent Infringement” among players. The sooner you realize this and become firm and strong in your decisions and actions, the better your game control will be.

Use common sense.

One concern that a Referee has is to ask “how many occurrences of rules violations make infringements “persistent?” Should the number be 2, or 3, or perhaps 4 or more? Some common-sense guidance followed by successful Referees suggests that one way to answer this question is to consider the following factors. There are 22 players on the field. If each player commits one infringement in a game, there will be a total of 22 infringements. However, if each player commits 2 infringements in a game, there will be a total of 44 infringements.  That is a lot of whistles and penalties you will have to administer, and a lot of stoppages and delays during the game. And, if each player commits more than 2 violations, the conduct situation gets worse.

In each of these hypothetical numbers of infringements per player, you have to inject some practical Referee reasoning.  Remember the old Referee adage: “Whatever you allow one player to do, the other 21 players will expect you to allow them to also do.” As an example, every time you allow any player to “chalk up” 2, 3 or more infringements without firmly and quickly penalizing, then you risk having some or all of the other players believe that you will allow them to do the same. How quiet and fair a game do you think you will be refereeing if that happens?

Being aware of the timing and frequency of violations is also critical in decision making. The first indication of a pattern is when a player commits a second violation. A second indication is if there is a short time span between infringements committed by a player. A third indication is if the infringements against opponents increase in intensity or aggressiveness. And a fourth indication is if you see repeated rules violations getting negative reaction from opponents.  Obviously, this last should concern you because of the chance for retaliation and player confrontations.

How to handle.

Once you have determined that a persistent infringement violation has been committed in your game, the next concern becomes how to handle it properly. There are some simple steps to follow for effective game control.

First, during your future games, learn to keep your own mental count of infringements by players.  That way you become aware of a potential problem. When you get to count two or more for any player, it is time to become more alert. When the total number of fouls in any half of a game is more than a handful, it is time to become more alert to the fact that you may have to intervene.

Second, when a player has two or more, depending on the time span and seriousness, it’s time for a quiet word with the player, reminding him/her that he/she has already committed “x” infringements, and may want to consider that he/she may be bringing on a required penalty in any further recurrence. A prior word of counsel or warning to a player may well be effective if done firmly and in a timely manner.

Third, once a player is warned, MAKE SURE you follow up with the required action if the player commits a further infringement.  Otherwise, you risk the player committing more aggressive violations.

Fourth, understand that your only action when penalizing “persistent infringement” must be a caution. The rules require this, and you have no choice to impose a lesser disciplinary action. When you recognize it, you MUST penalize by caution.  The caution may well be administered without any prior word or warning to the player involved. Do not hesitate for any reason.  Some Referees rationalize not penalizing the player by feeling that a caution is too harsh when the repeated infringements are, in the Referee’s opinion, each a minor infringement.  This is false reasoning.  The cumulative effect of allowing repeated infringements on overall player behavior and game control outcome is negative. Also, do not penalize one player for “persistent infringement”, while letting another who also commits the same violation go un-penalized.

Effect on game control.

There are some basic facts about the effect of un-penalized “persistent infringement” that are well understood and known among experienced and successful Referees. If allowed to occur in a game, and not penalized, both player and team behavior and Referee game control will reach unacceptable levels. If not penalized consistently and equally among all players, both player and team behavior and Referee game control will reach unacceptable levels. This last is the saddest result of all. Referees should want to learn how to recognize and deal with “persistent infringement”. It can only help make every game they officiate become a better experience for all involved.

When “persistent infringement” is allowed to go on un-punished, the result is a long “laundry list” of negative effects on the game. Constant violations against opponents wear down players, and raise tempers. Repeated infringements destroy the rhythm of the game. Team and individual skills mean less and less as the game goes on and are no longer the main factor in winning. Un-penalized “persistent infringement” creates fear and intimidation among opponents. It is the creative players who are usually the targets of this particular violation. Violence and retaliation usually follows if this particular violation is not penalized.  Player safety is compromised.  Players who are repeatedly fouled are in danger of serious physical injury. Enjoyment of the game disappears, and the contest becomes something other that a soccer game of skill. And most important to the Referee who mishandles “persistent infringement”, game control is lost.

You need to be concerned. You need to take action.


This article has addressed a very important subject related to your successful game management. “Persistent Infringement” is likely to occur in any game you officiate. Both the high school and college rules consider it a serious enough violation to mandate a caution when it occurs. Your efforts should be to identify the behavior, be aware that it occurs and when it needs your attention in the game, how to handle it, and the negative effect on the game if not firmly penalized in a timely manner.