Recognizing Trouble Areas

By: Rodney Kenney, NISOA National Assessor, Hagerty High School Women’s Soccer Coach, Florida

One way to have a successful game is to be aware of the many symptoms that could lead to problems later in the game. Recognizing the symptoms and taking some simple preventive action can keep you from writing a long report later. The following are a number of situations that could be impending problems and some easy ways to prevent them from becoming major trouble.

The goalkeeper/attacker challenge

This occurs when the goalkeeper and an attacker challenge for a 50/50 ball.  There is a collision, and there was no intent by either the goalkeeper or the attacker to foul. If neither player is injured move quickly to the collision and make sure both players get up without incident. If the goalkeeper is injured you would extend a stoppage of play so the goalkeeper can be attended to.

This stoppage is the time to isolate the player who collided with the keeper. Saying something to the effect that although you understand there was no foul, you want him to be more cautious when challenging the goalkeeper. Just by isolating and talking to the player the opponents will view that as you taking some action against that player and, therefore, will be less inclined to take the retaliatory route when play resumes.


On throw-ins, when a defending player stands close to the point the ball went out of play, be aware that a thrower may hit the defender with the ball or the follow through which now could become a volatile situation. You must deal with the thrower for striking the defender even though the defender was engaging in gamesmanship.

There are two ways you could solve this problem. First is to tell the thrower to move around the defender, if the defender moves with the thrower, then caution for delaying the restart of play. Or you could tell the defender he needs to move so as not to delay the throw-in. Most players will do as you ask if you ask in a strong but polite manner. Dealing with this problem the first time it happens will probably be the last time you see it in that game.

Issuing cards

To keep a player who is being cautioned or ejected from striking you or knocking the card out of your hand. You should never invade the player’s personal space, The player is already agitated and may see your intrusion as an attack.

If a player fouls an opponent and the opponent retaliates, deal with both players justly. If you chose to caution or send-off the players, take action against the player who fouled first and then the player who retaliated.

Injured Player

When you must stop play for and injury or when the ball goes out of play and you call the coach and trainer on the field to attend to the player, MOVE AWAY FROM THE PLAYER. That way you will not get in a discussion with the coach who claims “if you had control of this game, this would not have happened.” If the coach starts walking past his injured player toward you, inform him from a distance that he was called out to attend to his injured player and no other reason. The coach will be less likely to carry on a long distance conversation with you then if you were standing by the player.

After a Goal

One of the most critical times for violent conduct is right after a goal is scored. If the referee turns his/her back on the goal and the assistant has his/her head down writing they both will miss a defender striking an opponent, or the goalkeeper throwing the ball at an opponent, or worse, at the referee.

Players often look to see what the referee and assistants are doing before committing an offence at this time. The referee’s vigilance and quick action can prevent a serious problem.  A recommendation is if the attacker goes into the goal to retrieve the ball quickly go with them to prevent any issues. Also, never turn your back on the ball after a goal. Waiting until the ball has passed you before turning up the field could prevent a bad situation.

After a Penalty Kick is called

The best way to sell a penalty kick is to be close to the play; that means in the penalty area or just outside it, not at the center circle. Once you call a penalty kick, point to the spot, but do not run to it. Run past the penalty spot to just off the field by the goal post, being sure not to run through a group of defenders. If the players now want to come after you, back away and tell them not to leave the field and the first one who crosses the goal line gets a caution for leaving the field without your permission. This normally will stop the attack.

After things have settled down, re-enter the field, have the kicker place the ball on the penalty spot, don’t you do it. Tell the kicker not to kick the ball until you signal them to do so. Ask the goalkeeper to tell you when they are ready and then make a clear signal for the kick.

Recognizing Key Players

This could be one of the most neglected areas in soccer refereeing at all levels. Be aware of the key players. Don’t let those key players be unduly intimidated. You must recognize when a single player is being continually fouled. At the college levels, players will “line-up” to foul a key player in order not to make it seem like persistent infringement by one player. This type of persistent infringement is more difficult to identify than one player doing all the fouling. If you allow this to go on without taking serious disciplinary action one of three things will happen:

  • The player will be fouled until he/she is too hurt to go on and has to be substituted (like what the Nigerians did to Mia Hamm in the ’99 Women’s World Cup).
  • The player will take things into his own hands (as Diego Maradona did in the ’90 World Cup after 19 of the total 26 fouls were against him) and get himself/herself ejected for retaliation.
  • The player will just quit being effective and will be substituted.

All of these actions are very effective in eliminating a team’s best players. As you can see by the examples, it can happen even when you have the best referees in the world doing the game.

Managing the Wall

This can sometimes be a real problem area in a game and, if not handled in a proper manner, can lead to a caution or ejection. When a foul happens anywhere within 25 yards of the goal, the offended team may want to take a quick free kick. This is allowed, but remember that a quick free kick still does not allow defenders to intentionally interfere if they are within 10 yards of the kick.

As referees we are bound to make sure “all opponents are at least 10 yards from the ball”, on all free kicks. One technique is that if the quick free kick has not been taken before you get to the spot of the foul then you should make the attackers wait until you have moved the defenders back the proper 10 yards. After making sure the attackers will not take the free kick before you have given a signal to do so, back away from the ball 10 yards and set the wall. Tell the defenders that the attacker will not take the kick until you signal. If the defenders question the 10-yard spot, ask them if they did not just see you step it off as you backed away from the ball. That usually stops the questioning.

Another easy way to set the wall at 10 yards is to have your lead assistant move down the line 10 yards from where the ball is as you deal with the players. Then simply move the defending wall to line up with your assistant and wait for the assistant to get back into position and then take up an intelligent position before signaling for the restart.

Excessive Criticism

On many occasions coaches and teammates criticize a player to the point of causing him to take out his frustrations on an opponent. This can lead to a caution or ejection. Opponents and even fans will harass a player in order to get him off his game. A perceptive referee who deals with the offending coaches or players, and also has a word with the harassed player about not letting others forcing him to do something that could cause him to get ejected can prevent a bad situation.

Harassing the Goalkeeper

No other player on the field is better protected by his teammates then the goalkeeper. This means that when an opponent harasses the goalkeeper, there is trouble brewing. Goalkeeper harassment comes in a number of different forms. Not allowing goalkeeper to freely clear the ball when the he has it in his hands can be dealt with by telling the opponent not to delay the ball from being put back in play. Worst case; give a caution to the opponent for delaying the game.

Another harassing tactic is running into the goalkeeper after he has the ball, the attacker claiming, of course, he could not stop. This could be nothing more then putting their hands on the keeper or brushing him as they run by. If this type of action is not dealt with early and firmly by the referee, the goalkeeper could perceive that he needs to protect himself and could do something that would cause a penalty kick and/or being ejected.


I am sure you can think of more dangerous situations that have happened to you, but as you can see, preventive refereeing is recognizing these situations that can lead to problems and dealing with them early and firmly. Not all referee personalities allow us to do the same things to control a game. Apply what works for you and be aware of impending problem situations at all times.