Reminders About the Caution and Disqualification

By: John Van deVaarst, NISOA, New Jersey


Many high schools have suggested that the requirements to either caution or disqualify participants for specific misconducts, and the need to follow a specific procedure, is not being followed consistently by all Referees. This article puts forth a few reminders and some suggestions to Interscholastic Referees about correcting this deficit in game performance.

Reminder on the rules.

Before you ever stepped onto a high school soccer field, you should have memorized the specific reasons for administering either a caution or a disqualification. The NFHS Soccer Rules Book provides ten specific reasons for caution, two of these specifically applying to the Coach…

There are also eleven reasons given for disqualification, with two specific reasons allowing replacement of the disqualified participant, while the remaining nine reasons for disqualification not allowing for replacement of the disqualified participant. It’s important to remember the difference between the two forms of disqualification as it concerns replacement of the disqualified player.  It is also important to remember that one of these latter nine reasons for disqualification specifically applies to a Team Coach.


Many of the reasons for caution or disqualification leave you no discretion to decide NOT to penalize the player involved.  These misconduct rules must be enforced if the infringement occurs. For example, a player who uses vulgar or profane language, even in an incidental manner, MUST be cautioned.  Another example is that a player who spits at an opponent, teammate, or game official MUST be disqualified.

In either case, if the act occurs, the designated referee action must be taken; you are allowed no discretion to decide to “overlook” or not apply the corrective action.

It is important to your referee duties that you must follow all NFHS rules and not pick and choose what is to be punished.  Any other approach leads to inconsistency in application of the rules, non-uniformity in the interpretation of the rules, and in turn definitely causes game control problems for the Referee concerned, for fellow NISOA officials, and for the game.  Understand that incorrect application of these behavior rules directly lessens your control of participant behavior in the game.

About the procedure.

A vital part of correctly administering a CAUTION or DISQUALIFICATION requires that a formal procedure be followed for each.  The CAUTION procedure requires the Referee to display a yellow card, indicate the appropriate person, and notify both coaches. A participant may only be cautioned once in any game. The DISQUALIFICATION procedure requires the Referee to display a red card and indicate the appropriate person. The procedure also requires that the individual disqualified must leave the game and not return for the balance of that game. However, the disqualified player IS allowed to be replaced for two specific incidents, namely: acts described as delayed or prolonged, or for a subsequent caution.

The complete recommended procedure to follow includes the following:

Step one, stop the clock.

Step two, isolate the player.

Step three, tell the player the reason for the caution or disqualification.

Step four, display the appropriate card, either the caution (yellow), or the disqualification (red).

(Remember, that when it comes to displaying the card for a disqualification, there may be a variation from displaying ONLY the red card. One alternate card display in step four is when the player is allowed to be replaced The red and yellow cards are displayed simultaneously. Another alternate card display in step four is when a participant is disqualified for a subsequent caution misconduct. In this case, a yellow card is displayed first, followed immediately by the red card.)

Step five, make your own record of the player’s number and the reason for the caution or disqualification.

(Make sure, that regardless of the system of mechanics being used, you have instructed the other Referee(s) in the Referee Team during your pre-game briefing to make the same notes as a backup to your notes. If there is a Reserve Official assigned to your Referee Team, the Reserve must also note the jersey number of the player on the game report.)

Step six in a caution misconduct is to tell the player that in the event of further misconduct he/she may be disqualified from the game. In a disqualification misconduct tell the player that he/she is disqualified and must leave the field and not return.

Step seven, make sure to indicate the player cautioned or disqualified to the Scorer, both Coaches, and the other Referee Team members.

Additional requirements.

Of course there may be, by State Association adoption, some specific post-game procedures that involve reporting cautions and disqualifications. Also, the NFHS rules specify that at the end of the game the Head Referee must verify the score, and report in writing any disqualifications and unusual incidents to the proper authorities, normally the State Association.

A final item.

One more important point needs to be stressed. The authority given to you as the Referee to caution and disqualify participants are two very powerful ways for the Referee to control participant behavior during a game. These authorities should be used at the correct times, using the correct procedures for the two control methods. At any time during a game the Referee should be prepared to caution or disqualify any participant who violates either misconduct rule. That is both an obligation and duty, and the consistency of application is vital to the Referee Team’s successful performance in that game.