Referee Nuts and Bolts – March 2011

by:  John Van de Vaarst

Volume 22 – March 2011

This monthly column is written primarily for the college and high school soccer Referee. However, any soccer Referee who wishes to improve personal performance may also find that this series is helpful.

All articles address those basic techniques, procedures, practice alternatives, and skills that are often forgotten or overlooked while going through the experiences of soccer refereeing.  The short discussions and accompanying tips stress important advice for competent performance.

This month the focus will be on encroachment and setting the wall.

Article 1  Encroachment

Encroachment is defined as advancing beyond the legal limit.   As soccer officials, this legal limit is defined as ten yards.  First let’s take a look at when encroachment occurs.  This can be any place on the field and at any time.  It can occur during a direct, indirect free kick and penalty kick.  It can be a seed that grows into game control problems if not handled properly, quickly and firmly by the official.  One example of encroachment that is a problem for the attacking team is the “traffic director” who places themselves directly at or over the ball for the purpose of delaying the kick, while setting up a defensive alignment.   This is against the spirit of the game and must be dealt with quickly.

Encroachment occurs for several reasons.   Examples include but are not limited to:  a player or team attempts to gain an advantage by allowing time for their teammates to set their positions;  time wasting late in the half when one team is ahead; to upset an opponent or gamesmanship.  These are a few of the most common examples.

Encroachment occurs more often when there is a free kick near the penalty area and there is a goal scoring opportunity.  The team taking the kick must be offered the opportunity to make a play and the wall must be situated ten yards away.  Preventative officiating is critical and should be established early in the game.  If encroachment is dealt with early it may not be a problem late in the game or during a very critical point.  At the first signs of encroachment the official should deal with the situation and make sure the player(s) are told that encroachment will not be tolerated and the wall needs to be properly set.  If encroachment  continues, the official may have to use the caution to alleviate the problem.

One area that may be missed as encroachment is when a corner kick is being taken.  This is a free kick and opponents must be ten yards away.   Many fields now have a mark to assist the referee with knowing the proper distance.  This is more critical in today’s game where there are more set plays and short corner kicks.  The officials must be ready to deal with this correctly.

Another area when encroachment must be observed closely is during the taking of a penalty kick.  The NCAA and NFHS Rule Books provide specific guidance on what an official must do if encroachment occurs during a penalty kick.   A goal can be disallowed and the kick retaken if the offence encroaches.  Also, cautions must be administered.  The referee team should discuss who is going to watch for encroachment during a penalty kick as part of the pregame discussion.

Encroachment must be dealt with so that the game is played fairly.  Deal with the problem early and it should go away quickly.

Article 2

Related to encroachment is the proper setting of the wall.  The NCAA and NFHS Rule Books indicate that defensive players must remain ten yards from the ball when a free kick is taken.  The only exception is when a team takes a “quick kick” before the wall can be established.  Setting the wall at the proper distance allows the offensive team a greater opportunity to move the ball forward or score.

For the past several years at the NISOA National Training Academy Camp the  participants attend an outdoor segment on the importance of  a team being afforded 10 yards on a free kick.  The method used is a string is tied to a goal post and extended out approximately 30 yards into the field and on an angle toward the touch line.  The sting is then looped around a nail and returned to the other goal post.  Thus forming a large triangle.  This is a diagram of the string.



One can readily see that the further the distance from the apex the larger the angle.  If the apex represents the point of the foul and the placement of the ball, the further away the larger the angle.  This equates to additional people in the wall to cover the entire goal from the free kick.  If the wall was allowed to be set up at approximately 5 yards, it would only take 3 defenders to fill the triangle.  Once it is set correctly at 10 yards, it takes 5 –  6 defenders to fill the area.  Common sense clearly indicates if 6 individuals are in the wall, the same amount of attackers are not being marked and available for a pass from the free kick.  This greatly assists the offence in a scoring opportunity and properly creates a burden on the defense who committed the foul.  Also, if the wall is set up less than 10 yards away, the player taking the kick has a lesser amount of vision to release the ball for a shot or pass to a teammate.  When the wall is at the proper location, the kicker can see a greater amount of the field and distribute the ball to a teammate or take a shot.

Now that the importance of 10 yards is clearly described, the next issue for the referee is knowing what is the proper measurement on the field for retreating a wall of defenders or located the proper location for a wall to set up.  It is the job of the referee to ensure that where they decide the wall should be is 10 yards.  As part of training, a referee should practice how to locate 10 yards and develop a method that makes it easy to establish the required distance.  For example, one method is to run to a spot and point to it to inform the defending team that this is where the wall is to locate.  For most referees, six or seven running strides equates to 10 yards.  This approach sets the standard quickly with a minimum disruption to the flow of play.  New referees are encouraged to practice and determine how many running steps it takes them to travel 10 yards.  Knowing this will allow for the above suggested method to work smoothly.

When setting a wall on a “ceremonial” free kick it is most important to tell the kicking team that they cannot put the ball in play until there is a whistle.  This prevents the ball from being put into play prior to the wall being set and the referee in proper position to observe the kick and subsequent play.  One interesting thought – if the referee uses the whistle to move the wall, did the whistle sound to start play?  It is suggested that the referee verbally move the wall and not use the whistle to it is time to resume play.  This eliminates any possible confusion.

One exception to the 10 yard requirement is when there is an indirect free kick closer to the goal than 10 yards.  In this instance the opponents may line up on the goal line between the goal posts to protect the goal.  Any opponent not in this area must still be 10 yards from the ball.  If the attacking team does not take a quick kick, the referee must make sure that the kick is not taken prior to all elements of the restart are satisfied.  This will prevent dissent and other problems that will develop if the kick is executed prior to everyone is ready.

In summary, if the referee sets the wall and enforces 10 yards early in the game, there should not be difficulties late in the game or during critical situations.