Revisiting Repeated Fouls

Oct 2012 N&B: “Revisiting Repeated Fouls”

By: Bob Sumpter, NISOA

The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” column is written primarily for the college and high school 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 sometimes forgotten or overlooked while going through the experiences of soccer refereeing. The short discussions and accompanying practical tips stress important advice for competent performance.

This October 2012 column discusses: Revisiting Repeated Fouls”.


Dealing with repeated violations of game rules by players is an important aspect of game management and control of participant behavior. Essentially, the Referee, (with the help of the Referee Team) decides which fouls are to be penalized for violating the conduct rules and their intent. Authority to judge which rules violations are to be penalized for fouls is both a skill and an art for the Referee and Referee Team. These judgments and decisions affect game control directly and tangibly, because they set a standard of behavior for all players in the game.

It is when a player (or players) commits more that one foul in a game that a behavior control problem might begin. If this happens in your game, you should act to anticipate and/or correct the problem as soon as possible.

One way to approach developing a successful skill for handling repeated fouls by a player is to decide on an overall approach to handling that yields effective results by the Referee Team.

About Fouls

Fouls are unfair acts that are not allowed. When a fouls is committed the Referee must apply a specific punishment. You begin avoiding the possible problem of repeated fouls by correctly recognizing and punishing fouls when committed, as prescribed by the rules. One of the skills the Referee must acquire is to punish each foul in a way that discourages the player involved to NOT again foul in that game. It is important to pay special attention to physical contact fouls, as these are more likely to lead to behavior control problems.

Are you aware of how many rules violations are cited as “fouls” in NCAA Rule 12? Rule 12.2 lists twelve Direct Free Kick Offenses. Rule 12.4 lists fifteen Indirect Free Kick Offenses. Rule 12.6 lists five violations penalized by either Direct or Indirect Free Kick. Rules 12.7 and 12.8 list Obstruction and Dangerous Play as acts penalized by Indirect Free Kick. And, rule 12.10 lists two Goalkeeper Violations penalized by Indirect Free Kick. Rule 12.14.2 lists one restriction. That totals 37 acts listed as fouls penalized by a free kick. True, a few of the acts are listed in more than one rule provision! A good start to anticipating repeated fouls is t make you can identify them all when committed.

About Repeated Fouls

Why the stress on repeated fouls? If players are allowed to commit fouls without being penalized, it may very well give the impression to other players that they might also escape punishment if they choose to continue to foul during the game.

Repeated fouls are addressed in rule 12.5.2, as “persistently infringing upon any of the rules of the game”. The rule requires that the player be Cautioned if committing a second, or repeated, foul act.

The rule stresses enforcement because now the standard of behavior you set when penalizing fouls has been exceeded to a level of misconduct, and is to be formally penalized as required.

Learn to Count

One of the more effective ways that many experienced Referees keep proper control over participant behavior is to develop the habit of keeping a mental count of how many fouls are committed by players as the game progresses. Over the years of refereeing you then develop an awareness of developing problems and problem player behavior. You can then become familiar with behavior patterns of players who commit more than a “normal” number of fouls in any given game (whatever that “normal” number may be in your games!)

Once you’ve become aware of a player who tends to commit more unfair play than others, you can then try to encourage the player to improve  behavior in general. The closer you monitor unfair play and limit fouls to one per player, the better your chance to avoid the problem of “Persistently infringing”.

Judge the Severity of the Act

Just because the rules specify that a foul is penalized by a specific free kick award is no reason NOT to decide that the severity of a single foul act requires you to penalize it as Misconduct even of the first occurrence. The rules provision under both Caution and Ejection give the Referee more than enough discretion to deal with even “first-time” incidents and judge them as meriting more severe punishment than prescribed under the “foul” provisions. Your game control is at stake, and you should not avoid a decision for strong punishment when required.

A Field Mechanic Adjustment to Avoid a Problem

When a player has committed a contact foul and it appears to you that the player might risk repeat foul play, then make sure as the game progresses that you deviate from your running pattern at appropriate times to get close to that player in order for the player: (a) to become aware of your nearby presence and oversight, (b) that you will likely see and react to any further foul play, and (c) to be discouraged from further foul play. This simple technique does help your game control.

Is a Foul Call Enough?

If a player commits an off-the-ball contact, make sure to react without fail and penalize harshly, with either Caution or Ejection as appropriate. This practice will help dissuade players from expecting to be let go merely with a Free Kick on an off-the-ball contact foul, and help you maintain control of unacceptable behavior.

Impact on the Game

As the number of fouls committed increases during a game, the prospect of repeated fouls and the level of acceptable behavior decreases and could result in a poor competition and game experience for all concerned. The rules provide a powerful discretionary tool for the Referee to avoid this control problem by being able to Caution for “persistently infringing the rules”. It is a powerful discretionary control technique when appropriate. You should not unnecessarily avoid its use.


1. Know how to recognize the fouls; the NCAA rule specify 37!

2. When a player commits more than one, consider the effect on your game control if you do NOT penalize and do NOT try to correct a player’s behavior.

3. Learn to count fouls.

4. Be prepared to judge and act upon the severity of fouls.

5. Adjust your field position to get near enough to a problem player to discourage foul play.

6. Make sure to penalize off-the-ball contact fouls whenever committed.

7. The number of fouls in a game often determines whether or not game control was positive or negative. Do not hesitate to use the discretionary authority to penalize repeated fouls.