Encroachment at a Defensive Wall

By Bob Sumpter, NISOA


Most referees have problems – from time to time in their careers – with properly handling encroachment when it occurs. Fortunately, most of us over a period of time learn to develop mechanics that help us control most incidents. For some, the challenge is an extended one.

Encroachment is something a referee should want to learn to handle effectively, since successive occurrences during a game could well cause larger game control problems that we’d rather not have to deal with. These notes go over a few basic suggestions that might encourage you to consider a straightforward mechanic that (if used regularly) might help you better handle encroachment involving a defensive wall at a free kick.

This brief and limited discussion of encroachment is not intended to deal with the complete mechanics of handling all types of encroachment, but rather deals with the use of one suggested mechanic, that of controlling the clock to help control unfair play that occurs when restarts are taken.

The Situation

It is common for a defensive team to set up a defensive wall with several of its players to defend against a free kick awarded when the opponents are attacking and are close to the penalty area. Usually this causes a delay in being able to get the game restarted quickly.

Often, when play is stopped and the referee signal given for the free kick, one or two defensive players will run over to where the ball is placed and stand directly in the way of it being kicked into play. At the same time, a defensive wall will start to organize at a distance of less than the required distance from the ball.

Most referees experience this all too often. It is the job of the referee to sort out the players involved and see that they do not unfairly violate the rule for restart.

Obviously, the referee has to deal with players at two locations, near the ball being placed for the restart, and at the location of the wall being formed. That usually requires delay time to sort out.

If a delay is something that the referee either recognizes or foresees, the best action to consider is to signal to the Timekeeper to stop the clock, so as to avoid having the delay unduly take away from the allowed game time. This allows the referee to move to each location and see that the restart conditions are met properly. When set, the referee can then signal for both the restart and for the Timekeeper to restart the clock.

It is important to remind the Timekeeper, before the start of the game, of the signal for starting and stopping the clock. For example, the longer the delay in stopping the clock at encroachment, the more the unfair play negatively affects the game and the referee control of behavior.

The Applicable Rules

Encroachment can usually be anticipated as soon as play is stopped for a free kick that nears the defending penalty area.

The NCAA 2012 and 2013 Men’s and Women’s Soccer Rules make a number of references to encroachment:


Rule 12.5.6 – Delaying the restart of play, AR 12.5.6.b “The defensive team is guilty of delaying tactics by not giving the required 10 yards. RULING: Stop the clock and caution the appropriate player(s)”.

Rule 12.5.7 Failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a corner kick or free kick”.

Rule 12.5.7, AR 12.5.7 “Is encroachment a form of misconduct? RULING: Yes. The referee has the authority to caution, and on recurrence, eject the offending player(s).

Rule 5.6.2 “During the last five minutes of regulation play, the referee has discretion on whether or not to stop the clock when the losing team is issued a caution or ejection”.

AR 5.6.2.a “A member of the losing team is issued a card in the last five minutes of regulation play to stop the clock. Does the referee have to stop the clock to issue the card? No.

Rule 5.6.1 “The referee has discretionary power to suspend the game whenever – – – or other reason, such action is deemed necessary”.

One Suggested Mechanic

Step 1: As soon as you whistle for the free kick to be given, decide (based on your experience in that game) whether or not the defensive team will try delaying encroachment tactics. If yes, then signal for the Timekeeper to stop the clock. (Note: Make sure you have reminded the Timekeeper in your pre-game instructions to be alert to your possible signal.)

Step 2: Move to where the ball is to be placed for the taking of the free kick, see that the attacking team member(s) place it properly, and instruct them to wait for your signal to restart play. This instruction may be made clearer by you holding up your whistle and pointing to it with the other hand so that the kicker clearly sees it, and by verbally telling the player to do so.

Step 3: If there are one or more defensive players blocking the kick by standing close by directly in front of the ballm less than ten yards distant in the direction that the ball is to be kicked, then this is the time to move to the encroaching defensive players and require them to move to a proper distance.

Step 4: Next, give you attention to the defensive wall that is either forming or already formed. From where the ball is placed for the taking of the free kick, pace off the required distance, take a position there, and both indicate and call out to the players in the wall to move to that distance from the ball.

Step 5: When all is ready, move to the position you prefer to oversee the restart of play, then give the restart signal and make sure the clock is restarted.

Step 6 At any time during this mechanic, your use of a card for misconduct is strictly up to your discretion. The rules give you all the authority you need to enforce the rules, but you may often find that a card will be unnecessary if you use this mechanic consistently. The important point here is that you have given clear instructions to players at each of the three locations (i.e.: 2, 3 and 4) as to their responsibilities in meeting the requirements of the restart, so at any further violation they might be liable for a card.

Step 7: This suggested mechanic will best help you if you use it consistently from game to game, until you are either satisfied with the benefit to behavior control, or until you are able to develop and use an alternate mechanic that will get you the behavior control that you wish.


This suggested mechanic covers paying attention to three problem areas: the attacking kicker, the blocking defensive player(s), and the defensive wall. The mechanic also stresses the use of your authority to appropriately stop the clock, your attention to instructing the players at each of the three locations in their responsibilities, and the discretionary use of cards to help control such a game occurrence.