Allowable Contact

"Between the Lines" is a column written for the HSA newsletter by Stu Gentry, a long time member of Horsham Soccer, coach and referee. This article originally appeared in the HSA newsletter 9/02.Last month we talked about the so-called Law 18, which admonishes the referee to use common sense and refrain from calling "trifling" fouls that have no effect on the game. Unfortunately, what is "trifling" to one person is "major mayhem" to another.This leads to a wealth of misunderstanding on the pitch. To help with the distinction, start by purging the myth that soccer is a non-contact sport. Basketball may be non-contact (although ask anyone defending Shaq about this), but the laws of soccer explicitly allow for contact. A "fair challenge" is shoulder-to-shoulder contact - within playing distance of the ball - with the intent to play the ball. The player with the ball does not receive any special protection. What do I look for as a ref? Arms and bodies knocking together is one thing, but I will blow the whistle when I see arms pushing off up at shoulder level or when someone drops a shoulder to intentionally block the other player away. A player also has a right to the space she already occupies (you can’t run through her) but no special right to the space she wants to move to. Sound easy? What about Under-8’s where everyone is jostling and kicking? If the ref called everything no one would ever play. What about U-12’s when players should be more in control? What about U-18’s where play with the hands is the expected norm? Each of these must be called differently. The key is that the ref must be sensitive to the individual game and how the players want to play it. The challenge is when one team is a finesse team and the other is a muscle (i.e. less skilled) team. That is when the ref must decide early on what his threshold is going to be for that game, and then keep it consistent.