Soccer for All of Us: A Quick Primer on the Rules, the Refs, and the Right Behavior

Soccer is called “The Beautiful Game” for good reason – it takes teamwork and being on the same page like few – if any -- other sports. When everyone comes together, win or lose, it’s a brilliant experience to be part of. In this brief primer, we hope to give some tips on how we might all team up to create the best possible soccer environment for everyone, especially the kids who are served by our club. This primer cannot cover everything. For a full account of the Laws of the Game, please visit

1.     The primary purpose of our referee program is for learning, growth, and development. The state of Florida has generated great referee talent at the national and professional levels in our country, but that has come because clubs and assignors have committed to having the patience and desire to allow young refs to grow, learn from mistakes, and develop into solid professionals. While a call might not go your way and you might be right, the point is that we want our refs to keep working at continued improvement; getting an earful from a coach or parent doesn’t serve that purpose in any respect.


2.     The primary purpose of referees is to keep players safe. If a referee has safety concerns, she has full authority to stop play until those concerns are addressed or abandon play if the concerns cannot be satisfactorily resolved. Some examples of concerns that can cause play to be stopped or abandoned: lightning; unanchored goals; unruly spectators, players, or coaches.


3.     Now, onto some rule basics:


a.     Offside. The offside rule befuddles many. Put basically, being in an offside position occurs when an attacking player is closer to the goal than either the second-last defender (typically, but not always, the last defender before the goalkeeper) or the ball. By itself, being offside is not a reason for the ref to stop play. To make a long story short, the refs “call offsides” when a player in an offside position plays the ball, is the only person who has a chance to play the ball, or keeps a player on the other team from being able to play the ball. There is no offside in a team’s own half of the field, on goal kicks, corner kicks, or throw-ins.


b.     Handball. If you use or hear the expression “handball,” it’s only correct if you are talking about some other sport. In soccer, there is no such thing as “handball.” Instead, it is against the rules to “deliberately handle” the ball. To determine whether a player has made a deliberate act of making contact with the ball with a hand or arm, refs consider things like: the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand) and the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball). Just because a ball hits a player’s hand or arm doesn’t mean an offense has occurred.


c.     Fouls. Soccer is a contact sport. It is unavoidable that players are going to physically touch and jostle each other for the ball and field position. The ref’s job is to keep it within the boundaries of: 1) safe play; and 2) fair play. At some levels of soccer, the amount of acceptable contact is quite low. At other levels, depending on the teams and the type of match it is, more physical play within safe and reasonable limits is OK. The question is often highly subjective and involves a judgment call. Each ref sees things differently. If you have safety concerns or feel unfairness has occurred, please do not address on-field officials and invite conflict. Instead, contact Ref Assignor Frank Ferreri. A written report is the best way to register a concern (as it allows for thought and reflection rather than emotion) and can be emailed to


d.     Advantage. Tell me if you’ve been here: You’re watching a game, and a player on your team clearly gets fouled, and all the ref does is yell out “play on” while putting her hands in the air. What the ref has done in a case like this is applied “advantage.” Refs do this when, in their judgment, blowing the whistle to stop play would disadvantage the team against whom the foul was committed. If the advantage does not materialize for the fouled team with a few seconds, the ref still may blow the whistle.


4.     Conduct. The Treasure Coast Soccer League have a Code of Conduct, which is as follows:


The TCSL and its member clubs jointly expect all coaches to conform to this code of conduct.


·         Before, during and after the game, be an example of dignity, patience and positive spirit.

·         Before a game, introduce yourself to the opposing coach and to the referee.

·         During the game, you are responsible for the sportsmanship of your players. If one of your players is disrespectful, irresponsible or overly aggressive, take the player out of the game at least long enough for him/her to calm down.

·         During the game, you are also responsible for the conduct of the parents of your players. It is imperative to explain acceptable player and parent behavior in a preseason meeting.

·         Encourage them to applaud and cheer for good plays by either team. Discourage them and you may need to be forceful and direct from yelling at players and the referee.

·         During the game, you are also responsible for the conduct of spectators rooting for your team.

·         During the game, do not address the referee at all. If you have a small issue, discuss it with the referee calmly and patiently after the game.

·         If you have a major complaint, or if you think the referee was unfair, biased, unfit or incompetent, report your opinion to your League. Your reactions will be taken seriously if they are presented objectively and formally.

·         After the game, thank the referee and ask your players to do the same.


For Parents


·         I will emphasize that the game is played for fun, and for the benefit of the youth, not adults.

·         I will act as a role model by demonstrating positive support for all players, coaches, and game officials – regardless of race, creed, color, gender, religion, or ability.

·         I will not engage in any kind of unsportsmanlike conduct with any official, coach, player, parent, or spectator such as booing and taunting, refusing to shake hands, or using profane language or gestures.

·         I will teach my child to play within the spirit and intentions of the rules and the Laws of the Game.

·         I will refrain from criticizing the game officials, and will respect their authority and decisions during games.

·         I will never place the value of winning over the safety and welfare of the players.

·         I will demand a sports environment free from drugs, tobacco, and alcohol and I will refrain from their use at all sporting events.

·         I will not encourage, invite, nor recruit any player from an opposing team to join my child’s team during the playing season. 

·         I will not use tobacco related products within 500 feet of the athletic fields for TCSL faciitated events.

·         I will not bring my pet onto the athletic field of play.

·         I will not attend a game under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication.


5.     The Bigger Picture. And finally, some food for thought, when you see our refs on the field:


Before you scream at a ref, by Donna Olmstead, for Soccer America


Sometimes as I slouch down in my lawn chair watching my grandchildren’s soccer games, I indulge in wishful thinking. Only skillful, focused players on the field. Only knowledgeable, supportive parents on the sidelines. Only coaches who remember the bottom line is character development and not just winning games. Only top-notch officials running the lines and the field. Never going to happen. Like I said - wishful thinking.


Not that I’m an expert on the soccer subject. But I have spent 32 years immersed in youth soccer. As the chauffer. As the team mom. As the team grandmother. And any other position that needed a warm body. Some knowledge of the game is bound to rub off after a while.


Now my daughter and granddaughters are referees as well as players. And I’m seeing games from a whole new angle.


Sitting on the bleachers watching my 14-year-old granddaughter play at a Disney tournament recently, I got annoyed at our parents for criticizing the assistant referee’s seeming inability to be in position to make good calls.


When the parents grew vocal enough for the AR to hear, I decided to muffle the criticism. Duct tape would have done the job, but I used something more personal - an incident that happened to my 16-year-old granddaughter Emily at a different game the day before.


Emily was running the line on the parents’ side and they gave her a bad time about her offside calls. The coach even went to the center ref after the game and complained about her. Fortunately, the center ref had been paying attention and said Emily’s calls had been correct. This is a tough situation for a young referee to handle, and probably why the attrition rate is so high.


When I told our parents about Emily’s experience, they were indignant about anyone’s criticizing Emily. After all, she’s one of ours. We know her. We know she’s conscientious and unbiased. She knows the game both as a player and a certified official. How dare those parents and coach give her a rough time?!


Then I pointed at the AR running our line and said, "She’s somebody’s Emily."


I know that, in the heat of competition, everyone forgets that the officials are somebody’s Emily or Tom or Dave. Parents demand superhero officials. Which, in most cases, means officials that make only calls the parents agree with. And when most of the parents don’t even know the difference between being offside or being in an offside position, that would be an impossible demand.


You couldn’t pay me enough to take the abuse that soccer officials take. I’d probably take the field armed with a whistle and a small caliber handgun. And because I know that about myself, I stay on the sidelines. And try to encourage parents to send positive energy toward the field. And to try to help them remember that the every official is somebody’s Emily.


For more about referees, please check out:

What the refs signals mean:

To become a referee, visit:

For questions regarding our refs, contact Frank Ferreri at or 772-521-3548.

Let’s have fun and enjoy this planet’s most beautiful game together!

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