The High School Rule Book

Published on November 12, 2015


By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

There have been numerous articles written about the various rules within the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Rule Book.  However, little has been written about the rule book in general.  This article will provide some insight into the NFHS Rule Book as a whole, why it is written the way it is and the overall content of the book.

In addition to the 17 Rules of the Game, the NFHS Rule Book has other important information that every interscholastic official must be well aware of and how to properly use the information.  Robert Gardner, publisher, indicates that the “NFHS rules are used by education-based and non-education-based organizations serving children of varying skill levels who are of high school age and younger.”  Mr. Gardner also states that the rule book is “to maintain the sound traditions of this sport, encourage sportsmanship and minimize the inherent risk of injury.”   These two quotes clearly set the stage for the rationale behind all rules and information in the rule book.  The intent of high school soccer rules is to ensure participation in the sport by student athletes.

Each year the NFHS Rules Committee conducts a broad survey about the rules.  The survey goes to all state associations, coaches and the NISOA membership through an electronic message.  The committee, which is made up of volunteers from each NFHS region, meets in January and reviews the survey and makes determinations on rules changes.  It is important to note that the current committee includes several NISOA members.  The rules changes that receive the necessary votes become part of the following year’s rule book.

In addition to the actual rules the NFHS Rule Book has many play rulings.  These rulings are developed from actual game situations and questions that developed during the many thousands of high school soccer games that were played in the previous year.  These rulings are all approved by the committee which conducted a thorough review of the play or situation and developed the play rule so it can help expand on the actual rule in the NFHS book.

On page 7 of the current NFHS rule Book there is the Officials Code of Ethics.  Every official should review this on a regular basis and conduct him/herself accordingly.  The introductory paragraph to the Officials Code of Ethics sets the stage for the document.  “Officials at an interscholastic athletic event are participants in the educational development of high school students.  As such, they must exercise a high level of self-discipline, independence and responsibility. ”

The NFHS Rule Book adds a Rule 18, Definitions, that provides an alphabetical list of many soccer terms and, in some cases, where the term can be found in the rule book.  This is a ready reference for officials if a particular word or phrase is going to be used in a game report.

Each year, NISOA produces a Comparison of the Rules/Laws Guide.  The NFHS approached NISOA and requested permission to include this in the NFHS Rule Book.  Every official should be very familiar with the rules differences and ensure that he/she is using the NFHS rules when officiating an interscholastic game.  A thorough knowledge of the rule differences will prevent a miss-interpretation and problems for the officiating team.

Three systems of officiating control are approved for high school soccer games.  The dual system has two officials with equal jurisdiction on the field of play with whistles.  Both officials have the ability to indicate fouls, offside, issue cautions and ejections, determine if a goal has been scored, etc.  The second system is the diagonal system of control where there is a referee and two assistant referees.  The referee utilizes a whistle and the assistant referees utilize a flag to signal.  In this system of control the referee has final decision on all matters.  The assistant referees remain off the field of play and signal with the flag if he/she determines there is offside, the ball is out of play, or a foul has been committed.  The referee takes this information and makes a final decision as to whether play should be stopped.  The NFHS has also approved the use of the double-dual system of control.  Three referees work together as a team to manage the game.  All three officials are on the field and have whistles and equally share in control of the game.  Proper positioning during dynamic play and restarts are outlined in the rule book.

Individual state associations may adopt the use of a fourth official.  The duties of this individual are also outlined in the rule book.  This individual serves as a point of contact between the referee team and the timer, scorekeeper, coaches, administrators, etc.

Safety is of the utmost importance for interscholastic soccer.  The NFHS Rule Book provides guidelines on concussion management, skin infections and communicable diseases, lightning or thunder disturbances, and equipment.  The current rule book has a point of emphasis regarding heat acclimatization.  Officials should always error on the side of caution regarding any of the above items.  The safety of all players is critical in high school soccer.

The NFHS Rule Book has a wide variety of information.  Every official assigned to a high school game must be knowledgeable of the rules and the other important information contained in the book.

Comments are closed.