Student of the Rules

Published on December 24, 2015


By:  John Van de Vaarst, National Clinician

The monthly “NISOA Referee Nuts and Bolts” column is written primarily for the college and high school soccer 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 month’s article will focus on the importance of studying the rules.

Any individual who desires to become a top level interscholastic or intercollegiate soccer official must be a student of the rules.  Knowing the NCAA Rule Book, the NFHS Rule Book is the important first step in the development of officiating skills.

A good approach to learning the rules is to first read the rule book from front to back.  An official who does this will not remember everything read but will begin to gain a strong understanding of the rules.  The next step is to take the book in sections.  Below is a sample that could be of value:

Rules 1 – 6 items needed to play  the game

Rules 7-14 playing the game

Rules 15-17 restarts.

Once the rule book is read on several occasions, the next step is to know why the rule is needed.  Is the rule written to ensure safety?  Is the rule written to ensure fairness of play?  For example, dangerous play is penalized to ensure a player does not put himself/herself in a position that could result in injury.  Players can not kick each other because this can cause a serious injury.  Offside prevents an attacking player form standing in the attacking zone near the goal with no opponent to defend the attack.

Many officials develop a quiz on the rules or take a quiz prepared by someone else.  This allows the official to determine if he/she clearly knows the rule and how to apply it in game situations.  Reviewing play situations and answering what the official would do in a particular situation is a good way to develop skills on the proper way to apply rule.  This also requires the official to think about the rule and what the intent of the rule means.

Many top officials have written articles and even books on the rules.  Once a rule book is read and an official is very familiar with it, time should be taken to read articles about the rule interpretations, and even books on the rules.  This will assist in developing an understanding for the spirit of any rule and how to properly apply it during a game situation.

Newer officials should seek out a mentor or senior official that he/she can speak with about rules and feel free to ask questions about the rule or game situations.  This informal approach allows the official to discuss the rule and learn more about it or a game situation.  Care must be taken in choosing who the official speaks to about a rule.  Officials should seek out rule experts, interpreters, clinicians or other individuals who are “students of the rules.”

Officials can learn a vast amount about the rules and the intent of a rule by attending advanced clinics and training programs.  NISOA offers programs such as the National Referee Academies that discuss the latest techniques and issues in officiating.  The NISOA National Training Academy Camp is another opportunity to attend a program that goes into great detail about rules, officiating techniques, etc.  Whenever there is an opportunity to attend a program such as this or others, the official should take advantage of the opportunity.  Information about upcoming training programs are posted on

In summary, every official must know the rules of the game he/she is officiating.  A misapplication can lead to many issues for the teams and officials involved.  Every official should strive to become a student of the rules and the proper application of same.

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