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 direct vs indirect free kicks.
Many senior referees began his/her career by learning the reasons for a direct free kick by using the 4-3-2 formula:
4four fouls with the hands, three with the feet and two with the whole body. The hand fouls that resulted in a direct free kick included: striking, holding, pushing and hand ball. The three with the feet were: kicking, tripping and jumping in. The two with the body were violent charge and charge from behind. Since that time the NCAA Rule Book has added spitting at an opponent and using blood on a uniform or oozing injury to assault an opponent. The NFHS Rule Book added that if a goalkeeper strikes or attempts to strike a player by throwing or kicking the ball or by pushing an opponent with the ball would also result in a direct free kick. Both rule books now include a statement that if an opponent flagrantly fouls the goalkeeper in possession of the ball, the player shall be ejected and the game restarted with a direct free kick.
While there are several reasons for an indirect free kick to restart the game, the fouls that result in an indirect free kick restart are: obstruction, dangerous play, and goalkeeper violations (repossession and playing the ball with his/her hands when it is kicked directly to the goalkeeper by a teammate).
It is not difficult to memorize the direct and indirect free kick offenses. The challenge for the official is to determine what is a foul and what is just the normal course of play. The second decision is it an indirect free kick or direct free kick offense. This is where experience is the best teacher. For example, should an official make a decision that obstruction has occurred when a defender is shadowing the ball toward the goal line so a goal kick can be awarded. In this example, the official must determine if the defender is shadowing the ball or moving in a manner that clearly obstructs the opponent (side to side). Another example is when a player is on the ground and plays the ball. Is this dangerous play? The official must determine if the act of playing the ball caused the player to be in a dangerous position to him or herself. Playing the ball on the ground in itself is not dangerous play. It becomes dangerous if an opponent cannot play the ball because if he/she did so, the player on the ground would be kicked and possibly injured.
A high kick or scissor kick can be dangerous if there is an opponent so close to the play that could be injured by the kick. The official should not automatically call dangerous play when a scissor kick is taken. A great exhibit of skills should not be punished if an opponent is not very close to the play. The same application should be used when a player lowers his/her head to play a ball. This could be dangerous. Again, the referee should not take away a skillful play. A player diving and heading the ball into the goal can be a beautiful play to observe. It is not an automatic dangerous play.
Officials must learn when an offense that would be an indirect free kick becomes a direct free kick. When does obstruction become a push or a hold? The official must observe the play and determine if the foul has escalated and there is contact between the opponents. If contact is determined , is it severe enough to become a push or hold? If that is the case the foul is now holding or pushing. The same approach should be taken with dangerous play. Did the high kick make contact with the opponent? If it did, it is a kicking foul and a direct free kick.
Officials must not only know the difference between an indirect and direct free kick offense. Every official must recognize when a foul escalates as well as when a player makes a skillful pay and should not be penalized.