By: John Van de Vaarst
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 penalty kicks.
When a defensive player commits one of the fouls that would normally result in a direct free kick within his/her penalty area, a penalty kick is to be awarded. This is a very simplistic statement in the NCAA and NFHS Rules Books. However, this is one of the most difficult decisions for a referee. The awarding of a penalty kick usually means the attacking team will score a goal (approximately 94% of the time). In a hard-fought game where the score is tied or very close the awarding of the penalty kick can determine the result of the game. The following are several important elements for the referee to consider in making a decision to award the penalty kick.
Is the referee 100% certain that a direct free kick foul was committed? While not all decisions are obvious, the referee must be certain that the decision being made is correct. There should be no doubt in the referee’s mind. Attacking players have the ability to enhance the severity of the foul by diving, exaggerating the contact, etc. The referee must immediately determine if there was a foul or not.
Is the foul within the penalty area confines? The referee must determine exactly where the foul initially occurred. Was the player tripped outside the penalty area and fell within the area? If this is the case there is no penalty kick. Conversely, if the foul occurred just inside the penalty area, it is a penalty kick. The referee should not move the location of the foul to prevent the awarding of a penalty kick.
Positioning and mechanics are critical when a penalty kick is awarded. The referee must be in good position to not only see the foul but also be able to “market” his/her decision. It will be very difficult for a referee if he/she signals for a penalty kick and is approximately 30 yards from the foul. When a referee awards a penalty kick, he/she must do so with a great amount of confidence. The whistle must be very strong and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind when the referee points to the penalty mark. If the referee uses a weak whistle and barely points to the penalty spot, there will be players who do not accept the call and are ready to argue the decision.
During the pregame conference the referee should clearly communicate with the assistant referees as to what assistance he/she would want if a foul occurs that would result in a penalty kick. Two items that should be discussed are what the assistant referees should do during the kick and what the assistant referees should do if they observe a foul that would be a penalty kick and the referee does not have a clear view of the play. The referee should discuss whether he/she wants the assistant referees to serve only as a goal judge on the penalty kick or should they also observe goalkeeper violations. Whatever the referee determines is what the assistants should do during the kick. The referee should also discuss how the assistant referees should indicate a penalty kick if they observe a foul. if the referee improperly states that he/she will only decide if there is a foul that results in a penalty kick then the assistant referees should honor this request. This approach can lead to problems during the game since the referee may be out of position and the assistant referee cannot signal for the foul.
Another area that makes the penalty kick decision difficult is the advantage clause. Here is an example of this situation. The defending team intentionally handles the ball in the penalty area and knocks the ball down on a crossing play. As the referee is raising the whistle to call a penalty kick, he/she observes another attacker running directly at the ball for a clear shot on goal. Should the referee allow advantage and the attacking player take the shot or should the penalty kick be awarded? This is the decision the referee must make in a matter of a few seconds. If the referee sounds the whistle and the attacking player kicks the ball into the net, the goal cannot be awarded. If the referee allows the play to continue and the goal is missed, it is too late to reverse the decision.
The awarding of a penalty kick is a very emotional situation. The referee team must be very professional and keep their composure throughout the play. The referee may have to deal with dissent, questions by the captain and comments by the coach. By being in the proper position and making the call with the utmost of confidence will greatly assist in game control.