Knowledge-based mistakes


I’ll be the first to admit that I am still searching for my perfect game.  In recent matches, especially the “one-man show” games, my errors have included:  Whistling offside when a defender (the real second-to-last defender) was screened and failure to recognize an Advantage situation (arrrgh with forehead strike).

As a veteran assessor and instructor, I know the importance of  improving not only my skills and knowledge base but also those of my students, fellow officials, and officials I am mentoring.  And these roles, as a mentor, assessor, and instructor, make me keenly aware of mistakes I observe with positioning, mechanics, and proper application of the Laws of the Game (LOTG) and the spirit of how, when, and where those Laws are applied by the referee.

“What does that mean, shouldn’t the Laws be applied to all players the same…regardless of their age?”

Mmmm…that is a very good question for a future topic.  For this post we’re going to stick knowledge-based mistakes.  The definition of a knowledge-based mistake – An error of commission in which the action proceeds as planned but the plan is inappropriate for the situation.  A knowledge-based mistake arises from incomplete or incorrect knowledge.  Here are a pair of knowledge-based mistakes that really bother me:


NO-NO-NO!  We’ve all observed this scenario – a direct free kick is awarded to the attackers and the defenders immediately move to a position 1 foot from the ball…DARING YOU TO CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR…because they believe the kicking team MUST ask for their 10 yards.

What is the origin of this disinformation?  The professional game, where we see this on EVERY free kick re-start?

IFAB Law 13 makes this situation VERY clear for officials:

Until the ball is in play all opponents MUST remain:

  • at least 9.15 m (10 yds) from the ball (a key word here is MUST)

Past issues of the USSF ATR (I know, we’re not supposed to refer to this document, any more) take this requirement a bit further, a bit stronger:

  • …it is the DUTY of these opponents to retreat the required distance as quickly as possible WITHOUT BEING DIRECTED BY THE REFEREE TO DO SO (emphasis added).

However, let us not forget that the kicking team has the right to a quick re-start, even if one or more of the opponents have not yet moved back the required distance.  AND, the defenders also have rights:

  • That the kick be properly taken – primarily that the ball be in the right place and be stationary.
  • That the referee is not distracting any of the defenders.

Mmmm…how could the referee be distracting the defenders?

Are you aware of what impact your actions have on the players when you address the players on any matter?  If you are going to interfere with either the attackers OR the defenders at a free kick, you MUST turn the free kick into a ceremonial free kick, requiring a whistle for the re-start.  (Thank you to Peter Guthrie for these words of enlightenment.)


Center referees pointing 45 degrees down for Corner Kicks and Goal Kicks.  Center referees blowing their whistle after a (clear and obvious) goal is scored.  Assistant referees “reaching” on Corner Kick signals.

USSF has a excellent videos on YouTube for Center Referee signals and Assistant Referee Signals

And, yes…I am aware that there now exists confusing images in AYSO -and- IFAB publications concerning these signals, especially for Goal Kick.  Please watch the USSF videos and stay with these signals.