Tag Archives: officiating


In October of 2016, I mentioned the Goal Kick signal as observed with the little cartoon character in the 2017 issue of the IFAB Law of the Game…pointing DOWN at 45 degrees…a signal usually recognized as the CR’s signal for a Penalty Kick.  I have started to see referees signal for the GK re-start in this manner and have heard stories that USSF instructors are starting to teach the signal this way.  So, I’ll ask this again…WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE GOAL KICK SIGNAL I WAS TAUGHT IN THE LATE 1980’s?

I have not seen any written commentary or memorandums from IFAB or USSF concerning a NEW signal, but as we all know from watching referees do wacky stuff, once something incorrect is taught to newer referees, it somehow becomes gospel.  And, when I addressed this issue in October of 2016, some of my fellow instructors chided me for challenging the “new” IFAB signal.  See below:

Is this a screw-up?

Perhaps USSF, and their new quad-fold POCKET GUIDE, has provided me with redemption.  The Center Referee’s arm is fully extended, parallel to the ground, and I’ll even stick my neck out further – pointing at the GOAL STRUCTURE – not the GOAL AREA.


After receiving this POCKET GUIDE in the mail with my 2017 Referee Registration, I also received an email from the U.S. Soccer Referee’s Department, Laws of the Game Update.  Within this email was a section entitled Laws of the Game Online Videos.  A click takes you to YouTube.  The Goal Kick Signal portion is located at 2:07.


Now my question to you naysayers…  Would USSF really produce the Pocket Guide AND a new Referee Signals Video without addressing a change in the signal for Goal Kick?

Go ahead, say it, “You’re right, Tom”






I’ve been an aviation buff since childhood.  My father loved to travel, so I have many fond memories of family travels on prop-liners and jet-liners of the time: DC-3’s, DC-7’s, the Lockheed Electra, 707’s and DC-8’s. I enlisted in the Air Force right out of High School, spent time in Southeast Asia, flew on the military charters and military aircraft.  To this day I subscribe to Aviation Week and Space Technology.  And I am very interested in aviation accident investigation – the links of the chain of an accident…take one link from the chain and the accident doesn’t happen.

An article I read today detailed a corporate jet that took off with it’s controls locked – and crashed in flames killing everyone on board.  The pilots simply failed to go through the required checklists before each step of preparing the aircraft for engine start, taxi, and takeoff.  The author of the article made a direct reference to the responsibility of the instructor, that your training is only as good as your instructor.

Since many referee instructors are also assessors, we are always paying attention to how a match is being officiated, being managed, whether we are a part of the officiating team, or a mere spectator.  How often do we ask ourselves:  Why no call there?  Why no enforcement of the required distance?  Why positioned there?  Why no chat with the offender on that hard foul?  Why no caution?

Yes, there are referees who take the entry-level course and that is the extent of their training for the remainder of their officiating career – a scary thought.

The article I read today, authored by James Albright of Aviation Week, specifically addressed that pilots, throughout their career, learn Standard Operating Procedures, SOP’s so to speak, and that pilots, on occasion may find themselves having to skip or alter an SOP, for safety reasons.  And I started thinking – Referees, too, have SOPs in the form of The Laws of the Game (LOTG) and there are times because of The Spirit of the Game, that referees  alter or skip the LOTG to accommodate the The Spirit of the Game.  Referees can make a decision that, at the time, seemed prudent.  But on reflection, have these decisions just been laziness or an error in judgment?

Yes, referees do make mistakes.  I am still waiting for my perfect game.  The training and education of referees is designed to prevent or mitigate those mistakes before they become harmful to the players and The Spirit of the Game.  We instructors are there to minimize deviations.  However, if those deviations become frequent, there is a tendency to accept them as the new norm, to lower our standards and blur the distinction between what is acceptable and what is not.  And thus the normalization of deviance.  So, Referee Instructors,  consider the following guideposts when you instruct referees, whether they be new and inexperienced or seasoned by a number of matches under their belt.

TRAIN TO A STANDARD – A soccer official’s training is only as good as their instructor.  When the instructor has given in to deviant behavior such as cutting corners, or who has misguided ideas of what should or should not be taught, deviations may occur.

IMPROVE AND BROADEN YOUR PEER GROUP – Be that referee who adheres to the LOTG, best practices, and The Spirit of the Game.  Others will take notice.

LEARN HUMILITY – When we assign the title of “expert” to an instructor, assessor, or referee, we recognize that person for a skill gained from training and experience.  We also imply that the expert will be more objective than a non-expert and will be better armed against the normalization of deviance.  But with experience comes confidence – in some cases to the extreme.  Over-confidence and arrogance can be cojoined.  The antonym for arrogance is humility.  A humble referee, referee instructor, assessor, realizes that even the best referees make mistakes and that one’s guard can never be lowered, even when the title of “expert” has been rightfully earned.

-A tip of the hat to James Albright






Grabbing the interest and attention of our students is crucial to their success as competent soccer officials.  What are your opening comments at a clinic?  How do you maintain the interest and attention levels?   AYSO lesson plans offer a multitude of scenarios that generate interest, questions, and yes, sometimes controversy.  What about unique situations that you -the instructor- have experienced on the pitch?  One of those, Ah-Hah! moments, that can really generate some thought-provoking discussion…discussion that leads referees to a new way of looking at their unique power on the field.  Let’s take a look at one of my favorite scenarios that involved shielding, ball within playing distance, a keeper, and legal charging:a_ayso-fifa-inplay


You are the Center Referee in an aggressively played Boys U-14 tournament semi-final match.  The multitude of fans for each team have been loud and supportive of their teams.  With under 5 minutes to play, and the score 2-1 in favor of RED, a shot deflected off of a RED defender rolls towards the goal line, about 6 yards to the right of the RED goal.  The RED keeper pursues and is shielding  the ball from a distance of less than a yard, apparently hoping the ball will go out of play.  A BLUE attacker is directly behind the keeper and is vigorously bumping the keeper in the rear shoulder area.  As the ball stops on the goal line, the RED keeper leans forward to possess the ball with his hands and is again vigorously bumped in the rear shoulder area by the attacker causing the keeper to fall to his knees but he now possesses the ball.  The RED keeper looks back at you, throws his right hand up, and yells, “What are you going to do about that?!” 

Well, Ref…what are YOU going to do about this?

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.




“How are you, today?”

“Thank you for working with the kids!”

“Any comments, any questions?”

“I was told the OFFSIDE expert is sitting over here…”

“I was told the HANDBALL expert is sitting over here…”

“Each of us has a job here today.  Coaches coach, parents cheer, players play, and referees officiate the match.  Are you doing YOUR job?”

As an AYSO referee with 28 years under my belt, my communications with coaches, parents, players, and fellow officials have evolved…for the better.  For a referee who was formerly referred to as “The Flamethrower,” my communicative style had simply been, “my way or the highway.”  However, as I have worked my way up the ladder for referees, instructors, and assessors, I have been very fortunate to have watched and been mentored by several of AYSO’s elite referees.  The direct result of my exposure to these outstanding AYSO volunteers is the realization that ALL soccer officials are presented with opportunities at every match to make a positive difference in the life of a coach, a parent, a player, or a fellow referee.  Will all of you join me in being a difference maker?