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Hillsborough AYSO Region 110

Laws of the Game

Soccer is a simple game, but you and the players will enjoy it more if you know a few of the Laws (not "rules") that are frequently misunderstood.

Soccer is intended to be a continuous action sport. Whenever possible, the referee will let play continue. Thus, when a player falls, and the referee judges that the player is not at immediate risk, (s)he will generally let the game proceed until a natural stoppage. Of course, the referee will stop play if a player needs immediate attention or would be endangered by continuing play.

Players cannot deliberately play the ball with their hands or arms, except for the goalkeeper within his/her own penalty-area. However, accidental contact between hands or arms and the ball occurs frequently, especially with younger players, and is not an infringement. In such cases, the referee will not stop play, since no breach of the Laws has occurred. A spectator who yells "Handball!" in such circumstances merely reveals his ignorance.

A throw-in must be taken with part of each foot on or behind the touch-line (side line) at the moment the ball is released. The ball must be thrown from behind and over the head, using both hands. This motion is sometimes difficult for young players to master, and referees in younger divisions may, at their discretion, allow retakes in order to help the players learn this skill.

Unlike basketball and gridiron football, the boundary lines are part of the field of play. The ball is not out of play until it has completely crossed the goal line or touch line. This implies that a goal is not scored unless the ball has wholly crossed the goal line between the goal posts and beneath the crossbar.

Soccer is a sport designed to give skill the advantage over force. The Laws permit physical contact, but limit it to non-dangerous forms. Other kinds of contact are illegal and are penalized by the referee. Careless, reckless, or unnecessarily hard contact by a player on his opponent does not become legal simply because the ball was struck in the process. This point is frequently misunderstood by spectators and players, who exhibit their ignorance by yelling "But he got the ball, ref!"

Referees penalize only clear infringements. In fact, they are specifically instructed not to penalize doubtful or trifling breaches of the Laws. In other words, the game is supposed to "flow", and the referee is expected to interfere only to protect the safety of the players or to ensure equity according to the Laws. The referee is explicitly given broad latitude to judge when his/her interference is needed. This is in sharp contrast with many sports popular in the United States, in which spectators expect the referee to stop play for all sorts of trifling violations. A knowledgeable spectator will understand and appreciate why, for example, a referee ignores inconsequential jostling between opponents and allows the game to precede uninterrupted.

When the referee stops the game, (s)he does not signal the reason for the stoppage. Instead, arm signals are used to indicate how the game is to be restarted. In unusual circumstances, the referee may explain a particular decision to the players. A spectator who finds the lack of explanatory signals frustrating will want to read an introduction to the game, such as AYSO's booklet The ABCs of Soccer.

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Hillsborough AYSO Region 110

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Burlingame, California 94011

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