What Now? A Guide to Interpreting Referee Signals and Being Prepared for the Next Moment


One of the issues I have noticed about our boys is that often they are not prepared to defend various restarts (or take them), often because they seem confused about whose ball it is, or why the referee has blown the whistle, and what they should do next.  This is very much to our disadvantage, and I hope to help them improve in this respect.

This may be a long post, but I hope it will be full of useful information for our boys.  I will start by discussing how to know whose ball it is for a throw-in, and then move on to the other referee signals, such as free kicks, goal kicks, corner kicks and penalties.  For purposes of clarification, I will refer to the on-field referee as the referee or ref, while the sideline referees will be called ARs (Assistant Referee).  The name change from linesman came a few years ago as FIFA wanted to emphasize that their role was expanding in the modern game to more than just watching offside and for throw-in possession.

Before we go in to the individual situations, it is important to remind ourselves that in soccer, all rules regarding boundaries require that the entire ball cross the entire line.  This means you can never give up on a play; I always instruct players to not make it easy for a referee to rule against them, but keep playing until the referee tells them otherwise.  So if you’re in possession of the ball and it has just barely gone over the line, keep playing it until the referee signals out-of-bounds.  Similarly, if you think you’ve committed a foul, don’t stop playing and look guilty; you have to keep going and let the referee make the call.  Likewise, if you’re defending and an attacking player dribbles the ball slightly out-of-bounds, or if you are fouled by an opponent, don’t assume the ball has gone out or you’ve been fouled; rather, keep defending and playing until the referee signals a restart.  And here is how they do that.

Another thing to note is that the person who takes the restart, no matter what type, may not touch the ball again until someone else, from either team, touches the ball.  Obviously this means you cannot dribble to restart play, but has other consequences as well.

Once we have read and learned the information over the next few pages, I expect to see our boys react better to referee stoppages.  However, sometimes our teammates will lose themselves in the moment of action and forget to look at what is next.  Because of this, I ask also that our players communicate with each other.  If the opposing team has a throw-in and you’re moving back to defend it but no one else is, shout it out and let your teammates know what is going on.

Finally, NEVER RETRIEVE THE BALL FOR THE OTHER TEAM.  Our boys are very nice and polite and I appreciate that under most circumstances, but when we chase a ball that is rolling away from the fields for the other team they will not wait for our player to get back on the field before taking their restart.  So please, don’t let our opponents be the beneficiaries of our boys’ courteous behavior–make them get their own ball so you can do what you need to do and get in position to be ready for what comes next.

Pt 1 – Throw-Ins

Pt 2 – Goal Kicks and Corner Kicks

Pt 3 – Free Kicks

Pt 4 – Goals and Kickoffs

Pt 5 – Offside

All of the photos and much of the information came from the excellent The Watch and the Whistle site, run by Christopher Seiwald.  I recommend checking out the site to learn even more about how referees make their decisions, what types of incidents deserve what types of free kicks and cards, etc.


 Posted by at 4:36 pm

  3 Responses to “What Now? A Guide to Interpreting Referee Signals and Being Prepared for the Next Moment”

  1. […] What Now? A Guide to Interpreting Referee Signals and Being Prepared for the Next Moment […]

  2. […] For now, we will focus on two articles I have posted recently in the tactics section: one about referee signals and one about communication.  Have your boys read these articles, and on game days we will ask […]

  3. […] Chivas scored their fourth goal in what was also a restart situation; this time the restart in question was a throw-in.  The throw-in went to an unmarked player who was able to turn, dribble and shoot to score.  And this was really one of our few mistakes in the game, but a mistake we commonly make: a failure to prepare for the next situation.  Frequently I watch our boys mill about in confusion uncertain what to do when the ball goes out-of-bounds.  I don’t know if they are uncertain because they don’t know whose ball it is, or where they should go, or both.  But both are easy to explain.  In fact, I wrote an article on this site about how to know whose ball it is and what kind of restart it is by looking at the referees, and I encourage everyone to have their son reread (or read for the first time) the article here. […]

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