It’s Not a Hand Ball…or my beef with what coaches teach our young soccer players

I love soccer.  I think we’ve established that through previous posts over the past few years.  I’ve played most of my life, coached for about ten years, and reffed for about eight months now. Recently, I agreed to get back into coaching club (travel/select) soccer.  As you can see, I’ve seen the sport from many perspectives.

Playing and coaching have led to a number of the observations to follow, but reffing has really brought clarity to how widespread some of these are.

The biggest misnomer in the sport has got to be the “hand ball.”  Everytime the ball makes contact with a hand, the players, coaches, and fans of the opposing team cry out “hand ball” and expect the referee to blow the whistle and award them a free kick.  First, the free kick is for “handling”.  This means there’s more to it than hand and ball making contact.  The position of the hand in respect to the body is a big factor, including motion of the hand after contact.  Another factor is the play itself.  Did the player have time, in the opinion of the referee, to move his hand out of the ball’s path.  Intentionally handling the ball, obviously, is a violation.  Yelling “hand ball” isn’t going to make a referee call it.  Play until you hear a whistle.

“I got the/all ball!”  This is another of those cries that’s supposed to make a ref not award a free kick to the fouled player’s team and, hopefully, prevent receiving a caution or send off from the referee.  Whether the player actually gets the ball or makes first contact with the ball may be a factor in the referee’s decision to simply award a free kick or to caution or send off the offending player, but it isn’t the deciding factor.  The direction from which the tackle came, the force used in the tackle, and the follow through weigh heavily on the decision.  The player can make what she thinks is a clean tackle that gets the ball, and then watch the rest of the game from the parking lot if the referee thinks the tackle was reckless.

Another cautionable offense that is actually taught by some coaches is standing in front of the ball to prevent the team awarded a free kick from taking a quick restart.  The Laws of the Game provide a 10 yard radius from the spot of the ball which defenders are to vacate and not enter until the ball is back in play.  Nowhere does it say that the kicking team must ask for the 10 yards.  If a defender plants himself in front of the ball to “direct his teammates” or tie her shoe, the ref can caution the player.  Do yourselves a favor and move back from the ball and coaches, don’t tell your players to get in front of it.  Some refs are real sticklers for this and will caution a player with little or no warning.

There are, of course, other fouls and violations that players and coaches often don’t quite understand.  Maybe I’ll talk about some of them later. For today, though, just remember that the referee is the authority on the pitch and different referees have different aspects of the game that they enforce more tightly than others.  Play within the laws of the game, show good sportsmanship, and respect the referees and their decisions.

Play to the whistle!

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