There are details contained in some individual Laws that are also found in other Laws. While it is important to understand each Law by itself, deriving some common principles can make those details easier to remember.


1a. If play stops because the ball goes over a boundary line, a teammate cannot be offside if that player receives the ball directly from the restart.

There are four possible restarts when the ball goes over a boundary line: throw-in, goalkick, corner kick and kickoff. For the first three, the Laws explicitly rule out an offside infraction if a teammate receives the ball directly from the restart. The kickoff doesn’t need that explicit exclusion because, if taken properly (all players in their own half), no one can be in an offside position when the ball is put into play. Once the ball is in play, however, the next touch by a teammate now establishes offside position.

1b. If play is stopped by the referee for an infraction, a teammate can be offside if that player receives the ball directly from the restart.

On a free kick, the kick establishes offside position.

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1c. The dropped ball is a unique restart and is rarely the result of an infraction by a player. 

That is the only restart initiated by the referee — the ball is in play when it touches the ground directly. A player cannot be offside if that player receives the ball directly from the restart. Offside position is established when a player touches the ball. There is no “second touch” infraction on a dropped ball.

Restarts Inside Own Penalty Area

2. Any kick taken from inside a team’s own penalty area has special requirements.

Like a goalkick, any kick taken by a team in its own penalty area must leave the penalty area before the ball is in play. Anything that happens before the ball completely leaves the penalty area occurs before the ball is in play. That means no “second-touch” infraction until the ball has left the penalty area (below), and misconduct that occurs prior to the ball leaving the penalty area will not change the restart (below); the misconduct is dealt with, and the kick is retaken. All opponents must be outside the penalty area. Any restart in a team’s own goal area can be taken from anywhere in the goal area. The only difference between a goalkick and any other free kick from the goal area is that a teammate cannot be offside on a goalkick, but the teammate can be offside on any other free kick.

Second Touch Infractions

3. Once the ball is in play on any player-initated restart, a “second touch” by that player results in an indirect free kick to the opposing team.

That applies to all restarts where a player initiates the restart. “Player-initiated” means the second-touch rule does not apply for a dropped ball, the only restart not initiated by a player. Other than the player just dribbling the ball instead of kicking it, you might see that infraction when a player takes the restart and plays the ball again (after it is in play) if an opponent would get there before a teammate; the ball bounces off a goalpost or crossbar and back to the kicker on a penalty kick, free kick close to goal or corner kick; or the ball bounces off the referee back to the kicker/thrower (in that case, you might want to work on your positioning).

Restarts By Reason Play Stopped

4. Nothing that happens while play is stopped can change the restart.

To award a free kick, the ball must be in play: misconduct can happen at any time. Misconduct that occurs while the ball is out of play must be dealt with but can’t change the restart. That does not mean the referee can’t change the restart based on more information from the players or AR, or based on the referee recognizing that he or she has made a mistake (e.g. some have pointed in the wrong direction in the second half before adapting to the teams having changed directions). If your AR reports an infraction that occurred before you stopped play, you may retroactively decide play was stopped by that previous infraction; that previous infraction now determines the restart.

4a. Play stopped because the ball is over a boundary line.

The critical issue is: Does misconduct occur before the ball crossed the boundary line or after? If a punch happens while the ball is in play, you stop play for that foul and deal with the misconduct; the restart is determined by the foul. If the punch happens after the ball goes over a boundary line, the restart is determined by the reason the ball went over the boundary line; you still deal with the misconduct, but you can’t change the restart.

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4b. The referee stops play for an infraction.

When you decide an infraction, play officially stops at the moment the infraction occurs, even if that is seconds prior to your whistle. If the players are too wound up, or your whistle is late, or you didn’t loudly announce an advantage call, a foul may result in retaliation by the fouled player, or by a teammate. You can caution a player on the team that is awarded the free kick. That can be confusing to players, coaches and spectators, but it is the correct procedure; the misconduct must be dealt with, but doesn’t change the restart.

Lines Are Part of the Areas

5. All lines are part of the area they enclose.

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The centerline is part of both halves — players can be on the line at a kickoff, but not over (you’re probably thinking “trifling,” and you’d usually right). More importantly, especially for the younger ages, the ball is not in play from any free kick restart from inside a team’s own penalty area until the ball completely leaves the penalty area — that means completely across the lines indicating the penalty area. If players are standing with their toes just outside the penalty-area line, the ball will not be able to cross the penalty area line before it is touched; make them step back.

Direct Free Kick Fouls

6. Physical-contact fouls always result in a direct kick restart.

Physical-contact fouls (kicks, trips, strikes, pushes, charges, jumps-at and tackles) are listed in Law 12. Another way to describe those fouls is that they are potentially dangerous; someone could be hurt (or hurt worse) if more force had been involved. Of course, the definitions of “physical contact” and “potentially dangerous” depend on the age, skill level, etc. Attempted physical contact fouls (attempting to kick, trip or strike) are also illegal. For kicking, striking or tripping, even the attempt to commit the act is illegal. The other three direct-kick restarts are not inherently dangerous to the players (deliberately handling the ball rarely injures), but can be considered as in direct opposition to the “Spirit of the Game.” Two of these fouls, deliberate handling and holding, involve use of the “forbidden” hands; the third is spitting. Indirect-kick infractions are much less likely to lead to injury; however, when a situation that starts as dangerous play (e.g. “high boot”) becomes physical contact, the action becomes a direct-kick offense. Don’t chicken out and call a physical contact foul in the penalty area as an indirect kick because the infraction “wasn’t enough for a PK.” If you want to change your definition of “foul” in the penalty area, that’s up to you — don’t call the infraction. But don’t downgrade a physical contact challenge to an indirect free kick just because it is in the penalty area.

Experienced referees should agree with the previous statements on a Law-by-Law basis; deriving common principles makes it easier to react automatically in all cases, without having to think about the specific Law involved. Those principles also are a good tool for training newer referees. You can take them from a detailed but isolated knowledge of specific Laws to a more general and useful knowledge of the spirit of the game.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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