There is some measure of concern associated with a neophyte soccer parent who states that they are pleased that their child is playing a sport with “little contact,” or worse, “no contact.” One can only guess that this really means that they are pleased that, subconsciously or otherwise, their child is not playing a “collision sport” like American football. Let there be no misunderstanding: Soccer is a contact sport. With up to 22 players running around competing for space and the ball, the chance for either intentional or unintentional bodily contact is extremely high. Essentially, there are three types of contact in soccer: 1.) Legal Contact, 2.) Illegal Contact, and 3.) Unfortunate Contact.
Legal contact in soccer is nominally described as being “shoulder to shoulder” between two opponents, as one player comes into the other, or “charges,” to challenge for the ball. The most common instance of this is two players running side-by-side, usually as they both pursue a moving ball in front of them. Shoulder-to-shoulder contact may also occur with opponents facing one another, such as in a front block tackle, or from behind, such as when one player screens the ball from the opponent. Each of these examples, when performed properly, represents a “fair charge” in soccer. FIFA’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees states that, “The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact (emphasis added) within playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.”
The expectation during the performance of a fair charge is that both players will have at least one foot on the ground and that excessive force will not be used. In other words, the player making the challenge cannot just slam into an opponent who is in mid-air or barrel into him at whatever speed, even if the contact is shoulder to shoulder. A fair charge can result in a player being put to the ground, however, if one player loses his balance, timing catches an opponent on the “wrong foot,” or if another player is simply bigger or stronger. The mere fact that contact has occurred and a player winds up on the ground does not make the contact illegal.
Illegal contact in soccer starts with the fouls identified in Law 12 of the FIFA Laws of the Game, “Fouls and Misconduct,” and escalates from poor challenges during the common run of play to truly inappropriate behavior. The illegal contact in Law 12 includes kicking, tripping, jumping (at, into, or on), (improper) charging, striking, pushing, (improper) tackling, and holding an opponent. The Law states that, “A direct free kick is to be awarded to the opposing team if a player commits… [one of these] offenses in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force.” It is also illegal to charge properly, but with the ball not within playing distance. Referees must use their judgment to determine the severity of the penalty to be applied.
FIFA’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees states that, “‘Careless’ means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.” (This results in the simple award of the free kick.) Further, it states that, “‘Reckless’ means that the player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.” (This is supposed to bring a yellow-card caution in addition to the free kick.) Finally, it states that, “‘Using excessive force’ means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.” (This is supposed to bring a red-card ejection in addition to the free kick.)
Illegal contact can run the gamut from a mistimed slide tackle, one that misses the ball and happens to take down the opponent, all the way to assault. All of this verbiage is well and good unless you are on the receiving end of the illegal contact and run the risk of being severely hurt. As such, coaches need to teach their players three major concepts: 1.) Legal and illegal contact; 2.) Respect for the opponent; and, 3.) How to try to avoid injury at the time of contact.
Sometimes, there is player contact in soccer that does not fall neatly into the categories of being legal or illegal. This type of contact can be characterized as just plain bad luck or misfortune. This can occur in any sport with multiple players, moving at speed in the same space, and it is no different in soccer. Unfortunate collisions can happen: Two players go up together for a head ball and one winds up heading the other player. A player running at full speed is concentrating on the ball and never sees the opponent. Two opponents equidistant from each other, both going for a “50-50 ball,” collide. A player lands awkwardly after legs get entangled. A goalkeeper puts his wrist into the goalpost trying to make a save. A player jumps over another player on the ground who unexpectedly stands up. Two players on the same team run into each other. All of these examples are most unfortunate, but they are real instances of another aspect of the game.
All forms of contact in soccer must be recognized, understood, mitigated when possible, and ultimately accepted if one wants to play or coach the sport.
© Copyright 2011
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2013 CoachingAmericanSoccer.com
John Harves, All Rights Reserved