2-3 Goal Difference Per Game: Play the Whistle


I know many of you have heard the expression “Play the Whistle”. It means that players should continue to play until the referee blows her whistle. This is great advice that all players should follow. However, many times at the youth level you will see players stop for various reasons:

  • They believe a foul or infraction was committed. For instance, the ball hits a hand or arm, someone fell down from contact, a player was in an offside position, etc.
  • They believe the ball left the field of play.
  • They saw the assistant referee’s (AR’s) flag go up.
  • They heard a whistle from another game.
  • They heard parents and coaches yelling for a foul or infraction.

There is not much that can be done about another game going on at the same time. Some referees have different-sounding whistles for just this situation. If not, players usually adapt to a multi-whistle environment quickly so any confusion will usually happen just once. With regard to the other examples:

  • A hand-ball is called when a player INTENTIONALLY handles the ball with the hand or arm. At the youth level, ‘intentional’ has a very broad interpretation. Play until the whistle is blown.
  • Referees are instructed not to blow the whistle every single time the ball goes out-of-play. The only time they will is when it is not obvious that the ball has gone out. A ball is technically out-of-play when the ‘whole of the ball’ has completely crossed a boundary line. As a rule, anytime the ball is close to a boundary line, let the referee and her whistle decide when the ball is out-of-play. The players should continue to play.
  • An AR (linesman/linesperson) is there to ASSIST the referee. Their flag can’t officially stop the game. Otherwise, they would have a whistle. By raising her flag, the AR is only suggesting that an offside occurred or that a foul or infraction took place. The referee is the final decision-maker. Wait for her whistle.

My U10 boys team won a tournament one year when in the finals, in OT, one of my players, aware that the whistle had not blown, scored the golden-goal game winner while everyone else was standing around. The rest of the players thought the ball had gone over the goal line. However, the referee did not think so and never blew his whistle. Could the ball have been out-of-play? Probably, given the way my players and the other team reacted. The lesson is that only one person’s opinion matters–the referee’s. The other team learned a very valuable and costly lesson that day. I’d be surprised if those players ever made that mistake again.

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