Foul, foul

IMG_0798The picture shows no.2 son’s right leg. He has showered after a game of under 9 football. Five bruises and scrapes are splattered across the top of his shin and knee.

His team lost 3-0 in a tight match to a slightly better side. The opposition played some fluent football and switched decisively from defence to attack when they won the ball in their own half. Another feature of their play was fouling.

When one of no.2 son’s teammates dribbled around or accelerated away from an opponent, they received a kick to their shins or a tap on the ankle. No.2 son’s game features strong and tricky running with the ball. He regularly gets tripped by defenders deceived by his speed of foot. We bought him new shinpads with ankle attachments for added protection as a Christmas present.

At this weekend’s match, the trips weren’t from defenders trying to take the ball from him. They came from players he had already taken the ball past, whose aim was to stop him. The bruises shown on the photo came from something else: knee-high challenges as no.2 son ran at their defence.

Driving home after a match, it’s fairly common for the boys to complain that the other side were ‘foulers’. I might nod, or point out that his side plays physically, too. And the point of this piece is not to brand this other team as thugs (they come from a club with a good reputation and I find it very unlikely that this approach was inculcated by the coaches).

But today I agreed when no.2 son said the other team were ‘foulers’. And I think the referee would have done so too. He whistled for almost every foul, giving a string of free kicks, as players were helped up and limped away from the challenges.

Despite the referee’s diligence, the fouls kept coming. The question I pose is what could be done to stem the flow, not just punctuate it.

Understandably, referees are not expected to punish a junior footballer for a foul, in the way an adult would be: first offence – name taken and shown the yellow card; second time – dismissal. The bureaucracy of name taking and cards isn’t appropriate for a game children play for exercise, development and fun. But the fun needs to be there for both teams.

Readers who spend time around junior sport, here are some questions about how persistent foul play by children should be handled.

How would you expect this situation to be handled? A quiet word to the boys doing the kicking of opponents’ ankles? A conversation in one of the breaks of play with the coach? A request that a particular player is given a ‘time out’? An after-match report to club or league officials?

What do you do if you see one of your players repeatedly fouling the opposition? Do you bring the youngster off and have a quiet word? Do you address the issue with the whole team after the game or at the next training session? Do you raise it with the parents as a conduct issue?

If your players are on the receiving end, would you communicate your concern to the other coach during the match? Would you leave it until after the game and approach the other coach, or refer it to club or league officials?

It’s not our place to intervene during a match, but what would you expect of the referee and of your coach?

Junior footballers
Would you want something done during the game or afterwards? Do you accept it as part of the game or does it make you less likely to want to play?

Please share your answers and opinions.



Filed under injury, sport gives us..

6 responses to “Foul, foul

  1. Brent

    As a referee myself and the age of the boys I would firstly say before game starts to both team managers that anything that I felt could become an issue I would expect them to sub the player off. I would during the game then prompt managers to do so if I have spoken to a player more than once.
    This would hopefully educate player, coach and parents that what the player kept doing is not good and could be punished.
    If the prompt was not used then cautions would be shown. Only twice in 12 years of refereeing have I done a caution for a player under 12.

    As a manager and coach of over 12 years of football I would not need the prompting and would sub persistent offenders off and speak to them.
    If it were the opposition I would ask the other team coach to be aware of their players actions and if nothing was done I would educate my players to wrongs of the opposition on a hope that notice was taken.

    Would like to note that not all fouls are made with intent and as a spectator it does not always seem to be a mistake when it is your own child on the receiving end. Thought for that is if your child makes a bad challenge on another is your first reaction a thought of that was mistake or that was nasty.

    • Thank you for that very full response. I think your first point, about talking to the coaches at the start of the game, is really important and probably not done enough by referees. I also take on board your observation that a foul committed against your child looks worse than one that doesn’t involve them. I have tried to be objective about the match at the weekend, but acknowledge that it’s difficult to be detached when my son was involved.

  2. This is a sport that I am not familiar with but when the foul becomes too much there something that needs to be done. If you cant do anything to summon the kids to be nicer then its the adults who leads them should bear the punishment. #pocolo

  3. Neil

    I referee at small sided level and coach. As a referee I always set my expectations of the players to the coaches prior to the game and expect them to passed on to the players. I believe my role is to guide players and to a certain extent coach the laws during a game understanding that often players are new to football so I make age appropriate decisions particularly in relation to fouls and handball,

    Often fouls at junior level are unintentional and are caused by poor timing or technique so if that is the case during a game I give a quick explanation of my decision to both players, ask them to shake hands and we go on with a penalty or free kick.. if a player has committed a foul that is worthy of a caution I will speak to the player with the coach present and if I feel it was a deliberate act will ask the coach to sub the player.

    I see some coaches being pro active in substituting players that commit bad challenges or are persistent offenders but not all and on occasions I have heard coaches applaud this type of behaviour as being committed.

    Spectators can get too emotional when a foul is committed against their child / team (I know how I feel when I watch my son play) so when parents are becoming overbearing I will speak to them and remind them of the Respect responsibilities.

  4. Pingback: What has the FA Coaching Course ever done for us? | Touchline Dad & Mother in the Middle

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