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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 34870

League Specific 2/10/2023

RE: REC Under 11

DAVID LOVETT of ROYAL PALM BEACH, FL United States asks...

I have tried to find an answer to this but to no avail so I am coming to the experts. Here it is. In a 9U game where "deliberate" heading is not allowed, can a goal be scored by an non-deliberate header. Here is the situation. Attacking player is dribbling the ball towards and close to the defending teams goal. He loses control of the ball which got a little bit away from him giving the defender a chance to step in and clear the ball. Here it is... The defender attempts to clear the ball but he smacks the ball right of the head of that same attacker and the ball flies right into the goal. I know anyone can say how do you know it wasn't deliberate but there was absolutely no way it could have been given the timing and distance from the ball. There was no way the kid knew this was going to happen. Thanks for your help.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI David,
while I appreciate the trust, I personally am no expert. I am a student of the game and have a lot of experiences to assist others on their journey. We are a volunteer group of dedicated football officials who wish to share their knowledge and experience with those seeking answers on the LOTG and in this case the RULES of completion.

You see the medical reasoning to not permit heading at the early stages of youth football was designed with safety in mind, avoid the concussions & collision in the air, perhaps delay the onset of brain damage. Given we later allow heading at the older stages with the brain a bit more securely tied down inside!

Early youth RULES stating the INDFK offence for a player that does head the ball deliberately were instigated to prevent this from occurring . Yet you are 100% correct a ball INTO the head is certainly different than heading the ball. I do not think advantage applied if accidental and a fortuitous results is a guarantee ?

It would or should be mentioned within the rules of the completion or associations utilizing this non headed addition of the laws. I cannot be sure what an independent organization might enforce? (the LOTG permit alterations of the laws at the youth level but they are not consistent through all youth organizations)

It might seem rather unfair if an attacker takes one in the face area, sides of the ear, back of the head on a clearance by a defender and it rebounds into the defender's goal but what if a attacking teammate did it?

I do not speak for youth associations around the world but although one would think it fair if a redirect of a kicked ball off an opponents' head caused by the defenders' clearance such a goal should count

I feel it is very LIKELY heading might be considered in the same vein as deliberate handling? In that if an attacking goal results from it occurring accidentally it is deemed the same as if it happened deliberately and the free kick out or DB instead of awarding the goal.

It is true if a defender deliberately handles the ball but fails to stop it and said ball goes into his own goal the goal is allowed as their opponents did nothing wrong. I do not know for certain if at the various youth levels if a defender headed the ball be it deliberately or accidently and it entered their goal it should count?

Or perhaps given the reasoning of NOT allowing heading at youth , play is stopped immediately as a preemptive injury situation with a DB restart thus no goal possible or play continues with an INDFK if it was deliberate? In these accidental cases a DB restart to facilitate an injury stoppage! My advice is check the local bylaws of the association or competition under which you are playing. .

There is no doubt in olden days that is a goal and worthy of a milkshake for enduring a bloody nose! Back in the day we used to reward the kids that headed the ball not aware of the dangers they now tell us we created. Sigh


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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi David
Thanks for the question.

I believe that the reason why there is no definitive answer is that there is not one defined rule just the blanket policy of no deliberate heading.

So what we know is that deliberate heading is not allowed and to do so is treated as an offence punished by an indirect free kick. That covers everyone.

Now in the case of inadvertent heading I have seen three answers which is that it is an IDFK based on the blanket rule, a dropped ball and play on. Some areas have spelt out the answer in a local byelaw usually either of the last two.

In the absence of a local defined rule my take on it that only deliberate heading has to be penalised and an inadvertent touch / contact on the head is not penalised. It is not a header.

Each situation will be different and to give what is expected. A hard ball thud on the head will result in play being stopped to check on the player's well being at young age groups and once inadvertent, with play stopped for a possible injury its a DB restart.
As a referee I would decide my own policy in the absence of a local byelaw and be consistent in that. For me it is not deliberate so it is not be an IDFK and then it is either play on or a DB. I would tend to go for the DB as I can consistently stop play in all inadvertent heading situations.

In a blow out game any of the three options could be given as it is not going to concern anyone very much just the well being of the player while a last minute winner could cause all sorts of debate so the better decision there might be the dropped ball which is cited by some areas in their byelaws.
Any complaint would be answered with heading is not allowed and a dropped ball is the restart for an inadvertent one where play has been stopped. "That's what I understand of the rule. I hope the player is okay"

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone


Since the rule says "deliberate" heading, I went to the NFHS (High School) Rules Book and found this definition of a Deliberate Act.

" A deliberate act is one which a player chooses to act regardless of the outcome of that action. This deliberate act is neither reaction or reflex. A deliberate action may result in the opponents benefiting from the action, and a reaction or reflex may result in the player benefiting from the reaction/reflex."

From what you describe, I would classify the contact with the ball as a reaction/reflex and award a goal to the attacking team.

I hope this helps and your team has a successful season.

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