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Question Number: 32126

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 12/24/2017

Andrew of Wilmington, North Carolina USA asks...

Merry Christmas,
I just found your site and really appreciate your work. I'm a new referee and wanted to know if there are any guidelines on using cards at lower age groups. I know at extreme youth levels, the players don't understand what the cards mean (I've heard that sometimes even the coaches don't!). Any thoughts on using cards for YC offenses or RC offenses (such as a handball on the line) at the youth level? Thanks in advance.

Answer provided by Referee Gary Voshol

At the very youngest ages, the only thing you really need cards for is out and out violent behavior. Someone starts hitting and kicking and biting they need to be sent off, even if they're only 8 years old. (One fellow ref who was also a coach thought in jest about teaching U8 kids to handle the ball to prevent a goal. 'What's the ref going to do, send him off?' And at that time, there were no PK's and no DFK's, so it would only be an IFK for the attackers.)

My feelings on the subject had more to do with game level than actual age level. If it was a travel/select/premier team, meaning they survived a tryout to be able to play, they can survive getting a yellow card when one is warranted. Hopefully it's not a coach-induced card, such as for teaching the players to stand like a statue in front of the opponent's free kick.

At rec levels, the ref can use his strong personality to get the younger kids to change their behavior to the good. I remember one time when a player was tripped from behind. After stopping play and having the coach deal with the hurt player, I stepped over to the perp. (They're all sitting on the ground, because at U8 that's what you're 'supposed to do' when someone is hurt.) So I loom over the player and calmly say, 'You know you have to be more careful from behind.' He whimpered, 'I know.' Message received, nothing further required.

Some local leagues forbid the use of cards at lower levels. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Certainly cards should be rare when they're playing less than full-size field 11v11 games. I can think of only a handful of times I had to use a card at U10 and U12, rec or select. But I'm not sure I like any zero-policy anything.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Andrew,
Merry Christmas to you as well and welcome to the ranks of the men in black!
Cards are a tool of your craft. I hold that if we are 11 aside competitive field matches cards are a tool to be considered. Prior to 11 aside a strongly worded condemnation and some judicious involvement with the coaches allowing immediate substitutions so the explanation can sink in. .

Cards are a message to players that their conduct is unacceptable and that consequences follow certain actions. There are avenues to relay that message without showing cards and perhaps the objective lesson is in the message not the punishment. Just like the whistle you, blow it soft it conveys a different message than if you blow it hard. If you stand far away and try to direct players or if you are up close and face to face, you convey a different message!

Reckless Violations of the LOTG and disrespectful misconduct are cautionable actions to which the yellow card is shown , twice shown the red card & we incur send offs team playing short handed all because a player lacked discipline.
Within the competitive Rules of Competition often school or youth matches have a replacement policy and sin bins to help alleviate the need to send off allowing a cooling off period. I know of leagues that permit referees to show cards to coaches in theory to help defend themselves against these over abusive coaches, not just the players.

The issue with cautions is if we flash the yellow at every opportunity it WILL create red card add-on double yellows exponentially. It is why referees TRY very hard to be selective in showing cards unless TRULY required!

I think we should work with coaches if they are receptive, in trying to mitigate the NEED for cards. I recall two opposing players rolling about in behind me to which I stopped play, mentioning out loud these two looked as if they were sick, very yellowish complexions and a brief rest might make them feel better.
Both coaches agreed and both players were substituted for a ten minute vacation rather than show a card of ANY colour, as it could easily be a red for VC as yellow for USB. Yet if I had sent both off, reducing teams to ten, it simply gave other players less playing time and while the message of VC gets you sent off, acting stupid could also do the same! .


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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Andrew
There is no cast in stone rule here.
My experience is that that with very young age groups cards are rarely ever needed or warranted. Most very young players play the game in a way that it is meant to be which is for fun. Many fouls are due to lack of motor skills or being clumsy. The games also tend to be smaller sided with multiple substitutions and they are for learning and development. I have in the past asked asked coaches to substitiute a player for a short while if I felt the players actions needed some sanction.
As player get older cards are required as the games get very competitive and young players develop unsporting behaviours etc.
So for me cards are not required at U10, very limited in an Under 12 game and Under 14 and above would most definitely have cards. This is my personal experience.

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