September 5, 2014

Offside - Wait-And-See-Technique

In many parts of life it can be helpful to wait and see how things develop before coming to a quick action, reaction or decision. By doing so, intuitive actions such as emotions, arguments and wrong decisions can be avoided which guides us to a more comfortable life with better decisions. Haste creates waste and this counts for referees and assistant referees in an extra-ordinary fashion as well.

Who will touch the ball? Assistant Referees have to wait-and-see...
In terms of offside, players have become more skillful over the last couple of years and are often aware that they are in an offside position and adapt their behaviour in a way that they, for example, neither touch or play, nor attempt to play the ball and relinquish it to one of their team-mates, who was not in an offside position, instead. The time when every player closer to the goalline than the 2nd-last opponent was immediately punished for offside offence is over.

The logical consequences for assistant referees are:

1) Not every offside position is punishable.
2) Not every player in an offside position close to the ball becomes involved in active play.
3) Not every player in offside, who is really very close to the ball, becomes involved in active play.
4) Even if the movement of the ball, its direction or speed make you suspect that a player in an offside position will become involved in active play, it might be that he will stay passive.
5) Too early flags could thus punish players who should not be punished!
6) Instead of raising the flag (too) early, you should delay your decision and apply the wait-and-see-technique. Take your decision (Offside or No Offside) only as soon as you are completely sure that a player in an offside position will become active.

If a player A is in an offside position and his team-mate player B is not in an offside position, you should not raise your flag unless it is absolutely clear that player A interferes with play, an opponent or gains an advantage by being in that position.

This wait-and-see-technique is not only a recommendation. It is the duty of an assistant referee!
Too early flags resulting from a not used wait-and-see-technique are not only areas for improvement, they are simply wrong decisions!

Mastering the wait-and-see-technique is a sign of the assistant referee's experience (it is natural that younger and more inexperienced assistant referees tend to raise their flag too early as this process demands some experience and internalization), of the assistant referee's quality (good assistant referees get difficult offside positions right, very good assistant referees are able to reinforce that with a correct application of the wait-and-see-technique) and finally of the assistant referee's match understanding abilities.

Keep in mind that you can raise your flag early in some situations. If it is absolutely clear that an attacker, who is in an offside position, will play the ball or go in a 1v1 situation with the goalkeeper with no other attacker being able to play the ball and without any defender having the chance to deliberately play the ball, you can raise your flag a bit earlier than usual.

How to Communicate your Wait-and-See-Process

It is recommended that, as long as a micro system is available, you can shout "waiting, waiting" into your micro to make the referee understand that he has to expect an offside decision. As soon as it is clear that the player in offside has become active, you should shout "Offside! Offside! Offside!".

But as approximately 99% of the referees and assistant referees on this planet do not have the luxury of a micro system, assistant referees can - if the 2nd-to-last-defender-line's speed and pressure allow it - adapt their movement. Clip 1 will show that.
While assistant referees usually make sidesteps when the pressure is low with the flag in their left hand (as long as the defensive row is moving towards the goalline) and turn to sprints when the speed gets faster, they can slow down their movement if there is one player who will likely become active and already put their flag into the right hand.
If there are however several attackers and you have to make a sprint to follow the ongoing, fast attack, it is better to not change your movement in any way as this might reduce your sprinting speed and could make you deviate from the 2nd-last-defender-line. In this case, don't communicate your wait-and-see-process.

The Psychological Background

There is a number of match situations where even top-class assistant referees fail to apply the wait-and-see-technique appropiately. It is quite unprobable that the reasons are a wrong understanding and knowledge of or deficient awareness about this technique, even though this cannot be completely ruled out. To understand why this technique sounds a bit easier than it practically is, we should come back to the decision-taking process of offside decisions.

1. PERCEPTUAL JUDGEMENT (Offside Position - YES or NO?)

wait, wait, wait....and see...


In this four-step-paradigma, the wait-and-see process initiates between Step 1 and Step 2.

The perceptual judgement must be made almost immediately at or after the moment of a player touching or passing the ball. Detecting an offside position (1.) involves the danger of being betrayed to taking an immediate and intuitive decision. Your almost automatic response of raising your flag has to be inhibited in order to wait and see how things develop. This response inhibition is one of our mind's executive processes and is partly located in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region directly behind the forehead. This brain area is typically responsible for attention, concentration, working memory and the inhibition of automatic processes (which are all needed for refereeing!) and demands a lot of cognitive ressources.

It is therefore only human to partly fail to apply the wait-and-see-technique as we are sometimes unable to control often shown and automatized responses. The whole trick is to be aware of the circumstance that we can train our brain! Awareness, experience and training are key factors. And, as usual, concentration!

Control your mind and suppress your intuitive reactions - you will be a better assistant referee.

Accept Negative Side-Effects

The wait-and-see process can last several seconds and, unfortunately, might lead to confusion among players but also supporters, specially in bigger stadiums.
Imagine an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. An attacking player passes the ball through the defensive row and two attackers are able to reach the ball and will very likely score a goal. Only one attacker is in an offside position though, so that you must wait and see who will become involved in active play. It is maybe not understandable for a normal fan why you are leaving your flag down and delaying your decision. If you then very lately raise your flag for offside, hopes for a goal can be radically destroyed. In particular supporters will then project their disappointment onto its sources, i.e. the match officials.

But, be sure: This confusion will be very quickly fueled by anger if you raise your flag too early and players as well as supporters recognize that you have punished a player who did not become active at all, specially when this prevents the attacking team from having a promising attack.

You should hazard the lighter confusion and should not shy away from applying the wait-and-see-technique, as it will lead to more correct decisions and is furthermore expected by the Laws of the Game and its guidelines.
It is much better to be late and correct than to be quick and wrong. Or, in other words:

"Unreasonable haste is the direct road to error."

The following video clips show some perfectly applied, but also not applied wait-and-see-techniques.

CLIP 1 - Correct Wait-And-See-Technique

The assistant referee has correctly detected the offside position of the only attacker able to reach the ball. However, he does not raise his flag immediately but waits and sees whether the attacker really becomes involved in active play. The attacker seems to be aware of his clear offside position and does not attempt to reach the ball anymore. A too early offside flag would be an unnecessary stoppage of the game.
Please also note the assistant referee's movement. After a shortly started sprint, he turns towards the field of play, puts his flag into his right hand and makes sidesteps. This indicates that he is on the alert to raise his flag for offside as soon as the attacker becomes active and, as there is no other attacker who can reach the ball, stops to follow the line of the ball.

CLIP 2 - Correct Wait-And-See-Technique

A high pass will enter the penalty area and the assistant referee has to monitor six attacking players at once, while the defensive row is quickly moving towards the midfield for an offside trap. Only two of these six players are in an onside position - all other four players are in an offside position.
The assistant referee does not raise his flag too early but waits and sees who of these six players will get the ball and thus interfere with play. An attacker, who is in a legal position, gets the ball. None of the other four players interferes with play, with an opponent or gains an advantage by being in that position. The goal is correctly allowed as there is no offside offence. A too early flag would be a mistake.

CLIP 3 - Correct Wait-And-See-Technique

Two attackers are going for the ball, but only one of them (#20) has initially been in an offside position. The other player (#11) has been in an onside position. The assistant referee does not raise his flag too early and perfectly applies the wait-and-see-technique. By doing that, he is able to see that #20 at first goes for the ball but then relinquishes it to his team-mate and does not interfere with play or an opponent. For this reason he stays passive and is not involved in active play. The goal is legally scored. Excellent decision by the assistant referee!

CLIP 4 - Missing Wait-And-See-Technique

If the assistant referee applied the wait-and-see-technique, he would see that the attacker player neither interferes with play, nor with an opponent and is thus not involved in active play.
This example shows that clear mistakes can be avoided by delaying the offside flag. It is better to be late and correct than to be quick and wrong.

CLIP 5 - Missing Wait-And-See-Technique

Like in Clip 4, the assistant referee is raising his flag way too early. He is punishing the player in an offside position just for being in an offside position and the player who is obviously the only one with a chance to receive the ball.
However, in the sense of Law 11 this player is not involved in active play. He is not interfering with an opponent as he is not challenging anybody for the ball. The assistant referee should be more alert as this is a very easy decision in principle. The referee should overrule his assistant in such cases!

This post will stay dynamic, subject to changes, adaptions and additional videos. So you might benefit from having a look into it from time to time! 

For a deeper insight into the background of the wait-and-see-technique, we strongly recommend you to visit our partner Offside Explained's page.


  1. The way I see it, especially in the last 2 clips is that the players have indirectly interfered with play. If the attacker wasn't making the run, then the defender wouldn't have reacted the way he did, and could have let the ball bounce and take his time on the ball. However, as the attacker was there, he was forced to react quickly and head it back into a gathering of players

    1. According to the old rule you might be correct. In the new wording though, the attackers are neither interfering with play nor with an opponent. In the sense of Law 11 since July 2013, this is definitely NO Offside. Please be patient for further explanations in the coming posts next week.


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