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2023 NFHS Soccer Rule Changes

The NFHS has posted the 2023 Soccer Rules Changes,  including updates on dealing with injured players, substitution procedures, and clarifications on "deliberate play" (for offside) and denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. 

Explanation of the 2023 Rules Changes, from NFHS  and courtesy of Referee Magazine

One page summary of 2023 changes

Slides from NY State Interpretation Meeting

Additional clarifications from our rules interpreter (as confirmed with the state):

1. Wearable technology / sweatbands

Under rule 4-2-4, "Sweatbands ... may be worn ... on the wrist if made of soft material and do not pose a risk of injury." As with other parts of the uniform, if what is visible meets the rule requirements, referees do not need to ask what is underneath. If the sweatband becomes dislodged, the player becomes "improperly equipped" (legal equipment that is being worn incorrectly) and should be given the opportunity to correct the situation. Under rule 4-4-3, cautions are not issued for improperly equipped players. 

Uncovered items on the wrist are illegal equipment (jewelry) and should be cautioned accordingly (first caution to the coach, subsequent cautions to the player, per rule 4-4-2.

2. Handling

It is a handling offense and NOT a goal if the ball goes into the opponents goal

- directly from an attacker's hand or arm, OR

- immediately after touching the attacker's hand or arm (even if accidental)

"Immediately" means the first touch by a player after the ball touches that player's hand or arm.  If there is more than one touch  or another player touches the ball after the ball/hand contact, it is a good goal. 

Mechanics and Points of Emphasis

Refereeing systems
(Dual, 3-Referee, Double-Dual), from NFHS (formerly in the rule book)

Recent points of emphasis

(click on the year to download the full document)


  • Wearable technology
  • Maintaining Coaching and Team Area decorum
  • Considerations for Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (distance to goal, direction of play, likelihood of controlling the ball, number of defenders), plus 10 questions help refine these considerations
  • New substitution rule -- always enter from halfway line; exit directly on bench side (unless injured)


  • Sportsmanship  is about respect - Officials should focus on the actions of players, coaches and bench personnel with open communication. Never engage with spectators -- school administration is responsible for dealing with unruly spectators. [This is supported by the NYSPHSAA 2023 handbook, p46 "Negative comments and inappropriate behaviors by spectators are required to be addressed by all and any school supervisors and administrators."]
  • Be aware of potentially illegal time-wasting techniques
  • Recognizing and dealing with dissent (public, personal or provocative)


  • Distinguishing and properly penalizing Reckless and Serious foul play
  •  High school athletics is education-based and and extension of the classroom
  • Emphasis on sportsmanship and addressing expectations in the pre-game conference
  • Officials should maintain a high degree of professionalism

New York State Modifications

NYSPHSAA, Inc. Rules Modifications to NFHS Rulebook

(Citations are to the NYSPHSAA Handbook)

Rule 5: Single Soccer Official: It is permissible to conduct a soccer game with a single official, provided both teams agree to a single referee before the game begins. [18.08.8]

Rule 5: The Officials: The head referee must read the NYSPHSAA Sportsmanship card, in its entirety, to the team captains and Head Coach prior to the coin toss. [Sportsmanship guidelines]

Rule 6: Ball Holders, timer and Scorer: Time may be kept on the field by the head Referee. The official score may be kept by the head Referee. [18.08.5 and 18.08.6]. The reserve official may assume the duties of the scorer. [18.08.7]

Rule 7: Duration of the Game: Suspended game:  If less than one-half of the game has been completed, the game will be restarted from the point of interruption. [18.08.4].  Note: under rule 7-1-3, if half or more of the game has been completed, it is an official game; the state has not overridden this requirement.

Regular Season Overtime: 
Varsity and JV -  Two 10 minute SUDDEN VICTORY periods. (Same for both boys and girls).
Modified - Two 4-minute periods, played all the way through

In all cases, if the game is still tied at the end of the overtime periods, it is over. THERE ARE NO KICKS FROM THE PENALTY MARK to
decide a regular season game.  [18.08.1]

Shorten periods: by mutual agreement or in any emergency, by agreement of coaches or ordered by the head referee, provided it is determined to shorten the periods before the game or before the second half begins and all remaining periods are the same length. [18.08.3]

Rule 12: Fouls and Misconduct: Multiple red cards can be issued to a coach or player in one game, during the jurisdiction of the officials, which begins 15 minutes prior to the contest and ends when the officials leave the field and its immediate surroundings. [Verbal interpretation, 2022]

Cards must be promptly reported as determined by Board Policy. [ and]

New York State Interpretations

Rule 13 - Issued Sept 2, 2020

Rule 13-3-1 states:  “If the free kick is awarded to the defending team in its penalty area, players opposing the kicker shall be outside the penalty area at least 10 yards from the ball and shall remain there until the ball is in play. “

The ball is in play when it is kicked and moves.

A question has come up about what happens if the team taking the free kick decides to take a quick restart of play while opponents are still inside the penalty area.

We have spoken with the NY State Rules Interpreter and it his ruling that if the team taking the free kick elects to do so with opponents inside the penalty area, they do so at their own risk, just as they would with a quick free kick taken anywhere else on the field. The ball is live when it is kicked and moves.

This is subject to the referee’s judgment and may be called back for a re-kick at the referee’s discretion. This re-kick would be ceremonial in nature, subject to a second whistle.

Rule 13-3-1 PENALTY states:  “An official shall caution a player who fails to move the required distance away from the ball, ……..or engages in time-wasting tactics such as kicking or carrying the ball away after a free kick has been awarded to the opponent’s team.”

In most cases a team taking a free kick from within their own penalty area will wait for the opponents to be outside the penalty area and 10 yards from the ball.  However, if they do not, the trail referee must be observant, remain alert to the possibility that a quick free kick may be taken, and be prepared to handle the situation.

Postgame Handshake - Issued Sept 9, 2014

In a letter, NYSPHSAA stated that "sections should not require, encourage, nor recommend officials to remain on the field for post game handshakes."  This follows the rule book, under "Postgame Duties" in the description of the Dual Officiating System, which says "After verifying the score, leave the field together immediately."

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