© 1998 jointly in the following individuals: Jim Geissman, David Graham, Jim MacQueen, Connie Matthies, Jim Meinhold, Chris Mohr, Gary Rue, Ken Smith, Dave Teetz, Ron Tremper, who are together known pseudonymously as the SOCCER-COACH-L LOTG COLLECTIVE

LAW 4 - The Players' Equipment

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Law 4, equipment, is basically divided into two sections: items a player may not use or wear, and equipment which a player must wear. The primary consideration of this law is safety. After that, the Law ensures that players look like a soccer team, and that they do not gain an unfair advantage merely through superior equipment, such as a helmet to assist heading.

The Law says a player may not wear anything which may be harmful to himself or another player (and specifically bans all kinds of jewelry). It also specifies that a player must wear a jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards and footwear (i.e., shoes). Goalkeepers must wear colors that distinguish them from other players and the officials.


Generally, a referee or assistant referee will inspect players prior to a match, and obvious equipment problems will be pointed out and corrected at that time. However, just because the the players have passed this initial inspection, they are not excused from complying with all the rules if the referee finds he has missed something, or if they change something after the inspection. One of the most frequent occurrences concerns shirts coming untucked during play, in which case the referee may require them to be tucked back in. Law 4 is enforceable throughout the match, and at all times while the referee is present. The punishment for violations after the match has started is that the referee will instruct the player to leave the field and correct the problem. He cannot return without the permission of the referee, and his team must therefore play short. If such a player reenters without permission, he must be cautioned (yellow carded).

Safety is the prime consideration. Nothing hard nor sharp will be permitted outside of the basic requirement for shinguards and shoes. Nothing sharp is permitted in any circumstances. In particular, jewelry must normally be removed: taping over is not sufficient. Medical I.D. bracelets or necklaces are normally the only possible exception, and are subject to the referee's decision on a case-by-case basis. The referee will make a thorough examination of non-required equipment such as caps and gloves, permitting or excluding these also on a case-by-case basis.

Questions on Law 4

4.01 What kind of shoes should my players wear?

Law 4 only requires that shoes not be dangerous to the wearer or to other players, so many ordinary sneakers could pass minimum technical muster. Nevertheless, shoes are probably a player's most important equipment consideration. The point of specially designed soccer shoes is to give the player ideal traction and good feel for and control of the ball. Coaches should advise players to buy shoes made specifically for soccer. The shoes should have soft leather uppers giving good feel for the ball. Other materials designed to impart additional spin on the ball, etc., may be considered by advanced players. Shoes should be snug to enhance feel, but comfortable.

4.02 My son says he wants something called "6-stud cleats". What's he talking about? Should I let him have them?

The selection of stud types and patterns depends on the field conditions. Most players prefer molded stud shoes which are very versatile and can be used on dry grass, wet grass and light mud. However, if the ground is very dry, indoor "flats" or turf shoes (with many small studs, designed for artificial surfaces) will work just as well as molded shoes and may be more comfortable, especially if the ground is also very hard. When the ground is very muddy and soft, molded studs or even "screw-ins" (shoes with six replaceable studs) may provide optimum traction (these are the "6-stud cleats" your son is talking about). The advantage of the 6-stud shoe in these conditions is that the mud does not pack up between the studs. If the ground is hard, however, players should not wear these cleats, which are likely to hurt their feet.

For indoor play, soccer shoes with flat soles are advisable; turf shoes may give too much traction and should be avoided. In truth, indoor soccer can be played with just about any type of "tennis" shoe or sneaker, even basketball shoes. For Futsal soccer on a basketball court, basketball shoes may even be preferable.

Players with wide feet may have trouble finding shoes that fit and are comfortable. You will find a tremendous amount of variation from one manufacturer to another: all players have their favorite shoes, and all the reputable manufacturers make shoes of good quality. In general, expect to get what you pay for, but shop around and don't buy top-of-the-line shoes just because your child wants them in order to look cool! Depending on the age of the child and the rate of growth, these shoes may only last a single season, so buy accordingly. Remember: Pelé played barefoot for years!

4.03 Are there any kinds of shoes which should not be worn?

The Law no longer makes any particular technical specifications such as material or stud size, so it is up to each individual referee to rule in each specific case whether a shoe may or may not be used. Generally, since safety is the issue, the question is whether or not the studs have sharp edges which might cut another player. For that reason, shoes designed for other sports, particularly baseball, are not acceptable because the studs have sharp corners and edges. Metal studs are fine as long as they are not worn or sharpened in any way that creates a sharp edge. Because sharp edges can be a problem, some recreational leagues do not allow metal studs at all

4.04 What kind of uniforms should we buy?

In choosing uniforms, coaches should first think about player comfort. What is the weather like where you play most of the time? Do you want long sleeves or short sleeves? Heavier material or light? Dark colors or light? Light colors reflect heat and are the first choice if your team plays lots of mid- day games in hot climates. Humidity is a factor. Shirts that breathe are very important if you play a lot in humid conditions. Long sleeves can be advantages indoors, or if you play outdoor night games in the fall.

4.05 The referee told our keeper that he had to change his jersey. We didn't understand why -- it's bright yellow, and we were wearing an all-blue strip.

As you obviously know, goalkeepers are required to wear uniforms which distinguish them from their teammates. This is to enable the referee to distinguish the keeper -- who is the only player allowed to use his hands -- from the remainder of the players. But what colour were your opponents wearing? If they were in yellow, the referee would have had a lot of trouble distinguishing your keeper from them. This is almost certainly why he required the change.

Some referees may allow both keepers to wear the same jersey, as sometimes happens. Others may require one or both keepers to change, since it is possible for both keepers to be in the same area of the field simultaneously, especially late in the game if one team is behind by a goal and sends their keeper up to take part in a corner or free kick. In this case, you will just have to abide by the referee's decision, whatever it is. Tip: It's a good idea to have a couple of pinnies or t-shirts in different colours available for this eventuality.

4.06 Does Law 4 restrict our outfield players' choice of jerseys, shorts and so forth?

Uniforms lend themselves to a number of tactical considerations which can spill over into gamesmanship, which in turn will be considered unsporting conduct by some referees. For example, it is easier for a player to spot a teammate by sock color than by shirt color, so coaches should consider selecting bright, easily seen socks in colors easy to pick out from a green background. But if you see an opponent trying to get away with wearing brightly colored socks different from his team, point him out to the referee... he's probably a striker or target player trying to make it easy for his teammates to find him! Although not strictly illegal under Law 4, interpretation and most local rules prohibit this kind of gamesmanship.

Similarly, it is usually best for goalkeepers to wear very bright colors and make themselves easily seen in order to encourage opponents to shoot directly at them. This extends to your other players: depending on your club colors, light, bright shirt colors that contrast with green and stand out from other teams in your league should be selected. Most local and tournament rules require that the home team be prepared to change colors if both teams have shirts too similar to one another. The most cost effective route to go here is to keep a full set of pinnies in an alternative color in the equipment shed at your home field, if you have one.

4.07 I heard that the Laws do not actually require players' uniforms to be numbered -- is that right?

Yes. Believe it or not, the FIFA LOTG do not require numbers on jerseys. However, it is unlikely you will ever encounter a referee who will permit play to begin without each player being numbered, or at the very least, some way to identify each individual player. Why? Because if someone misbehaves, the referee must have a way to identify and report this person to the disciplinarians. Presumably, FIFA considers that asking the player for his name is sufficient. In any event, rules about numbering are local rules, and they may differ from league to league and area to area.

As a humorous aside, our local rule used to state that "EVERY player must have a permanent number on his shirt and it must be different from all the other numbers on the team" We had an otherwise very good referee who tended to take rules to their extreme. So when he began carrying a marker pen so he could write a number on $80 goalkeeper jerseys if they didn't have a number sewn or heat pressed, we had to change the rule. Now it says every player except the GK....! We figure we can identify the goalkeepers easily enough just by jersey color.

4.08 Do either the LOTG themselves or local rules allow players to add any special clothing to their uniforms, such as long pants, when the weather is cold or bad?

The most common other local rules deal with additional equipment which may be worn by goalkeepers and/or field players in bad weather. It is fairly common to allow GKs to wear long pants indoors or when a field is hard or rough. The goalkeeper for UConn in the 1997 NCAA women's final wore long pants, presumably because the field was frozen, and the wearing of long pants is increasingly common among professional keepers. FIFA rules permit sliders, compression shorts, bike pants, etc., to be worn under shorts so long as they are the same color as the shorts. Unfortunately, referees at the local level are not consistent about how they enforce this rule.

Many youth leagues, as a matter of common sense, permit kids to wear long pants or sweat pants under their shorts when it is cold or raining. They may also permit gloves and soft caps (stocking caps or knit ski caps, for instance). However, there often will be a rule that if one player wears them, everyone must wear them and they must all be the same, if the rule is actually part of the code. If you are playing in another jurisdiction, you should make a point of checking their local rules on players' equipment beforehand.

4.09 One of my players was told by the referee to remove a hair band that the referee in the previous game had allowed her to wear. Why the inconsistency?

In US high school soccer, the National Federation (NF) makes a distinction between items worn for function (sweat bands or head bands, for instance) and items worn for decorative purposes. Players are not allowed to wear decorative items. Girls' teams tend to push this rule to the limit with equipment to control hair, and its pretty hard to tell where a hair control device in school colors stops being functional and starts being decorative. The bottom line is that referees have considerable latitude in deciding what is and is not permitted, and players simply have to accept the referee's decision, even if it seems idiosyncratic.

4.10 One of my players has a cast on his arm. Can he play with it on, if it's well wrapped in foam and padding?

Casts and braces are a difficult issue. FIFA does not mention them...they are entirely a local issue (although in the USA, the NF book goes into more detail). Basically, most leagues leave it entirely up to the referee to determine if they are safe or not, if they are padded enough or not, and during play, if they are being used as a weapon or not. Some tournaments will allow players with casts to participate providing the cast has been pre-approved by a tournament official. In this case, they may want to photograph the cast so that the referee can see exactly what was approved and compare it with the cast's condition at game time.

Probably the most important thing for players and coaches to know about these items is that just because one referee allowed them does not mean the next referee must or will allow them...it will be game to game, and players and coaches must be mentally prepared for the times when those with casts or braces will not be allowed to play. Orthodontic braces pose some risk to the player wearing them as well, that their lips and mouth could get caught or cut by impacts with the ball, other players, or the ground, and require a trip to the emergency room for stitches. It might be a good idea for these players to invest in custom-fitted mouth guards from their dentist (about $30-35 U.S.) for their own safety (cheaper store bought ones might do, but may not be nearly as comfortable to wear and breathe through).

4.11 What's the situation with jewelry? Can players tape over it, or do they have to remove it altogether? Referees seem to have different standards about this.

The very first section of Law 4 seems to include a flat prohibition of jewelry ("A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewellery)"), and this is in fact the interpretion in many localities and by many referees. However, this is not necessarily the way Law 4 is regarded and enforced everywhere and by every referee. Once again, the bottom line is that the referee's word is law, even if it's not the same as what your last ref said. Some referees (not many) will allow neck chains; some will allow earring studs; some will allow studs if taped over; some will require every scrap of jewelry to be removed. It all depends how sensitive a ref is to the issue of player safety; some may err on the side of caution, while others may be more willing to allow players to play with some jewelry in place, as long as it does not appear to be dangerous.

4.12 One of my players was told by the referee that his shinguards were not proper ones and that he had to replace them. It turned out that he had forgotten his shinguards and had put cardboard in his socks. Isn't that his own responsibility, though, and not the referee's?

No, the referee was quite right. Shinguards must be worn, and they must be commercially available products designed to protect the shins, not some temporary item intended to comply with the letter, not the spirit, of the Law. In other words, they must consist of material sufficiently rigid and hard to provide reasonable protection against injury for the player's legs. Every year, players suffer serious lower leg injuries despite wearing proper shinguards; all the more reason to ensure that all players have good protective equipment. The referee would have been negligent if he had allowed your player on the field.

Note 1: there are some commercially available shin guards which meet the letter of the law, but which are unacceptable except in very young age groups. These are the so-called "sock guards": cloth leg and ankle wrappings which are filled with foam rubber. These offer no protection to older players, and no good referee will permit them.

Note 2: sometimes older players will come to a match wearing small shinguards clearly meant for much younger players. These also violate the provisions of Law 4, as they do not provide the required degree of reasonable protection, and the referee's should not permit players to wear them.

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Law 4

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Updated February 26, 1998