Improving the Laws of the Game

Improving the Laws of the Game by Gijs de JongImproving the Laws of the Game is can be great for football, but is always part of a public debate. Even referees don’t want the rules to change every season, which makes it sometimes more difficult to explain during football games. But I favour new experiments that make football quicker, more attractive and more fair.

KNVB, the Dutch FA, has agreed with FIFA in March 2020 to test 5 new rules in official (youth) games. “We don’t want to just change the game”, says Gijs de Jong, director of operations for professional football explains to NOS news. “We want to make football more attractive, more sportive and more fair.”

The 5 ideas for improving the Laws of the Game that will be tested:

  • The self-pass
  • The kick-in (instead of throw-in)
  • Set amount of time
  • Sin bins
  • Unlimited substitutions

A lot of them have been tested before in The Netherlands and I’ve written some experiences below.

Results of previous experiments

KNVB organised the game of the future between Fortuna Sittard and Suriprofs. New stuff like self-pass, kick-ins, play with a set amount of time and a shoot-out to decide the winner. The game was live on tv and everyone could follow it also with the referee camera.

Refcam: improving the Laws of the game

That’s what De Correspondent, Voetbal in de Bollenstreek and Voetblah try to do with the Avant Garde Cup. I visited that experiment personally earlier this season where they also tried to introduce new rules. The game was officiated by former Eredivisie referee Pieter Vink.

Logo of the Avant Garde Cup 2.0

Logo of the Avant Garde Cup 2.0

1. The self-pass

The idea is that players are allowed to take every free kick immediately after the referee has whistled. The goal is to speed things up in the game, because waiting for a signal to start takes time. This new rule will give an advantage to the attacking team, which seems fair. My question is if this will help teams regain the option of a promising attack (that is stopped after a tactical foul for example)? But what does happen if you want to show a player a yellow or red card?

An example of the self-pass in the “Game of the future” by KNVB.

Less time for moaning at the ref

I also see a huge advantage for referees here, because players will have less time to moan about your decisions. They simply have to run back and defend and don’t have time to talk to you. That’s also how it works during the test match. In the first half players comment on a decision by Pieter Vink, but an opponent quickly dribbles the ball forward. Three defenders lost with some smart thinking.

Maurits Hendriks, who invented the self-pass in hockey, will be present as well during the game. It’s also a point of discussion for the next IFAB meetings.

Marco van Basten, FIFA Chief Officer for Technical Development, is also available and he is happy with this initiative. “Football is a conservative sport, but things are going the right way now”, he says to Dutch Referee Blog. “These innovations are good, it’s important for the game to test new things. To implement it in the football rules it can take up to two years, because IFAB thoroughly tests new things.” He notices that the game goes quicker. “We are used to players who will stand in front of the ball. Before that behavier is gone, it takes a while.”

Marco van Basten and me.
Marco van Basten and me.

YOUR INPUT NEEDED: What are your pros and cons for a self-pass? Share them below. I am working on more stories on Law changes and want to map out these three proposed changes more thorouhly. You can also e-mail on

2. The kick-in (instead of throw-in) 

Throw-ins happen a lot, but are not always very useful for the attacking team. The idea is that a kick-in will give more advantages towards the attacking teams. Because it gives them more options to pass it forward to a teammate. Throw-ins are easier to defend, which leads to losing the ball.

Although kicks give players more options, especially now they can actually dribble-in, players need to get used to this. At the first few kicks kicks are long. These are more difficult to defend than throws, but balls are not optimally used. In the beginning team-mates coach a lot. “You can dribble the bal in.” That helps. Even the goalkeeper starts dribbling the goal-kick in.

The best advantage of this new technique is shown during a corner kick. Dribbling the ball in gives the advantage that you can restart before the team has ten defenders in their box. That leads to a good goal.

Two other rules that have been tested

The alternative penalty kick rule

A lot of things happen in the box, but not every foul is punished. Take a look at corner kicks or free kicks that swing in. Lots of holding, pushing, but as referee you can’t whistle for every foul.

Or can you?

The organisation of this game has an interesting proposal. A penalty kick will only be awarded if an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is denied. This can be in the penalty area, but also outside it. DOGSO lead to a penalty kick. Unfortunately nothing like this happened during the game, but below you’ll get an idea what it looks like.

But what to do with other fouls in the box? If you can give a normal free kick for such fouls, the organisation expects the number of penalty kicks will decrease. The expecatation: less small fouls on attackers, because the idea is that a referee will whistle quicker if he doesn’t have to give a penalty kick. And another expectation: the end of diving. Because the award will not be a penalty kick, but a normal free kick. If the reward is not that high, the organisation hopes this helps to ban it out.

Full explanation in Dutch about the proposed law changes.


  • If the game ends in a draw a shoot-out will make the difference.
  • The taker starts at 25 metres from the goal and gets 10 seconds to score
  • The goalkeeper starts on the goal-line
  • If the player shoots after 5 seconds and the goalkeeper saves, there is still 5 more seconds left to score. If a shot is at the moment of the buzzer, the goal will count. If there is any doubt, the Video Assistant Referee can give advice. But teams can’t request a video call.
  • If a goalkeeper fouls the taker, a normal penalty kick will follow
  • During the game normal penalty kicks are taken
  • During the shoot-out one referee is positioned on the goal-line, one on the halfway line to do the admin (goals and ABBA order of takers) and the other referee runs up with the taker.
  • In the stadium all fans can see a clock counting down from 10 seconds

Share your ideas

What are your pros and cons of these LOTG changess? Share them below or e-mail on I am working on more stories on law changes and want to map out these three proposed changes more thoroughly.

If you have other ideas, please let me know as well.


  • Emil

    I’ll go in order.
    1) Not a bad idea, but I’d be curious to see how it works out in practice. Will teams still have the option to request a ‘formal’ free kick with distance measuring, etc. if they want? (Obviously, this can clash with the 3rd idea too). Also, would this disincentivise defensive fouls, or would defenders still commit the foul to draw a 2-3 seconds more time? I think your point is a good one, re. the decrease in dissent (and also diving).
    2) Sure – I think FIFA has already tested this. Players can throw as far as they can kick, so no reason to use the hands. Only potential problem – if we assume the ball must be stationary as for free kicks etc., it might lead to problems at the end of games as one team is in a hurry to restart.
    3) I feel we are complicating the rules too much here. So now the referee must decide between 4 levels of sanction in the area (FK, Penalty, DOGSO+YC, DOGSO+RC)? And same outside the area? What would be the substantial legal difference between ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the area? It might cut down on diving (maybe…players dive for FKs all the time) but it will increase dissent tenfold. No for me.

  • Jack

    Self-passing: I don’t see why not. Speeds the game up without fundamentally changing the nature of the game.

    Kick-ins: I’m concerned this would turn every attacking throw in into an effective corner. Corners are messy enough as it is (and take a long time, slowing the game down). Would only potentially support this if it was combined with a rule that it has to be taken quickly and cannot be played along the ground, but honestly I think it’s more trouble than it is worth. I also disagree with the reasoning that it gives more advantage to the attacking team — I don’t see this as necessarily desirable. It’s not an offence to kick the ball out of play, it’s not something that needs to be punished with a restart that gives the team with the ball a massive advantage.

    DOGSOs and penalties: I’ve long thought that all DOGSO offences should be penalties, with no red cards except when the challenge is completely cynical and likely to affect the outcome of the game. Red cards should be reserved for acts that are violent, dangerous, or abusive, not for mere unsporting acts like a trip, a hold, a handball.

    The idea about removing penalties for non-DOGSO offences in the box — I can see how it follows logically from penalties for all DOGSO offences, but I’m a little more skeptical of this part. While it may reduce low-level offences like holding etc (I’m not 100% convinced of this) it would increase the severity of harder, riskier challenges that are more likely to cause injury and conflict. Unless a satisfactory compromise can be found (like penalty corners in hockey which are not as severe as a penalty) I’m not in favour of change here.

    Other ideas: Timing. My view is that “stoppage time” is an absurdity. Clocks should be stopped when there is a delay. As per rugby union, when the clock hits 45 or 90 minutes, there should be a public signal (a siren, etc) but the game should go on until the ball goes out for a throw-in, goal kick, or goal. The game should continue for free kicks, penalties corners, drop-balls.

    Outside interference: the referee should be given broad discretion to decide the restart according to what is appropriate and fair, up to and including awarding a goal. So if someone on the touchline catches the ball before it technically goes out (as can happen at lower levels when sidelines aren’t roped off), the referee just allows a throw-in. If a fan steps onto the field and brings down an attacker who is one-on-one with the goalkeeper, a penalty is awarded as that broadly represents the scoring opportunity that existed. If the ball is rolling into the goal and a substitute warming up steps on the field to save it, a goal should be awarded.

    Substitutions: a part of me says just throw in the towel and switch to rolling substitutions. But that’s pretty extreme. How about:
    1) Allow substitutes to enter the field immediately without waiting for the other player to leave. Speeds the game up, it’s not actually that hard to keep track of, you can still say the substitution isn’t complete until the departing player has left.
    2) Extra-time: each team is allowed one extra-time substitution regardless of how many they have used in normal time. The extra-time substitution can be a return substitution. Reasoning: encourages teams to plan for 90 minutes not 120. Play the 90 minutes as you normally would without holding off on tactical changes for extra time. “Use it or lose it” for the ordinary-time substitutions. (Possible further version of this: teams can start extra time with any 11 of the up to 14 players who were on the pitch in the 90 minutes. They can then make one further substitution at any point in extra time)

    • Jack

      Correction on the throw-ins: I said “Would only potentially support this if it was combined with a rule that it has to be taken quickly and cannot be played along the ground,”

      I meant: “Would only potentially support this if it was combined with a rule that it has to be taken quickly and *can only* be played along the ground,

    • Jack

      Oh, another one: penalties. There’s so many details on penalties — keeper movement, players entering the box, kicker’s runup etc — that a lot tends to get ignored by sheer necessity. A reform that would fix this:

      All players must be outside the box, keeper on their line etc as is currently the case. But only until the kicker takes a step. Once the kicker steps, everyone can go.

      The consequence of this is that we no longer need to worry about feinting in runups, keeper off their line, etc. They are responding to a clear prompt. The kicker will have to take a much shorter runup, so penalties will be a matter of finesse, not sheer power.

      This does, however, significantly shift the balance of power at penalties to the defence. In response I would propose to reduce distance to the penalty mark — maybe 10 yards, or whatever is determined experimentally to work.

  • Brian Klee

    Good thoughts above – well done.
    However, one more: Hockey has thrown out the Offside Law so is it time for Football to do the same? It’s not only hardest for fans to understand but it’s a hugely difficult responsibility for Assistant Referees. Television replays don’t help either!

  • Pamela

    For God’s sake why can’t you people leave the LOTG alone and stop changing or suggesting changes all the time. Football is, as it is now, the most popular game world wide. Some of the suggested changes are absolutely ludicrous and would ruin the game. Get rid of the VAR and and give control back to the referee where it belongs. I and many others are tired of learning new laws and trying to explain to coaches, managers and players that the law has changed…..again.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      Would proper education by football authorities help? Football is nice the way it is, but maybe there’s space to improve it.

  • Edgar Suarez

    I really like the self pass idea and it would be really good. The kick in is also good and it will hopefully take less time. The penalty kick from 25 meters isn’t the best of ideas because Major League Soccer(MLS)(USA) did this back in the ’90s and it wasn’t well liked. Not metioned but I would like to see the use of sin bins in a similar for of hockey. Sit out for a period of time and then come on again.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      The sin bins are also used in futsal at lower levels and football on lower levels here as well. These work quite well.

      What went not so good with these penalty shoot-outs?

  • Marcus James

    HI Jan,
    1. Change the throw in law to allow feet off the ground. It makes no sense that this is even a law! It has nothing to do with football skill, so let players throw it in with one foot.
    2. Injured players must go off the pitch and return from the half line. This is mostly a problem in the pro game. but if you need treatment and play to be stopped, you must leave the field to have the treatment and go back to halfway to come back on. I predict injuries will decrease dramatically.
    3. Offside – if part of the attacker is behind the second last defender it’s NOT offside. This will take away the very close calls where a knee or a foot is offside and give the benefit of the doubt to attackers (in most cases).

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      1. The two hands are more important than the foot, as throwing with one hand is really different. But why no kick-in then?
      2. You think they will be less injured as the time you’re off the pitch takes longer?
      3. But isn’t still a close call if one toe is still behind (or not)?

  • Todd F

    The two rules that annoy me:

    1) deliberate handball is too subjective. Make it as simple as the ball touching hand to avoid ambiguity.
    2) automatic yellow for taking shirt off is archaic

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      1. Like the ball touching the foot in field hockey? Do you expect players tend to go for the arms then instead of the goal or backpass to a teammate? Would love to try it and see how that goes.

  • sahid

    Self-Pass: I love it, it will give soccer the speedy starts and extra excitement it deserves, however, this will only work so long as the self-pass is taken from where the foul occurred not 5 yards ahead like in this video, the ref has to ensure the self-start is done from about the same area where it happened otherwise it will be open to more controversy.
    The Kick in: I don’t like it. I think it will slow down the game instead of making it faster due to the fact that opposing players will want to block the kick in restart by not keeping the distance like they do now a days in every free kick, then the ref will step in with his/her marking spray and do the count etc., etc.
    The Shoot out: I love it, I love it, love it. As an American referee and growing up watching what’s now the MLS, I remember that our soccer in its infancy used this system and let me tell you, it’s very exciting, for one, a very gifted player can score based on his ability not luck and a good goal keeper will have more time to use his reflexes. This will recreate a break away like it happens in real playing time and the best of the two will win, the game won’t be decided on coin tosses like it does now.
    And last but not least, I WANT MY COIN!! 🙂

  • Asmir

    I really don’t like penalty idea…implementing those at youth level, at least in USA where referees are under big pressure to begin with would be a nightmare. I already see coaches having their own stop watch and just complaining. I always thought after a regular penalty kick, if goalie saves it, no other player can run on it.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      What do you think of the idea that an attacker may go to goal one on one with a defender and has a chance to score? Will work that idea out in a new blog post as well. Love to hear your thoughts on that with a new blog post.

  • Steve D

    About the self-pass:
    I think it is a good idea in principle and I’d like to see it tried out down under.

    My “but…” relates to consistency across the other Laws. All of the kick restarts (kick-off, free kick, corners, goal kicks & penalties) operate in the same way – the kicker cannot touch the ball again until it has touched another player. I love the consistency of application across all the restarts.

    If we change the way it works on free kicks, why not change it for all the others too? The only problem, of course, would be the penalty kick.

    • Jan ter Harmsel

      There’s also a kick-in in the new rules, so it could easily mean they can dribble away, which is in line with all rules then. Similar to a dropped ball, you can say that for a kick-in or indirect free kick, the ball must have touched another player before you can score. I think that will be fine there.

  • trace fairley

    IMHO Soccer is way too conservative. Rule changes judiciously used may be good or bad but they create controversy and therefore interest.. personally I get tired of weatching games with very few shots on goal like none sometimes

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