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Yellow Card In Soccer (Explained)

yellow card explain by soccer referee

A card system is used across all levels to keep conduct under control in soccer. Referees can issue either a yellow or red card for the most outrageous behavior. Most soccer fans have seen a referee running up to a player and showing them a yellow card, but how are they determined?

The Basics: What is a Yellow Card in Soccer?

Let’s start with the basics. At its core, the yellow card in soccer acts as a “Hey, watch it!” from the referee. It’s a warning, signaling that the player stepped out of line but not so much that they need to be sent off the pitch. Think of it like your mom giving you a look when you reach for that third cookie – it’s a caution, not a punishment… yet.

Many realize that a yellow card, like a red card, can be issued for many different reasons. A yellow card is the lesser of the two, and is viewed as a caution more than anything.

It might not seem like that big of a deal at the time, but too many yellows can lead to severe issues for a player and their team. Here is a breakdown of the yellow card and just how it impacts the game.

How Can Players Receive a Yellow Card?

yellow card soccer official

Yellow cards can be issued for several different reasons. According to law 12 of the Laws of the Game, players can expect a yellow card for anything from general unsportsmanlike behavior, to not stepping onto the field the right way. Here are several reasons why players can get a yellow card.

Reasons for a Yellow Card in Soccer

Unsportsmanlike Behavior:

Imagine trying to trip someone because they outran you or arguing a tad too passionately with the ref. Not cool, right?

This is the most common way to receive a yellow card, as it’s more of a catch-all term for many different things. Falling under unsportsmanlike behavior is general foul play, such as sliding to take the opponent out, pulling them down by their shirt, over-aggressive play, and more.

Foul Language / Arguing:

Referees are pretty good about letting players argue to a certain extent, but a yellow card can be issued for excessive arguing, or the use of foul language. As long as it is not too crazy and deserving of a straight red, yellow can calm some players down to the point that they do not go over the edge.

Delay of Game:

Soccer’s a fast-paced game. But if you’re dawdling just because your team’s in the lead, you might find yourself on the receiving end of some yellow-tinted justice.

The clock is always running in soccer, which means that intentional delays of the game can sometimes lead to a yellow card. Players need to continue moving at an orderly fashion when the match is going on. Teams will always try to press their luck a bit with delay tactics if they have the lead, but that does not always sit well with referees. If it is blatant, expect a yellow card to be issued.

Improper Positioning:

Referees try to avoid issuing too many yellow cards for not lining up correctly, but players who consistently push the limit can expect one. This means not giving enough space for a corner kick, a throw-in, a free-kick, or any other type of dead-ball situation. Players are always looking for an advantage, but pushing forward too much can lead to a booking.

Improper Substitution Procedures:

This isn’t a game of tag! There are rules about when and how players can swap out.

The referee has final discretion on when a player can enter or re-enter the field. This comes down to substitutions and if a player steps off because of an injury. Being able to jump right back in and have an opportunity to score does not work, so referees will signal when the time comes.

If a team blatantly tries to take advantage by coming on or off the field, it is a yellow card. There is no other way for referees to keep everything in order with so much field to cover.

Excessive Celebrations:

Scored a goal and felt like taking your shirt off? Think again! The referee might not share your celebratory mood. (Unless, of course, you’re Brandi Chastain.)

Brandi Chastain rips off her jersey in celebration during World Cup.

Soccer leagues are pretty lenient regarding goal celebrations, but players who take it over the top risk a card. Maybe the fastest way to receive a yellow card is to take off a shirt while celebrating a goal, but other actions also trigger the penalty.

Referees understand that for soccer to remain popular, they can’t be a huge stickler for the rules with full celebration. At the same time, there do need to be some rules so that things do not get out of hand.

Other Minor Infractions:

There are warnings for minor infractions, and yellow cards are a step up from that. With that said, most of the reasons people pick up yellow cards are relatively minor. A lot of fouls are judgment calls, even with replay becoming more and more prevalent at the highest levels.

But What Does it Mean for the Player?

Now that you’ve got the yellow card basics down, you might wonder about its impact. Here’s the lowdown:

  1. A Wake-Up Call: For many players, that card acts as a wake-up call, urging them to tread carefully.
  2. Accumulation Woes: Too many yellows across games? That could lead to suspensions. It’s like having too many cheat days in a diet; eventually, it catches up!
  3. Seeing Double: If a player’s day is particularly rotten, they might get two yellow cards in a single match. Know what that means? Red card! And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Alright, but What Does it Mean for Me, the Viewer?

First off, it adds spice to the game! But beyond the drama, it’s essential to understand the implications. If you’re cheering for a team and one of their key players is treading on thin ice with a yellow, the tension is palpable. It changes team dynamics, strategies, and can be the difference between sweet victory and crushing defeat.

How Two Yellow Cards Turn Into a Red Card

how 2 yellow cards equal a red card in soccer

After a player receives their first yellow card, most are pretty cautious about picking up another. That is because a second yellow card leads to a red card, which means automatic removal of that match, and possibly a suspension afterwards.

The second yellow card usually takes more than the first, as referees know that fans pay to see the players, not to see them make calls. At the same time, players should not push their luck when they already have a yellow card, as playing a man down in any match is unfavorable.

Are There Season Rules For Multiple Yellow Cards?

Most leagues will keep track of yellow cards accumulated during the season. Since seasons are pretty long, the standard number of yellow cards to equal a red card is three. That player is not automatically removed from the match necessarily when they receive the third yellow card, but they must serve a suspension after that match.

These suspensions carry over from season to season, so a player does not automatically get a pass if they get that third yellow card during the year’s final match. Unless they switch to an entirely different league, they must serve that suspension before moving forward.

Tournament Yellow Card Rules

Yellow cards do not necessarily carry over in all competitions, but it usually happens with tournaments. If a player receives two yellow cards in any of the matches during a tournament, they can face a suspension. The good news is that the player does not come off the field when they receive the second yellow card, but they must be replaced for the next match.

The reason why these rules are in place is to prevent players from getting at least a yellow card every single match. If a player knows they can get away with one yellow card every match without any real consequences, it can mess with the flow of matches. Players will take more chances with aggressive play, which can lead to injuries.

Why Are Colored Cards Used In The First Place?

picture of someone showing a yellow card in soccer

The card system was developed to offer a simplistic way to discipline players during a match. Soccer is a sport played worldwide; more often than not, players speak different languages on the pitch. Showing cards and the color of cards keeps every player and fan on the same page.

What does a yellow card mean? Yellow stands for caution, while red stands for stop (in the case of soccer, it means dismissal). These are the same colors used for other simplistic signals, such as in traffic lights. A player always knows exactly where they stand when they receive the card, whereas they might be able to claim there was a misunderstanding with other booking methods.