Yellow Card In Soccer (Explained)

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

What many realize is 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 pretty much 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 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 the main reasons why players can receive a yellow card.

Unsportsmanlike Behavior: 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: 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 situations. Players are always looking for an advantage, but pushing forward too much can lead to a booking.

Improper Substitution Procedures: The referee has final discretion on when a player can enter or re-enter the field. This comes down to not only substitutions, but 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, which is why referees will signal when the time comes. If a team is blatantly trying 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: Soccer leagues are pretty lenient as far as goal celebrations are concerned, 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 trigger the penalty as well. 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 does need to be some rules so that things do not get out of hand.

Other Minor Infractions: There are warnings handed out for very 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 judgement calls, even with replay becoming more and more prevalent at the highest levels.

How Two Yellow Cards Turn Into a Red Card

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 be pushing their luck when they already have a yellow card, as playing a man down in any match is just not favorable in the slightest.

Are There Season Rules For Multiple Yellow Cards?

Most leagues are going to 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 as well, so a player does not automatically get a pass if they get that third yellow card during the final match of the year. Unless they switch to an entirely different league, they will need to 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 just need to be replaced for the entire 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 that 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?

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

Yellow stands for caution, while red stands for stop (in the case of soccer, it means dismissal). These are the same colored 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.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired early at 21 due to injuries - which lead me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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