Soccer players adapt to new MIAA game rules for COVID-19


Credit: David Lin

Soccer games look much different this year due to the coronavirus, and there have been many rules added and altered to keep players safe. “I think the fact that we get to play in the first place is incredible, so our team will continue to follow the guidelines and new rules,” boys varsity soccer senior captain Ryan Najemy said.

Following the start of the new school year, the majority of athletic teams began their seasons. However due to COVID-19, sports this season will look very different from previous years. For soccer, in particular, MIAA has adopted many new rules to ensure players’ safety and to be ensure everyone is following coronavirus guidelines.

“There have been a lot of rule changes because of COVID-19. We aren’t allowed to head the ball, do throw-ins or play indirect kicks in the air,” captain of the girls varsity soccer team, Abby Gavron said. “The whistle is also blown quite often for ‘COVID fouls’ which is when there is too much contact. The game now feels more choppy with lots of starts and stops, but I am honestly just happy to be playing. There are so many schools that aren’t able to play so we are extremely lucky.”

Teams have been working very hard to abide by the new rules since no one wants to lose yet another season of sports to the virus. That being said, some of the players and coaches disagree with all the rules since some of them seem unnecessary.

“I feel that while some of the rules [like] wearing masks are necessary for protecting ourselves and each other from COVID, many of the rules that were changed are arbitrary, do not make much sense and don’t prevent the spread of COVID,” girls varsity soccer coach Guy Enoch said. “For example, [I don’t understand how] kicking a goal kick to the 49-yard line is safe, but kicking it passed the 50 is putting us at risk of contracting COVID.”

Soccer is well known for being a very physical game with lots of contact. However, because of the new guidelines, MIAA has created a rule to heavily limit shoulder to shoulder contact. The resulting restart is an indirect free kick against the team that initiated the contact. Referees have been very strict about this rule and call it often during games, which has been frustrating for many players.

“The rule that doesn’t allow shoulder to shoulder contact has completely changed the game of soccer,” boys varsity soccer senior captain Ryan Najemy said. “Our team loves to play fast throughout the entire game, but now we can’t because there is a ‘COVID’ foul every other minute, and all direct and indirect kicks need a second whistle to restart so that the ref can make sure everyone has their masks on and everyone is socially distanced. I understand the rule, but I think it’s being called excessively, which slows the game down.”

This rule in particular has affected the playing strategies for many teams, as they try to conform to the new rule to ensure fewer fouls and penalties called on them. Teams have been using practice time to adjust themselves to applying more COVID friendly plays in preparation for games.

“We definitely do not practice headers at all this year,” boys varsity soccer coach David Gavron said. “We have had to adjust to playing 90% of our free kicks on the ground. Also, we need to turn down our aggressive play since intentional body contact is not allowed.”

Along with teams switching up their game play, individual players have also had to take it upon themselves to change their playing style to avoid getting called for a ‘COVID foul.’

“I had to change how I play because of Covid,” Najemy said. “I’m usually a very physical player, but since we pretty much can’t touch anybody without getting a foul, I have to rely on speed and skill.”

Another huge rule change is the requirement of masks: players must wear masks at all times to accommodate coronavirus guidelines. This can be especially difficult for players because soccer is a very active game and masks make it much harder to breathe while running.

“[Wearing masks is] tough,” Najemy said. “It is definitely harder to run with masks on, so a lot of the guy’s stamina is affected. However, I think just the fact that we get to play in the first place is incredible, so our team will continue to follow the guidelines and new rules.”