What is “passive play” and how is it called?

There are situations, typically towards the end of a close match, where a team would like to just keep possession and run out the clock. If, in the referee’s opinion, the team with the ball has not made a clear move to attack the opponent’s goal, he or she will call “passive play” by raising their arm in the air. The offensive team then has 6 passes in which to score a goal. If the offensive team fails to take a shot on goal, the referee will blow the whistle and the ball will be turned over to the defense.

A few notes regarding this rule

  • There is no set time for making the initial passive play call and it is up to the discretion of the officials. Typically it is around 20-30 seconds, but that can vary depending on the aggressiveness of the offense and defense.
  • While 6 passes are typically allowed, if the offense is overly passive the referee has the discretion to call a turnover sooner.
  • If there is a defensive foul, the initial pass on the free throw does not count as one of the 6 passes.
  • A defensive foul that results in a free throw will usually lengthen the time before passive play is called. At the very end of a match the offense will often try to create a foul while the defense will try to avoid a foul, but not to the point of creating too easy of a shot on goal.
  • If the offense recovers the ball on a shot on goal the passive play is lifted and the sequence of events starts over. A shot on goal would be a ball that either touches the goalkeeper or the posts and bounces back into play.
  • As it is the referee’s discretion, how passive play is called is often a point of controversy in that one team will claim that passive play is either being called too soon or too late.

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