The Spirit of the Game directs and expects that a game will be played in a safe and fair manner so that it can be enjoyed (fun) by all participants and spectators. In other words, the Spirit of the Game enables and empowers the referee to interpret and apply the Laws of the Game in a manner that ensures a safe, fair and fun game.
The Spirit of the Laws supports the Spirit of the Game by permitting the referee to apply common sense in the application of the Laws to match the skill level of the game. In other words, the Spirit of the Laws enables and empowers the referee to interpret and apply the Laws of the Game in a manner that allows the players to play to their maximum level of technical, physical, and emotional skills.
These concepts are well defined in a paragraph that is no longer printed in the FIFA Laws of the Game but embedded in the heart of their meaning (and still included in AYSO publications) "The Laws of the Game are intended to provide that games should be played with as little interference as possible, and in this view it is the duty of referees to penalize only deliberate breaches of the Law. Constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators."
For example, a referee may let play continue when a player pushes an opponent carelessly but the push has little consequence (e.g. is not unsafe, does not take the opponent off the ball, and the opponent plays through the foul and continues challenging for the ball). Whistling the foul in this case would disrupt the flow of the game, would add little to the referee's control of the game, and would likely generate confusion and frustration for both players.
Below are simple, clear explanations of the Spirit of the Law for each of the 17 Laws. These are documented within each Law description in the AYSO Guidance for Referees, Coaches Other Volunteers and Parents.
Law 1: The Field Of Play - The field of play must be safe for players. The goals and markings must be adequate for the referee to perform his duties and should not be confusing to the players.
Law 2: The Ball - The ball must be safe for the players and of appropriate size and weight.
Law 3: The Number Of Players - Each team is entitled to begin play with a maximum of eleven (11) players and shall not continue play with fewer than seven (7). Exceptions in AYSO are permitted for small-sided games (see Short-Sided Games Guide for Referees).
Law 4: The Players' Equipment - The players of each team must be safely equipped and easily distinguished from the opposing team.
Law 5: The Referee - The referee's duty is to ensure the match is fun, fair and safe for the players.
Law 6: The Assistant Referees - The assistant referees assist the referee in officiating the match.
Law 7: The Duration Of The Match - The players are entitled to the entire designated playing time.
Law 8: The Start And Restart Of Play - Neither team shall have an unfair advantage at the start of play.
Law 9: The Ball In And Out Of Play - The ball remains in play even if an assistant referees has signaled, unless the referee has signaled it out of play or has stopped play.
Law 10: The Method Of Scoring - The referee will award a goal when the entire ball enters the goal except as otherwise provided by the Laws of the Game.
Law 11: Offside - A player may not participate or interfere with play from an offside position.
Law 12: Fouls And Misconduct - Teams that fail to play in a sporting, fair and safe manner will be penalized.
Law 13: Free Kicks - Free kicks are to be taken without interference from the opposing team.
Law 14: The Penalty Kick - A penalty kick is awarded the offended team when a defending player commits a direct free kick foul within his own penalty area.
Law 15: The Throw-In - When the ball completely crosses the touchline, it shall be thrown back into the field of play by a player of the team opposite to that of the player who last touched it.
Law 16: The Goal Kick - A goal kick is awarded to the defending team when the ball crosses the goal line last touched by a member of the attacking team, without a goal being scored.
Law 17: The Corner Kick - A corner kick is awarded the attacking team after the ball crosses the goal line last touched by a member of the defending team, without a goal being scored.
Referees who are students of the game and continue to learn how to best apply the Laws will successfully provide safe, fair and fun environments for games to be played.