Handball !!!

At all levels of soccer there are loud shouts of “handball”, followed by disappointment if the referee does not call a foul.  What follows is an attempt to clarify the laws and provide insights into what is and what is not a “handball”, for parents, coaches, and referees.

Laws Of The Game (LOTG) and Advice To Referees (ATR)

Here is what  Law 12 has to say about “handball”

“A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player…
handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)”

In its Advice to Referees, USSF interprets “deliberately” as:

“…the player could have avoided contacting the ball with the hand but chose not to.”

USSF also advises that the ball was handled deliberately if:

“… the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage.”

The “hand” includes everything from any fingertip to the outer shoulder.

The key is: DELIBERATE

The LOTG and ATR provide a lot for the referee to consider before making a call which must also take into account player skill, experience and intent.  Did the GU10 player just stand there fear-frozen or did she choose to handle the ball?  Was the player experienced enough to know his arms were not in a “normal playing position”?

In other words, did the player handle the ball DELIBERATELY?

Rule of thumb: It is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player.

A Judgment Call

The referee is responsible for determining if a player has deliberately handled the ball.  The referee is the only one with his or her unique view of any given incident on the pitch, and his or her opinion is the only one that matters.

One referee’s judgment may differ from another.  And that’s ok.


Shouts of “HANDBALL” are rampant on AYSO fields.  Instead of shouting “handball”, instead try to shout “DELIBERATE HANDBALL”.  This will help you remember that it must be deliberate…

Examples (with ball/hand contact in each case)

1 Scenario Player deliberately pushes ball away or downwards
If opposing team gains an advantage, referee may “Play On”.
2 Scenario Ball kicked at short range against a player’s hand which was in a normal playing position.
Decision NO foul
Play on even if player got advantage from the handling.


3 Scenario Goal kick through the air lands on player’s arms placed to protect her chest.
Decision DFK.
At almost any level of the game players have enough time to get out of the way of a goal kick


4 Scenario Player extends arm to block ball going overhead.
Decision DFK.
Possible caution for unsporting behavior, or send off if the opposing team was denied a goal or obvious goal-scoring opportunity.


5 Scenario Player in wall places arm/hand to protect body and ball is kicked against their arm/hand
Decision NO foul
Unless the player deliberately moves their arm/hand after the ball has been kicked (depending on the level of play)


6 Scenario Ball bounces unexpectedly against outstretched arm in “natural” position and ends up at player’s feet
Decision NO foul
Even if this created advantage to the player.


7 Scenario Goalkeeper inside his own penalty area carries whole of the ball across whole of the penalty area line
Decision DFK
Usually a warning the first time, especially in younger divisions.  Although the handling was clearly deliberate (depending on the level of play), the ‘keeper likely mistook where the line was and was not trying to cheat.


8 Scenario The ball is handled deliberately inside a player’s penalty area by a player other than the goalkeeper
Note that it is the position of the ball that matters, so even if the player is outside the area but handles the ball when it is inside the area, a foul has occurred and a PK is awarded.


9 Scenario A defender near her goal handles the ball deliberately but the ball still went into the net
Decision No foul
Play “Advantage” and award a goal. Strong warning to player: had she succeeded in stopping the ball from going into the net, she’d have been ejected from the game for denying the opposing team a goal by deliberately handling the ball.  Possible caution for unsporting behavior.


10 Scenario Goalkeeper inside his penalty area touches the ball with his hands after he has received it directly from a throw-in taken by a team-mate.
Like handling after a “back-pass” (ALSO subject to judgement!)


FIFA Laws of the Game
USSF Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game
Adapted from http://www.solanabeachsoccerclub.com/rule_clarifications/handball.htm