Soccer By The Rules – Handling

By: Joe Manjone, Ed. D.

One of the constant complaints from coaches concerns the calling of handling and the inconsistency of officials in making this call.  The biggest complaint seems to be about calls in which there is no intent by the player to use the hand or arm to play the ball.

According to the definition of handling in:

Rule 18-1-1q: Handling is deliberately playing the ball with one’s hand or arm. The hand or arm must move toward the ball or the hand or arm must be carried in an unnatural position before an infraction of the rule can be charged.

Please note the following when interpreting this rule:

  • Handling includes not only the hand but also the arm or the area between the shoulders and the finger tips, thus, moving the upper arm, elbow or lower arm to play the ball is considered handling.
  • The act of handing must be deliberate.  There has to be intent to play the ball unless the hand or arm is carried in an unnatural position. Thus, if a player is holding his/her hand or arms in a natural position and there is no intent to play the ball, even if the ball touches the hands or arms of a player and deflects to a position that is advantageous to the player or his/her team, no handling has occurred.
  • As the official, you have to determine if the hand or arm is being carried or held in an unnatural position.  Some examples of unnatural positions might be:  holding hands above the head; holding hands and arms extended with palms forward; and having hands extended below the knees while standing.  An example of a player having arms and hands in a natural position where handling is often mistakenly called is a player who is running with arms naturally moving and the ball contacting the hand or arm. As an official, you must be certain that the player deliberately moved the hand or arm to make the contact.

Rule 12- 2 further emphasizes the need for intent on the part of the player to handle the ball as it states: A player shall be penalized for deliberately handling, carrying, striking or propelling the ball with the hand or arm. Exception: Goalkeeper when the ball is within his/her own penalty area.  The penalty for handling is a direct free kick.

Please note:

  • Even though the ball may be carried, struck, or propelled by the hand or arm, there is no penalty unless you believe that there was player intent.
  • Please note that player intent does not have to be a planned act.  It may just be a protective response as is indicated in 12.2 Situation C:

A2 kicks a low hard pass to his/her teammate; (a) B2, a male player who is in the path of the ball, moves his hand to protect his groin and the ball touches his hand; (b) B2, a female player who is in the path of the ball moves her hand to protect her chest and the ball touches her hand. Ruling: Illegal in both (a) and (b) for deliberately handling the ball.

  • Obviously, these were reflective but deliberate acts to make contact with the ball by moving the hand and are to be penalized by the official calling, handling. This is also emphasized in 12.2 Situation A:

A player, who is part of a wall in a free kick, moves the hands after the kick to protect his/her face from the ball.  Ruling: This is a foul for deliberately handling the ball.

  • The deliberate moving of the hand or arm or the hand or arm being in an unnatural position is the key to making the call and if one of these factors do not exist, handling is not to be called as is shown in 12.2 Situation B:

A player who is in a defensive position during the taking of a free kick places hands or arms against part of the body for protection.  The offensive player kicks the ball which strikes the hands still in front of the body or arms over the chest. In both cases the hands and arms are stationary.  Ruling: This is not handling because the ball struck a stationary hand or arm rather than a hand or arm playing the ball.

  • Here the hands or arms were placed to stop the ball and they were in a natural position for a wall defender (protecting the body).  However, the hands or arms never moved so handling did not occur.
  • However, if the hands and arms would have been held extended above the head, and were touched by the kicked ball, even though the hands and arms were not moved, handling would have occurred because the hands and arms were in an unnatural position.

One other error that officials make with handling calls is the calling and signaling “play on” when handling the ball touches the hand or arm, but handling did not occur.  Please remember that calling “play on” means that a foul has occurred and the offending team would gain an advantage by you not calling the foul.  If handling has not occurred, there is no foul, so “play on” should not be called (See Rule 5-3-1d for additional information on “play on”.

Be alert for possible handling by the goalkeeper when the ball is outside the penalty area.  As is indicated in 12.2 Situation D, the goalkeeper is not permitted to handle a ball that is clearly outside the penalty area:

A2 takes a shot on goal and goalkeeper B2 is outstretched on the ground and reaches outside the penalty area and touches the ball. Ruling: Illegal

Calling handling requires much concentration and immediate decision-making on your part. Following the above rules and procedures in every high school game you work and making certain your partners do the same will provide the required consistency and make each game a better experience for everyone.

If you would like to suggest a high school soccer rules change or if you have any questions about this rule or any high school rule, please e-mail me at [email protected]