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Handball Rules in Soccer

Handball Rules in Soccer

Are you wondering what the handball rules in soccer are? Simply, handball is a common foul that occurs when a player’s hand or arm touches the ball.

However, the rules surrounding handball in soccer can be quite complex, leading to confusion and disagreement among players, coaches, parents, and fans.

In this article, we will provide a comprehensive guide to the rules of handball in soccer. We will cover what constitutes a handball offense, when a handball results in a free kick or penalty, and the different types of handball situations that can arise during a soccer match.

We’ll also address some common questions heard on the sideline. Now, let’s get down to it.


Handball Rules in Soccer

Definition of Handball in Soccer

Shoulder Area SoccerHandball is a foul in soccer that occurs when a player purposefully touches the ball with their hand or arm. This includes the fingertips all the way up to just below the shoulder.

The handball rule applies to both defensive and offensive players and is designed to prevent unfair advantages over the course of the soccer game.

Exceptions to the Handball Rule

There are exceptions to this rule. Here are some of them…

  • If the ball accidentally touches the hand or arm of a player
  • If a player is using their arm to protect their face or body
  • If the soccer ball hits a player’s arm after it has deflected off another player or object
  • If a player’s arm is in a natural position, such as when running or jumping, and the ball touches their arm

But, with all this said, many referees will signal for a handball regardless if it was purposeful or not.

Penalty for Handball in Soccer

If a player commits a handball offense, the opposing team is awarded a direct free kick or penalty kick, depending on where the offense occurred.

Subsequently, the player committing the offense may receive a yellow or red card, depending on the severity of the offense.

Common Handball Questions

Is a deliberate handball a red card?

A yellow or red card will be handed out depending on the severity of the handball.

If the referee deems the handball to be intentional, the player will receive a yellow card.

However, if the handball is deemed to be a deliberate attempt to deny a goal-scoring opportunity, the player will receive a red card.

Is it a handball in soccer if it hits your shoulder?

No, it is not a handball in soccer if the ball hits your shoulder. The rules state that the handball offense occurs when a player touches the ball with their hand or arm.

The shoulder is not considered a part of the arm, so if the ball hits your shoulder, it is not considered a handball.

What happens when a handball occurs in the penalty box?

If a player commits a handball offense inside their own penalty box, the opposing team will be awarded a penalty kick.

This is a direct free kick taken from the penalty spot, and the goalkeeper must remain on their goal line until the ball is kicked.

This can be a pivotal part of a game. It can either stop or create momentum for teams.

Is it a handball if it hits your leg first?

No, it is not a handball if the ball hits your leg first. It is also not a penalty when the following occurs:

  • ​​the ball touches a player’s hand/arm immediately from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player.
  • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm close to their body and has not made their silhouette unnaturally bigger.
  • a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground (but not extended to make the body bigger).

What happens if the ref doesn’t see a handball?

If the referee doesn’t see a handball offense, play will continue as normal. This is always true for youth, high school and college soccer games. This is why it’s important to play the whistle.

However, in a professional match, if the opposing team protests the decision, the referee may consult with the assistant referees or video assistant referees (VAR) to determine if a handball offense occurred.

If the VAR determines that a handball offense did occur, the referee may award a free kick or penalty kick to the opposing team.


Handball rules in soccer are an essential aspect of the game that distinguishes it from other sports.

I realize when handballs occur in youth soccer, it can demoralizing but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just part of the game.

A player intentionally touching the ball with their hand or arm between the tips of their fingers and the bottom of their shoulder is considered a handball, but unintentional contact is not.

The rules surrounding handball in soccer are often contested and vague, leading to confusion and debate among players, coaches, parents, and fans.

I’ll often hear parents scream from the sidelines about a potential handball. But, realize it is sometimes very difficult to determine and the ref will let the kids play on.

It is important for players and officials to understand the laws of the game and the various situations in which handball can occur to ensure fair play and accurate calls on the field.

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      Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

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