Handball Rules In Soccer – The Ultimate Guide

Table of Contents

Handball, also known as handling in soccer, plays an important role in defining fair and unfair play. The primary objective of these rules is to maintain the integrity of the game, being that it is “football” and is played with the feet. 

As the name suggests, handball is when the player intentionally touches or handles the ball with their hand or arm, except for the goalkeeper within their penalty area.

Once handball occurs, the opposing team gets a free or penalty kick, depending on the location and how serious the violation is.

What Is The FIFA Handball Rule?

The FIFA handball rule pretty much states that it is an offense if a player: 

  • Deliberately touches the ball with their hand or arm, for example, moving the hand or arm towards the ball
  • Touches the ball with their hand or arm making their body appear unusually bigger. This happens when the position of their hand or arm is not caused by their body movement in that situation. If their hand or arm is positioned in any such way, their hand or arm is in the way of being hit by the ball and being penalized.
  • Scores in the opponents’ goal:
    • If the ball is hit directly from hand or arm, intentional or accidental, including the goalkeeper. 
    • Right after their hand or arm touches the ball, intentionally or accidentally.

Now, let’s make it easier and break it down in layman’s terms. The FIFA rule states that if players touch the ball on purpose with their hand or arm. Then, if the player intentionally uses their hands or arms to increase their body size to block or deflect the ball.

When a player extends their arms away from their body or positions them in a way that is not a natural or expected body for the given situation, like holding out their arms to block a shot or block a pass, it can be considered a violation. 

The purpose of this rule is to prevent players from gaining an unfair advantage by making it more difficult for the ball to pass by them or to strike their arms or hands intentionally. 

Handball Rules in Major Soccer Leagues

Handball rules in major leagues, such as the English Premier League (EPL), La Liga, Serie A, and the Bundesliga, largely follow the International Football Association Board (IFAB) guidelines. So, all the prominent teams you spend hours watching all follow the same rules. 

These rules are consistent across most top-level soccer competitions worldwide. Here are some key points regarding handball rules in major soccer leagues, 

  1. Deliberate Handball: If a player intentionally handles the ball with their hand or arm, it is considered a handball offense. This includes situations where a player extends their arm to block a shot, pass, or cross, immediately banning, causing an instant penalty.
  2. Unintentional Handball: Unintentional handball is contentious and often subject to interpretation. IFAB’s Laws of the Game guide when a handball should be penalized, considering factors like proximity, natural body position, and player intent. 
  1. Handling In The Box: If a handball offense occurs within the defending team’s penalty area, the opposing team is typically awarded a penalty kick. 
  1. Handling Outside The Box: Outside the penalty area, a free-kick is usually awarded to the opposing team for a deliberate handball offense. 
  1. Accidental Handball: If a player’s handball is deemed unintentional and they had no time to react, it is generally not penalized. The Laws of the Game emphasize the importance of considering the “natural position” of the arm. 
  1. Subjective Nature: Handball decisions can be subjective and vary depending on the interpretation of the match officials. What is a deliberate handball can differ from one game to another. 

Variations in Handball Rules Across Different Organizations

Handball rules can differ slightly across different organizations, leagues, and competitions. While the fundamental principles remain mostly consistent, there may be specific changes, variations, or interpretations put in place by various soccer federations and organizations. 

Here are some common differences in handball rules that can be found across different soccer boards and organizations, 

  1. IFAB Laws vs. Competition-Specific Rules: The International Football Association Board (IFAB) sets the Laws of the Game as the foundation for soccer rules worldwide. However, individual leagues and competitions may introduce slight changes or interpretations to these rules. 
  1. Competitive Level: Rules may vary between professional and amateur leagues. In some amateur leagues, the rules are more lenient or less strict regarding handball offenses. 
  1. Youth Soccer: Youth soccer organizations have often modified rules to accommodate young players’ development and safety. Handball rules for youth soccer might be less strict, emphasizing education and fair play over strict enforcement. 
  1. Indoor Soccer: Indoor soccer has rules that differ from traditional outdoor soccer. Handball rules in indoor soccer might be more relaxed since the playing surface is much smaller and the game’s pace is much faster. 
  1. Tournament-Specific Rules: International tournaments like the FIFA World Cup or continental competitions might have tournament-specific regulations, including handling handball offenses. These rules are typically communicated to teams and officials before the tournament. 
  1. Referee Interpretation: Referees have some discretion in interpreting handball incidents, even within the Laws of the Game framework. The judgment can vary from one match to another, leading to differences in how handball offenses are called. 
  1. Local League Variations: Smaller, regional leagues may have unique interpretations or rules regarding football or soccer. These differences and variations are conveyed to teams and officials participating in those leagues. 

Referee Interpretations

Referees play an important role in determining handball offenses in soccer matches. Their interpretations of these incidents can greatly influence the outcome of a game. 

Here are some key aspects of how referees determine handball offenses, commonly misinterpreted situations, and the role of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in handball decisions. 

How Referees Determine Handball Offenses

  1. Deliberate and Intentional: Referees must assess whether a player’s handball was deliberate. Deliberate handballs involve a player intentionally using their arm or hand to control the ball, gain an advantage, or block a shot or pass.
  1. Natural Position: One key factor in determining whether a handball is an offense is the “natural position” of the player’s arm. If the player’s arm is in a natural position and the ball strikes it intentionally, it might not be penalized. 
  1. Proximity and Reaction Time: Referees consider how close the player was to the ball and how much time they had to react. It could be intentional if the player had little time to avoid the ball. 
  1. Player Intent: While it is difficult to detect intent, referees may consider factors such as the player’s body movement and positioning to determine whether the handball was intentional. 
  1. Ball-to-Hand vs. Hand-to-Ball: Referees commonly use “ball-to-hand” and “hand-to-ball”. If the ball strikes the hand or arm, it’s more likely to be seen as unintentional; if the player moves their hand or arm toward the ball, then, you’ve guessed it, it’s intentional.

Commonly Misinterpreted Situations

  1. Defensive Clearances: When a player clears the ball defensively and it advertently strikes their arm or hand, it’s often considered unintentional, especially if the arm is in a natural position. 
  1.  Close-Range Shots: Referees may be more lenient when a player is very close to the shooter, as they have less time to react. A handball in such situations might be considered accidental. 
  1. Body Momentum: Sometimes, a player’s natural body position, such as jumping or falling, can lead to their arm or hand being in a position where it accidentally touches the ball. 

VAR (Video Assistant Referee) and Handball Decisions

VAR technology has been introduced in many soccer competitions to assist referees in making more accurate decisions. 

Here’s how VAR affects handball decisions, 

  1. Review Process: VAR can review potential handball incidents and provide input to the on-field referees. VAR reviews are very important for contentious or game-changing decisions.
  1. Better Accuracy: VAR allows for a more thorough examination of handball situations, including multiple camera angles. This helps ensure the correct decisions are made, reducing the chances of a critical error. 
  1. Communication: VAR communicates with the on-field referee, who makes the final decision. The referee can consult VAR when in doubt or when an incident occurs.
  1. Increased Consistency: VAR promotes consistency in handball decisions across matches and competitions.

Handball and Goal Scoring

Let’s look at more handball rule-rigmarole, focusing on scores and goals.

Handball Offenses Leading to Disallowed Goals

In soccer, goals can be disallowed due to handball offenses committed by the scorer or an assisting player. If a goal is scored directly from a player’s hand or arm, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s typically ruled out. 

Also, if the player uses their hand or arm to control the ball just before scoring, it can result in the disallowance of the goal. 

Handball Assists and Goal Scoring Situations

This can be controversial; an assisting player can be penalized if they intentionally use their hand or arm to control or play the ball in a way that directly leads to a goal. But if the handball is accidental and does not lead to a goal, the goal might still be considered. 

Recent Rule Changes and Updates

Recent rule changes and updates have focused on handball interpretations, offside decisions, and concussion protocols, promoting fairness and safety. 

Notable Modifications to Handball Rules in Soccer

One significant change is the “natural silhouette” of the arm; if the player’s arm is in an unnatural position and touches the ball, it might be penalized as a handball, even if unintentional. 

Impact of Rule Changes on the Game

While the changes in rules give more clarity to the sport, they’re still debatable because of the type of such changes. They lead to more consistent and accurate decisions but can also increase penalty kicks, greatly influencing game outcomes.

Player Responsibilities

The players have some responsibilities to ensure they understand the handball rules, and it has more to do than just touching the ball.

Players must strive for teamwork, sportsmanship, and maximum focus and effort while following the instructions and rules accurately. 

Avoiding Handball Offenses

Players must be mindful of their hand or arm positions. It’s very important to avoid deliberate handball offenses by keeping hands close to the body and reacting naturally to the ball’s trajectory.

Defensive Strategies to Prevent Handballs

Defenders can reduce the risk of handball offenses by maintaining good body positioning and awareness and staying balanced, while challenging attacks reduce the chances of unintentional handballs. Communication with teammates is key. 

Offensive Techniques to Minimize Handball Incidents

Offensive players can reduce the risk of handball offenses by using controlled ball-handling techniques.

Maintaining a lower center of gravity and using the player’s body to shield the ball from defenders can reduce the possibility of the ball touching their arms or hands. This makes sure they don’t commit handball offenses. 


And there you have it! This extensive guide about handball rules will be enough for you to spot any misses or penalties the next time you watch soccer or football.

Handball rules change and are modified occasionally, and these spark debates and ignite passion among players, associates, and ardent fans worldwide.

Share this guide with your fellow soccer-loving family and friends, and let them learn about some handball rules themselves.

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