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What is a handball in soccer? Definition, Result, Referee Signal, Examples

handball in soccer

In soccer, a handball is considered an offense that violates the rules of the game. True to its common name of football, soccer requires that most players only contact the game ball with their feet. Therefore, intentional, incidental, or accidental contact between the ball and a non-goalie player’s hand is against the rules of soccer and can be penalized.


One of the key rules of soccer is that all field players may not contact the ball with their hands or arms. Soccer employs very strict rules regarding the movement of the ball down the pitch, and it is clear in the rules of soccer that no player can “handle” the ball with their hands or arms, except in very limited situations.

Soccer goalies are exempt from the handball rule while they are in their penalty area, as they are permitted to use their hands to block a goal or to throw a ball onto the pitch after stopping a goal. Players are also permitted to use their hands for a throw-in, standing out of bounds and throwing the ball onto the pitch to resume play.

A handball offense occurs when a player touches the ball with any part of their arm, from the tips of the fingers to the lower armpit. More specifically, it is considered a handball offense when a player: deliberately touches the ball with their hand or arm, including by moving the hand or arm towards the ball; scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand or arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper, and scoring a goal or creating an opportunity for goal-scoring immediately after touching the ball with their hand or arm.

It is also ruled a handball if a player touches the ball when their hand or arm has unnaturally extended their range of contact with the ball, meaning that the position of the player’s arms is not considered a logical result of their movements. Handballs are also called when a player touches the ball if their hand or arm has been lifted above or beyond their shoulder level, as in being raised over their head.

However, there are certain instances when a ball strikes a player’s hand and is not considered a handball offense. These instances include: when a ball touches a player’s arm directly after being struck or played by the player’s head or body (including their foot); directly after being struck or played by the head and body of another player who is near them; if the hand or arm is close to the body and not in an illogical position about their movements; or when a player falls, and their hand or arm impacts the ball while supporting their fall but is not extended away from the body to touch the ball deliberately.


In soccer, the traditional penalty awarded for a handball offense is a direct free kick. If the defense commits a handball within their penalty box, a penalty kick will be awarded to the opposing offense. Players who intentionally cause a handball offense can be given a yellow or red card.

Referee Signal

The signal for a handball offense involves the referee holding one arm away from their body at an angle with the hand pointing down towards the pitch. The referee then uses his opposite hand to strike the wrist of his downward-pointing arm. In the aftermath of a handball call, the referee will also traditionally perform the signal for a direct free kick, which involves blowing his whistle and pointing his non-whistle arm in the direction of the kick.


  • Player 1 kicks the soccer ball down the pitch, causing it to fly into the air toward Player 2. Player 3, on the opposing team, deliberately moves their arm to deflect the ball away from Player 2.
  • Player 1 moves the ball towards his opponent’s goal and passes to Player 2, who is in position to score. However, the ball strikes Player 2’s arm by accident, and the deflection causes the ball to go into the opponent’s goal. The goal is nullified due to a handball offense.
  • Player 1 attempts to kick the ball over a pair of opposing players. Player 2 moves to headbutt the ball, but the ball misses his head and hits his forearm. Player 2 receives a handball offense because his arms were extended over his shoulders.