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

holding foul in soccer

Holding is a foul in soccer that occurs when one player uses their hands or other body parts to grab or restrain an opponent, preventing their ability to move freely on the field and play the ball. Holding is a physical foul, and it is punished by a direct free kick.


A holding foul in soccer is a physical foul that is committed when one player uses their body to make contact with and restrain their opponent, preventing them from moving freely. Soccer players are not permitted to impede their opponent’s movement or use their hands during play. Committing a holding foul by grabbing onto an opponent breaks both of these basic principles of soccer. Any body part can be used to commit holding, including hands, arms, and legs.

Likewise, holding can be committed by restraining any part of an opponent’s body or uniform. A holding foul typically takes the form of a player using their hand to grab onto their opponent’s arm or jersey, but any type of sustained physical contact between players can be determined by a referee to be holding. This includes using an outstretched arm to push off of an opponent and prevent them from making a play on the ball. Holding can occur at any point during play, at any part of the field, regardless of possession or proximity to the ball.


The result of a holding foul being called is a direct free kick being awarded to the non-offending team. The team against whom the foul was committed is given the ball at the location of the foul and is permitted to kick it anywhere, including attempting the goal. If the foul is committed within the penalty box, a penalty kick will be awarded to the non-offending team. The result of a holding foul is the same in amateur and professional leagues.

If a referee determines the foul has been committed recklessly, the offender will be cautioned and shown a yellow card. If the foul is committed using excessive force, the offender will receive a red card and be sent off.

Referee Signal

When a holding foul is called, a referee will whistle to stop the play. The referee will point with one arm outstretched horizontally, which is the signal for a direct free kick. If the holding foul was committed by the defending team while the attacking team has possession of the ball past midfield and is amid a scoring opportunity, the referee will not immediately whistle for a stoppage. Instead, they will signal advantage and allow play to continue until a change of possession or the ball goes out of bounds.


  • A player has possession of the ball and is advancing down the field. An opponent uses their hands to grab that player’s jersey, causing them to fall and lose possession of the ball.
  • Away from the ball, a player wraps their arms around an opponent, holding that opponent in place and preventing them from moving down the field.
  • While two opposing players are attempting to play the ball, one player uses an outstretched hand to push against their opponent’s chest and keep them away from the ball.