Like every other sport in existence, the rules of soccer have gone through a slew of changes since its invention. These changes in the rules of the game are oftentimes motivated by the yearnings of soccer fans as well as the aspirations of soccer players.
When new rules are being made and old rules abolished in soccer, two major things are put into consideration. They are the general safety of players and the positive benefits of such rules to the game.
In soccer, rules are embedded into 17 Laws of the Game which were initially drafted in the year 1863. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is the official body in charge of maintaining, updating, and upholding the laws of soccer.
Although soccer has undergone tremendous modifications over the years, there still exist strict rules concerning the use of hands during soccer matches. Unlike other contact and ball sports, soccer is highly critical about the use of the arm and hand.
These restrictions were put in place because soccer was naturally designed to be played mostly with the legs. Other parts of the body are also allowed in a few instances especially in circumstances where using the legs isn’t the most suitable option.
Regular soccer players and goalkeepers use their arms differently in soccer because different rules apply to both of them. You will be learning in this article how best to use your arms while playing soccer without breaking the rules.
- Can you use your arms in soccer?
- How to appropriately use arms in soccer?
- Inappropriate ways of using your arms in soccer
Can you use your arms in soccer?
During soccer training, apart from the goalkeeper – other players are not taught safe ways of using their hands and arms while playing soccer. Most of the training they receive is directed at advancing and improving the use of their legs.
Players are often left to learn by themselves safe ways of using their arms and hands in soccer without being penalized. For those players still questioning if they can safely use their arms in soccer, we are here to let you know that you can do so but to a limited degree.
Once you cross the set boundaries by the Laws of the Game, you will get booked and the opposing team will be offered a free kick or a penalty kick depending on where the offense was committed.
Even though a player might be aware of the do’s and don’ts of using arms in soccer, certain flimsy mistakes can still get them penalized during a game so it’s important to be extensively cautious while using your arms when playing.
Apart from purposefully touching the soccer ball with your hands while not taking a throw-in, playing a free kick or a penalty, acts like dragging, holding, and pushing opponent players with your hands can also get you in the referee’s bad books for foul play.
Roughly pushing an opposing player can attract various degrees of punishment ranging from yellow cards, red cards, free kicks, and even penalty kicks.
Pushing is only acceptable by law when both players are in serious contention for the ball or during a corner kick, the pushing must be done fairly without bad intentions.
Are You allowed to use your arms in soccer?
Like we earlier answered, you are allowed to use your arms in soccer—but to an extent. Committing a handball offense in soccer can get you booked or completely evicted with a red card.
Breaking down a handball or handling offense in soccer starting from its definition will help you understand this offense better.
The rules of soccer define handling as a situation or scenario where the soccer ball comes in contact with a soccer player’s arm or hand accidentally or intentionally in ways not acceptable by the rules of the sport.
The arms are not completely useless in soccer, if there were, soccer players would have their arms deeply tucked in their shorts throughout a match. With that being said, we believe you are creating a mental picture of an armless soccer player right now in your head, looks funny, right?
Many soccer fans and players can’t easily tell what parts of the arm can initiate a handball and where it can be called the shoulder.
From the laws of soccer, we learned that the arm starts from the part of the body perpendicular to the armpit and ends at the tip of the middle finger. The part of the body above the armpit is what is considered to be the shoulder in soccer.
With that clearly stated, we hope you will find it less difficult to differentiate a handball from a shoulder ball. You can even challenge the center referee whenever you are wrongly accused of committing a handball offense during a soccer match.
The final decision about a possible handball offense is left to the referee to decide. Many factors can hasten or delay the final ruling in issues concerning the misuse of arms in soccer. We shall be looking at some known factors below.
Change in soccer rules
In the game of soccer, laws are often altered to make them more suitable, accessible, and clearer at all levels. Since soccer is a universal sport, IFAB is vested with the responsibility of creating and appropriately modifying existing laws to accommodate every lover of the sport in the world.
It is very important to stay updated with the latest changes in soccer rules to avoid getting involved in unnecessary arguments concerning a referee’s decision during a soccer match.
IFAB made a notable amendment to the current Laws of the Game in the year 2019 regarding handball fouls.
The rule states that “any goal scored or created using the arm or hand will be denied, even when it happens by accident”. The rule further stated that for an action to be declared a handball, the player involved (exempting the goalkeeper in their penalty area) must make deliberate contact with the ball using their arm or hand.
Since most handball offenses occur in a matter of split seconds and are judged by soccer referees based on a player’s level of control and deliberate involvement in the incident, referees needed the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
Before the introduction of the VAR in the year 2018, referees found it difficult to convince players that they committed a handball offense especially when it attracted a penalty kick.
Nature of contact
The handball rule in soccer is one of the most controversial rules in the game. Sometimes, referees, players, officials, and even coaches find it very difficult to figure out if an action is correctly labeled a handball offense or not.
Most hand-to-ball contacts happen so fast that the referee becomes aware only when their attention is called by opposing team players who witnessed the foul as it was committed.
Before taking decisions concerning such matters, a referee must consider a couple of factors including:
- The position of the arm and angle of contact
- Speed of the ball and proximity of the player to the ball
- The possible intentions of the player involved
- The deliberate nature of the arm’s movement before the contact
Type of tournament
In professional soccer league tournaments and the World Cup, handball rules are very strict and keenly followed by soccer referees. Players do all their possible best while playing to make sure they don’t commit such an offense.
In friendly matches and charity competitions, rules are more relaxed and referees overlook certain misconducts because the purpose of these matches is different from that of professional soccer competitions.
How to appropriately use arms in soccer?
All soccer players dread being responsible for a penalty kick on their team from mistakenly or intentionally using their hands to cause a handball offense in their 18-yard box.
This makes them extremely careful while defending the ball in the 18-yard area, especially during a corner kick. Although guiding the ball from coming in contact with the arms is often very difficult, there are ways you can carefully use the hands in improving your standard of play without getting into trouble.
We will be taking a look at some of the legal ways you can use your arms in soccer without getting booked or punished. Hopefully, it will help you play more confidently and better than other soccer players when next you are on the pitch.
1. Use your arms to support your shoulder
Using the shoulders is okay in soccer as long as you stick to the rules of using the shoulders. You might think it is easy but not every player knows how to use their shoulders while playing soccer.
You can use your shoulder to shield the ball while leaning on an opposing player. This skill can highly reduce the chances of an opposing player regaining possession of the soccer ball while both of you are contending for it.
While shielding the ball from an opposing player, you can stiffen your arm to create less space between you, the opposition player, and the ball thereby making it hard for them to gain access to the ball.
You will see this often if you watch soccer matches when one team tries to use long passes to break the defense of their opponent. Defenders are notorious for shielding the ball from their opponent till it crosses the line for a goal kick.
2. Use your arms to communicate with teammates
It’s very common during soccer matches to see players raising their arms or making other forms of arm gestures to their teammates. Arm gestures are coded ways of communicating during a soccer match.
Opposition players wouldn’t be able to easily understand sign languages like spoken words which is why players mostly adopt this form of communication while in the field.
Also, a fully-packed stadium is usually noisy and a player’s voice may be drowned by the chants of the spectators. Therefore, using hand signs becomes the easiest way to make sure their words are not lost.
The best way to signal a teammate that you are free for a pass is by continuously raising your arms especially when the teammate in possession of the ball manages to look towards your location.
Passing the ball earlier to a teammate keeps the game flowing and increases the chances of scoring a goal. During a corner kick, the player taking the kick can also expose the direction he or she will be kicking the ball without the opposing team players knowing.
Some strategies in soccer can’t be effectively executed without team members communicating with their arms. Soccer teams which have mastered the art of communicating with their arms are naturally very dangerous to play against.
3. Swing your arms while running
From our research, we learned that swinging your arms backward and forward while running can help you run faster. While running, make sure that your arms slightly brush your hips as it swings, this will help in positioning your movement.
A soccer player that knows how to run very well has an advantage over their opponents. Improving your skills without improving your sprint speed will eventually affect your plans of becoming a star soccer player because soccer involves a lot of chasing and running.
Exempting the goalkeeper, other soccer players usually run a couple of miles before the end of a soccer match. While running, the arms help a player maintain stamina and easily change directions.
Since soccer players are not extensively trained on how to use the arms while running, you can get materials designed for sprinters and use them in improving yourself or you can even join them in training when chanced.
4. Use the arms in marking an opponent
When marking an opponent, keeping your arms close to them will make it difficult for them to dribble you. They will find it difficult moving away from you because you are using both your legs and arms to tackle them.
We are not advising you to drag an opponent’s shirt or elbow them. Just make sure that one of your arms is gently placed on their arm or a part of their shoulder while you contend for the ball with them.
Placing an arm on a player you are marking will quickly signal you when you lose focus on them and they are about moving away from you. It will also give your teammates clues about which players are specifically under your marking especially when a corner is about to be played.
5. Use your arms to balance your body
Have you ever imagined how difficult it would be for an armless person to walk on a narrow path without missing steps?
The arm is a natural apparatus that maintains the body weight by balancing the left and right parts of the body to align with the earth’s gravitational pull. Most people are not aware that the arms help in balancing the body’s weight because it is an automated body activity.
If you learn to balance properly, you will play better soccer because you can tackle better, take more powerful shots, and even give better passes to teammates. Don’t be afraid of getting booked by a referee as long as you are balancing your body properly with your arms.
6. Use your arms to jump
The arms are useful for jumping. Watch professional long jumpers and see how they meticulously move their arms while sailing through the air.
Jumping will look weird and somewhat difficult if the arms are not properly involved. A player like Cristiano Ronaldo can attain great heights from jumping because he has trained himself on the best ways to swing his arms when jumping to enable him to jump higher than his contemporaries.
7. Using your arms to block the ball properly
A player can get away with blocking the ball with the arms even while in the penalty area. Sometimes a referee’s decision solely depends on how deliberate the arm’s contact with the ball looks and also a player’s reaction after being faulted.
If you are an avid soccer fan, you might have noticed some players getting away with blocking shots with their arms during soccer matches without getting penalized for a handball offense.
There is a simple way you can properly block balls in soccer, making it look like an accident even when you are mindful of your actions. To successfully execute this act, you must ensure you skillfully avoid exposing your arms by holding them firmly tight behind your back.
Once you notice you can safely block a shot with your arms, go for it with your arms still firmly held together behind your back, and try brushing off the ball slightly away from the target with the arm. Although the referee may whistle for a pause, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will most likely vindicate you.
Inappropriate ways of using your arms in soccer
Below are some of the actions with your arms that can get you into trouble with the referee while playing soccer.
1. Using your elbow
Players hardly go unpunished when the referee discovers that they used their elbow on another player even when it’s an accident. Professional soccer players are to be very mindful of their arms especially their elbow while contending for the ball.
An elbow offense is one of the major misconducts in soccer that has higher chances of attracting a red card. In severe instances, players who indulge in it intentionally can get extended match bans after receiving a red card.
The use of the elbow is a violent contact that can leave a player with a bleeding nose or a missing tooth and can knock a player unconscious in some instances.
2. Protecting your face with your arms
Due to natural impulse, the first part of the body used for protecting the face from a fast-approaching projectile is the arms. This can cause you to be penalized in soccer due to a handball foul even when it is obvious that you are only trying to protect yourself from getting injured.
Most times, soccer players intentionally allow themselves to be hit on the face by a ball to avoid getting a red card or causing a penalty. This might hurt very badly but it’s often better than going against the rules just to save your face.
Moving out of the ball’s way is the most effective solution in this circumstance. Turning your head against the approaching soccer ball is also an effective move, it might also be painful but not as painful as when the ball hits you square in the face.
3. Grabbing and holding onto opponents
Grabbing or holding onto opponents is not a legal move in soccer. You may get cautioned by the center referee on your first attempt but a booking may follow on your next attempt.
Smart players often grab and hold but they make sure they do it cautiously to avoid getting the referee’s attention or angering an opponent. Excessive and reckless use of force while doing this is what causes players to be penalized.
The referee has the final judgment in issues involving grabbing and holding which is why the referee sometimes act aloof over this offense especially when a goalless or a draw match is approaching its end and both teams involved are struggling to get a winning goal.
4. Always sticking out your arms
Sometimes, players can’t avoid carelessly sticking out their arms especially when they are scared or anxious over an opponent’s attack, a close free kick, or a curvy corner kick.
Professional soccer players know that constantly sticking out their arms while playing soccer increases the chances of getting booked for a handball or a nasty offense.
Some other sports might allow players to “stiff arm” their opponents but not soccer. Stiff arming in soccer is an aggressive style of play that can get you sent out of the game.
5. Intentionally or unintentionally touching the ball
In soccer, goalies are allowed to handle the ball deliberately in their penalty area. Players can also handle the soccer ball momentarily while taking a throw-in, penalty kick, free kick, and corner kick.
Apart from the above-mentioned instances, players can also technically block a ball from reaching its intended target using the arms although it requires practice and mastery because you can easily get penalized when not done properly as earlier stated above.
At instances where the ball touches a player accidentally on the arm, the referee’s judgment remains the final point of call. The referee often overlooks accidental contacts and resumes a match but this will depend on the referee’s analysis of the player’s body language and intent.
Ultimately, as long as your arms are kept behind your back when the ball hits them, it is unlikely that you will be penalized.
Some skillful players can intentionally target an opponent’s arm while playing the ball and would often be the first to alert the referee’s attention when they commit such acts.
It’s important to always keep your eyes on the ball and your arms close to your body while on the soccer pitch to avoid getting booked for unintentional handball offenses.
In soccer, apart from the goalie, other players are allowed to deliberately handle the ball when taking a throw-in, positioning the ball for a free kick, and placing the ball for a penalty kick.
If you are already a soccer player or intending to become a soccer player without the intent of becoming a goalie, it is very important to properly study the rules governing the use of arms in the game of soccer.
Soccer laws and rules are amended from time to time, you should always read up on the latest updates concerning soccer rules and regulations to avoid needless fouls and bookings.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!