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Soccer Poet

The Hand Ball in Soccer

The Hand Ball in Soccer

So I’m not much for teasers, but I am excited to be making a pretty big announcement in the next week or two. I’ll try to be a little more dependable with blog posts between now and then, so just check back once in a while. Anyhoo…

This week I was reminded of one of my high-priority pet peeves in the beautiful game, and I mean, what good is a blog if you're not going to use it to vent, I figured I'd share it with you. Yay you.

Here’s a challenge for you: Spend a year watching soccer – your kids’ games, college soccer, Premier League, La Liga, international matches – any and all of them, then, at the end of that year, tell me exactly what a handball is. Not what the law says… but what the reality is. I bet you can’t do it. For a sport that I love so dearly, and a sport that has been around for oh so long and has such a massive global following, I’m perplexed that we can’t settle on a consensus definition of this law that can be universally applied in such a way that the application matches the actual law from one official to the next. This has been bugging me for a couple of decades, so much so that I included a chapter about it in my book Happy Feet. Since the book is intended for soccer parents, I figured I would attempt to demystify some of soccer’s more mysterious concepts. Now one might think that in a sport with doozies like the advantage rule and the offside law, the hand ball wouldn’t qualify as mysterious, but I assure you, when it comes to what hand balls are whistled and what ones are not, mystery abounds. So, if you find yourself amongst the puzzled masses, take solace in the knowledge that you are not alone. And to you I offer this tidbit from Happy Feet:

I’ve been playing soccer since 1975 and coaching it since 1991 and the only thing I’m sure of is that no one, including the officials, is absolutely certain of what constitutes a hand ball. There are as many interpretations as there are referees and coaches and players.

According to Law 12, a hand ball is a violation when a player handles the ball deliberately. Okay, that’s easy enough. The problem is that a very small percentage of hand balls are actually deliberate and there is at least one built in contradiction. A player who is guilty of an intentional hand ball is given a yellow card. Well then, by definition, every hand ball should be a yellow card, right? Except that’s not the case.

Also, if the letter of the law actually carried the day, you wouldn’t see professional soccer players keeping their hands behind their backs when they are inside of their own penalty areas trying to block shots or crosses. If an attacker fires a shot and it hits a defender in the arm, that’s hardly deliberate, but it’s often whistled as a penalty kick. Like I said, I’m pretty sure no one knows exactly what qualifies as a hand ball.

So here are my unofficial criteria for a hand ball:

  • Any part of the hand and arm can be involved.
  • If it significantly affects the path of the ball, particularly if it benefits the team that handled the ball, it’s a hand ball.
  • The higher the hand is raised, the more likely a hand ball will be called.
  • The farther the arm is extended away from the body, the more likely a handball will be called.

Unofficially, that’s how most officials decide whether or not to whistle a hand ball and most coaches would consider that definition reasonable. You will notice that there can be a great variation from one referee to the next when it comes to hand balls. Until someone figures out a better way, you’re just going to have to get used to it.

If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll consider checking out Happy Feet or some of my other books. Speaking thereof… this is the time of year when I let people know that if you plan to make a bulk order of Soccer iQ (or any of my other titles), sooner is better than later. The books are print-on-demand, which means there is no inventory – the books are printed as they are ordered. As you can imagine, the holiday season considerably slows the turnaround time. So like I said, sooner beats later. If you’d like to purchase in bulk at a discount, just contact me through this website.