Hands In Soccer: All The Details

In a game dominated by using feet, hand usage seems like a major no-no in soccer. Sure, most people know that the goalkeeper is allowed to use their hands, but everyone else has to kick the ball around and use other parts of the body to control the ball.

This is a look at all the rules that apply to hand usage in soccer. When using hands illegally, it can bring some pretty stiff penalties that no team wants to face. Knowing the rules will help to better explain what happens when there is a call on the field.

Here’s everything you need to know about hands in soccer.

What Are The Official Rules For Hands In Soccer?

Official rules for using hands in soccer are that players actually can’t make contact with the ball using their hands, arms, or elbows intentionally.

This is against the rules even if it is accidentally done. Officially speaking, law 12 of the IFAB Laws of the game ban this type of usage. Goalies can only touch the ball if they’re outside of the 18-yard box.

Law 12 IFAB Laws

Standard handball fouls are punishable with a free kick or penalty. In some instances, a referee might issue a yellow card or a red card. This is up to the discretion of the referee, judging each call individually.

How Can Field Players Use Their Hands In Soccer?

Players might not be able to touch the ball with their hands, but the hands still play a role in the game of soccer. How do field players still rely on their hands? These are a few of the ways hands still matter.


Hands can come In handy when playing defense. Fighting for positioning happens frequently throughout the game, which usually means more than just pushing around with the legs.

Defenders need to be a little discreet about how many pushes and grabs they do with their arms and hands because referees will call a foul if there is too much physical activity. However, every player uses their hands and arms somewhat to have an edge.

Offensive players can get away with using their hands a little bit as well, and the same type of rules apply. There’s always a bit of jockeying for the ball that players are trying to really open things up for themselves.


A lot of communication takes place on the soccer pitch thanks to hands and arms. Teammates have to know where everyone is going on a particular play. Hand gestures really come in handy if the stadium is very loud. It can be hard to hear verbal communication, so hand signals are the better way to go.

Coaching staffs will also occasionally use hand signals for the same reasons. Teams usually go over a few signals so that each player is on the same page. Some of them are self-explanatory, while others are set plays relayed to the team and/or captain.


It would be impossible for players to run around and play without using their hands for balance, form, and other little things that go with regular play.

Players are free to use their hands and arms to run around like normal, just as long as it does not make contact with the ball.

What other Parts of the Body are off-limits?

Referees have the opportunity to make a handball call if a player makes contact with any part of the arm. The elbow and below is where players are more likely to face an infraction.

The feeling is that players have much more control of this part of the arm, which leads to quicker handball calls.

Hand Rules For Goalies

Using the hands, or any part of the arm below the shoulder, is a penalty for every player except the goalie. For the goalie, they can use any part of their body to block shots that are coming their way. As long as they are within the box, there are no hand rules.

Not only can goalies use their hands, but they have gloves that essentially make their hands bigger and capable of absorbing power. This makes it easier to take risks and get a fingertip on a ball to deflect it. Instead of running the risk of breaking a gloveless finger while doing this, the gloves protect as much as possible.

Once a goalie steps out of the box, they then have to play like a field player. Sometimes, teams use their goalie late in a match for a corner kick. If they don’t score, and the team is doing a counterattack, they then have to sprint back to protect the goal.

Intentional vs. Unintentional

One of the hardest things for referees to make judgment calls on is whether or not a handball is intentional or unintentional. Intentional handballs are always punishable and will result in a free kick or penalty. However, there are a few instances where even if it is unintentional, there can still be a penalty that goes along with it.

It’s a major call under a ton of scrutiny if a team scores. Whenever there is a handball situation, referees are quick to make a call. If a team gains an advantage that leads to a goal-scoring opportunity, this falls under the same category.

Players making their bodies bigger by extending their arms out will also be penalized, even if it is unintentional. That’s why a lot of players who are trying to jump for the ball will keep a slim profile so that they don’t accidentally get that call on them.

Where players might get away with an unintentional handball is if it doesn’t lead to any advantage, or if it was clearly out of the player’s control. Referees will instead try to play on and keep the game flowing as it should.

The Most Famous Handball In Soccer History

In 1986, Argentina won a World Cup match thanks to the Hand of God goal scored by Diego Maradona. It was a quarterfinal match-up with England, finishing 2-1.

In the 51st minute, Maradona scored by using his hand. It’s referred to as the Hand of God goal after Maradona described it as such after the match. It led to Argentina ultimately winning the World Cup that year.

No handball call, or lack thereof, has made bigger headlines in the history of the sport.

Why Handball Calls Are So Important

Soccer is a game that revolves around skill with the feet. Incorporating any type of handball passes would take away from the fundamental aspect of soccer.

Even though there are a lot of unintentional handballs that happen, controlling the game is a major part of keeping up with overall integrity. Handballs have no place in soccer, and they never will.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired at the age of 21 due to injuries - which led me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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