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Question Number: 34161

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 3/18/2021

RE: Competitive Under 12

Tony Fong of Norton, MA United States asks...

Hi. I was asked to take a girls travel team for my town. We are working on building a wall. It's been 8 years since I coached so things are a bit foggy and may have changed. Back in the day, I was taught to have the girls in the wall cross their arms across their chest and bow their heads. One girl asked if they could instead put an arm across her face. My question is if the ball hits an arm or a hand and (1) they don't move or (2) they instinctively move their hand to protect themself. I am thinking #1 would not be a foul but #2 would be. Maybe I just need to tell them they need to keep their arms to the side or behind their back! Thanks for your help.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Tony,
the truth is your number 1 would likely be ok PROVIDED the arm is into the body mass not away from it. For instance, you can raise your hands over your head and not move them, but a ball-striking them most definitely a foul as they were deliberately placed there to take up space! It is still a judgment call by the referee if your number 2 is indeed a free-kick foul. It would depend on the awareness, timing, distance & speed.

Protecting yourself is fine, the key is, do not LINK arms in the wall as that is a deliberate action to chicken wing wider and most definitely should be called if the ball contacts such a link, similar to placing the hands over your head to be taller, the chicken wing makes you wider! Once the arms are protectively placed in front of the body, breast, or face best they stay there. A hand or fist resting on the forehead is better than a forearm across the face because then the space beside the head is illegally being blocked by the elbow or hand. Whereas straight up and down the arm is in line with the body itself. Where a problem might occur, IF the ball is directed at or near head height or just above and the wall tries to jump up often the arms become free moving, waving or warding off, especially if the body starts turning sideways as the instinct to pull away or push the ball away is very strong.

Tell the girls to be brave, arms tight to the body, EYES open, and react accordingly! I hold the opinion, given the increased awareness for head injury due to concussions and the non-heading impetus for youth that protecting the noggin at u-12 should be given every consideration to not call a foul. Basically, unless you reach out to stop a goal or a clear passed ball there should be very few handling fouls called! Your match, your decision, your reputation! Good on you for making the effort to provide an opportunity to play. Cheers

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Tony
Thanks for the question.
I would be slow to allow players to raise their arms to head height in a defensive wall for the reason that a referee may consider that the arm has made the body bigger unlike across the chest or groin areas as the ball is going to hit the body anyway in those positions. The contact will look less obvious in those positions.
Add in body movement by a player such as a jump or a move sideways or a reactive movement of the raised arm and it can be viewed as deliberate handling. Referees judge whether a player has moved an arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact however that is subjective. Additionally referees evaluate whether a player deliberately readjusts body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with a hand or arm.
I would also say that Under 12 girls may be given a great deal more latitude than open age players. I once recall a woman player who came on as a substitute in a particular game. She watched the ball from a distance drop towards her in the penalty area and at the last moment decided she did not want the ball to hit her on the head so she raised her arm for protection. I decided it was instinctive reaction and I did not award the penalty kick that was claimed. She was simply afraid of the ball. However I know other referees who would have given the deliberate handling as she moved her arm to the ball instead of avoiding it.
So in your scenario some referees will ignore it yet there can be others who will call the handling and for that reason I would be slow to give advice in arm positioning other than it is okay to be in a natural position or positions that have become accepted across the lower body.. Raised arms at head level is not a natural position.
I might suggest that if you have the opportunity before kick off to ask the referee about his opinion on deliberate handling generally and in particular on raised arms in the defensive wall. If he says that he is fine with it then okay, If not then plan B has to be considered.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the question.

I hear the logic in the idea here - but there are a few concerns. As a referee, there are a few things to look out for with the self-protective handball. The first is if the hand comes out to the ball.

Now, if one of your players has a hand up protecting the face - what's going to happen if the ball comes to them? I'd expect that in a panic, the hand will come out to meet the ball - that's going to make it a foul.

The second is when the arm coming up to protect the head stops a ball that isn't actually going to hit the head. For instance, arms come up in front of the face and block a ball that would go over. That's unlikely to be an issue here - but it could be an issue if the elbow comes up and that strikes the arm. That's also fairly unlikely, but worth considering.

Instinctively moving the arm up to protect themselves isn't a foul. Unfortunately, you never know what the referee on the day is going to do - and I've known a lot of referees with incorrect interpretations of the handling laws. But, if a ball is blasted at the wall and the hand comes up to protect the face (and not out to palm the ball down), then the correct decision is to allow this - and of course it's a reflex you can't stop the girls doing this at this age.

The higher the grade, the less tolerant referees will be here. So if they can manage this young it'll help them when they get older. Also, we often see players who will have arms flailing in all directions around their head when the ball goes anywhere near them - like I said, if the ball was going to miss anyway or if the arms come out towards the ball, it's a foul.

So if you can help them in not needing their arms I think you're doing them a favour - but in answer to your question, neither 1 nor 2 should be a foul.

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