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Question Number: 32084

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 12/8/2017

RE: Select Under 14

Eric of Kirkland, WA United States asks...

Is it a handball if the defender puts their arm in front of their face before an offensive player blasts the ball at them (the ball strikes the arm, but isn't 'handled' beyond that)?

And secondarily, should I be teaching my players to do this as a defensive safety measure against concussions?

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Eric,
excellent point given we now award indfks for heading at the younger ages in the u littles it is to be expected a few more arm interventions than just ducking out of the way could occur. At the lower ages most definitely, I see arm in front of face as a defensive measure not an aggressive push the ball away with NO foul attached, IF that IS what occurs. However, IF the arm is used forcefully to push the ball away as opposed to just block the ball from hitting the face it is in truth a deliberate handling offence. We SHOULD cut enormous slack for youth indiscretions, not so much as we escalate playing standards into the highly competitive youth or adult then pro ranks. I think your safety concern to be valid and useful if you receive unfair touchline flak for allowing the protective handlings to pass unscathed by whistles.

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Eric,
The short answer is 'no'.

Handball is defined as 'deliberately handles the ball'. Players are expected to do everything reasonable to avoid contact between ball and hand, but a self-protective reflex is beyond the player's control. Referees take into consideration a number of things in trying to judge whether handling is deliberate - motion of the arm to the ball, opportunity to react to the ball (eg a kick from 2 yards away is judged different to a kick from 20 yards away - unless, perhaps, that player has his view blocked by another player), whether the arm was in a natural position are the main ones (being in an 'unnatural position' doesn't automatically mean it's a foul).

For a player putting their arm up to protect their face - I'd be looking to make sure the arms are just up to the face and not going out to the ball. Sometimes players put their arm up to protect their face and above their head, thus handling the ball going over their head. I'm going to call that as a foul.

Similarly, sometimes players put their arms in front of their face and turn away from the ball at the same time. As a result, the ball which is now never going to hit their face hits their arm - for me, that's also a foul.

To allow it as unavoidable, accidental handling, I want to believe it's simply a self-protective reflex action and the ball was coming so fast and/or from so close that you couldn't reasonably expect the player to react in any other manner.

Of course we also take into consideration age and skill level.

To address your final question, I suspect that if you teach players to put their arm up in front of their face then not only will this be a habit that's hard to break as they get older, but it's going to start becoming a pre-emptive positioning of the arms. And the argument will be that if the player had the time and awareness to make a deliberate, conscious decision to put the arms in front of their face, then they also had the time and awareness to pick another option.

Also, deliberate handling is always a subjective decision by a referee. What I penalise, the next referee may not (frustrating as a coach, I know!!). Some referees are stricter on the 'self-protective reflex' than others. If you encourage your players to deliberately do it, then players are going to make mistakes - and I guarantee you will see more fouls awarded against you. And if that shot is on target to goal and the referee determines it's a foul, then that player may well see a red card.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Eric
Deliberate handling has become one of the most difficult calls in the game and one that is not uniformly applied. So what is seen by one referee as reflex protection can be seen by another as a deliberate action.
The tactic of a raised arm across the face has been used in the past at free kicks. USSF opined at one time that an arm placed to protect the body at free kicks was not a deliberate handling offence provided the player did not jump up or move into the path of the ball to stop it. What that means is the arm can be used for protection yet must not be used as a tool to assist in playing the ball.
In open play I cannot really see players raising their arms in front of their head every time they approach an opponent. When it is used the players, in advance of the ball being played, know the ball is going to be kicked and it is used as a tool to assist in charging the ball. So there can be a fine line between a player raising his hands to assist in a charge down and raising his arms for protection. The cue for me is one goes towards the ball with the arms raised before the kick while the other cowers away in protection.
In the recent WC game between N Ireland and Switzerland a penalty was awarded for deliberate handling
The referee opined that the player raised his arm high to stop the ball going towards goal. Some seen it as protection and a harsh penalty and that goes back to my original point. Another referee could opine not deliberate and play continues.
Now at lower age groups referee should be generous towards young player who raise their arms for protection. As they get older that generosity will diminish and they will be expected to discern what is happening and perhaps be somewhat less afraid of the ball.
As regards what should be coached it would be easy if the handling Law was uniformly applied which we know is not. I would certainly say that it is appropriate to coach protection measures in Underage to prevent concussion in the same way that reckless tackling should not be coached. The trade off is that when handling is called that it has to be accepted as a consequence.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe Manjone

In high school play, if the hand is placed in front of the face before the kick is taken, it is not a hand ball. An example would be a defensive player in the wall on a free kick. The player could place the hands in front of the face and if the ball hits the hands, this would not be handling.

However, it the hand is moved after the kick to prevent the ball hitting the face, and the ball hits the hand, this would be considered handling in high school play. Since under 14 players could be moving up to high school play when they turn 14, I thought that you may want to know the high school rule.

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