Can You Use Your Arms In soccer? (Here’s When)

Outside the US, soccer is called football for a reason. Soccer has been known for over a century now as a mostly foot-centric sport that using arms or hands is often forbidden.

But can soccer players use their hands, arms, or shoulders in games?

This aspect of the game raises many questions since it can get confusing for some people. Generally, using these parts of your upper body is not entirely permitted in soccer; it is greatly restricted.

And you can’t do well in this game unless you know the very basic rules of using your arms. Even watching soccer is much more fun when you know a thing or two about the rules in this area.

In this guide, we put together an informative list of when and how you’re allowed to use parts of your upper body (hands, arms, shoulders), and the circumstances under which you must not. 

Female soccer players shoulder to shoulder

Never Touch a Soccer Ball with Your Arm

If the ball comes into contact with the full arm of the player (from the tips of the fingers to their armpit,) it is considered a handball offense in soccer. The majority of players and fans are aware that you cannot touch the ball with your hands in soccer. 

Handball in Soccer - Area of the arm
Handball in Soccer – Area of the arm

Although this is generally true, there are exceptions to this rule, and it does not apply to all players. Within their penalty area (the 18-yard box), a goalkeeper can touch the ball with his arms and hands.

Plus, if the ball strikes the arm of a player, it isn’t necessarily a handball since the contact between the ball and the player must be deliberate. For example, kicking the ball into the arm of another player before they have time to move their arm is regarded as an unintentional handball, which is not penalized.

It’s also not a handball if the ball touches the arm of a player as they are falling over and they clearly do their best not to touch the ball.

Simply put, if the ball strikes the arm of a player during a game, it’s considered handball, as long as the contact with the ball was deliberate and the player touching the ball wasn’t the goalkeeper within their penalty area.

Using Your Arm to Defend Can Be Acceptable

It is legal to defend using your hands and arms according to soccer rules, as long as you don’t use them to stop the ball. To protect the ball or the goal, you’re allowed to shield it from another player using your arm or even your body by leaning into another player.

If your intention is to defend the ball, you must not allow your arm to make contact with it. Being able to use your arms in this manner is crucial to being a competent soccer player. You can practice this skill with a friend if you have the chance! 

While you’re allowed to use your arms for defense, you’re not allowed to push another player away by sticking your arm out. Players in other sports like rugby can often hold their arms out or stiff-arm another player in order to keep them at arm’s length.

In soccer, there is no such thing as a “stiff arm.” It’s against the rules and is regarded as dangerous behavior.

You Can Protect Your Face With Your Hands

If needed you can protect your face by putting your hands in front of them. The hands must be close to your face because if they are away from the body you risk handball.

The old rules would have given a free kick or penalty even if you had your hands in front of your face. But the rules have changed over the years, knowing that if your hands weren’t in front of your face, it would only hit your face – so there would be no advantage.

Players will normally only put their hands in front of their face when there is a free-kick and you see the ball coming towards you. In other scenarios, during play, if you see a ball coming towards your face, just turn your face to the side and there’s little pain if the ball glances your face.

Balance Your Body with Your Arms

In soccer, you need to have the ability to move around, change directions, and control the ball as much as you can to be good at the game, which requires a solid sense of balance. 

You will be a much better player if you can maintain a good balance while moving around the soccer field. Arm movements have been proven in studies to have a major impact on balance, and arm movement is directly related to balance control.

We recommend that you use a balance board, which can help you enhance your balance, core strength, and soccer-playing skills.

A lot of soccer players are concerned about getting penalized by the referee for using their arms to balance, but a skilled referee will use his or her judgment to determine that the player is simply balancing with their arms rather than committing a foul.

Employ Your Arms to Run Better

Running with your arms is something that every soccer player – and even every athlete – should be good at.

They enhance your stride by driving both backward leg motion and forward body motion. A runner’s performance might also be hampered by poor arm movement.

Excluding the goalkeeper, every player on the soccer field will spend a significant portion of the game running with the ball, running to support their teammates, or chasing the ball or another player.

One approach to help focus on arm movement while running is to ensure your hand brushes your hip or waistline as it passes by, forward and backward. This is a great technique for properly using your arms when running.

Don’t Push With Your Arms

In soccer, players are not allowed whatsoever to push opponents. Pushing another player directly with the arms, hands, or any other part of the body is considered a foul. If this occurs, the referee will give a free kick or penalty kick to the opposing team.

According to soccer rules;

If a player pushes another one in a way that the referee thinks is reckless, careless, or employing excessive force, the referee has the right to give a direct free-kick to the pushed player’s team.

If you want to avoid giving your team a free kick or receiving a yellow or red card, never use your arms as a means to push another player. You can, however, slightly push the other player by leaning into them with your shoulder to protect the ball.

That is generally regarded as legal, but be careful, as some referees will consider it a foul if your opponent falls or takes a dive.

Using Your Elbows Is a No-no

Likewise pushing, elbow use is not permitted in soccer. The referee will punish a player who employs his elbows with the aim of harming or blocking another player from getting near the ball.

In most cases, using an elbow will cause the player to receive a red card and be forced to leave the game. This is considered violent contact and is not permitted in soccer.

According to the IFAB Laws of the Game

Unless the force used was minimal, a player who, when not contending for the ball, purposefully hits an opponent or any other person on the face or head with the arm or hand is guilty of violent behavior.

So, if you’re playing soccer and that one annoying player is giving you such a hard time that you feel tempted to smash your elbow against their face, stop and think for a moment, as you might receive a red card!

In all seriousness though, using your elbow will not only result in you being unable to continue playing due to a red card, but it may also injure the other player. So, overall, it’s not a situation you want to put yourself in.

Use Your Arms to Keep Close to an Opponent

During soccer games, players frequently use their arms in order to keep themselves close to another player. When players from for a set-piece like a free-kick or a corner kick, the defending team’s players will frequently use their hands and arms to hold or touch the player they’re marking.

At a set piece, most teams assign a certain player from their team to track or mark a specific player from the opposing team. This eliminates any uncertainty among players as to who is keeping an eye on whom. 

At the same time as monitoring the opposing players, the defenders should keep an eye on the rest of the field and be aware of their surroundings.

Defenders frequently place their hands on the person they are marking to ensure the opposing player doesn’t get away while they look around the soccer field. This enables them to follow them and know where they’re heading in case they move away.

This may also be used to keep a player from moving away too fast. They only have to be careful not to get flagged for a foul against their opponent.

Let Your Teammates Know You Want the Ball Using Your Arms

Another technique to legally make good use of your arms in soccer is to communicate with your teammates about where you are and what you want. When a player has the soccer ball and one or more players from the opposing side are closing in on them, they will glance about for a teammate on their own team to pass to.

When a player raises their arms, the one with the ball is more likely to see them and pass the ball to them before being encircled by any other player. At a set piece like a throw-in or a corner kick, players raise their hands for the same purpose.

Players raise their hands to draw the attention of the ball carrier. If the player with the ball sees them, they can throw or pass the ball in their direction. They simply show their desire for the ball by raising their hands.

Additionally, the ball-carrier wants to communicate with their teammates, they can also use their hands and arms, For example, they can point in a direction where they want their teammate to go in order to receive their pass.

Put Your Shoulder To a Good Use

Since your shoulders are not really a part of the arm, you can get away with using them correctly. In soccer, it’s permissible to lean against another player to direct them away from the ball or to shield the ball.

It is not permitted, however, to charge an opponent or cause them to harm with your shoulder. This move could result in the player receiving a warning from the referee or, in a worst-case scenario, being sent off.

Good news, though. Touching the ball with your shoulder is acceptable. To control the ball or even score a goal, players are allowed to use their shoulders.

Don’t Hold Another Player

If you want to hold or touch another player, you have to do this with extreme caution, as the referee can judge that you used reckless, careless, or excessive force, and consider it a foul. 

The referee decides many things in the game, and they use their understanding and experience to make decisions on the field. In soccer, it’s not acceptable to grab another player because it is deemed a foul.

The referee may issue a warning to the offending player or even give them a card in bad cases.

Soccer Rules FAQ

How long is a soccer game?

Soccer games include two 45 minute halves, which is 90 minutes of play. Those who have ever watched a game know that, like many sports, real-time is longer than the match time.
In real-time, the length of a soccer game varies immensely. At the bare minimum, it will be 90 minutes of play + 15 minutes of halftime for a total of 105 minutes.

What is offside in soccer?

The offside rule in soccer is to stop player ‘goal hanging’ – standing near the opposition goal. This also stops soccer from being a long ball game, balls hit from one goal to another.

What are yellow card offenses?

+ Charging an opponent – caution if reckless.
+ Holding an opponent – When the ball is in play and the holding continues.
+ Handling the Ball – When a player handles the ball to break up attacking play. If an attacker + uses their hand to attempt to score a goal.
+ Dangerous play – If a player makes an action that can risk an injury to another player.
+ Impeding the progress of an opponent – If a player holds another player back or blocks a player on purpose, that prevents an attack.
+ Breaking up an attack - where there is the possibility of creating a scoring chance.
+ Simulation - where a player tries to con a referee into thinking that they are injured in order to punish the opponent. If a player tries to make out that they have been fouled.

What are the red card offenses?

+ Serious foul play
+ Violent conduct
+ Spitting at a person
+ Deliberate handball – denying a goal-scoring opportunity
+ Denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity
+ Offensive, aggressive, abusive language or gesture
+ Receiving a second caution

Soccer field size, size of goal, number of players and minutes played per age;

+ u17-u19 - Halves 2 x 45 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-100 by 100-130 yards
+ u15-u16 - Halves 2 x 40 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50- 100 by 100-130 yards
+ u13-u14 - Halves 2 x 35 minutes - Number of players 11 vs 11 - Goal Size 8 x 24 - Field size 50-10 by 100-130 yards
+ u11-u12 - Halves 2 x 30 minutes - Number of players 9 vs 9 - Goal Size 7 x 21 - Field size 45-70 by 70-80 yards
+ u9-u10 - Halves 2 x 25 minutes - Number of players 7 vs 7 - Goal Size 6 x 18.5 - Field size 35-45 by 55-65 yards
+ u6-u8 - Quarters 4 x 10 minutes - Number of players 4 vs 4 - 4 x 6 Goal Size - Field size 15-25 by 25-35 yards

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