Our league is a Coed league across all divisions, up through U12. We recently had an interesting question from a U12 coach related to girls who cross their arms over their chest to protect themselves on a chest trap – does that constitute a handball?

An issue came up in our first game, and I did not get a chance to get a
clarification from the referee. As a co-ed team, I have girls as old as
twelve and a half. It is my understanding that girls may cross their arms
over their chest for protection when making a chest trap or if a ball is
kicked at their chest, at least in high school and college soccer. We had a hand
ball called on one of my girls for what appeared to be doing just that, and it
resulted in a penalty kick. Since I never player girls soccer, and I see nothing
in our rules, I did not know what to communicate to my team. Do we allow this
at the U12 level?

This brings up a good point. Is there a difference between a reflexive action to protect yourself from a shot, direct kick into a wall, etc. and protecting the chest when trapping the ball? Just the act of trapping the ball with arms crossed is, in effect, directing the ball and gaining an advantage, no?

Our head referee spent some time researching this and talking with other experienced referees before trying to answer.

Here is what our head referee sent back to the coaches:

Mr. Ref says:

All players regardless of sex are allowed to protect themselves with their
hands and arms. If a female player has her arms in a protective position
before the ball is propelled at them and they make no effort to propel the
ball by moving their arms or hands, then 99% of the times it is not a
HANDBALL. The same holds true for a male player using his arms and hands as
a protective cup. The same is true if a player covers their face. The key
words in all situations is "INTENT and/or GAINING ADVANTAGE". Normal reflex
action for protection for girls to bring their arms up to protect
themselves as well as guys shielding their crotch area with their hands
should be called as a no call, play on,its incidental contact, UNLESS IN
THE OPINION OF THE REFEREE, after the hand and or arms were used to protect
themselves, they then in turn intentionally positioned the ball with the
arms to gain advantage. Then its a DFK from point of the offense. The rule
is no different no matter what level of soccer it is.

Talking with other officials who have a lot more time under their belt
than yours truly and who are familiar with girls soccer, the arms across
the chest to trap a ball, that is gain control, unless stated in the local
rules, is a hand ball offense. And again it goes back to the opinion of the
ref if they used it for protection or to gain more of an advantage,
position wise. The thing is, while we have girls playing, this is a co-ed
league, why should a girl gain an advantage over a boy because she is
allowed to use her arms to control the ball, while the boy must properly
execute the trap in order to gain advantage from the move? Our local rules
do not state any such advantage for a girl over a boy. Therefore, for
crossing the arms to make a play such as a chest trap, that should be
interpreted as using your arms to gain advantage, not protection. Again, it
comes down to how the ref at that moment sees it and interprets the action
of the player. Crossing the arms to chest trap a ball off a header or punt
is nothing like the arms going up to protect from a shot or a deflection.

A general rule of thumb I tell our refs is if the hand goes to the ball,
unless for protection, then handball, if the ball goes to the hand, play

How does your league handle this situation? As always, its up to the referee’s discretion, but I thought this was an interesting question and am curious what other league refs would say.