In Referee Week in Review – Week 15, the first video clip illustrates a deliberate handling foul (Colorado at Seattle, 32:00).

In the podcast discussion, the concept of “making oneself bigger” is emphasized. In the video, as the ball strikes the player, the player seems more to be making himself smaller, drawing his arms inward and slightly turning his body away from the ball.

I am not questioning the handling call itself, as it is easy enough to argue that the arms were deliberately moved into the path of the ball. But could you explain further how the concept of making oneself bigger applies to this particular incident?

The player taking away the kicker’s passing lane using hands/arms is also discussed. Prior to making contact with the ball, the player does leap with arms stretched upward–is this where making oneself bigger applies? And if so, how does this factor into the foul since no contact with the ball occurred while the arms were outstretched?

Thanks much.

USSF answer (July 8, 2009):
Referees at all levels must understand the criteria and the context in which terms are used and must analyze how the term, concept or criteria should be extended to use in a game. This is the case with the criterion “making yourself bigger.” Remember, not EVERY example or use of a criterion can be mentioned. For this reason, the ability to analyze and understand how it should be interpreted or applied is critical to an official’s success.

Here is the full definition of “making yourself bigger” found in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives. The definition should answer your question.

This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).

• Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?

Nowhere in the definition does it state that “making yourself bigger” applies ONLY to the arms at your side. On the contrary, it merely covers “takes away space from the team with the ball…” and “deliberately putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent.” Notice, it does not mention only to the side nor how far from the body the arms/hands can be. The definition also says “LIKE spreading your arms wide….” Key is the word “like.” This means there are other reasonable answers.

So, in this case, think about what “bigger” means. When a person is said to be “bigger,” it does not mean only to the side. It means all around the body. This should include above the body as well. A player can clearly take away a passing lane or space from an opponent by extending his arm/hand directly in front of himself. This fits the definition of “making yourself bigger.” Think about the concept and draw a mental picture for yourself.

Concepts like “making yourself bigger” and “unnatural position” can overlap also. This is a case when both occur in the same action by the defender.

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