How much can a player in possession of the ball use his arms to keep defending players from getting to the ball? Can they have their arms partially out to the side to “make themselves bigger”; can they have their arms straight out to the side to make a sort of wall; can they have an arm or hand in contact with a defender who is behind him and pushing forward against that arm? Clearly if the attacker gets to the point that he is applying enough backward or sideways pressure with his arm to physically move the defender away, it becomes a push, but I am not sure if any of the other described tactics constitute impeding or holding.

Thank you for any clarification you can provide.

USSF answer (March 26, 2009):
“Making oneself big” is not a good thing in situations involving deliberately handling the ball, nor is it a legitimate tactic in shielding the ball. No player shielding the ball from another is allowed to use the arms or any other part of the body for other than maintaining balance — which does not include pushing off or holding the opponent. If the player is simply maintaining balance — in the opinion of the referee — then an opponent who initiates contact with the player who has the ball is guilty of charging illegally.  If the player with the ball is holding out his or her arms or a leg not to maintain balance but to obstruct the opponent, the player has committed an indirect free kick offense, provided no contact occurred.  However, if the player with the ball initiates any contact, then he or she has charged, held, or pushed (all direct free kick fouls) and must be punished accordingly.

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