Holding in Football - Definition and Explanation

Holding is the illegal restraining of a player who is not in possession of the football in order to gain an advantage. There are two types of holding; offensive holding, and defensive holding, as holding can be called on either the offense or the defense.

Offensive and Defensive Holding

Offensive holding is called when an offensive player grabs, pulls, or holds a defensive player with the intent of opening up a hole or route for a ball-carrier or preventing the defensive player from reaching the quarterback.

Defensive holding is most commonly called when a defensive player grabs or holds an offensive player downfield. Defensive holding usually occurs when a defensive player holds a receiver to attempt to keep them from getting open. As defensive physicality is necessary at the line of scrimmage, there is a five-yard area from the line of scrimmage where a defensive player is legally allowed to use his hands. Outside of that area, a defensive player using his hands will be called as holding.

Holding is called when a player does not employ proper open-handing blocking techniques. As it can be called on both the offense and the defense, holding is one of the most common penalties in football. Like other calls in football, holding is a judgment call, and how it is called depends on the specific situation and officiating crew. Thus, holding calls are occasionally missed throughout the course of games.

Penalty Yardage

Offensive holding results in a ten-yard penalty. It is assessed ten yards from the original line of scrimmage, and if it is called, the down is replayed. For instance, if it is first and ten with the ball on the thirty-yard line and offensive holding is committed, it will then be first and twenty, still from the thirty-yard line.

Any positive yardage accumulated prior to the holding on the play is nullified. If there are fewer than twenty yards between the line of scrimmage and the offense’s goal line, then the penalty will be half of the distance to the goal line rather than ten yards. If offensive holding is committed from inside the offense’s own end zone, then a safety is called, which results in two points for the defense, as well as possession of the ball.

Defensive holding is a five-yard penalty, and also results in an automatic first down for the offense.

Holding penalties can be extremely damaging to both the offense and the defense. On the offensive side, a holding call leaves the team with a long down and distance, making their job much more difficult. Holding can also take points away from an offense, as big plays are often nullified by an errant hold. Defensively, holding can be very damaging as it automatically gives the offense a fresh set of downs. Defenses often play very well for a few plays aiming to get a stop only to give new life in the form of a fresh set of downs to the offense as the result of a hold.