what is holding in football

What Is Holding In Football? Offensive & Defensive Explained

Penalties are common in a football game. Holding is one of them. So how does the foul occur? What is holding in football?

Holding is sometimes difficult to define since the referee calls it in the offense and defense. Players on the defense and offense need to understand what constitutes holding.

There are several factors that the referee considers before ruling a holding foul. Holding penalties are pretty common. And, teams can use them to their advantage and make big gains.

Are you looking to learn and understand holding in football? Join me as I break down, holding in the defense and offense.

What Causes Holding In Football

Tackling or grabbing an opponent in a football game is what causes holding. Holding is considered the illegal use of hands to tackle or hold a player that’s not in possession. I’ll discuss these in detail when covering holding in defense and offense.

Holding is considered illegal, preventing fair play. It also increases injury risks as you’re grabbing or tackling a player without the ball.

Various actions can lead to holding in football. This can be turning a player, hooking, twisting, or pulling him to the ground when not in possession.

What Is Offensive Holding In Football

According to NFL Football Operations, offensive holding is when an offensive player alters or restricts a defender’s angle or path of pursuit. Legal and proper blocking in football features open hands. But grabbing and holding a defensive player is legal and results in a holding penalty.

player holding onto opponent's jersey

It’s considered a foul whether your hands are on the inside or outside of the defender’s body.

Holding a defender refers to grabbing the defender with your hands, pulling them to the ground, tackling, jerking, twisting, hooking, or turning them with your hands.

Offensive holding usually occurs when the defenders beat the offensive linemen. As a result, the offensive linemen attempt a recovery. They grab the defender to prevent them from passing the ball to a ball carrier.

Offensive holds are also common to less experienced wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs who aren’t used to blocking.

However, the offensive holding rule doesn’t always occur as per the rules. It’s mostly left to the referee’s discretion. Referees make the call on pretty obvious or egregious holdings.

NFL Rule For Offensive Holding Penalty

The rule for the offensive holding penalty is a loss of 10 yards from the scrimmage line before play. In addition, the offending team also negates any yards gains or scores during the play.

It’s a big penalty that greatly affects teams. Take, for instance, a team starting to play at the 40-yard line on the 10 and first. The team runs the play for 30 yards and then gets an offensive holding penalty. The 3-yard won’t count, and they’ll have the first and 20 starting play from the 50-yard line.

The penalty can even be worse when a team scores and a holding penalty is called. Play will be called, and the big play being called.

What Is The Penalty Signal For Offensive Holding

The signal for an offensive holding penalty is the referee bending their left arm upward. They then close their fist and bring them next to the face. The referee will then grab their left wrist using their right arm, indicating a holding penalty.

By holding their own wrist, the referee indicates the penalty is a holding.

What Is Defensive Holding In Football

Now that you know what offensive holding means, let’s see what defensive holding is.

player's jersey being pulled by opposing team

According to NFL football operations, a defensive holding in football is a play where a defensive player obstructs an offensive player. This usually prevents the offensive player from moving safely and freely.

The penalty is when a defensive player grabs or tackles opponents apart from the runner. A referee will only award a holding penalty when the defender holds a player that’s not in possession or actively waiting for a pass.

A runner in the offense is the player in possession and running with the ball. Such players are usually wide receivers or running backs. But when the defender holds a player intending to catch the ball, then interference is called.

Defensive holding in football is common from linemen trying to stop offensive players from making a block. It can also occur when defenders grab ineligible pass receivers.

NFL Rule For Defensive Holding Penalty

The NFL rule for a defensive holding penalty is a loss of 5 yards and a first automatic down. This is regardless of where the down took place.

The rule is slightly different for the CFL, NCAA, and NGHS, where teams get a 10-yard loss and an automatic first down.

It’s not a very harsh penalty as the offensive holding penalty, but one that can extend drives. The automatic first down gives the defense holding calls.

What Is The Penalty Signal For Defensive Holding

The penalty signal for a defensive holding sees the referee’s right-hand holding/grasping the left-hand twist. The referee then throws his flag. After the play, he’ll then assign a 5-yard loss penalty to the offending team.

Holding in Football FAQs

What Is the Difference Between Blocking and Holding in Football?

The difference between blocking and holding in football is that blocking pushes a player in an attempt to block their path or hold the player back. In blocking, the players mostly face each other. The offensive player will land his hands on the defender’s frame.

american football athletes in action

But holding is simply grabbing a player to prevent the player from breaking away or making moves. When holding, players will hold into an opponent’s jersey leading to a holding penalty.

What Is the Difference Between Holding and Pass Interference?

Holding differs from pass interference since pass interference occurs when the ball is in the air. 

In pass interference, a defender holds to a receiver while the ball is in the air preventing him from catching it. A holding penalty occurs after a pass has been made.

How Long Is a Holding in Football?

A holding in football is 10 yards for the offensive holding and 5 yards for the defensive holding. There’s an automatic first down for the defensive holding.


That wraps everything from us on holding in football. Holding on to football is one of the most common offenses. It can occur on the offensive or defensive, where players grab and pull down players not possessing the ball. 

However, holding penalties don’t occur as per the rule, with referees left with the discretion to decide when the holding is egregious enough to lead to a penalty.

Holding penalties can devastatingly change the game’s drive for either side. Players must be aware of the holding penalty and learn legal blocking. It’s important if you can avoid them altogether, as the penalty negates even the gains made from the line of scrimmage.

The penalty for holding in the offense is 10 yards, which can greatly impact the offense to score. As for the defense, the penalty is 5 yards with a first automatic down. 

Generally, such penalties are quite harsh for the fans, especially when their team has just scored a touchdown. The referee reversing a score is never an easy thing for a fan.

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