Football Offensive Holding Penalty

football offensive holding penalty

The offensive holding penalty is the most commonly called penalty in football. It is most commonly committed by offensive linemen, although occasionally tight ends, wide receivers, and even running backs will be called for the penalty as well. Learn all about the offensive holding penalty below.

What is an Offensive Holding Penalty in Football?

The offensive holding penalty occurs when an offensive player holds a defensive player, which is illegal in all levels of football. Proper and legal blocking in football is with an open hand technique; any kind of grabbing or holding on to another player is not allowed. This includes grabbing a defender with your hands, tackling him, pulling him to the ground, and hooking, jerking, or turning him with your arm. It does not matter whether the offensive player's hands are inside or outside of the frame of the defender's body; any grip or wrapping up on any part of the defender's body is illegal.

Most often, this penalty happens when a defender beats or gets past an offensive lineman, and in an attempt to recover and prevent the defender from getting to the ball carrier, he grabs a part of the defender's body and impedes his path. It can also happen to tight ends, running backs, and wide receivers, who are much less experienced with blocking and sometimes are asked to block defenders much bigger and stronger than they are, thus are vulnerable to forgetting proper blocking technique. However, the offensive holding penalty is not always called according to the definition of the rule; linemen hold in some form on nearly every play, but referees tend to only call the more obvious or egregious ones.


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The offensive holding penalty has the same result across all levels and leagues of football: a loss of 10 yards from what the line of scrimmage was before the play, and any yardage gain or score during the play is negated. For example, imagine a team begins at the opposing 40 yard line on 1st & 10. They run a play that goes for 30 yards, but holding is called. They would now have 1st & 20 from the 50 yard line, with the 30 yard gain not counting. In most NFL games, there is at least one occasion where a team makes a big play and/or scores and it ends up being called back due to offensive holding, leaving fans of the offense distraught after believing they had a big play.

Penalty Signal

football penalty signal holding

The referee signals an offensive holding penalty by bending his left arm upwards with a closed fist next to his face and grabbing his left wrist with his right hand. Since he is holding his own wrist, it displays the idea that the penalty called is holding.


  • If an offensive lineman wraps his arms around the body of the defender, pulling him to the ground. This is a clear and obvious example of offensive holding.
  • If a lineman has a grip on a defender's chest with his left arm, illegally preventing him from getting to the ball carrier.