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12 September 2017

A Definitive Guide to a Legal Ball Holder

By Kevin Bowie, IWRF Referee


Over the past several years there have been a lot of questions about the rules, interpretations and best practice for officiating of the ball holder. Teams are often unsure of how the ball holder should be built and how the ball holder is assessed during chair check or during play.


Officials are often looking for a clear guide to ensure they are consistently evaluating the ball holder in the chair check as well as best practice for observing and officiating the ball holder during play. Finally, players are often unsure of how their ball holder is viewed by other athletes and how the official should manage them if their ball holder is not in compliance with the rules. This article is written to help provide some clarity so that all participants can work together to find consistency and eliminate ambiguity.


Let’s start with the rules. The article below (31: Comfort and Safety) has 3 key areas to pay attention to. It is the only starting point many of us have as a resource but, in many ways, is all you need to ensure your ball holder is legal. I have tried to break them down in blue:


Article 31. Comfort and safety

  1. All protrusions from the wheelchair, such as push-bars, crossbars, or hooks, must be padded.

This includes the ball holder. The padding may be secured using tape, but, just like with the back bar the padding must not have adhesive on it. This means no backward tape. The official should check this during the chair check as well as ensuring that no part of the ball holder, that could contact another player during a fall, is sharp or unpadded.  

  1. A player may use padding between his knees. This padding must not protrude above the top of the knees.
    The goal here is to prevent further support of the ball in a way that provides a mechanical advantage that restricts the ability for a defender to play the ball forward off the lap of an offensive player. Many players with knees and a full lap already protect the ball with their legs and knees on the sides due to the dump of their chair. This rule ensures that the ball can be played fairly and is not receiving additional support in the forward plane. At a minimum the official should expect to see 75% of the ball available when resting on top of the athlete’s lap.
  2. Players may use additional devices to support the ball. This support must be level with or higher than the seat frame. No part of the ball can rest within the seat frame. Straps may be used to secure the ball as long as 75% of the ball is available to be played and only make contact within the bottom 25% of the ball.
    This seems fairly straight forward but it is often where the lines become blurred. The diagrams below are actually the most helpful thing here so that we don’t get suck on the wording.
  • Diagram 1 - As you can see, the first part of the rule above is satisfied with diagram one. This picture is not legal because the ball depicted is inside the frame. The ball needs to be at rest above or outside the seat frame. In the chair check the athlete is required to identify that they will use a ball holder in the game. That athlete should be sitting in the chair with the ball holder in place, as it would be in the game. The official checking the chair should have a ball. They should rest the ball on the ball holder and look at it from the side and the front to ensure the ball is not inside the frame.
  • Diagram C-1 - We can clearly see the ball is resting outside the frame so this is legal. Additionally this picture shows that the ball is not the first point of contact. The ball or ball holder must sit behind the 11cm first point of contact to be legal (indicated with the blue vertical line). In the chair check the official should place the ball in the ball holder. If it looks like the ball or ball holder is further forward that the 11cm’s the official may ask for the athlete to face the wall and put their bumper against the wall to check the first point of contact.
  • Diagram C-2 – The key here is that 75% of the ball be playable, but also that the strap (or support device used) not exceed 1/3 of the height of the ball. Again, the goal here is to ensure that ball is playable in the forward plane. The athlete who uses a ball holder can rarely, if ever, achieve the bottom 3rd strap requirement if the ball holder is higher than their waist, as per the horizontal blue line in the diagram. When being assessed in the chair check the official should place the ball in the ball holder and bat the ball to either side and toward the front. There should be no mechanical advantage (ie. the ball springs back). The official should also identify the top of the athlete’s hip and ensure that the ball holder does not exceed that height. The official should also ensure that from all sides only the bottom 3rd of the ball is supported. 


To help everyone involved, it might be helpful to simplify the rules of the ball holder down to a quick reference list. This way we can have consistency and, hopefully, something resembling uniformity that works for the athletes who require the use of a ball holder.  


  1. The ball should not rest within the frame nor should it be the first point of contact
  2. The ball holder should not sit higher than the bottom 3rd of the ball in the front and the side planes
  3. The ball holder should not create an unfair advantage – it should not help the ball spring back and should not be sticky
  4. The ball carrier must be padded
  5. The ball carrier should not be higher than the top of the athletes hips

Now that everyone has a legal ball holder, it’s time to address the interpretation of the rules and examine how officials should best manage athletes who are in violation. It may also help to have a case reference.


  • 67 Playing the Ball
    • 67.1 A1 is carrying the ball on his lap. When B1 attempts to take the ball away, A1 leans his upper body on the ball to protect it. The referee calls A1 for a violation for not exposing 75% of the ball.
    • Answer: A player may protect the ball with any part of his body when an opponent challenges him for possession of the ball. However, he must reposition the ball (to expose 75%) if it has been pressed deep between the legs. This must be done within a reasonable delay.

There are 2 key interpretations to take away from this case. First, that an athlete is allowed to cover the ball with their body to protect it. If this causes the ball to go below 75%, that’s fine, but the responsibility is with the athlete to quickly return the ball to a position where 75% is playable. The case mentions “pressed deep between the legs” but this applies equally to the ball holder. Second, If the official does not see the ball return to a position where the ball is 75% playable, then it’s within the rules to call a violation. This would result in a turnover.


With that said, officials are coached to utilize the principals of advantage/disadvantage in addition to increasing their use of voice on court. This improves overall game management as well as reducing the referees need to intervene in the game, which enhances game flow.


As it relates to the ball holder, officials will look for a pattern of semi-advantageous violations of the rule of 75% before addressing it as a consistent behavior. Additionally the officials will use preventative officiating whenever possible. When an official can see the ball is consistently violating the rule of 75% in the warm up, a conversation can be held at that point. During the game compliance can best be  accomplished by speaking to the athlete, possibly during a break in play. The official can easily say something like, “please return the ball to 75% more quickly”. After having a word, the official should continue to observe to ensure the athlete is complying.


There might also be an opportunity to speak to the coach who can have the equipment manager make adjustments between quarters or while the athlete is substituted off. If the patter continues, the referee can formally warn the player that they must return the ball to a position that is 75% playable. Once the official has applied preventative measures, the athlete and coach are aware of the issue, when the violation comes it will not be a surprise. By improving the frequency of the conversations between officials and  players and / or coaches, as it relates to the ball holder, and applying these principals to all teams equally, the officials build rapport that should translate to more athletes playing with consistently legal ball holders.