There are several different "holding" penalties. Here's what you need to know:
ON THE DEFENSE
You'll often hear this refereed to as "impeding" the runner.
Before the ball is thrown
- Holding on an eligible receiver before the pass is thrown is a 5 yard penalty, with an automatic first down.
- Anytime the ball carrier is behind the line of scrimmage and eligible to throw a pass, if held by the defense, it is a 5 yard penalty (10 yards for men's league) from the previous line of scrimmage, and the down is replayed.
- But why? Because the ball carrier was still eligible to throw a pass, the offense isn't penalized a down for the defensive penalty
After the ball is caught, or advanced downfield
- Holding a runner while trying to pull the flag is a 5 yard (10 yards for men's league) penalty added to the end of the run.
- If it was 4th down and the yardage gained plus the penalty yardage doesn't give the offense a first down, an additional down will be played after the penalty is assessed.
- Basically, if you hold to prevent a score or a first down on 4th down, no matter what, the offense will get another play!
ON THE OFFENSE
Offensive holding is usually called in men's league, and occurs when an offensive lineman holds a rusher. This doesn't mean that "holding on to" the shirt is a holding penalty -- in order to be a penalty, the rusher has to be outside of the offensive's frame, or otherwise won an angle to the quarterback.
If this occurs, it is a 10 yard penalty from the previous spot, and the down is replayed.