Referee hand signals in football

Written by john lindell
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Share
  • Email

Football referees employ a number of different hand signals. These hand signals are used during the course of a football game for a variety of purposes. These include everything from indicating what type of penalty has been called on a player or team, to stopping and restarting the clock, to specifying a score. Most referee hand signals are familiar to even the most casual fan, but there are some rarely called penalties that might not be so recognisable.


There are two hand signals that are significant because they indicate that a score was made. When a player scores a touchdown or a kicker kicks a field goal or extra point through the goalposts the referee will raise both arms over his head with hands extended to denote a score. On a safety, the referee will raise both hands over his head and place his palms together to designate 2 points are awarded to the team that recorded it.


There are different types of hand signals the referee uses that have nothing to do with specific penalties. One is used to show that a first down has been made by the offensive team; it involves pointing his arm in the direction that the team is going that made the first down. The referee tells the timer to stop the clock by crossing and uncrossing his arms above his head. To let the timer know to start up the clock, the referee swings his arm in a circular motion. A touchback on a punt or kickoff is shown by the referee putting his arm straight out to his side and raising it up and down. To indicate a team has declined a penalty, the referee will cross and uncross his arms at the level of his waist.


Hand signals are used to identify penalties by the referee, with some of the most common being offsides and delay of game. Off-sides is indicated by placing the hands on the hips while delay of game is shown by folding the arms and extending them in front of the chest. Holding is another common penalty that everyone that follows football knows the hand signal for--the referee grabs one of his wrists with the other hand in front of him. A false start is signified by rotating the arms about one another in front of the chest, and illegal motion by swinging one arm out from the chest to the side.


Illegal use of the hands is identified by a hand signal in which the referee puts his hand out in front of his chest and grabs the wrist with the other hand. Ineligible receiver down field is shown by putting a hand on the top of the head. Hands in front of the chest with palms open resembling a pushing motion is the signal for pass interference. Both arms extended from each side means unsportsmanlike conduct. When a referee raises a hand above his head and "chops" it with the other hand, a personal foul is indicated. Both hands placed behind the head indicates a loss of down, while a motion towards the ground with both hands in front of the chest, but at a slanted angle, suggests an intentionally grounded pass.

Expert Insight

The referee makes use of some signals that involve the legs and feet, and the hands come into play on only two of them. Clipping is implied by the referee chopping at the back of one knee with an open hand. By striking a hand on the portion of the leg that is above the knee, the referee is showing that an illegal cut has occurred. Putting one foot in front of the other is the signal for tripping, and making a kicking motion with one foot indicates the kicker was roughed; neither of these penalties involves a hand signal.

Don't Miss

  • All types
  • Articles
  • Slideshows
  • Videos
  • Most relevant
  • Most popular
  • Most recent

No articles available

No slideshows available

No videos available

By using the site, you consent to the use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie policy.