4 Types of Basketball Referee Hand Signals Explained (2024)

Following a basketball game is simple during regular play, but it gets a bit trickier when a foul gets called or the game stops. There is a wide range of unique events in basketball, and they all come with their own hand signals.

Knowing those signs makes watching the contest much easier. If you’re curious about them, or if you want to know what they mean, the following paragraphs break them down in great detail.

1. Time Management Signals

Stop Clock/Start Clock: To signal to the table that the clock needs to stop, a referee will raise their hand straight into the air over their head with the palm facing out. To resume the clock, they hold the same position and simply drop the raised hand to the floor.

Timeout (Full and Thirty Second): If a team, or the official, needs a full timeout, the ref will signal it by putting both arms fully out to the sides and creating a large “T” shape. If the call is for a thirty second timeout, the official places both of his hands on top of his shoulders.

Jump Ball: In the event of a jump ball, which happens when two players from opposite teams hold onto the ball at the same time, a ref will extend his arms and point both of his thumbs up.

Substitution: When a team calls for a substitution the ref will raise one hand to the time keeper in a “stop” motion and then use his other hand to wave the new player into the game.

4 Types of Basketball Referee Hand Signals Explained (1)

Basketball Referee Penalties and Signals – How to Officiate Basketball – Bob Scofield

2. Foul Signals

Charge: If an offensive player runs over a defensive player who’s in position, it’s a charging foul. When that happens, the ref will call it by placing one hand on the back of their head and pointing in the opposite direction of the play.

Hand Check: If a player reaches and hand checks their opponent, a referee will extend one arm in front of their chest and then grab their wrist with their other hand.

Blocking: A blocking foul is committed when a defensive player moves into, or literally blocks, another player. This is signaled by moving both hands, balled into fists, down against the hips.

Holding/Pushing: A holding signal is made when a ref extends one arm upwards in front of his face and grabs their wrist with their other hand. To signal a push, the ref will extend both hands straight in front of them with their palms facing outward.

Intentional Foul: An international foul happens when a player purposely tries to foul someone else. In this instance, a referee will raise both arms above his head and cross them.

Technical Foul: To signal a technical foul a referee places both of his hands in front of him and places them together to form a “T” shape.

Double Foul: If two players commit fouls at the same time, the official will ball his hands into fists and then extend them out to the sides.

Illegal Hand Use: If a referee calls a player for illegal use of hands, they will put both hands in front of them at waist level and grab one of his wrists with the other hand.

3. Violation Signals

Traveling: To call a travel, a referee will ball their hands into fists and then rotate them in a circle pattern in front of their body.

Carrying/Palming: If a player palms the ball, a referee will put one hand in front of their body with the palm up and flip it face down.

Double Dribble: A double dribble violation is called by the ref placing both hands in front of himself with the palms down. From there, he alternates them up and down in a dribbling motion.

Three Seconds/Five Seconds/Ten Seconds: If a player violates a timing regulation, a referee will raise a certain number of fingers on their hand and wave them back and forth. Three fingers for three seconds, five for five, and ten for ten.

Kick Ball: Sometimes, a player will kick the ball with their leg or foot. If that happens, the ref will raise one foot up in a slight kicking motion.

4 Types of Basketball Referee Hand Signals Explained (2)

4. Hand Signal Indicators

Two Pointer/Three Pointer: If a player makes a two point shot, the ref will extend their arm parallel to the floor and point with two fingers. If a three gets made, they will extend both arms into the air with their fingers pointed upwards.

Basket Counts/Doesn’t Count: When an official wants to signal a made basket after a foul they will ball up their hand and punch downwards. If they want to signal that the shot doesn’t count, they will “wave off” the shot by crossing their hands in the air.

Lane Violation: In the unlikely event that a player goes over the lane during a free throw, a ref will signal it by raising one of his arms out to the side and holding it there until the free throw finishes.

Final Whistle: The Many Gestures of Basketball

Everyone gives referees a hard time, but they have a lot to do and memorize during a game. It’s easy to know one or two signs, but having everything ready to go at all times isn’t easy. That can be even trickier for a casual fan or spectator.

The above paragraphs give a comprehensive look at just about every hand signal you’ll see in a regular game. Being able to immediately recognize them teaches you more about the sport, and makes it much easier to follow what’s going on during the action.

4 Types of Basketball Referee Hand Signals Explained (2024)


What is the hand signal for the 8 second violation? ›

When a team has the ball in the backcourt, they have 8 seconds to get the ball across the half-court line. If they take longer than the allotted 8 seconds, the referee calls a 8-second violation. The referee signals this violation by putting eight fingers in the air.

What are the different hand signals used by basketball referees? ›

Types of Referee Hand Signals
  • Starting the Clock Signal. ...
  • Stopping the Clock Signal. ...
  • Jump Balls and Held Balls Signal. ...
  • Foul Signals. ...
  • Optional Bird Dog Signal for Fouls. ...
  • Directional Signal. ...
  • Spot of Violation Signal. ...
  • Move Along End Line on Throw in Signal.

What does 3 fingers mean in basketball? ›

The three fingers are held up to symbolize the three point basket that they just made and they look through the hole made by their thumb and forefinger to symbolize the "dead eye".

What does 2 thumbs up mean in basketball? ›

In basketball, when a held ball occurs, an official will jerk both thumbs in the air, signalling that a jump ball is in order. In baseball, umpires will sometimes jerk a thumbs-up over their shoulder as an "out" signal.

Is it 8 or 10 second violation? ›

The rule was introduced in 1933. It was basketball's first time restriction on possession of the ball, predating the shot clock by over two decades. FIBA and the NBA specified 10 seconds, but adopted an 8-second limit in 2000 and 2001, respectively.

Is there a 8 second violation in basketball? ›

A team shall not be in continuous possession of a ball which is in its backcourt for more than 8 consecutive seconds. EXCEPTION (1): A new 8 seconds is awarded if the defense: (1) kicks or punches the ball, (2) is assessed a personal or technical foul, or (3) is issued a delay of game warning.

Is shoving a foul in basketball? ›

B. Personal Foul. A player shall not hold, push, charge into, impede the progress of an opponent by extending a hand, arm, leg or knee or by bending the body into a position that is not normal. Contact that results in the re-routing of an opponent is a foul which must be called immediately.

What is illegal use of hands in basketball? ›

Illegal Use of Hands Foul – This is a foul called when a defender slaps, hacks, or smacks an offensive player with the ball.

Why do referees use hand signals in basketball? ›

Answer: A basketball official's job is not only to make judgment calls on what happens during the course of the game but also to make sure players, coaches and the scorekeepers understand what those calls are. That's why basketball referees use hand signals to indicate certain fouls or violations.

What does 4 fingers mean in basketball? ›

Players will hold up four fingers to intone that the final, most crucial 15 minutes of the game are about to be played. The signal is a reminder to everyone to stay frosty and put forth the best game that they can.

What does 4 spread fingers mean? ›

Celebrities used 4 fingers to support mental health issues.

In 2017, tons of celebrities were holding up 4 fingers in pictures, especially on Instagram. This trend started because of BBC's 1 in 4 mental health campaign, symbolizing how many people struggle with mental health issues.

What does holding up 4 fingers mean? ›

Holding up four fingers on the field often means that the game is in the most crucial 15 minutes, according to Distractify. "When the clock expires at the end of the third quarter, teams hold up four fingers to signify the beginning of the most important 15 minutes of the game," according to Dictionary.tn.

What does the 👍 mean? ›

The thumbs-up emoji also frequently punctuates text, sometimes in strings for additional emphasis, to indicate positivity, agreement, approval, encouragement, or assurance, an equivalent to “Awesome!” or Great job!”. Someone might comment “That looks great! 👍” to celebrate a piece of online artwork.

What does the 👍 mean in English? ›

A thumbs-up or a thumbs-up sign is a sign that you make by raising your thumb to show that you agree with someone, that you are happy with an idea or situation, or that everything is all right.

What does 👍 mean from a guy? ›

The thumbs up emoji usually just means “o*k.”

Their 👍 is most likely a good sign and they are just agreeing with what you're saying. Say you asked a friend if they wanted to meet for lunch. Your friend may say “yes” by sending you a 👍 .

What is the signal for illegal hand use? ›

Illegal Hand Use – An illegal hand use foul is signaled by the official putting both of his hands in front of him, at waist level, and grabbing one of his wrists with the other hand.

What are the hand signals for driving? ›

Hand signals must be given from the left side of your vehicle - the driver puts their left arm out the drivers side window. To signal turning left stick your left arm out the window while holding it straight out. To signal turning right stick your left arm out the window and bend it up pointing to the sky.

How many seconds does it take for a player to be called for a violation in they are standing in the key? ›

The three-second rule was introduced in 1936 and was expressed as such: no offensive player, with or without the ball, could remain in the key, for three seconds or more.

What is the hand signal to stop driving? ›

I'm Stopping

Extend your left arm out the driver's window and point your arm down with your fingers extended and your palm facing rearward. This is the universally accepted sign that you're decelerating, and other drivers understand it intuitively.


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