The Complete List of Basketball Hand Signals (2024)

At every basketball game, there will be one lead referee, along with one or two assistant referees. These officials ensure all rules of the game are enforced, and order is kept on the basketball court. Before the game, referees must confirm the starting line up as well as inspect all equipment and players’ uniforms.

Referees use hand signals during a basketball game to inform players, coaches, other officials, and the crowd of their decisions. When a call is made, the referee will blow the whistle and then use his/her arms and hands to signal a call. There are numerous referee signals that you should know.

Types of Referee Hand Signals

Referee Signals for Starting and Stopping the Clock

There are five referee signals that are used for stopping and starting the clock. Players, coaches and the official timekeeper must keep a close eye out for these signals and understand them completely.

Starting the Clock Signal

The official raises his/her right hand and drops it to his/her side to signal the clock should be started. The referee will not blow a whistle for this signal.

Stopping the Clock Signal

When a referee lifts his/her right hand directly up and blows the whistle, the timekeeper should stop the clock. There are several reasons that the clock is stopped during a game including calling a foul, the basketball going out of bounds, calling time-outs, and free throws.

Jump Balls and Held Balls Signal

The referee will place both hands directly in front of himself/herself at chest level with both thumbs pointing upward. Then, the referee will raise both hands together and blow his/her whistle to signal that the clock should be stopped for a jump ball.

Foul Signals

A referee will signal a foul by lifting his/her right arm, forming a fist, and blowing the whistle.

Optional Bird Dog Signal for Fouls

The official blows the whistle, raises the right fist above his/her head, and extends the left hand horizontally to indicate a foul.

Informational Referee Signals

There are nine informational signals that are used during a basketball game. A referee will not blow the whistle with any of the following signals.

Directional Signal

The referee will extend his/her hand to one side of the court to indicate which team gets the ball if it goes out of bounds.

Spot of Violation Signal

A referee will point using his/her right hand to designate the spot for a throw in or a spot violation.

Move Along End Line on Throw in Signal

The referee will hold the ball in his/her right hand. The left hand will be placed on the right side of the neck and swipe towards the left.

Visible Count Signal

For this signal, the official bends his/her right arm towards the chest and then extends the arm straight out horizontally.

Beckoning Substitutes Signal

When a substitute is waiting to enter the game, the referee will raise his/her hand at a 45 degree angle and motion the player onto the court.

60 Second Time-Outs Signal

A referee indicates a 60 second time-out by folding his/her hands to the center of the chest and then extending the arms out horizontally.

30 Second Time-Outs Signal

A referee will lift his/her arms vertically, extend the elbows horizontally, and touch his/her fingertips to the shoulders.

Shooting/Scoring Referee Signals

There are several signals that referees use during scoring and shooting plays. The referee will not blow the whistle during these signals.

No Score Signal

The referee will cross his/her arms at chest level to signal a no-score play.

Goal Count Signal

The referee signals a goal by raising his/her fist above the shoulder and lowering the fist down to the waist.

Points Scored Signal

A referee will indicate that points are scored by extending both arms horizontally and using his/her fingers to indicate the number of points scored.

Field Goal Attempt

A referee will signal a field goal attempt by extending his/her right hand at an angle and holding up three fingers.

Three Point Field Goal Success Signal

If a field goal is successful, the referee will lift both hands above his/her head with the palms facing inward.

Bonus Free Throw Signal

For a bonus free throw, the referee will hold his/her hand horizontally and then lower the hand. For two bonus free throws, the referee will hold out two fingers, and for three free throws, three fingers will be held out.

Referee Signals for Violations

There are ten different violation signals. The referee blows his/her whistle when any of the following violations occur.

Delayed Lane Violation Signal

The referee will signal a delayed violation by extending a closed fist horizontally at shoulder level.

Traveling Signal

When a player travels without dribbling the ball, the referee will bend his/her elbows toward the chest with the fists closed and move them in a circular motion.

Illegal Dribble Signal

When the ball is dribbled illegally, the referee will hold his/her arms at waist level and lift and lower both hands as if dribbling.

Palming or Carrying the Ball Signal

When this violation occurs, the official will hold his/her right hand outward with the palm facing upward and then turn the hand towards the center of the body with the hand facing downward.

Backcourt Violation Signal

The referee will extend his/her right arm outwards at hip level, palm up, then arc the hand over at the waist with the palm pointing downward.

Three Second Violation Signal

The official will hold three fingers down at his/her side and lift the hand upward to chest level.

Five Second Violation Signal

A five second violation signal involves the referee holding his/her right arm up at chest level with all five fingers showing.

Ten Second Violation Signal

For a ten second violation signal, the referee will bend his/her elbows and hold both hands out, showing all ten fingers.

Excessive Elbow or Arm Swinging Signal

The referee makes a fist and holds it against his/her chest with the elbow pointed outward. Then, the official will swing the elbow and fist out until the fist is facing forward.

Kicking Violation Signal

When a kicking violation occurs, the official will lift his/her foot.

Referee Signals for Fouls

When a foul is committed on the court, the referee will blow his/her whistle and make one of the following ten hand signals.

Illegal Use of Hands

For illegal use of hands calls, the referee will cross his/her arms in front of himself/herself with fists closed and touch the right fist to the top of the left wrist.

Hand Check

A hand check signal is done by holding the right hand out and placing the left hand on the bend of the right elbow.


A holding signal involves bending the right arm with the fist facing upward and grabbing the forearm near the elbow with the left hand.


A blocking signal is done by placing both hands on the referee’s hips with the elbows pointing outward.


For a pushing/charging foul, the referee will extend both hands at shoulder level with the palms outward.

Player Control Foul

A referee will signal a player control foul by touching the back of his/her head with the right hand.

Team Control Foul

A team control foul signal is done by extending the right arm straight out from the shoulder with the fist closed.

Intentional Foul

An intentional foul signal is shown by raising both hands above the head and crossing the fists.

Double Foul

A referee will signal a double foul by extending both arms horizontally at shoulder level with his/her fists closed pointing downward.

Technical Foul

A referee will signal a technical foul by forming a “T” with his/her hands, placing the left hand vertically and the right hand horizontally overtop.

Referees use hand signals and a whistle to let participants, fans, coaches and the officiating staff identify the calls he/she is making during a basketball game. It is vital that all players, along with coaches and assistant coaches, understand each of these hand signals before the team enters the court.

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The Complete List of Basketball Hand Signals (2024)
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