11 Basketball Referee Signals: What Do They Mean? - Baller's Guide (2024)

Ever wondered what basketball referee signals mean?

You might be one of those who, while playing basketball, notice basketball referees moving their hands, but you have no idea what they mean.

Thinking it’s the official’s sign language, you might get confused, especially if you’re a newbie.

In this blog, we will tackle what these signals mean exactly and why knowing the roles of referees is a must.

Let’s get started.


What is the role of the referee in basketball?

A referee is also called an official in various competitions and sports. It’s their responsibility to enforce the rules of the game and sportsmanship decisions.

Since the sport usually has various rules and decisions, the referee is there to make sure that everyone plays fair and square.

What are basketball referee signals?

Basketball referee signals are what officials use during the game to call out rules or players’ actions that can affect the game’s turnout.

Referees use their hand movements since it’s a convenient option in calling out the players’ and audience’s attention.

11 basketball referee signals and their meaning

There are a lot of basketball referee signals, so here are some of the signals you will often encounter during a game.

1) Traveling

One of the most common basketball referee signals, traveling occurs when the referee makes a roll or spinning motion with both his arms.

It means the ball handler took too many steps without dribbling the basketball.

This results in the offensive team losing possession of the ball, so be mindful.

2) Double dribble

When the referee does a dribble motion with both of his hands, it means the ball handler was dribbling using both hands at the same time.

It is also a double dribble when the ball handler picks up his dribble and right after that, dribbles again.

It results in a turnover for the offense, so being extra mindful in dribbling may be a good idea.

3) 5-second violation

When the referee sticks out five fingers, it means the inbounder took more than five seconds.

You have to remember that the team only has five seconds to inbound the basketball.

4) 10-second violation

When the referee put ten fingers up, it means the team took more than ten seconds to get the ball past half court after inbounding the basketball.

The team only has ten seconds to get the ball past half the court, so all players should be quick in passing the ball.

5) Carrying

It is one of those basketball referee signals that get called out often during young kids’ games.

When the referee does an open palm facing up, it means the ball handler palms the ball or scoops underneath the ball instead of dribbling.

6) Kicking

This is not soccer where you can kick the ball however you like.

So, when the referee does a kicking motion with one foot, it means the offensive player kicked the ball on purpose.

It results in the play being blown dead and the possession of the ball transfers to the defense through an out-of-bounds throw-in.

7) Backcourt

For this violation, the referee sways his arm with palm up beyond hip level and palm down the waist.

This is a signal for when the offensive team that crossed the midcourt line went back across it.

Be extra careful when you finally have the ball and where you pass it.

Make sure all your team are on the same side of the court and won’t go back to the other court once you’re at your home court.

8) Jumpball

Don’t confuse this signal as something good. When the referee gave two thumbs up, it means two opposing players have their hands on the ball at the same time.

To resolve the matter, the two opposing players will have to do a jump ball to decide who can possess the ball.

9) Holding

As a player, being careful where you put your hands would be a great move.

When the referee holds his wrist, it means the defender was holding the offensive player.

It is one of the basketball foul signals that you should be mindful of. It results in a personal foul on the defender.

10) Blocking

Another one of the basketball foul signals that you will often encounter on the court would be blocking.

When the referee puts both his hands on his hips, it means the defensive player was blocking the ball handler to the basket without setting his/her feet.

It results in the ball handler getting free throws if their team is on the bonus or if they are not on the bonus, the ball will be out of bounds.

11) Pushing

This means that you should be aware of your strength or be careful where you put your force on.

When the referee’s arms do a shoving motion, it means a player pushed another player out of the way.

It results in a personal foul and loss of ball possession.

How does a referee signal a goal?

It is one of the referee’s responsibilities to signal a goal to know that it counts for the score.

Players would also like to know if their shoots count while playing.

So, when a player shoots a two-point, the referee will point two fingers while extending one arm parallel to the floor.

On the other hand, when a player scores three points, the referee will extend both arms upwards with their fingers pointing.

Why do basketball refs wave their arms?

You will know if your shot does not count when the referee waves their arms.

When they wave their arms, it means the shooting is foul and the referee needs to check if the foul happened during the act of shooting.

In any case, if it did not, the shot doesn’t count.


Learning the basketball referee signals is one of the basics that basketball players should know.

It can always help them, especially you, to make a decision and gain observations when in court.

It also helps in feeling or being safe in court, plus the assurance of fair play.

These basketball referee hand signals would your life as a basketball player easy but also might be your source of confusion during a game.

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11 Basketball Referee Signals: What Do They Mean? - Baller's Guide (2024)
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