Soccer Referee Signals

Soccer Referee Signals

Understanding the basic soccer referee signals in a game is important for coaches, players, parents, and fans.

Simply understanding them will help keep the flow of the game going without the need to stop and explain every situation.

Key Takeaways From This Article:

  • There are various referee signals from the head referee and the assistant referees. They usually include signals using a flag, hand, or whistle.
  • Each hand signal represents different calls (we’ve listed them below).
  • Getting to know the signals is important so you can understand them quickly and continue playing.

For referees, hand signals are used to communicate with players, coaches, and spectators. Depending on who you are rooting for, you’ll often hear “yes!” or “terrible call”. Whatever the case may be, having a good understanding of each signal will help you see the game better.

Different Referee Signals

These signals are used to indicate various decisions made by the referee during the game. These could be for offsides, out-of-bounds, goal kicks, etc.

Referee Signals

While some of the signals used by referees are straightforward, others may be more complex or less common.

Let’s explore the most common soccer referee signals and the meaning behind them.

Basic Referee Signals

Roster Size MLS


The whistle is the most basic and important tool for a soccer referee. It is used to start and stop play, signal fouls, and indicate the end of a half or the game. Here are the common referee signals:

  1. Start of play: The referee blows the whistle to signal the beginning of the match, the start of each half, and after each goal.
  2. Foul: The referee blows the whistle to indicate that a foul has been committed. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as dangerous play, tripping, pushing, or handball.
  3. Offside: The referee blows the whistle to signal that an offside offense has occurred. This happens when an attacking player is in an offside position when the ball is played to them. Prior to the whistle, the AR typically holds the flag out where the offside occurred.
  4. Penalty kick: The referee blows the whistle to indicate that a penalty kick has been awarded to a team. This is usually given for a serious foul committed by a defending player inside their own penalty area.
  5. Half-time: The referee will blow their whistle twice to indicate the end of the half.
  6. End of Regulation: The ref will blow their whistle three times (the last one is usually longer) to signal the end of regulation.


The assistant referee (AR) uses a flag to signal to the referee when the ball has gone out of bounds, when a player is offside, or when there has been a foul.

The AR raises the flag straight up to signal that the ball has gone out of bounds and waves the flag back and forth to indicate a foul or an offside infraction.

Hand Signals

The referee uses hand signals to indicate various decisions during the game. Some of the most common hand signals include:

  • Direct free kick: The referee points with one arm in the direction of the opposing team’s goal.
  • Indirect free kick: The referee raises one arm straight up and keeps it there until the ball is kicked.
  • Penalty kick: The referee points to the penalty spot with one arm.
  • Advantage: The referee raises one arm at a 45-degree angle to indicate that play should continue even though a foul has been committed.

Other hand signals that the referee may use include signaling for a corner kick, a goal kick, a throw-in, or a substitution.

Referee Signals in Soccer

Here are the referee signals in soccer you can expect to see. We’ve highlighted the various infractions and calls but if you want to dig deeper into them, we suggest reading the ‘Soccer Rules & Regulations: The 17 Laws of the Game’.

  • Yellow or Red Cards: disciplinary actions used in soccer to indicate that a player has committed a serious offense or violated the rules of the game.
  • Direct Free Kick: a type of free kick that is awarded to a team when an opposing player commits a foul.
  • Indirect Free Kick: a type of free kick that is awarded to a team when an opposing player commits a less serious foul or violates a technical rule of the game. It must touch a player before it can be scored.
  • Goal Kick: a type of restart that is awarded to the defending team when the ball has gone out of bounds after being last touched by an attacking player, and it has crossed the goal line without entering the goal.
  • Corner Kick: a kick that is awarded to the attacking team when the ball has gone out of bounds over the goal line by a defending player.
  • Advantage: a situation where the referee allows play to continue after a foul or infringement has occurred, instead of stopping play to award a free kick or penalty kick.
  • Substitution: when a player is replaced by another player during a match.
  • Throw-in: a method of restarting play when the ball has gone out of bounds over the touchline.
  • Offside: a rule in soccer that is designed to prevent attacking players from gaining an unfair advantage by being in an offside position when a pass is played to them.
  • Video Assistant Referee (VAR): a technology used in professional soccer to assist the referee in making important decisions during a match.

Advice to Parents

I hope that helps you understand the various referee signals! We tried to make it as concise as possible.

Now you’ll have a better understanding the next time you watch a professional match or your child’s soccer game.

soccer cleats for girls

As an aside, be nice to your referees. They are trying to do their best. It really is tough to make the right calls in the moment. Sometimes the game happens so fast that the referee misses things. The best thing you can do is keep it to yourself. 

I’ve been on the sidelines where the parents just berate and argue all game. I’ve seen it at the U19 level and unfortunately U8, age doesn’t matter. Some parents think they know the game better than the coaches and refs. The funny thing is, they usually don’t. Even if they do, parents should sit back and enjoy their son or daughter playing the game they love. Parents should try to take the emotions out of it. It will be better for them, the player, the coach, and the referee!

Beau Bridges - Soccer Novo Hey 👋 I’m Beau. A proud Dad, former coach and soccer enthusiast. I continue to love the game of soccer today the same way I did when I was 7. I created to share what I know about the game as well as provide a platform so other parents can learn more about youth soccer in the U.S.

Find a Club Near You

Be in the know for everything soccer in the U.S. 🥳️

SoccerNovo was built out of pure passion for the game of soccer. Our team provides helpful and entertaining content that helps players become better and enjoy the game more.
© 2023 SoccerNovo, LLC. Trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
SoccerNovo is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases but there's no cost to you.