How to Understand the Signs of a Football Referee

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How to Understand the Signs of a Football Referee
How to Understand the Signs of a Football Referee

Football is the most popular sport in the world. With more than 200 million players, it is a global activity that has simple rules, so that anyone can learn to play it easily. However, it is important to know what the signals and gestures the referee makes mean; that way, whether you're watching or playing, you'll understand what was marked.


Method 1 of 2: Understanding Chief Referee Signals

Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 1

Step 1. When giving an advantage after a foul, the referee will point both arms forward, in parallel, towards the goal that the benefited team attacks

It is important to note that it does not whistle when granting the law of advantage.

  • The advantage is given when one team commits a light foul, but the other team remains in a good attacking position. In this way, the referee does not whistle, letting the play proceed through the two-arms-forward signal.
  • For example: a defender fouls the attacker, but the ball falls to another offensive player in good position to score the goal; the judge must grant the advantage through the gesture of two parallel arms.
  • On hard fouls or penalties, the referee will take a direct free kick and will likely show the defender a yellow or red card.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 2

Step 2. When whistling and calling a foul, the referee will point in the direction of the goal that the awarded team attacks, signaling a direct free kick

He will point in the direction the team is attacking with the hand that is not holding the whistle, so it is necessary to stop play and charge for the infraction.

  • For example, the referee can give the opponent a direct free kick if a lineman touches the ball with his hand.
  • This is the most common gesture during a football match. If the referee understands that there is no advantage for the team that suffered the foul, he will score a direct free kick.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 3

Step 3. Understand what the referee scored by standing with the arm up

This signal indicates that an indirect free kick has been awarded; the arm will remain in position until the benefiting team covers the foul.

  • Indirect free kicks differ from other fouls due to the need to touch the ball once before kicking it in the direction of the goal. Thus, when charging a foul directly in the direction of the goal, the goalkeeper does not need to defend it (if there is no deviation on the way), since the goal will not be legitimate. If the goalkeeper tries to prevent the ball from entering, but fails and ends up touching it, the goal will be validated, as there was the second touch (by the goalkeeper) before it crossed the goal line.
  • Indirect free kicks are much rarer than direct ones. They only happen in certain situations, such as an intentional retreat where the goalkeeper catches the ball with his hands, or in the case of a dangerous play (foot high ball contest).
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 4

Step 4. By whistling and aiming at the penalty mark, the attacking team will take a maximum penalty

Generally, the whistle is longer rather than fast.

  • Maximum penalties are infrequent in football, and occur when the defending team commits an infraction within the penalty area.
  • In the penalty kick, a player must place the ball on the lime mark and kick it towards the goal with only the goalkeeper as the defender.
  • Knocking down an opponent or putting the hand on the ball inside the penalty area, for example, are offenses subject to a maximum penalty.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 5

Step 5. Reckless plays and hard fouls can result in a yellow card for the player who commits them

This is considered a warning to the athlete; if he receives a second yellow card, a red card will also be presented, indicating that the player is expelled from the match.

  • The referee takes the cards from his pocket, holding them up so they can see the color of the card, while pointing at the offending athlete. Then he will write down the number and team of the player who took the card.
  • The yellow card can be presented when a player uses a lever and knocks the opponent down without making contact with the ball, or even when pulling the athlete's shirt, preventing him from proceeding with the play.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 6

Step 6. Serious infractions are punished with a red card

Depending on the nature of the fault, the referee may present the red card directly, or the second yellow card; in the latter case, it will show yellow and then red.

  • As with showing the yellow card, the referee will raise the red one so that everyone can see it, pointing it to the expelled player.
  • The red card is presented when an athlete attacks another or prevents a clear goal situation, such as when knocking down an opponent who is about to score a goal after dribbling the goalkeeper.

Method 2 of 2: Understanding Assistant Referee Signals

Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 7

Step 1. The assistant will point the flag at the corner mark to collect the corner

He will run to the mark and aim at it with his flag, without whistling.

  • Corner kicks occur when the ball goes over the end line with the defense's last touch. The assistant referee will signal the corner mark if the ball comes out on the same side he is on.
  • The assistant referee's flag is used in all his signals, including corners.
  • The "flags" move only along the sideline, with one covering each half of the field. When the game takes place in the other half, he must stand on the midfield line waiting for the ball fight to return to his side.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 8

Step 2. When the ball goes over the sideline, the assistant will point his flag to one side, indicating that the team attacking for that side has possession of the ball

  • When the ball goes out on the opposite side of the “flags”, it will only signal which team is the throw-in. Otherwise, it is the referee who must decide possession.
  • The ball comes out only when it completely crosses the line demarcating the field of play; if only half of it crosses the line, for example, the game must go on.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 9

Step 3. The assistant referee will raise the flag to signal an offside, which must be on the line of the last defender, and then lower it in the direction of the infraction, with the arm perpendicular to the body

As soon as the referee notices that the offside has been called, he will blow the whistle to stop play.

  • Sometimes the offside rule can be a little tricky to understand. The infraction is characterized when, at the moment of the pass, there is a player of the attacking team ahead of all the defensive players, with the exception of the goalkeeper. When the pass comes from one side, the attacker must also be behind the ball line.
  • For example: in the attacking field, player "A" makes a pass to a teammate, who, when the ball makes contact with "A's" foot, is in front of the last defender, except for the goalkeeper.
  • This rule exists so that players do not stay “in the bathtub”, waiting for a teammate to kick the ball for them while they remain close to the opponent's goal. There is no impediment when the pass is made to a player who was in his own (defence) field.
Understand Soccer Referee Signals Step 10

Step 4. By holding the flag with both hands, forming a rectangle, the assistant indicates that a substitution will be made

That way, all players and spectators will know why the game is stopped. The rectangle is maintained until the athlete change is performed.

  • Meanwhile, on the midfield line, the fourth referee will be holding the electronic board with the number of the outgoing and incoming player.
  • During the substitution, the two assistant referees will hold the flag with both hands.


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