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American Football Referee Signals for Offense

Because American football referees can’t always yell loud enough for the offense to hear, the referee uses signals to inform football players and fans of penalties, touchdowns, and other calls made on the offense’s side of play. Here are what these signals look like and what they mean.

1

Clock doesn’t stop.

The referee moves an arm clockwise in a full circle in front of himself to inform the offensive team that it has no timeouts, or that the ball is in play and that the timekeeper should keep the clock moving.

2

First down.

The referee points with his right arm at shoulder height toward the defensive team’s goal to indicate that the offensive team has gained enough yardage for a first down.

3

Fourth down.

The referee raises one arm above his head with his hand in a closed fist to show that the offense is facing fourth down.

4

Holding.

The referee signals a holding penalty by grabbing one wrist with the clenched fist of his other hand and pulling his arm down in front of his chest.

5

Illegal forward pass.

The referee puts one hand waist-high behind his back to signal an illegal forward pass. The referee then makes the loss of down signal.

6

Illegal motion.

The referee flattens out his hand and moves his arm to the side to show that the offensive team made an illegal motion at the snap or prior to the snap of the ball.

7

Illegal push.

The referee uses his hands in a pushing movement with his arms below his waist to show that someone on the offensive team pushed or illegally helped a ball carrier.

8

Illegal shift.

The referee uses both arms and hands in a horizontal arc in front of his body to signal that the offense used an illegal shift prior to the snap of the ball.

9

Incomplete pass.

The referee shifts his arms in a horizontal fashion in front of his body to signal that the pass is incomplete, a penalty is declined, a play is over, or a field goal or extra point attempt is no good.

10

Ineligible player downfield.

The referee places his right hand on top of his head or cap to show that an ineligible receiver on a pass play was downfield early or that an ineligible member of the kicking team was downfield too early.

11

Intentional grounding.

The referee waves both his arms in a diagonal plane across his body to signal intentional grounding of a forward pass. This signal is followed by the loss of down signal.

12

Juggled pass.

The referee gestures with his open hands in an up-and-down fashion in front of his body to show that the pass was juggled inbounds and caught out of bounds. This signal follows the incomplete pass signal.

13

Loss of down.

The referee places both hands behind his head to signal a loss of down.

14

Touchback.

The referee signals a touchback by waving his arms and hands above his head and then swinging one arm out from his side.

15

Touchdown.

The referee extends his arms straight above his head to signify that a touchdown was scored. He also uses this signal to tell the offensive team that it successfully converted a field goal, extra point, or two-point conversion.

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