Understanding Referee Signals

  1. Listen for the whistle . A referee who blows his whistle has seen something, most often a foul, or stoppage in play, which requires him to immediately terminate play and deal with the situation. The whistle tone will often indicate the nature of the foul. A short, quick whistle indicates a lesser foul only punished by a free kick, and longer, harder blasts indicate serious fouls punishable by cards or penalty kicks.
  2. Watch for the advantage . A referee who, without blowing his whistle, points both arms out, has seen a foul but has decided to play advantage. In advantage, the referee delays the call because he believes that the fouled team still has the advantage in the situation. Typically the referee will give around 3 seconds to determine who comes out on top. If, at the end of the 3 seconds, an advantage was gained by the fouled team, such as possession being kept or a goal being scored, the foul will be ignored by the referee. If the foul warranted a card, however, he will show the card at the next stoppage in play.
  3. Watch for direct free kicks . To signal a direct free kick, or DFK, a referee will blow his whistle and point with a raised arm in the direction of the goal that the team who has been awarded the free kick is attacking. A DFK is awarded when one of the players commits one of the ten penal fouls against an opponent. A goal may be scored from a DFK.
  4. Watch for indirect free kicks . If after signaling for a free kick the referee keeps his hand above his head then he is signaling for an indirect free kick, or IFK. An IFK is awarded for any foul not falling under the category of penal foul, or a foul which is not committed against opponents. A goal may not be scored from an IFK until it has touched another player. When signaling for an IFK, the referee will keep his hand up until after the ball has been kicked and touched by another player.
  5. Watch for the penalty kick . A referee who points directly to the penalty spot, or the spot two-thirds of the way between the penalty area line and goal area line, is indicating that a player has committed a DFK offense within his own penalty area and a penalty kick has been issued.
  6. Watch for the yellow card . A referee who shows a player a yellow card is indicating that the player has committed one of the seven cautionable offenses. A player who is issued a yellow card is noted by the referee, and if a second yellow card is issued, the player is sent off. Under National Federation rules (US high school), a player must leave the field after receiving a yellow card (caution). The cautioned player may be replaced, and/or may re-enter on the next available substitution opportunity.
  7. Watch for the red card . A referee who shows a player the red card is indicating that the player has committed a serious offense, one of the seven "deadly sins" send-off offenses, and must leave the vicinity of the field of play immediately (in professional matches, this most often means he heads to the changeroom).
  8. Watch for other signals . A referee who points at the goal with his arm pointed straight, parallel to the ground, is signaling for a goal kick. A referee who points at the corner flag with his arm pointed upward is signaling for a corner kick.
  9. Watch for goal signals . There are no official signals for a goal. A referee may point at the center circle with his arm pointed down however, it is a taken that when the ball has completely crossed the goal line between the goalposts, a goal has been scored (unless of course there has been an infraction of the LOTG in which case the referee will blow his whistle to indicate such and give an appropriate signal as to what the restart will be). The whistle is usually blown to signal a goal, because the whistle is used to start and stop play. However, when a goal is scored, play may automatically stop, so sometimes a whistle is not used.