Hand signals in volleyball: explained for beginners

There are two main hand signals in volleyball: hand signals from the referee or hand signals from a team member. The referee indicates who scored a point. The hand signals of your team members focus on strategy and tactics. You have to know both if you want to perform at the highest level. Let’s discuss each of these and see how they work.

Referee hand signals: did you violate the rules? 

There are main 16 hand signals that you have to know. Don’t worry if you don’t know them as you can always ask your team members or coach. It takes time to understand them all. However, it can give you an edge over other players if you do know them. Below you can find the main hand signals that are used by the referee during a match. 

1/ Inaccurate line-up or inaccurate service: First the referee awards the point by stretching the arm towards the winning team. Then the arm is rotated clockwise towards the team at fault and the players at fault are indicated. If there is an issue with the position of the players or the serve was done in a wrong way, this is indicated in this way.

2/ Line violation: The point is awarded by stretching the arm towards the winning team. Then the index finger is pointed towards the line. You shouldn’t cross the line with the ball and this violation shows you that a team did this.

3/ Illegal hit: The point is awarded and then the referee lifts his or her arm palm up to chest height. 

4/ Delayed service: This means that the server made a mistake. The point is awarded and the hand is raised so that five fingers are shown.

Delayed service: five fingers are shown. Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

5/ Over the net (interference): the point is awarded and the arm is held in a horizontal position in front of the chest. This means that the other team touched the net in an illegal way.

6/ Net serve: the serve went in the net. The other team gets a point by pointing to them and then the palm is held parallel to the net.

Photo by Stephen Baker on Unsplash

7/ Illegal attack: the point is awarded to the other team (by stretching the arm towards the winning team). Then the hand is pushed down on the side of the team that made the error (similar movement as dribbling).

8/ Illegal block: the point is awarded and then the referee holds their hand up (as you would when someone is trying to rob you).

9/ Four hits: you are only allowed to touch the ball three times. If you do a fourth time, your team makes a mistake. The point is awarded and then with the other hand, the referee shows the number four.

Four hits or touches: 4 fingers are shown by the referee Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

10/ Double hit: one player can only touch the ball once. If they do it twice, the referee awards the point and shows the number 2 with his or her other hand.

11/ Out of bound (or antenna violation): The point is awarded and the referee holds their arms vertical.

12/ Begin serve: the arm is extended to the team that has to serve and then it is folded back to the other side of the court.

13/ Substitution: both hands are turned around each other.

Photo by Érik González Guerrero on Unsplash

14/ Reserve: Both teams made a mistake and the point is replayed. The referee indicates this by holding two thumbs up in the air.

15/ Time out: Fingers in the palm of the other hand, making a T shape.

16/ Change courtside: The point is awarded and then the arms are crossed. This indicates that teams have to change the courtside now that the set has been completed.

You have to pay attention to what the referee is showing as some of them work quite fast. 

Referees can make mistakes as well, as outlined in the following video. Often there are 3 referees and they can help each other.

Team member hand signals: the setter is coordinating the attack

The front row setter often signals to the hitter to whom he or she is going to pass the ball. It shows who is going to attack. This is done by holding the hands before the chest sot that the other team can’t see what is going on. You can also extend your shirt to hide your signals.

The players that will receive the ball should keep their poker face as it can be a tell when they react too excited. This can be great if you want to use fake attacks to distract the defense. 

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

You can make your own signals with the team but often the same ones are repeated.

You have the following categories:

  • Quick sets: One finger is shown and this indicates that the pass will be given to the player in the first location.

Three fingers are shown that the ball will go to the player in the third position.

A pinkie finger is shown to indicate that the ball will go to the first position but in the back row.  

  • High ball sets: Two shows that the player in the middle will attack. Your pinkie and index finger show the same but then for the back row. Four fingers show that position four will attack.

These are the main hand signals. There are more to indicate complex attacks but these are not used by beginners as it makes it too complicated. It should be clear who is going to attack and confusion is never good. You will have to spend a lot of time during training to make sure that everyone knows what is expected from them during the attack. More can be learned in the video below:

To conclude, we can state that there are two types of hand signals in volleyball. The referee can indicate what team has scored a point or won a set. The setter can indicate to whom he or she is going to pass the ball. You should learn these signals and be able to understand them as they have a big impact on the match and your team.

Hand signals are essential in volleyball. While they might seem quite overwhelming at first, you will get used to them. Just study them a few times and you will start to understand them.

Both referees and team members can use hand signals during a volleyball match. Make sure that you notice these as they can communicate essential information to you and your team.