On-Field Non-Verbal Communications in Soccer


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There are many forms of on-field, non-verbal, communications between teammates during a match in soccer, most of which consist of hand signals.

The following HAND SIGNALS have been used effectively in games (no order implied):

Arm up and then brought down – start of the set piece or corner kick.

Arm straight up during the run of play – to show a teammate with the ball, who is some distance away, that you are open for a pass.  (This should always be the arm opposite from the ball.)

Arm sweep ending pointing around a defender – teammate to run around or past the defender for a wall-pass, overlap, lead pass, or to create a fake.

Arm sweep to a certain location – shows the area where you want a teammate to make a run.

Both arms down, palms toward teammate – pass the ball to my feet.

Hands circling each other – player request to the coach for substitution due to injury or fatigue.

Head nod left or Head nod right – after making eye contact, player taking a free kick re-positions a teammate who is likely to receive the ball.

Number of fingers – goalkeeper or wall-builder identifying the number of people who are to go into the wall.

Palms facing out to the field and moved from chest forward – goalkeeper is directing back defenders or entire team to push forward.

Palms placed together with arms overhead – to stop movement of the “Anchor” or “Post-man” player being positioned in a wall and signify they are properly set.

Palms waist-high (parallel to ground), motioning toward the ground – calm down; or, play the ball on the ground.

Point in any given direction – to indicate where you want a teammate to run.

Point index fingers toward eyes – reminds teammate to continually look around to get the big picture, not miss opportunities, or to spot attackers.

Point left or point right – to position the “Anchor” or “Post-man” player in a wall.

Point left or point right – when coming back to a teammate with the ball (like on a checking run), to tell the teammate which way you are going to break and run.

Point to an opponent – indicating to a teammate who you want them to cover.

Point to space behind the back defenders – pass a through ball forward.

Point to where you want the ball delivered – usually to feet or out in front.

Point to whom to pass the ball – usually a center back directing a midfielder who is not likely to be facing the attacking goal.

Recipient taps on chest – request that throw-in go to the receiver’s chest.

Recipient taps on head – request that throw-in go to the receiver’s head.

Thrower taps on forehead – teammate taking throw-in indicates that they are going to throw to the receiver’s head.

Two hands pushed out from chest – defensive organizer signals for defenders to move upfield.

Type of corner – pre-arranged signal, identified by coach and often given by the person taking the kick, for near-post, far-post, etc.

Type of throw-in – pre-arranged signal identified by the coach and given by the person taking the throw, for back, short, midfield, down-the-line, skip header, etc.*

Type of free kick – pre-arranged signal identified by the coach and usually given by the person taking the kick, for the appropriate selection of the set piece.

Wave downfield or motion with arm signifying punt – given by the goalkeeper only: move upfield, the goalkeeper is going to punt or drop-kick the ball as far as possible.

OTHER non-verbal communication:

Nod of the Head up or down – start of the play, usually after eye contact.

Smack the ball with hand – start of the throw-in play.

Ball raised above head with one hand – start of the throw-in play.

Run over the ball – start of the set piece.

Bounce the ball (a certain number of times) – to identify a particular corner kick.

(Coach and Team Agreed-upon) Made-up signal – to implement an offside trap.

*There is a somewhat classic piece of film that, when Pelé was playing for the New York Cosmos, shows him facing away from a teammate who is about to perform a throw-in.   Pelé motions with his hand behind himself for his teammate to bounce the ball off his back in order for the teammate to receive the rebound and center the ball.  No one on the other team could see the hand signal but the camera caught it perfectly.

Soccer Coaching Tips:

  • Coaches and players may need to develop an entire set of non-verbal communications to replace oral communications if crowd noise becomes so great that the players can not properly hear one another.  (This is associated with responses to field conditions.)


© Copyright, John C. Harves