HS Wrestling Referee Signals

Referees_-Wrestling-Signals-High-SchoolWhen I was new to the sport of wrestling, all I knew for sure was that whoever had their back on the mat was in danger of losing the bout.  Everything else beyond that was just a bunch of body contortions with displays of brute strength and a referee running around, blocking my camera’s field-of-vision, waving his hands and intermittently flashing poorly developed gang signs.

Well, I know better now and have come to appreciate the referee’s nonstop interaction with the scorer’s table (the intended recipients of the hand gestures). Spectators can get all the technical information about the match if they pay attention to the referee and understand his signals.

Hopefully this guide will prove useful to newcomers out there and while it is not meant to be all-encompassing it will be a good starting point to build on. Also, I am by no means an expert on the subject and there might be some mistakes in my explanation of the rules. As always, all corrections are welcome.

Though these signals are meant for high school, with very few exceptions they are used by all organizations that practice folkstyle (also called collegiate) wrestling. You can get a PDF copy of the sheet containing the signals from the Wrestling Resources section of the NFHS site.

Here are the first things a spectator must know to understand the signals:

  1. Before the match begins the referee will assign each wrestler one of two colors: red or green. These color designations are intended to help distinguish the two wrestlers from each other in a consistent way from match to match for the purposes of scoring. The referee will usually decide what color to assign a wrestler based on what color will most closely represent the competitors’ singlets. Unfortunately, not every match involves a red singlet going up against a green singlet and the referee will have to decide based on his/her own criteria which may or may not have anything to do with the wrestler’s singlet.
  2. Once the wrestlers are assigned their color they will enter the center circle and fasten a band in their designated color to an ankle (in certain situations, championship matches for example, they will have one on each ankle).
  3. The referee will be wearing two colored wristbands. The red band will be worn on the left wrist, while the green band is worn on the right wrist. The arm he uses for some of the signals will depend on which wrestler the signal is intended for.

From this point on, once the match gets under way, spectators will see many of the following signals:

Starting the Match

Starting the Match: This will be accompanied with the blowing of the whistle. It takes place at the beginning of each period (including overtime) and when the wrestlers have to reset at the center of the mat, after the stoppage of action for any reason.

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Stop the match
Stopping the Match: This will be accompanied with the blowing of the whistle. It takes place when:

    • it’s the end of the period
    • the wrestlers are called out-of-bounds
    • a stalemate occurs
    • a wrestler is injured
    • a coach or wrestler wants to default the match before it ends
    • protective headgear is misplaced and the referee sees it fit to stop the match to replace it.

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Time out
Time Out: This occurs when:

    • a wrestler sustains an injury
    • a referee needs to address a situation
    • a coach/referee conference need to occur

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Injury time
Start Injury Time: This happens when a wrestler is injured as a result of a legal move. The wrestler can take up to 1.5 minutes to recover. This can only happen twice per wrestler in any one match and the time to recover cannot exceed a combined 1.5 minutes between the wrestler’s two allowed times

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Blood time
Start Blood Time Out: This happens when a wrestler bleeds. The wrestler is allowed to take a time out to stop the bleeding throughout the match (including overtime periods) but this time can not exceed more than a combined 5 minutes.

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Recovery time
Start Recovery Time: This takes place when a wrestler is injured as a result of an illegal hold or maneuver, unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct during the match. The injured wrestler is given two minutes to recover and is not deducted from the wrestler’s injury time allowance.

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Stop blood/injury/recovery time
Stop Blood/Injury/Recovery Time: This is the signal that indicates that blood time, injury time or recovery time has ended and the match can continue.

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Neutral position
Neutral Position: This is the position in which all matches start (first period). But as the match progresses there maybe be different factors and reason why the two wrestlers will return to this position to restart the action. Neutral position has both wrestlers standing still across from each other with one foot on the green or red area (depending on what color they were assigned at the beginning of the match) and the other foot behind the foot on the colored line with no part of the body touching the mat in front of the lead foot.

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No control
No Control: This signal indicates that in the referee’s opinion neither wrestler has gained restraining power over the opponent and no wrestler is in a position of advantage. Control determines whether points will be awarded.

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Out-of-bounds
Out-of-Bounds: This occurs when a supporting point of both wrestlers is beyond the boundary line.

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Wrestler in control
Wrestler in Control: This signal indicates that a wrestler has restraining power over the opponent and is in a position of advantage. The arm used to give this signal indicates the wrestler that is in control.

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Defer Choice
Defer Choice: Look for this signal before the beginning of the second period (and at the beginning of the second overtime period), after the disk flip. This signal indicates that the wrestler that won the disk flip has decided to let the opponent choose the starting position for the upcoming period.

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Potentially Dangerous
Potentially Dangerous: This signal is used when a wrestler forces an opponent’s body part(s) into potentially dangerous positions by means of legal holds or maneuvers. The first incident during a match will lead to a warning. The arm used to give this signal indicates the wrestler that committed the infraction.

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Stalemate
Stalemate: This signal is used when the wrestlers are interlocked in a position other than a pinning situation and in which neither one can improve their own position; or either contestant has his/her hands locked around one leg of the opponent to prevent them from scoring. After a stalemate is called the wrestlers must reset in the center circle in the position indicated by the referee.

If a wrestler locks hands repeatedly around one leg of the opponent to prevent scoring it is considered stalling.

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Caution
Caution—False Start or Incorrect Starting Procedure: A caution is used when a wrestler has a false start or sets in an incorrect starting position. After two cautions the wrestler will be assessed a 1-point penalty for each subsequent infraction. The arm used to give this signal indicates the wrestler that committed the infraction.

A caution is not the same as a warning. False starts and incorrect starting procedures are the only infractions that receive cautions. All other infractions receive warnings.

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Stalling
Stalling: Probably one of the hardest calls referees have to make. Each wrestler is required to make an honest attempt to stay inside the 10-foot circle. Competitors must wrestle aggressively regardless of position, score or time left on the clock. When a referee recognizes that stalling tactics are be used, the offending wrestler is warned. Every violation after the first will be penalized in accordance with the Penalty Chart. The arm used to give this signal indicates the wrestler that committed the infraction.

It is considered stalling when a wrestler:

  1. in the neutral position:
    • continuously avoids contact with the opponent
    • plays the edge of the mat
    • prevents the opponent from returning to or remaining in-bounds
    • does not attempt to secure a takedown
  2. in the advantage position:
    • does not wrestle aggressively, attempting to secure a fall
    If the wrestler intentionally releases the opponent to immediately attempt another take-down it is not considered stalling.
    • legally holds the heel to the buttocks while the defensive wrestler is broken down on the mat for more than five seconds
    • holds an opponent with two hands on two legs or two hands on one leg and it is not meant  to break the opponent down, secure the fall, prevent an escape or prevent a reversal
    • repeatedly grasps and holds the leg or legs of the opposing wrestler with both hands or arms to break him/her down for the sole purpose of maintaining control.
  1. in the defensive position, if the wrestler refuses to aggressively attempt escapes or reversals
If the defensive wrestler is simply overpowered it is not stalling.
  1. if either wrestler:
    • repeatedly grasps or interlocks around one  leg of the opposing wrestler to prevent scoring
    • delays the match (e.g. straggling back to the mat, unnecessarily changing or adjusting equipment or delaying in assuming the starting position)
    • repeatedly creates a stalemate situation to prevent the other wrestler from scoring.

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Interlocking Hands
Interlocking Hands or Grasping Clothing: It is prohibited to grasp at clothing. If a wrestler uses it to gain the advantage no points will be earned by that wrestler but penalty points will be awarded to the opposing wrestler. If grasping clothes is used to prevent an escape, reversal, take-down, near-fall or fall penalty points will be awarded to the opposing wrestler in addition to any points earned.

Interlocking or overlapping the hands, fingers or arms around the opponent’s body (with or without arms included) or both legs by the wrestler in the advantage position (beyond reaction time when bringing the wrestler to the mat) is a technical violation and penalty points are awarded to the opponent in addition to any points earned. It is not  a violation if:

    •  the opposing wrestler has all the weight supported entirely by the feet
    • the opponent has been lifted off the mat
    • near-fall criteria has been met

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Reversal
Reversal: This signal is used when the defensive wrestler comes from underneath and gains control of the opponent, either on the mat or in rear-standing position. All the supporting points of at least one of the wrestlers must be in-bounds for it to be considered a reversal and points to be awarded.

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Technical Violation
Technical Violation: There are five types of these. They are penalized without any warning.

    • intentionally going out or forcing the opponent out of the wrestling area.
    • grasping of clothing (this has its own referee signal), mat or ear guards
    • interlocking or overlapping hands, fingers or arms (this has its own referee signal
    • leaving the wrestling area without the referee’s permission
    • Reporting to the scorer’s table not properly equipped, ready to wrestle
    • using equipment that is detected as being illegal after the match has started

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Illegal Hold
Illegal Hold or Unnecessary Roughness: This signal is used when  a hold or maneuver is being used in such a way as to endanger the life and limb of an opposing wrestler, such as:

    • when a body part is forced beyond the limit of normal range of movement or when unnecessary force is applied to an opponent
    • when pressure is exerted over the opponent’s mouth, nose, throat or neck that restricts breathing or circulation.

The signal is also used when a wrestler does something that exceeds normal aggressiveness, such as but not limited to :

    • a forceful application of a cross-face
    • a forceful trip
    • a forearm or elbow used in a punishing way (e.g., to the spine, back of the head or back of the neck)

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Near-Fall
Near-Fall: This signal is used when near-fall points are awarded. A near-fall occurs when the offensive wrestler has control over the opponent in a pinning situation and the near-fall criteria is met. The criteria for awarding near-fall points is rather involved (and I’m not even sure I could explain all the nuances). I will, however try to explain the reason for the amount of points awarded. The referee will signal using the arm that indicates the wrestler that has earned the points and the number of fingers held up indicates the number of points awarded. The wrestler can earn 0, 2, 3 or 4 points for a near-fall, for the following reasons:

    • 0 points—the offensive wrestler has put the opponent in a situation that  meets near-fall criteria but falls short of holding it for 2 or more seconds
    • 2 points—the offensive wrestler has put the opponent in a situation that meets the near-fall criteria for at least 2 seconds or the defensive wrestler is injured or bleeding prior to the 2-second count being reached, requiring the referee to stop the action
    • 3 points—the offensive wrestler has put the opponent in a situation that meets the near-fall criteria for at least 5 seconds or the defensive wrestler is injured or bleeding prior to the 5-second count being reached, requiring the referee to stop the action
    • 4 points—the offensive wrestler has put the opponent in a situation that meets the near-fall criteria for at least 5 seconds and the defensive wrestler is injured or bleeding, requiring the referee to stop the action
A near-fall situation is over when the defensive wrestler gets out of a pinning situation. A referee will not signal the awarded points until the situation is over. Only one near-fall is awarded points during each pinning situation regardless of how many times the offensive wrestler puts the opponent in near-fall position.

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Awarding Points
Awarding Points: The referee will signal using the arm that indicates the wrestler that has earned the points (based on the color of the armband the referee is wearing which matches the ankle-band the wrestler is wearing).  The number of fingers held up indicates the number of points awarded:

    • 2 points—for take-downs and reversals
    • 1 point—for an escape
    • 2, 3, 4—for a near-fall (the awarding points signal is preceded by the near-fall signal)

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Unsportsmanlike Conduct
Unsportsmanlike Conduct: This signal can be used against contestants, coaches, team staff and even spectators; it can be used before, during and after a match. Acts both physical and non physical that interferes with the decorum and orderly running of the match,  and/or are abusive toward any of  the participants of the match (not only the contestants but coaches, team staff, table workers and the referee). There is no warning before penalizing the offending person. Offending spectators are removed from the premises. Offending contestants, coaches and team staff are penalized according to the penalty chart.  The referee will signal using the arm that indicates the color assigned to the wrestler, coach or team staff that has committed the penalty.

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Flagrant Misconduct
Flagrant Misconduct: Wrestlers, coaches and team staff can get called for this type of offense. These are acts that can occur before, during and after a match, both physical and non-physical, that the referee considers serious enough to remove the offender from the premises. There is no warning  before being penalized for this offense. The referee will signal using the arm that indicates the color assigned to the wrestler, coach or team staff that has committed the penalty. The penalties and misconduct are:

    • Wrestlers—the penalty is immediate disqualification upon first offense. 3 teampointsare deducted and thecontestantis removed from the premisesforthe duration of the event (dual meet, multiple school tournament). All team points earned by thatwrestlerare negated. Actsthatare considered flagrant misconduct include but are not limited to:
      • striking
      • butting
      • elbowing
      • kicking an opponent
      • use of any tobacco products
      • if in the opinion of the referee, a wrestler bites an opponent it will be deemed intentional and called as flagrant misconduct.
    • Coaches and team staff—upon first offense, 3 teampointsare deducted and thecontestantis removed from the premisesforthe duration of the event (dual meet, multiple school tournament). Actsthatare considered flagrant misconduct:
      • as mentioned before, are acts that can occur before, during and after a match, both physical and non-physical, that the referee considers serious enough to remove the offender from the premises.

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Coach Misconduct
Coach Misconduct: This signal is used when:

    • a coach improperly questions a referee at the scorer’s table
    • a coach requests a conference with the referee at the scorer’s table about the misapplication of  a rule and it is determined there was no misapplication
    • during a conference at the scorer’s table, the coach questions the judgment of the referee.

The referee signals using the arm that indicates the color assigned to the wrestler whose coach has committed the penalty. The penalties are always charged to the head coach even if it was an assistant who committed the offense. The penalties are as follows:

    • First offense—warning
    • Second offense—deduct one team point
    • Third Offense—deduct two team points and removal of the head coach for the rest of the day. The penalty count starts over each day.

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