When 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.
Here are the first things a spectator must know to understand the signals:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- a wrestler sustains an injury
- a referee needs to address a situation
- a coach/referee conference need to occur
It is considered stalling when a wrestler:
- 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
- in the advantage position:
- does not wrestle aggressively, attempting to secure a fall
- 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.
- in the defensive position, if the wrestler refuses to aggressively attempt escapes or reversals
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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)
- 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
- 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)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.