If you’ve watched soccer for any length of time, you will have noticed the players raise their hands at different times throughout a game. Having played soccer for years, I’ve done this myself many times, and I want to explain the exact reasons why soccer players raise their arms.
Soccer players raise their hands for one of five reasons:
- To communicate tactics to other players on their team
- To celebrate a goal
- To draw attention to themselves
- To claim possession of the ball
- To alert the referee to an offense
Every one of these reasons communicates a different message to the players, coaches, referees, and fans around them.
Let me explain each of them to show you why a player raising their arms can be crucial to a team and how you can use the same tactics to improve your performance on the soccer field.
1. To Communicate Tactics to Other Players on Their Team
The first scenario I want to look at is when you see players raising their arms at a corner kick.
Soccer players raise their hands before a corner kick to communicate to the other players on their team where they intend to kick the ball. Players will use different hand signals depending on how far the ball will travel.
A corner kick is a significant moment in a game. It gives a team an unimpeded opportunity to send the ball into the opposition’s penalty area and create a goal-scoring opportunity.
To take advantage of this, players often work on tactics for corner kicks during training sessions to be prepared for game day. But the real key to a successful corner kick is clear communication throughout the team.
Players raising their hands is all about clear communication.
During the time players spend practicing corner kicks, they will assign a specific hand signal to a particular tactic or play.
Let me give you a quick and simple example of this.
One team I used to play for would require the player taking the corner kick to raise one hand before the kick if they intended to play the ball to the nearest goal post to them. If they planned on sending the ball to the furthest goal post from them, they would raise two hands.
This way, everyone on the team knew where the ball was heading, and we could adapt our positions accordingly.
As you can see, this is a very basic example, and professional teams and players will assign more elaborate plays to their hand signals. But this gives you an idea of what the players are doing when they raise their hands at a corner kick.
This tactic doesn’t have to be restricted to corner kicks only. Player’s raise their hands at free-kicks and other set pieces to communicate the intended direction of the ball once they have kicked it.
2. To Celebrate a Goal
The second situation where players raise their hands is after scoring a goal.
Soccer players raise their hands after a goal to celebrate the fact they have scored a goal and earned a point for their team. A player raising their hands in this situation is a response to the feeling of happiness they are experiencing.
If you think back to anytime something incredibly exciting has happened to you or a time where you have worked hard at something and finally succeeded, one of your first responses was probably to raise your hands into the air.
Raising our hands in victory is hardwired into all of us. I know I often do it without thinking every time I score a goal.
Scoring in soccer is one of the best feelings you experience when playing, and a player’s body responds to this by throwing its arms up in the air.
An interesting alternative to this happens when a player scores a goal against a team they previously played for.
Soccer players put their hands up when they score against their old team as a sign of respect. Instead of celebrating the goal, players may raise their hands to signal that they don’t take pleasure in scoring against them.
Any player who has played for a team for many years will naturally feel an affinity for that team. They will have given their all for that team and experienced many highs and lows with the players.
Due to the nature of soccer, a player will eventually move on to play for another team, but their fondness for their previous team may linger long after they have left.
This can bring up a range of emotions when they are in a position to score against their previous team. If this happens, they may not feel like celebrating. Instead, they may simply raise their hand as a sign of respect to that team.
Raising their hand communicates to the fans that while they appreciate their recognition for scoring a goal, they are choosing not to celebrate as the player recognizes they have put their previous team at a disadvantage.
3. To Draw Attention to Themselves
The next reason a soccer player may raise their arm or hands is in order to stand out from the crowd.
Imagine yourself for a moment standing in a crowd of people all around the same height as you and all wearing similar clothes. What would you do to stand out from everyone else?
I’m guessing one of the first things you would do is raise your arms in the air and wave them around!
Soccer players do the same thing.
When another player on their team is in possession of the ball and looking for someone to pass it to, a player will often raise their hands in an attempt to draw attention to themselves.
They want the other player to see them and send the ball their way.
Doing this at a set-piece is particularly important as these are the moments when the players are most often close together.
When the player taking the set-piece is waiting to kick the ball, they will be looking at the crowd of players in front of them to see where their teammates are.
When they see a player with their arms in the air, it indicates that they are available and willing to receive the ball if the player taking the kick sends it their way.
4. To Claim Possession of the Ball
Another common reason you will see players raising their hands during a soccer game is when they believe their team has won the right to take possession of the ball.
Most often, when the ball has gone out of play.
Soccer players put their hands up when the ball goes out to signal to the referee that they believe their team should now have possession of the ball. This action signals to the referee that they believe their opponents were the last team to touch the ball.
When the ball goes out of play in soccer, the last team to touch the ball loses the right to possession of the ball.
One example of this is at a throw-in.
The rules for a throw-in say that:
“A throw-in is awarded to the opponents of the player who last touched the ball”IFAB Laws of the Game
A player may throw their hands into the air at this moment to show the referee that they believe their team should be awarded possession of the ball for the throw-in.
In effect, they are saying, “we are the ones who should have the ball now!”
5. To Alert the Referee to an Offense
The last scenario you see players raising their hands for possession of the ball is when they feel they’ve been fouled.
Soccer players raise their hands after a foul to indicate to the referee they believe their team has had a foul committed against them. Player’s raise their hands to communicate to the referee they should stop the game and award a free-kick or penalty-kick.
Raising their hand after they think they have been fouled is in part to draw attention to what has just happened but also to claim possession of the ball for their team. They believe the referee should award them a free-kick or penalty-kick.
Seeing a player raise their arms in this situation is often the most dramatic example of this and the one that causes most people to ask why soccer players seem to fake injuries so often.
The truth is that sometimes it’s hard not to throw your arms up in the air in these moments.
I know for me, when I feel like I’m on the receiving end of a foul, then I automatically want the referee to know what’s happened. I feel I deserve a free-kick. Raising my arms seems a natural way to draw a referee’s attention to this.
Whether it really makes any difference is a matter for debate.
The best referees stay impartial to the actions of the players and make decisions based on what they’ve seen. Not on what a player wants them to do.
When players start to believe they can influence a referee’s decisions, that’s when you start to see players arguing with refs.
For more helpful info on why soccer players do what they do, check out one of my related articles: