The Psychology Behind the Raised Hand: Exploring Why Basketball Players Signal Fouls

Have you ever seen players raise their hands up during a game?

If you answered yes to that rhetoric, you must have seen how frequently the phenomenon occurs during your NBA binge.

The funny thing is, it can actually be quite difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why a player may choose to lift up their arm at certain points of the game.

This is because of the ever changing contexts that occur during those four quarters.

In this article, we’ll be taking a much more detailed look at some of those contexts, so you can learn players respond with a raised hand in different situations.

So, let’s get down to business with a quick answer!

When a referee blows their whistle, a basketball player will raise their hand to admit that they committed the foul. The most common reason a player would do this is for strategic reasons. For example, if two players from the same team on were near to the ball handler and a foul is called, the player with the fewest fouls will raise their hand immediately. This would help their teammate avoid getting into foul trouble or being fouled out.

Read on to for a more in depth explanation.

Reasons why basketball players voluntarily lift up their hands during play

There are a number of different reasons for this behavior.

This article will now take the time to explain each one in turn…

1. Acknowledging a foul has been committed

Raising their hand to recognise that they have fouled can be used as a strategic manoeuvre by basketball players.

Just think about this for a second.

Players may be able to avoid further penalties, such as a technical foul or ejection from the game, if they admit to their foul.

It demonstrates that they are willing to work with the officials and follow the rules of the game.

Accepting responsibility for the foul by raising their hands may do just enough to convince the referee to let the player off with a simple verbal warning, which would be a much more favorable outcome than having to sit out the game due to being fouled out.

2. Indicating that a referee decision was justified

As previously said, the gesture is a show of accepting responsibility.

However, this gesture is about more than just accepting responsibility.

It also allows players to speak with the officials.

Players raise their hands to indicate to the officials that they are aware of their error and will not contest the call.

This can help to avoid arguments and maintain a pleasant relationship between players and officials ensuring the play is fair and avoid any form of bias.

3. Signalling for physios to attend to an injured player

Basketball is a sport that requires players to jump and move quickly and it would be practically impossible not to incur injuries while on the court.

This is especially true when you consider the fact that the game is a contact sport.

Sometimes injuries may arise as a result of the rapid pace of the game.

And in an act of sportsmanship and care for overall player welfare whilst in competition, a team mate or opponent may raise their hand to call on the medical team to respond to the injured player on the court.

Once that signal has been made, a group of physios get the go-ahead to attend to the player needing urgent medical treatment.

4. Stopping a fast break for the opponent

On a one-on-one fast break, a defending player with a disadvantage in speed or even height will almost certainly attempt to make a foul on purpose.

As soon as they commit the foul, they would inform the referee that they have done so in order for the play to be stopped.

This is done to guarantee that they receive a whistle call as quickly as possible, as the referee may miss it due to the pace at which the players are moving.

If it doesn’t look to be a foul and you don’t let the referees call it by signalling the infringement with a raised arm, your opponent could get an easy two points that could impact the overall match result.

Therefore, raising the hand serves as a tactical bit of genius that stops the break in its tracks by indicating to the referee a foul has been made in order to avoid a missed call and subsequent stoppage in play.

5. Bailing out a team mate who is close to the foul limit

Players can even utilise this hand raising gesture tactically, particularly by taking a call away from a teammate with more fouls.

This occurs when multiple players are involved in or near a questionable play.

why basketball players raise their hands after a foul - bailing out their team mate close to the foul limit

Let’s illustrate this with a quick example…

Russell Westbrook of the Los Angeles Clippers, for example, has two fouls against his name.

On the other hand we have Paul George – from the same team – who has been called for a total of five fouls.

In an attempt to defend a driving player, both go to ground with the ball handler and the referee’s whistle is blown to indicate the foul.

Russell may quickly raise his hand to demonstrate that he personally fouled the driving player, in order to persuade the referee to penalize himself rather than his team mate George, who was precariously close to the NBA foul limit of six fouls per game.

By doing this, Russell is able to protect his team mate from getting fouled out, and that also provides an opportunity for the coaching staff on the team to decide which player could come off of the bench for George or whether to keep him on for the remainder of the game.

History of raising a hand up in basketball

Basketball was quite different back in the past, specifically when it came to the hand raising gesture and its role on the wider game.

In the 1970s, failure to raise your hand on time during a game was a regulation that would result in a technical foul.

Remarkable, right!?

It actually made a lot of sense back in those days though, as the raised hand would not only make the official’s job easier, but it would also improve the scorekeeper’s job by confirming who committed the infraction.

This regulation was changed in the NBA in 1975, and a flood of complaints from players ensued.

In a practical sense, scorekeepers can no longer rely on a raised hand because players will bail out teammates who are fouled.

That strategy makes it impossible for the scorekeeper to keep a consistent scorecard.

When relaying the score, the scorekeeper should wait for the referee to indicate who committed the foul then information directly in front of the scorer’s table.

Closing thoughts

Ultimately, raising a hand after a foul is a simple but significant basketball gesture.

It demonstrates responsibility, communication, and strategic thinking.

Players can improve their performance on the court and keep a positive relationship with officials by understanding the meaning of this gesture.

Should you wish to learn more about some of the other peculiar habits basketball players showcase on the court, then check out our articles on:

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.