All About Table Tennis Hand Signals 

If you are simply playing a casual game of table tennis with your friends, then you will probably act as your own referee. However, if you are playing a competitive game of table tennis, such as one in a table tennis tournament, you will likely have an umpire monitoring your game.

Or, potentially you want to be an umpire for a competitive game of table tennis. In 1981 the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) introduced hand signals for use by international umpires. In addition to controlling the match with verbal communication, umpires can also use approved hand signals to indicate certain decisions.

 Whether you are the player or the umpire, it is essential that you know the main hand signals that a table tennis umpire uses. In this article, we go over the 3 most common hand signals, as well as 5 other main table tennis hand signals umpires use with descriptions and videos so you can master these table tennis hand signals yourself. 

Table tennis referee during a ping-pong competition


3 Most Common Table Tennis Hand Signals 

1. Next Server 

 At the start of a match or game the umpire should:

  • Announce the family name (surname) of the player due to serve first – for example, “Johnson to serve”.
  • Next, point to the server with an open hand and…

  • Announce the score.

Note: The score “0” may be expressed as either “zero” or “love”.

This hand signal is also used when a change of server is due. The umpire should point to the next server with an open hand.

2. Let or Announcement 

When the umpire declares a let, they should raise one hand above their head. If there is an assistant, they should also use the same hand signal to attract the umpire’s attention when making a decision within their jurisdiction. The umpire should then audibly repeat the score to show that no point has been scored.

3. Awarding a Point

When a point has been won, the umpire should raise their arm on the side nearest to the player or pair who scored the point, so that their upper arm is horizontal and their forearm is vertical, with the closed hand upward. 

Hand Signals With Yellow, Red, and White Cards 

In 1991 the ITTF introduced yellow and red cards for misconduct or egregious disregard for rules. Like in soccer, the red card disqualifies the offender from the match. The yellow card is a warning, and amassing two yellow cards entails a red card and disqualification.

On the other hand, white cards simply indicate that one of the players is taking a time out. The hand signal for all three cards is the same, just with a different colored card held in the hand. 

When issuing a yellow, red card, or white card, the umpire should raise their arm above head height and hold up a yellow,  red, or white card towards the offender or the player taking a timeout, without leaving the umpire’s chair.,Close%20up%20of%20a%20table%20tennis%20player%20serving,-Photo%20Formats

4 Important Illegal Service Hand Signals

One of the main times that umpires will use hand signals is when a player has committed an illegal serve. There are many ways that a service might be illegal, but we have listed 4 of the most common illegal serves and the umpire hand signals that are used to indicate that these serves are illegal. 

1. Ball Not Resting On Palm (or Ball Resting on Fingers)

When a player performs a service, they have to begin with the ball resting in their palm. An illegal serve will occur if the ball is resting on the player’s fingers. In this case, the umpire will use a hand signal to indicate that the service is illegal. The umpire will hold out their hand flat and face up on the side of the player who performed the illegal service.

Next, they will use the pointer finger of their other hand to touch the fingers of the flat hand. 

2. Palm Not Open and Flat

In addition to having the ball rest on the palm of a player’s hand, to perform a legal service, the hand must be completely flat. If, for example, the ball is in the palm of the player’s hand, but the fingers of the hand are curled upwards, this will be deemed an illegal serve.

The hand signal that the umpire will use to indicate that this service is illegal is by extending their hand flat and pointing to the hand with the index finger of their other hand. 

3. Ball Not Above the Level of Playing Service 

In order to perform a legal service, the player must begin with the ball in the palm of their flat hand. Additionally, the ball must be held above the table tennis table. If the ball is held below the table, this will result in an illegal service. The umpire will indicate that this is an illegal service by holding their hand out, flat and face down. Then with their other hand, they will point to the space below the outstretched hand. 

4. Ball Not Behind the Server’s Endline 

In order to perform a legal service, the player who is serving must keep the ball behind the endline of the table on their side. If they hold the ball over the end line, or if they toss the ball in a way that crosses the endline before they hit the ball with their paddle, this will be an illegal service. 

The way that the umpire indicates that this is an illegal serve is by holding their hand out flat with the palm facing down. Then, they use the pointer finger of their other hand to indicate the space above the outstretched hand. 

Ready to Get Competitive 

Whether you are a competitive table tennis player or an umpire, making sure that you know the table tennis hand signals will greatly increase your abilities during the big match.


Riley Draper

Avid table tennis player, world traveler, and content creator. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn.