What do Those Finger Signals Mean Anyway?

Beach Volleyball Finger Signals

Beach volleyball is a unique game as players are constantly communicating with their partner at all times. Not only are the physical conditions constantly changing, but no two rallies are ever exactly the same.  During this live play much of the communication is verbal -- we’ve all heard “I got it” or “Back, back” -- however there's a number of non-verbal communications that beach players use to get an edge, namely the finger signals.

So how does it work?

Before a serve, the player at the net will give his/her partner a hand signal that includes of combination of none to four fingers. The main purpose of the hand sign is to tell their partner the the direction that he/she is going to set up the block, but there are some important nuances to note.

First up, its important to note that each hand corresponds to the same side of the court as to where the signal is being shown. In other words, signal in the left hand is meant to denote the blocking strategy for the left side of the court and the vice versa for the right side.   

Secondly, there are two basic angles that all beach players are familiar with - there’s the “line” which refers to the area directly in front a player, so that if a player were to swing their hitting arm in a straight line the ball would fall somewhere in that area. There’s also the “angle” which is opposite the player and the area of court that the ball would be hit if a player were to swing across his/her body.

It is important to note the “line” and “angle” changes for each player, depending on if he/she is situated on the left or right side of the court.

Now that you know the basic structural set-up, what the signals in each hand mean? As mentioned earlier, beach volleyball is a dynamic game so these signals will change for each serve depending on a variety of factors like the server, the score, the wind conditions, the outcome of the last play, etc.

So when you see a player showing:

  • Closed Fist: Means the player at the net has no intention of putting up any sort of block; instead they pull off the net when the opposing team hits the ball and will attempt to play defensive with a dig.
  • Open Hand: Means that the player at the net will block the ball and defender should play around his/her block.
  • One Finger: Means that the player at the net will take away the area directly in front of the offensive hitter (the “line”) and/or will pull off the net in that direction if a block is unnecessary. The serving player will position himself or herself to defend a cross-court attack. 

  • Two Fingers: Means that the player at the net will take away the cross-court area from the offensive hitter (the “angle”) and/or will pull off the net in that direction if a block is unnecessary. Thus the serving player will play defense in the line position.  

If the player at the net is shaking any of the signs mentioned above, it means that the server should direct the ball towards that opposing player.

Also sometimes the serving player will stay in the backcourt and play defense, while other times he/she may run up to the net to block post-serve. Either way, the hand signals that are given before the serve will always dictate how the offensive side will position themselves for the first play.

After that, players tend to go audible and position themselves according to the circumstances of each play.