Creating an Offensive Play Call System (Part 4)

Several months back I shared a three-part series on Creating an Offensive Play Call System that received a great amount of positive feedback. One area I failed to discuss was the use of hand signals during games in which the players are unable to hear the head coach of point guard. If you have ever watched a game at Vanderbilt University, you know how vital hand signals can be for a team. The benches are situated on the ends of the court, rather than the typical sideline and adds a unique challenge to each coaching staff.

I have started to see more coaches move to a trend of using a white board that a coach on the bench writes the play calls on and holds up for the team. While this may be effective for them, I have never done it and probably won’t so I am not going to discuss that route. Plus, this is something you must use in practice on a consistent basis and many staffs outside of the Division 1 level aren’t fortunate to have a large support staff..

The types of play calls and actions run are unique to each coach and the offensive system that they instill. With that being said, it is impossible to cover a hand signal for every single play type, but I will try to share as many as I can that I think relate to a majority of play call actions.

Numbers and Letters: Using numbers or letters is one of the easiest signals and most common. For example, a 1-5 middle pick & roll called “15” is a simple 1 on one hand and a 5 on the other. However, it is important that the coach understands that the signals must be mirrored to the players because they are reading the signals from left-to-right. In the “15” example, the 1 should be on the left hand, and the 5 on the right hand so the players read it 1-5, not 5-1. If you use letters, use simple ones that only require one hand, such as C, V, or O.

Drag Pick & Rolls: A Drag or Go pick & roll is an angled ball screen that occurs out of transition. Typically these are game plan oriented that the players will just run unless told otherwise by the head coach.  One signal you could use for this as a Go motion is a punch action from your hip and straight out in front signaling a head of speed.

Middle Pick & Roll: Typically a very simple play call for a middle ballscreen is a head tap, calling for a screener to come out. Some teams in the NBA use a chin tap for middle pick & rolls. For example, the Orlando Magic used to run “Chin 4” for Hedo Turkoglu.

Side Pick & Roll: An easy signal for a side ballscreen is just a tap on the side with your hand.

Slip Pick & Roll: If you recall in Part 2, I prefer to use “X” when signaling my players to slip a ballscreen. Easy enough, the signal for this is an “X” with your forearms.

Horns Pick & Roll: The horns set is one of the most widely used actions today (some coaches call it “V” or “A” set). An easy signal for this is making the Texas Hook’em horns with you a close fist extending your pointer and pinky finger. If you ever want to run the horns at the slot, turn your “horn” to the side.

Twist Pick & Roll: A majority of Twist pick & rolls (ballscreen followed by another ballscreen coming back in a different direction), occur in the horns set, making it simple to hold up a set of horns and twist it side to side.

Hook Pick & Roll: I refer to any ballscreen in which the screener was screened into it (making the defense late) a hook action. For a hook, make a fist and extend your index and middle finger together, behind them slightly to simulate a hook, and twist your wrist as if you are “hooking” something.

Elbow Actions: Widely popular in the NBA, elbow actions are offensive sets that start with a pass to a player at the elbow. As you can imagine, the signal for this is a tap on the elbow, followed by a secondary signal for the following counter(s).

Flex Action: I see the flex offense almost every game we play, it is extremely popular at the high school level. For flex, simply flex your arm. (Be prepared for your players to give you a hard time installing this one)

Post Action: As a way to encourage my players to act stronger on the block, I like to refer to post actions as “Power”.  To signal Power I used a chest pound with a clenched fist.

Flare / Backscreen Actions: I like to use the term “Back” when calling out flare/backscreen plays so a simple touch of the back is very simple to use.

Motion: Twirl your hand around above your head with your pointer figure like you are twirling a lasso.

Floppy: Floppy is a common play-call for a single-double in the NBA. Signal a floppy with an open hand and “flop” your wrist up and down”.

Pin-Down: Since a pin-down is a down screen (chest to defender), an open hand wave across your chest is an easy play signal.

Zipper: Another popular action run at most levels is the Zipper. Simple run your hand up and down your chest down the middle of your chest like you are zipping your jacket open and closed.


These are the majority of the offensive actions I have signals for. If you would like some assistance coming up with some that you have in your system, please comment below I would love to help.

4 thoughts on “Creating an Offensive Play Call System (Part 4)

  1. Kyle thanks for this article. Thanks for this insight in your playcall system. It helped us a lot!

  2. Thanks for the article Kyle. If I may add an action that you brought up a few years ago was the Slice Cut/Action and I’ve seen Coach Casey of the Raptors signal that play by chopping his forearm down like a chopping motion. Not sure if I explained this clearly but you can see the motion here:

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