Sports Speak


Want to talk the talk?  Whether you want to impress your boss, your date, or your friends, sometimes you need a refresher course on the way we talk sports.  It certainly is a language of its own!

You’re no dummy…but read Sports Speak, and you may learn something new or remember some important sports lingo for the next big game!


Accumulator:  A bet in which the bettor chooses multiple results from any given sport, the bet winning would be dependent on all the results being successful.

Bettor:  A person who places a bet

Handicap:  A technique used by Sport books and bookmakers to make an event deemed inevitable more attractive.

Odds:  The value in which a Bookmaker or Sports book values a bet

Punter:  A slag term more commonly used in the UK for a Bettor

Shortening the odds:  The event of a sports book/Bookmaker reducing the odds of an event due to heavy betting

Tipster:  A person who gives or sells his advice on bets to place




Safety: When the offensive ball carrier is tackled in the end zone. 2 points are given to the defensive team and the offensive team must kick the ball off from their own 20-yard line. (Also, a safety can be awarded if the offense commits a penalty in the end zone, i.e. holding, intentional grounding.)

Field Goal: Worth 3 points. When the place kicker kicks the ball through the goal post uprights and over the crossbar at the back of the end zone.  Traditionally FG attempts are made on 4th down or the end of the half/game.


Touchdown: Worth 6 points. When a team, whether on offense or defense gets into the opponent’s end zone.

Extra Point: Worth 1 point. After a team scores a touchdown, they attempt an extra point or PAT (Point After Touchdown).  The place kicker attempts this kick from the 3-yard line.


Delay of Game: A penalty called on a team for either letting the play clock expire before snapping the ball or calling a time out after having already used all they were allotted by rule.  The 40-second play clock starts running immediately when the previous play ends.  If there is a timeout or other stoppage of play, a 25-second play clock starts from when the ball is spotted and declared ready for play.

False Start: An infraction in which an offensive player moves before the ball is snapped.  Also can be movement by an offensive player simulating action at the snap, after they have taken a set position.

Encroachment: When a defensive player enters the neutral zone and makes contact with an opponent before the ball is snapped or has an unabated path to the quarterback before the snap. Unlike the offside penalty, this penalty immediately halts action: the officials blow the whistle, the clock stops, and the offense does not run a play.

Offside: Occurs when any part of a defender is in or past the neutral zone when the ball is snapped. Unlike offensive players, defensive players are not compelled to come to a set position before the snap, so if a defender jumps across the line but gets back to his side before the snap, there is no penalty. In the case of an offside penalty, play is not stopped, and the penalty is announced at the conclusion of the play. The offense can then decline the penalty and take the yardage gained on the play if that would be a more advantageous result.


Grasping the Facemask: Contact on an opponent’s face mask, including grasping or twisting the mask, or using the mask to tackle an opponent.

Holding: A foul where a player impedes the movement of an opponent by grasping or hooking any part of his body or uniform.

Illegal Block in the Back: Occurs when a player makes any block from behind and above the waist.  This infraction is most often called during a kick or punt play.

Illegal Contact: Occurs when a defensive player makes significant contact with a receiver who is running his route after the receiver has advanced five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

Clipping: When a player throws his body across the back of an opponent’s leg or hits him from the back below the waist while coming up from behind.  There is no penalty if the opponent is a runner or its incidental.

Illegal Formation: An offensive formation in which:  there are not 7 players on the line of scrimmage at the snap in the NFL; there is not an eligible receiver as the leftmost and rightmost players on the line in the NFL, or there are not five properly numbered ineligible players on the line.  In College, the rule is that there can be no more than 4 players in the backfield. (Obviously, if eleven players are on the field then, by default, there will be 7 players on the line in a legal formation.  If however a team inadvertently has only 10 players on the field on offense, it would be a legal formation to have 4 in the backfield and 6 on the line).

Illegal Motion: An illegal movement where two offensive players are in motion at the same time when the ball is snapped.

Illegal Participation: Occurs when twelve players participate during the play, either because the twelfth player does not leave the field before the snap or enters during the play. Illegal participation is also called when an offensive player goes out of bounds (unless forced out by contact by the defense) and returns to the field during the play and participates in the play (touches the ball – makes a tackle).

Illegal Shift: A foul by the offense where: all 11 players fail to become set for at least one second at the same time after a shift occurs; a player (who is not legally in motion) is not set before the snap; or more than one player is in motion at the snap.

Illegal Substitution: A player may only enter the field of play while the ball is dead. They must also only leave crossing their own sideline.  Otherwise, it is considered illegal substitution.  In the NFL, the replaced player on offense must immediately leave the huddle when the substitute approaches.  If 12 or more players are in the huddle, even momentarily, it is a penalty for illegal substitution.

Ineligible Receiver Downfield: Occurs when an ineligible receiver is past the line of scrimmage prior to a forward pass. Ineligible receivers must wait until the pass has been thrown and travels past the line of scrimmage to move past the line of scrimmage. This penalty is not imposed if the receiver is behind the line of scrimmage when he receives the pass.

Intentional Grounding: Occurs when the quarterback, while he is still in the area between the tackles, purposely throws the ball out of bounds or into the ground to avoid taking a sack.

Pass Interference: Illegally hindering another player’s chances of catching a forward pass.  Pass interference may include bumping, tripping, pushing, or pulling a receiver or defender attempting to make an interception while the pass is in the air.  Once the ball touches any player the above rules no longer apply and the defender may tackle the receiver or attempt to prevent him from gaining control of the ball.  In the NFL, defensive pass interference awards the offensive team the ball at the spot of the foul with an automatic first down.  In College, the penalty for defensive pass interference is 15 yards from the previous spot where the ball was snapped on that particular play (or at the spot of the foul if it is less than 15 yards from the previous spot).  Offensive pass interference results in a 10-yard penalty against the offense in the NFL (15 yards in college ball).

Running Into the Kicker: Occurs on a kicking play where the defense fails to touch the kicked ball and they run into the kicker/punter. If such an act occurs but is not flagrant, this penalty is assessed.  If flagrant, the personal foul of roughing the kicker may be assessed instead.

Roughing the Kicker: Occurs when a defender, having missed an attempt to block a kick, tackles the kicker or otherwise runs into the kicker in a way that might injure the kicker or his vulnerable extended kicking leg. This protection is also extended to the holder of a place kick.

Roughing the Passer: Occurs when a defender continues an effort to tackle or “hit” a passer after the passer has already thrown a pass.  The NFL standard is that a defender is allowed to take one step after the ball is thrown; a defender is penalized if he hits the passer having taken two or more steps after the ball leaves the passer’s hand.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Any act contrary to the generally understood principles of sportsmanship.  Examples include throwing punches, deliberate physical contact with officials, verbal abuse of officials, and taunting.  Since 2004 in the NFL, has included any “prolonged and premeditated celebrations” by players.


Line of Scrimmage: Is the yard line where a play is starting from. Seven offensive players must be on the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. If there are more or fewer an illegal formation penalty will be call on the offense.  Before each play, a set of two imaginary lines are used to determine where the players will line up. These are the lines of scrimmage, and they pass through each tip of the ball, running parallel to the goal lines, separated by the neutral zone.  It is the line from which the next play will begin.


Neutral Zone: The space the length of a ball between the two scrimmage lines, running the full width of the field.  The neutral zone is established when the ball is spotted by the official at the end of the previous play.


Fumble: When the ball carrier loses possession of the ball. It can be advanced by both teams (and any player), if the opposing team recovers the ball in bounds, they take over possession. If the ball goes out of bounds before anyone can recover it stays with the team that last had possession and is marked at that yard line.


Interception: When a defensive player catches the ball thrown by the offense. The play results in a change of possession.

Sack: When a defensive player tackles the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage before he attempts a pass. A quarterback running play that is stopped behind the line of scrimmage or a kneel down, does not result in a sack for the opposing defense. The loss of yardage is just subtracted from the QB’s running total.

Reception: When an eligible offensive player catches the ball. Running backs, tight ends, wide receivers and even quarterbacks are all eligible receivers.

Kneel down: Also commonly known as “taking a knee”. It occurs when the quarterback takes the snap and immediately kneels down. The play is used to run the clock at the end of the half/game. It is safer than attempting a play that could result in a turnover.

Spike the ball: Used to stop the play clock, instead of a time out (or if the offense has no timeouts remaining). The quarterback takes the snap and throws the ball down at his feet. It results in a loss of down, but doesn’t result in loss of yardage or valuable time on the clock.


Timeouts: Each team has 3 timeouts for each half. They are used to stop the clock, and their use has become highly strategic. Traditionally you try to save them until the end of the half/game. Timeouts not used in the first half do not carry over to the second half. They can be called by players on the field or by coaches on the sideline.

Muff: The touching of a loose ball by a player in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain possession.  Usually occurs on punts and kickoffs.  When the opposing team recovers a muffed punt or kickoff it may not be advanced but instead becomes a dead ball upon their recovery.  The recovering team gains possession at the spot of recovery.

Shift: The movement of two or more offensive players at the same time before the snap.

Dead Ball: A ball that is no longer in play, that is, a ball that is not held by a player or loose from a kick, fumble, or pass. A ball becomes dead when a play is over and becomes live as soon as it is snapped for the next play.



In hockey scoring is pretty straightforward.  Scoring occurs when the offensive team shoots the puck into the opposing team’s goal.



Minor Penalties: Any player charged with a minor penalty, other than a goalkeeper, shall be ruled off the ice for two minutes during which time no substitute shall be permitted.

Major Penalties: For the first major penalty in any one game, the offender, except the goalkeeper, shall be ruled off the ice for five minutes during which time no substitute shall be allowed. Subsequent Major Penalties can result in the player being ejected from the game.

Double Minor Penalties: For a double-minor penalty, any player, other than a goalkeeper, shall be ruled off the ice for four minutes, no substitution is allowed.

Match Penalties: Any player (including the goaltender) who is assessed a match penalty is ejected for the remainder of the game.

Goalkeeper Penalties: Any minor, double minor, or major penalty incurred by the goaltender shall be served by another player. The Coach may choose who serves the penalty from the skaters on the ice, while the penalty occurred.

Boarding: (Minor or Major up to the refs) Checking an opponent in such a way that throws him violently into the boards shall constitute a boarding penalty. Any excessive contact with a player playing an icing or off-side play that knocks a player into the boards will result in a boarding call.

Charging: (Minor or Major up to the refs) Charging is building up speed and hitting a player (or jumping into them). The severity of the check will determine the penalty.

Checking from behind: (Minor or Major up to the refs) A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is unaware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed.

Clipping: (Minor or Major up to the refs) Occurs when a player leaves his feet and throws his body across or below the knees of an opponent.

Elbowing: (Minor or Major up to the refs) Using the elbow in an extended manner. The penalty is an automatic Major if an injury occurs as a result of the elbow being thrown.

Fighting: Fighting is ‘allowed’ but does result in a Major penalty for participants. There are various additional penalties that can be assessed depending on the severity of the fight. Unlike other sports and other hockey leagues, fighting does not result in an automatic ejection in the NHL.

Holding: Any action that holds back an opposing player, whether they have possession of the puck or not.

Hooking: Any use of the stick that restrains an opposing player, can be a Major penalty if an injury occurs.

Tripping: Any use of the stick or body to trip an opponent to prevent him from making a play. If you play the puck before contact with the opponent a penalty may not be assessed.

Cross-Checking: (Minor or Major up to the refs) Using the shaft of your stick between your hands to forcibly check an opponent.

High-Sticking: (Minor or Double-Minor up to the refs) Making contact with a defender with your stick above their shoulders. Knocking a puck into the goal by making contact with it above the level of the goal crossbar will be an invalid goal.

Icing: For the purpose of this rule, the center red line will divide the ice into halves. Should any player or goalkeeper of a team, equal or superior in numerical strength (power-play) to the opposing team, shoot, bat or deflect the puck from his own half of the ice beyond the goal line of the opposing team, play shall be stopped. Teams playing short-handed will not be assessed an Icing penalty.

Off-side: Players of the attacking team can’t go into the attacking zone (past the blue line) before the puck. They may follow a loose puck into the zone but can’t accept a forward pass.


Short-handed: When one team has less skaters on the ice due to a penalty/penalties. When the opposing team scores on a shorthanded team, the player in the penalty box returns to the ice and the rest of his penalty time is waived.  Exception: does not apply to Major penalties and only takes away one of the Double Minor Penalties, player must still serve the time for the other one.

Short-handed goal: When a team is down a player(s) due to penalties and scores a goal against the opposing team.

Power play: A team is on a power play when they have a man (or two) advantage due to the other team serving a penalty.  When a team on a power play scores, the first minor penalty against the opposing team is vacated.


Penalty Box: The bench where players wait out their major and minor penalties. The Penalty Box is located in the neutral zone on the side opposite from the player’s bench.

Center Line: Divides the playing ice in half (100 ft on each side). The Center line is used to determine icing. As well as being the place of the center Faceoff Spot.

Blue Lines: There are two Blue Lines that split the ice into three parts. The Blue Line’s separate the neutral and attacking zones. They are used to determine offside calls.

Neutral Zone: The zone between the two Blue Lines.

Awarded Goal: If, when the opposing goalkeeper has been removed from the ice, a player in control of the puck in the neutral or attacking zone is tripped or otherwise fouled. And the player has a clear path between him and the opposing goal, thus preventing a reasonable scoring opportunity, the Referee shall immediately stop play and award a goal to the attacking team.

Penalty Shot: Similar to an Awarded goal with the addition that the goalie is still on the ice. A Penalty Shot is a one on one match up between the goalie and the skater who was fouled.

Shootout: If both teams are tied after the end of one overtime period, a best a three shootout will occur.  Shootouts are in the same format as penalty shots, a one on one match-up between the shooter and goalie.



Run Scored: Scoring in baseball occurs when a player or base runner crosses home plate.  A base runner, must touch first, second and third base in order before crossing home plate.

Homerun: If a player hits a homerun, they touch first, second, third base and home plate for the run scored.  More often a player gets a hit, becomes a base runner and then other hits by teammates bring the player around to score at home plate.

Grand Slam: If the bases are loaded (there are players/base runners on first, second and third base) and a the player up to bat hits a homerun, that is a grand slam and all four players score.


There’s no real penalties in Baseball.  The only easily defined one is a Balk.

Balk: When runners are on a base, a pitcher cannot make a move toward home plate but throw to a base to attempt to get a base runner out.  The base runners would advance one base.


ACE: The team’s best starting pitcher.

AT BAT: The offensive team’s turn to bat the ball and score. Each player takes a turn at bat until three outs are made.  Each time a player/batter is up to bat, that counts as one “at bat”.

BALL: A pitch outside the strike zone.  This call is made by the umpire behind homeplate.

BASE HIT: When the batter hits the ball in fair territory and reaches at least first base before being thrown out.

BASE ON BALLS (Walk): When the batter receives four balls, they advance to first base.

The white chalk lines that extend from home plate through first and third base to the outfield and up the foul poles.  If a ball is hit inside this it is fair territory and outside it is foul territory.

BATTER’S BOX: An area marked by white chalk lines on the left and right side of home plate in which a player must stand while batting.

The progression of the game as written in a series of boxes indicating hits, runs, errors and player substitutions of each inning played.

BULLPEN: The area designated for pitchers to warm-up. Usually consists of two mounds and two home plates.

BUNT: Short hit that is executed by letting the ball hit the bat (not swinging). Usually performed to catch fielders off guard or to advance a runner.

CHECKED SWING: A partial swing. If the ball thrown was not in the strike zone, then this would be a ball.  But if the swing went more than halfway around, the umpire can rule it a full swing, or strike.

CLOSER: Relief pitcher whose specialty is pitching the last few outs of a game. General used to hold a lead in the late innings of a game.

COMPLETE GAME: Statistical credit to a starting pitcher for pitching the entire game.

COUNT: The number of called balls and strikes on a batter.

CYCLE: When a batter hits a single, double, triple and homerun in the same game.

DOUBLE PLAY: A defensive play that results in two base runners being called out.

EARNED RUN: A run scored on a hit, walk or steal, without benefit from a defensive error on the play.

ERROR: Defensive mistake that allows a batter to stay at the plate or reach first base, or that advances a base runner.

FOUL BALL: A ball that is hit outside the first or third base foul lines.

HIT: When the batter safely reaches a base after hitting the ball, without aid from a fielding error or fielder’s choice.

INFIELD: Area 90’ square with the corners being the four bases.

INNING: The period of play. There are 9 innings in a regulation game.  Each team bats in an inning until they record 3 outs. The visiting team always bats in the top half (first part) of an inning. If the home team has a higher total after their opponents bat in the top half of the last schedule inning, the bottom half of the inning is not played and the score is final. If there’s a tie at the end of regulation play, then there are extra innings. The game continues until one team is winning by the end of the inning.

NO HITTER: A game in which a pitcher does not allow the opposing team to have any hits.

OUT: An umpire makes all the calls for balls and strikes and safe or out.  When a player is out, that means they were either struck out, a fly ball they hit was caught in the air, they did not reach the intended base before the ball got there, or they were tagged out by the defense.

PERFECT GAME: A game in which a pitcher does not allow any batter of the opposing team to even reach base. .

PINCH HITTER: A hitter who substitutes in the line-up for a starting player. The original batter cannot return to the game, so the pinch hitter or a third person takes over the defensive position as well.

PINCH RUNNER: A player entering the game to run for someone already on base.

PITCHING ROTATION: The order in which the starting pitchers take turns starting games.

RELIEF PITCHER: The pitcher replacing the starting pitcher. The relief pitcher can win, lose, save, or not be involved in the game’s final score.

RUN BATTER IN (RBI): Statistics which reflects how many times a player batted in his teammates when they were base runners.  A player who has 30 RBI’s has caused 30 runs to be score.

SACRIFICE BUNT: A bunt designed to advance a runner.

SACRIFICE FLY: When a batter hits a fly ball out that scores a runner from third base.

SAFE: Declaration by the umpire that a runner made it safely without getting out to the bases for which he was trying.

SHUT OUT: A game in which one team doesn’t score any runs.

STOLEN BASE: Successfully advancing a base between pitches without the batter hitting the ball.  Usually the catcher will try to throw to the bag the runner is trying to steal to get them out.  But if they arrive safely, then it’s a stolen base.

STRIKE: A strike is called if a batter swings at a pitch and misses, or if the pitch simply passes through the strike zone. The first 2 foul balls that are not caught count as first and second strike. A foul ball that is not caught can never be counted as a third strike.

STRIKE OUT: Out recorded by the batter receiving three strikes, whether they swung or not.

STRIKE ZONE: The area over home plate between the batter’s armpits and knees when the batter is positioned to swing. Any pitch that is delivered through this area is called a strike.

TRIPLE PLAY: A defensive play that records 3 outs.



Foul Shot: 1 point.  A foul shot occurs when a foul is committed by the other team while a player is shooting the ball.  That player goes to the foul line to attempt a foul shot.  Each foul shot they make is one point.  If they made the shot, they get one foul shot attempt and if they missed the shot, they get two foul shot attempts.  A team is awarded foul shots if the opposing team commits seven or more fouls in a half.   If a player is fouled while taking a three-point shot then they get they have two foul shot attempts.

Field Goal: 2 points.  Also known as a basket, this is when a player shoots the ball into the basket.

Three-point Shot: 3 points.  When a player makes the attempted shot behind the three-point line.


Charging: An offensive foul where a player runs into a stationary defender. Results in a foul to be charged on the team, player, and for the offense to lose possession of the ball.


Double dribble: Occurs when a player dribbles the ball, picks up the ball and then starts dribbling again. Results in a loss of possession.

Flagrant Foul: Excessive contact against an opponent. Two Flagrant Fouls in a game result in an ejection. Flagrant Fouls give the other team free throw shots and possession.

Foul: Illegal contact between two players. They can result in either free throw shots, or giving possession to the other team.

Shooting Foul: When the defender fouls the offensive player in the act of shooting. The offensive team receives 2 free throw attempts if the shot was inside the three point line, and three if it was outside the arc. If the original shot went in then the offensive team receives the resulting points, and takes one additional free throw shot.

Goaltending: A violation in which a player interferes with a shot while the ball is on its downward arc, pins it against the backboard or touches it while it is in an imaginary cylinder above the basket; may be committed by either an offensive or defensive player. If committed by a defensive player the points are awarded to the offense, and if committed by an offensive player no points are awarded and possession is lost.

Hand-checking: A foul where a defender tries to impede the offensive player with his hand.

5-second violation: In the NBA there are two different 5 second fouls. The first is during the throw-in the inbounding team has 5 seconds to get the ball into the court of play. The second violation is dribbling with your back to the basket inside the free throw lane. A player may dribble for no more than 5 seconds before picking up the ball to pass or shoot. Both violations result in the loss of the ball.

3-second violation: A player can’t remain in their opponent’s restricted area in front of the basket for longer than 3 seconds when their team has the ball.

Traveling: A violation in which an offensive player with the ball takes too many steps without dribbling, results in a loss of possession.

Carrying: Occurs when the ball-handler allows the ball to rest momentarily in one of his hands while dribbling, results in a loss of possession.

Technical Foul: A violation of conduct, such as fighting, excessive arguing, abusive language.  Can even be assessed on coaches or players on the bench. Results in a free throw by the opposing team.


Air Ball: Any shot that misses the rim.

Alley-oop pass: When a player passes the ball in the air towards the basket and another teammate catches the ball and completes a dunk.

Backcourt: A reference to the teams guards as opposed to the Frontcourt which are the forwards and centers.

Frontcourt: A reference to the team’s forwards and centers.

Bounce pass: A pass to a teammate that bounces on the court.

Double team: A defensive play where two players guard the opposing team’s best offensive player.

Box Out: Use your body to keep yourself between the basket and your opponent to grab the rebound.

Brick: A hard wild shot that bounces off the basket or backboard.

Block Shot: A defender stops the shot without fouling the shooter or committing a goaltending violation.

Steal: When the defensive team takes the ball away on the dribble or intercepts a pass.

Foul Trouble: When a player has 4 or 5 fouls they are said to be in Foul Trouble. Once a player receives a 6th foul they are out of the rest of the game (including overtimes).

Three Point Line: A 22-foot arc that both of a player’s feet must be behind when he shoots the ball for it to count as a 3-pointer.

Shot Clock: The 24 second clock that is used for every offensive possession. The offense must attempt a shot that hits the rim within 24 seconds, otherwise they will be called for a Shot Clock Violation.