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Basketball Terminology

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Below is a list of brief definitions of common basketball terminology:

ADVANTAGE RULE: The referee does not have to stop play every time he detects a foul. If the offending team gains an advantage from the offense, he will certainly do so. But sometimes it is penalizing the innocent team to stop play: if, for instance, a defender deliberately handles the ball to bring it under control but only succeeds in deflecting it to an opponent who is well placed for a shot at goal. To stop play at this moment would penalize the attacking team. In such a case, the referee would apply the so-called advantage rule and allow play to go on.

AGGREGATE SCORE: Many of soccer's most important club competitions are played on a knockout basis. A draw is conducted to decide the pairings. The two clubs drawn as a pair play each other twice, home-and-home. The winner is decided by adding together the scores from the two games -- the aggregate score. If the aggregate score is tied, then the winner is the club that scored more goals on its opponent's field (usually referred to as "the away goals rule"). If the score is still tied under the away goals rule, then 30-minutes of overtime (usually it is not sudden death) are played. If that doesn't produce a result, then a penalty shoot-out is used to decide the tie. See alsoScorelines.

ASSIST: An American term that is gaining acceptance throughout the soccer world. The Italians regularly use the word, while the official FIFA World Cup statistics now include a list of assists. The English find every reason not to use the word. The idea of an American contribution to soccer is evidently more than they can bear.

BALL IN AND OUT OF PLAY: For the ball to pass out of play, all of it must be outside all of the sideline or goal line (the lines can be up to five inches wide). Thus, a ball on the line is in play. Even a ball resting on the ground just outside the line is in play if any part of it is projecting over the line. Similarly, a goal is not scored until all the ball has passed over all the goal line. The position of the player controlling or dribbling the ball does not matter -- he can be standing or running with both feet outside the touchline, but as long as the ball is in play the game goes on.

BICYCLE KICK: A volley in which the player kicks the ball over his own head. This is not just a simple overhead kick, which can be accomplished keeping one foot on the ground. In the true bicycle kick, the player has both feet off the ground. With his body "floating" horizontally he uses a rapid pedaling motion of both legs (hence the bicycle reference) to kick the ball backward. The player is, in effect, performing a somersault as he kicks. This allows him to get his feet above the level of his head so that the trajectory of the ball can be kept down, essential for one of the bicycle kick's most spectacular uses as a shot on goal. The bicycle kick should not be confused with the Scissor Kick.

BOOTER: Ugh! This, I suspect, is the invention of some deservedly obscure headline writer looking for an easy way of identifying soccer players. The word has an aura of heavy clumsiness about it, and no self-respecting soccer enthusiast should be caught dead using it. In any case, "to boot" has a more specific soccer meaning and should not be used as though it means simply "to kick." To boot the ball in soccer is to kick it hard and long and usually high; an aimless, thoughtless sort of wallop that is the very antithesis of good soccer.

BOX: The box means the penalty area. Sometimes called the 18-yard box, to distinguish it from the goal area, which is the 6-yard box (for those with a metric turn of mind, the corresponding measurements are 16.5 meters and 5.5 meters).

CLEAR: To kick or head the ball away from the goalmouth, thus killing an immediate threat to the goal. In theory, there ought to be two types of clearance: good, in which the ball is passed to a teammate to start an attack, or bad, in which the ball is hoofed anywhere. In practice, the first, good, type of clearance is always referred to as a pass or as starting an attack. The words clear and clearance almost always describe those panic situations in which a defender is under pressure and is quite happy to boot the ball aimlessly upfield or out of play.

DEAD BALL: When play is stopped and the ball is not moving, it is a dead ball. All free kicks, including penalty kicks, have to be taken from a dead -- i.e., stationary -- ball.

FIELD: Soccer fields are by no means all the same size. International rules allow substantial variation, but the length (from 100 to 130 yards) must always be greater than the width (50 to 100 yards). Excessively narrow fields are a problem in the USA. Many soccer fields are modified football fields, whose playing width of just over 53 yards can rarely be sufficiently enlarged to give the minimum 70 yards that a satisfactory soccer field needs. See alsoPitch.

FIFTY-FIFTY BALL: A loose ball, or a badly placed pass, that is as near to a player of one team as it is to a player of the opposing team, allowing both an equal chance of controlling it. Bad soccer, in which players lack the technique to control the ball properly, is often a succession of ugly little tackling battles for possession of fifty-fifty balls.

GOAL: All goals, under international rules, must be scored -- they cannot be awarded by the referee. If a defender (other than the goalkeeper) punches the ball away from the goal, the referee cannot award a goal, even though the ball was clearly going into the net, and even though the defender's action was flagrantly illegal. The referee will eject the player who handled the ball, and give the attacking team a penalty kick.

GOALKEEPER: This is the soccer term, sometimes shortened to goalie, or keeper. Beware of imitations, especially one labeled "goaltender." The trouble with goaltender is that it is a hockey term and it is likely to bring with it ideas that cannot be applied to soccer. A hockey goaltender is frequently credited with having "registered a shutout," and with a small goal (6 feet by 4 feet) to guard, it is possible for him to single-handedly defy a barrage of shots. It is theoretically possible for a soccer goalkeeper to do the same. Possible, but rare. His goal is eight times as large (twenty-four feet by eight feet) and to remain unbeaten for 90 minutes he needs a lot of help from the defenders playing in front of him. In fact, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that in most soccer shutouts, thanks to his teammates' superior defensive play, the goalkeeper has relatively little to do.

GOALTENDERSeeGoalkeeper.

GUARDSeeMark.

HAND BALL: An offense in soccer, obviously. What is not so obvious is that the term "hand" includes any part of the arm below the armpit.

HEAD: To head the ball is to play it with the forehead, whether the intention is a clearance, a pass, or a shot at goal. The British describe all three under the general term "header," but the American term "head-shot" to describe a header that is intended as a scoring effort is a useful addition to soccer's vocabulary (and, more than likely, another term of American origin that the English will refuse to adopt).

KICKER: Like the odious "booter" (q.v.), sometimes used to identify a soccer player. It should be shunned. It is not a particularly pleasant word and it already has a specific soccer meaning. A kicker is a player who tends to kick opponents more than he kicks the ball -- a dirty player.

LINESMAN: Former term for assistant referee. SeeReferee.

MARK: In man-to-man coverage the defender is said to mark (rather than guard) the attacker. The closer he plays to him, the tighter the marking; the further away, the looser the marking.

NATIONAL TEAM: An all-star team that represents a country in the various international tournaments -- e.g. the World Cup, the Olympic Games, the under-20 World Cup, etc. National teams are supposed to consist of the very best players in the country, regardless of which club they play for. They are not permanent teams; they are assembled only to play in specific games or tournaments. The clubs are expected to cooperate by releasing the players for the required period (it may be just two or three days, or a month or more for the World Cup). All of the top soccer nations in the world now have a full-time national team coach. Playing for the national team -- i.e., representing one's country -- was once considered such an honor that clubs rarely refused to release their players. Nowadays, release is less certain. For the World Cup, yes, pro clubs will release their players. But for other national team games, especially for exhibition games, clubs are not so keen to release their highly paid players, who run the risk of injury or who may miss vital club games while away on national team duty.

OFFSIDE: The word is singular. Offside. How or why the plural version "offsides" arose I have no idea, but it is incorrect.

OWN GOAL: It is, obviously, possible for a player to kick, or head, or deflect, the ball into his own goal. If he does so, the score counts for his opponents; and if the ball clearly would not have gone in without his intervention, then he, unlucky soul, is listed as the scorer with the letters o.g. (for "own goal") after his name.

PENALTY: Beware! The word "penalty" has a very specific (and very dramatic) meaning in soccer. It should be applied only to the award of a penalty kick -- i.e., the 12-yard direct free kick taken from the penalty spot with only the goalkeeper to beat. It should never be used in connection with any other offense or free kick situation.

PERIOD: Soccer games are (or should be) divided into two halves: a first half and a second half. The term "period" belongs in games like football and hockey that are played in quarters or thirds. See alsoTime.

PITCH: An English word for a sports field. It is not specific to soccer -- there are cricket and field hockey and rugby pitches as well. It has come into vogue in the United States, mouthed by those who feel they are showing some special inside knowledge when they use it. They are merely being pretentious. The American term "field" is all that is required.

PROMOTION and RELEGATION: Soccer leagues throughout the world usually feature a number of divisions. The weakest clubs are in the lower Divisions, the strongest in the top Division. The composition of the Divisions changes each season. The top clubs in each lower division (usually the first three or four) are promoted to the division above, whose bottom three or four clubs are relegated (demoted) to replace them. Thus each division features two competitions: one at the top to decide the championship and promotion places, the other at the bottom to avoid relegation.

PUNT: A useful way of measuring the sophistication of a soccer crowd is to listen to their reaction to a long punt by the goalkeeper. If they ooh! and aah! as the ball arcs downfield for 40 or 50 yards, chances are that they don't know too much about soccer. A long punt, assessed by football criteria, is impressive. By soccer standards it is next to useless. As a pass, the high towering punt has two major drawbacks: The ball is in the air too long, allowing opponents plenty of time to cover the intended receiver, and when the ball finally does come down, the angle and the speed of its descent make it extremely difficult for a forward to control. The defender, of course, doesn't have to control it -- he merely heads or hoofs it back whence it came. To the reader who asks why, then, do goalkeepers constantly punt the ball, I can only reply that it is a total mystery to me, too.

REFEREE: The person in charge. His decisions on the field are final. He (or she) starts the game and, because under international rules he is also the official timekeeper, he (and not the scoreboard clock, should there be one) says when it is over. No player can enter or leave the field without his consent. He calls the fouls and has the power to caution players or to eject them from the game. He is also responsible for seeing that the ball and the players' equipment conform to the rules. He has two assistant referees, but their function is strictly advisory. If an assistant, for example, waves his flag to indicate offside, the referee does not have to whistle for the infraction - he is entitled to overrule the assistant and allow play to continue.

RELEGATIONSeePromotion and Relegation.

SCISSOR KICK: The side volley. The ball is kicked in the direction that the player is facing. The player leans sideways, throws his legs upward, and volleys the ball forward with a scissor-like motion as the kicking leg passes forward over the other leg. Not to be confused with the Bicycle Kick (q.v.).

SCORELINES: The convention used throughout the soccer world is to name the home team first. Thus, a scoreline of AC Milan 3 Lazio 2, tells you not only that Milan won the game, but also that the game was played in Milan. A scoreline of AC Milan 0 Lazio 1 indicates an away win for Lazio at Milan. The American convention of listing the winning team first is an annoying one to soccer fans, as it fails to indicate the home team. This is often vital information. There are certain two-leg cup series (e.g., in the European cup competitions), in which goals scored on an opponent's field may count double. (Soccer, however, does use the American system for tournaments such as the World Cup that are played at a fixed site, and where there is in effect only one home team, the host nation.) See alsoAggregate Score.

SHUTOUTSeeGoalkeeper.

SIDELINES: Also called touchlines. A ball that goes out of play over the sidelines is said to have gone into touch.

SPOT-KICK: A penalty kick, so called because the ball is placed on the penalty spot, 12 yards in front of goal.

STATISTICS: Inevitably, Americans have brought statistics to soccer, a sport in which, traditionally, records have not been particularly plentiful. The theory behind most of the statistics - to plot the shape and progress of a game with figures - is excellent. But soccer is a game that is proving stubbornly resistant to having its portrait drawn in columns of numbers. I can only say that soccer statistics, particularly those such as shots on goal, or saves, should be viewed with caution. Many of them will be judgment calls by the scorekeeper, who may or may not be reliable. Also, special soccer considerations must be taken into account when assessing the figures (see the discussion of shutouts under Goalkeeper).

TACKLE: To use the feet in attempting to take the ball from an opponent's feet. A tackle may be accompanied by a legitimate shoulder charge, but there must be no holding, pushing, tripping, elbowing, or hip-checking. Clean tackling -- the ability to strip the ball from an opponent without fouling -- requires considerable skill. Unfortunately, the leniency shown to defenders has meant that many defenders are not good tacklers. They simply clatter into the guy with the ball, often from behind, and -- if called for a foul-- protest, "But I got the ball ref!" Possibly, but only by demolishing the opponent as well. FIFA's claim that its rule changes have banished the more violent tackles from behind is questionable - such tackles are still frequently seen.

TIME: Traditionally, soccer games have always been divided into two halves: 45 minutes per half in professional games, less (30 or 35 minutes) for youth games.

TIMEOUT: The referee alone can stop the clock in soccer. Coaches are not permitted to call timeouts. A FIFA experiment with timeouts during the 1995 U-17 World Cup in Ecuador (coaches were allowed to call one 90-second timeout in each half) was not repeated.

TRANSFER FEE: When a player under contract to a club is traded (transferred) to another club, the new club has to purchase the contract, often paying huge sums of money for it. This is the transfer fee -- it goes to the selling club, not to the player.

WALL-PASS: The give-and-go. So called because in soccer games played by boys in streets, the ball was often rebounded off a wall rather than passed to a teammate.

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