The world of sports is full of several colourful terms that perfectly paint the heart-wrenching and often unpredictable stories that unfold on courts, fields, and arenas worldwide. From the gravity-defying alley-oops of basketball to the swift timing of a volley in soccer, this guide aims to decode these terms and offer readers a glimpse into the linguistic tapestry that enriches the experience of every athletic pursuit. 


Pick-and-roll: A prevalent offensive play involving a player initiating a screen, or a “pick” — a play where the player stands and blocks the defender — for a teammate holding the ball to dribble toward the basket in a move referred to as the “roll.” 

Alley-oop: A play where an offensive player throws the ball to a teammate near the basket, who then catches and scores the ball in one singular mid-air motion — often a slam-dunk.

Euro-step: A move in which a player on offense fakes in one direction and then in the opposite direction before laying the ball into the basket to score. 

Turnover: An instance of a team losing possession of the ball through forced or unforced error. 


Volley: To strike the ball in mid-air before it makes contact with the ground. 

Offside: A position where a player stands behind the other team’s last opposition player to receive the ball.

10-men: The case where a team loses one of their players after receiving a red card and goes from 11 players down to 10 players. 

Rabona: A technique of striking the ball in soccer, wherein a player wraps one leg — their kicking leg — around the back of the other before making contact with the ball.

Gridiron football 

Hail mary: A high-risk, often last resort, play in which a player throws the ball from a long distance in hopes of scoring a touchdown. 

Blitz: A defensive tactic of rushing more players than usual toward the opposing quarterback to pressure the quarterback into fumbling. 

Line of scrimmage: An imaginary line extending straight across the width of the field, delineating a boundary that a team cannot cross. The line changes with each play. 

Checkdown pass: A quarterback’s attempt to complete a short, accurate pass. 


Hat trick: Scoring three goals in a single game. 

Five-hole: The space between a goalie’s leg pads. This term is typically used when a goal is scored through this opening. 

Power-play: An instance in which a team has an extra player on the ice due to an opponent serving a penalty. 

Gordie Howe hat trick: When a player records a goal, an assist, and a fight in a single game. The term is named after famous Canadian hockey player Gordie Howe. 


Perfect game: A pitching feat where a pitcher faces 27 batters and successfully retires each one without allowing any to reach base. 

Bunt: A strategic offensive play where the batter holds their bat in the path of an oncoming pitch with the intention of softly hitting the ball into play. 

Double play: A defensive play that results in two outs. 

Walk: A walk happens when a pitcher throws four pitches to an opposing batter that land outside the strike zone, and the batter is awarded first base. It’s only awarded if the batter doesn’t swing at any of the four pitches. 

Tag up: A base-running strategy used in the case of a fly ball, where a runner waits on their current base until an opposing defensive player catches the ball, to avoid running back to touch their original base.

Whether you’re a longstanding sports fan or a newcomer, knowledge of these words and phrases can allow you to procure a deeper understanding of the games you love and marvel at the richness of language embedded in the athletic world.