Two of the world’s greatest global games are rotten with jargon. Positively stinky with it! Why? I can’t say, for sure, but it has something to do with the fact that while both games crave growth and acknowledgment as the globe’s biggest and best sports they, ironically, seek to exclude outsiders by generating their own exclusive languages. Is basketball and soccer jargon meaningful and helpful in clarifying the technical aspects of these two highly technical sports? Sometimes… but not usually. More often than not, basketball and soccer jargon confuse communication and only succeed in enabling jargon speakers to feel like they are members of a special club.
Here is a run-down of some of the most stupid expressions basketball and soccer dish up… and a description of what each means and why they are so brain-free.
If you are desperate to show your mates that you speak fluent “hoops” (basketball) language and you have never been told that speaking jargon can lead to poor communication, then you will probably prefer to use the term he or she’s “got game” rather than saying, he or she plays well. If you don’t give a rat’s arse about trying to sound knowledgeable on basketball and its culture, you will prefer to stick to the traditional way of saying it.
Another basketball term that does nothing to enhance or clarify meaning is he or she “has hops.” Telling a parent that his daughter “has hops” is not only an attempt to ingratiate yourself to the parent but is also intended to impress him or her that you are a “hoops” expert. “Hops” is a light-weight piece of irony referring to a player’s outstanding jumping ability. The term was probably funny the first time it was used, but is now it’s just a piece of boorish jargon used by wannabes.
Not in my house
This is an annoying piece of brainless basketball jargon, used to describe an equally annoying and brainless piece of basketball play. Frustratingly for coaches who hate the “not in my house” play, some stupid players still do it because spectators, who don’t know much about the game, and some commentators, love it because they think it is tough or something. “Not in my house” is the term used to describe the actions of a defensive player who spectacularly blocks a shot of an attacking opponent by swatting the ball brutally into the sixth row of the grand stand. The swat is often followed by a petulant and mocking wave of the finger by the blocker in the direction of the player who was swatted. The attempt at sledging is misguided in that the swat results in the attacking team being awarded possession and given another opportunity to score… ad they usually do! Coaches try to teach their defending big men to develop “soft hands” so that they can gently block the ball back into play, hopefully into the waiting arms of one of their team-mates, thus regaining possession. In Australia the National Basketball League’s top ten plays of the week often feature half a dozen “not in my house” plays making one wonder about whether the people at the NBL know much about the game. Any shot block that falls out of play is a wasted defensive opportunity and should be criticized, not praised.
He’s come to play
Here is another example of irony, or, more accurately, understatement common in the basketball world but not unknown in many other sports as well. If a player is having an especially strong match commentators and sideline experts might suggest that she or he has “come to play.” As is the case with “he’s got hops”, it might have been funny or witty the first time it was said but now it is just annoying. Not as annoying as saying “money ball” or “can’t get it to go” (these two are so annoying I can’t even bring myself to explain them) but almost!
Sending a message to the opposition
I think that this means that a player did something good, but I am not sure about that. In fact, I don’t have any idea what it means. It certainly means that the person who said it is a dickhead.
Shape is another one of those terms that is bandied around to show people that you understand the technical aspects of a sport and don’t give a stuff about clear communication. It is most common in soccer but also crops up in cricket, tennis, rugby, Australian Rules Football and many other sports. Like most pieces of shameless jargon, it causes the eyes of those who don’t closely follow the game or haven’t been watching the right television shows or reading the right sports magazines and manuals to glaze over. Go down to your local soccer pitch when kids are being coached and check out the puzzlement on their faces when the coach starts rabbiting on about “shape.”
The problem with the word is that it has slightly different meanings in different contexts and coaches and other experts rarely go to the trouble of demonstrating or explaining what they mean when they say it. In soccer it can mean the path through the air the ball takes after being kicked (in a shot or a pass) by a player… or it can mean the posture that a player adopts when he or she is addressing the ball or an opponent… or it can even mean the way that a group of players execute their offensive or defensive formations on the pitch. If you hear the word “shape” being used by someone either ignore them as someone who isn’t worth listening to or, if you must, ask them what the hell they are talking about.
Another soccer classic is the word quality… usually with the “t” not pronounced (quali-ee). If you have ever sat through a full game of soccer on tele the commentator will, likely, use the word quality twenty or thirty times throughout the game. “Quality shot, that!” “She’s a quality player.” “This is a quality game.” “We’ve got two quality teams here on the pitch today.” I’m not going to quibble over the use of a noun as an adjective because that kind of thing happens in the English language all the time and quibbling over grammar is about as wankerish as you can get. I will quibble over the way it is persistently used by soccer coaches, experts and commentators, though, because it fails to illustrate almost anything about a player, match, team, sequence of play or whatever other than the fact that it was “good”. Using the word quality to signify high quality tells us very little about an individual or event especially when it is used repeatedly with no elaboration. Our language is richer than that and a highly skilled player or play or team deserves to be described in much clearer language and richer detail than that they are quali-ee.
This is a piece of soccer jargon that I can’t complain about because the term expresses a clear meaning and message that is critical to anyone who plays or has an interest in the game. My main concern with its use is that the expression is usually only employed in a narrow context when it should be recognized as being a problem all over the soccer pitch. Let me explain. Usually “ball watching” is the term used to describe a defensive player who is so focused on the path of the ball that he or she neglects to notice that the player they are supposed to be marking has slipped away from them. This often results in the “un-marked” player scoring a goal and making the “ball watching” marker look like an idiot. While this is indeed an example of ball watching, ball watching is endemic in soccer and shows itself in many other contexts as well. An example is the attacking mid-fielder who is so focused on the ball at his feet (and the one or two nearby players he may be intending to execute a “give-and-go” with) that he completely fails to notice the unmarked winger making a run down the side-line. Blatant ball watching! Or the defensive mid-fielder who is so concerned with maintaining possession that he unthinkingly fires the ball back to a full-back or centre-back when, if he had had his eyes open, he would have noticed a forward or another mid-fielder creating a leading run further up the pitch. Ball watching! The biggest single technical skill problem at every level of soccer is the inability of even elite players to keep their heads and eyes up and away from the ball long enough to see what their opponents and their team mates are doing and to see precisely where the goal is. Some of the worst ball watchers are the players regarded by their team mates as having sublime ball skills. I have no problem with the use of the term ball watching. I just wish it was used more often to criticize the tens of thousands of players guilty of it every day!
The term formation exists in lots of sports but the sport that discusses it almost obsessively is soccer. Formation refers to the structure or way in which players of varying positions are instructed to arrange themselves on the pitch. Different soccer coaches swear by different formations. Some play a 4-2-3-1 pattern meaning four players in the defensive back line, with two defensive mid-fielders above them, a line of three attacking mid-fielders above them and a lone striker at the top of the formation. Other coaches argue for a 3-3-3-1 mix. Others prefer 4-5-1. Still others a 3-1-3-3. The constant debate over which formation is best is a bit of a joke really… for several reasons. Firstly, just about any formation (so long as it suits the abilities of the players in the various positions), can work just fine so long as the players are well coached in the system and can execute it well. A well-executed boring old system (or formation) will always work better than an ingenious and creative formation that is executed poorly. Great player skill, great teamwork and great execution of systems is much more important than any genius coach’s genius systems. Secondly, the importance of formation is over-rated because, in the cut and thrust of a dynamic game, good teams are constantly shifting from one formation to another and then back again all the time. Good strikers rotate back defensively… then forward again. Good left and right backs (Full-backs) swing forward into the front line often and then charge back again when needed. Good attacking midfielders become sweepers at a moment’s notice, then fly forward aggressively again when they can. Good play is dynamic play. Help a team mate. Then recover. Help. Recover. Help. Recover. Formation may not be irrelevant but it’s over-emphasized!
When you hear an expert or commentator doing a detailed analysis of a team’s formation you may as well tune out. What they are talking about is usually crap and has very little relevance to what will actually happen in a game.