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Basketball Terms:
Learning the Language

Every basketball coach needs to know basic basketball terms, and even though most of us have likely played before coaching basketball, there's probably a few terms we haven't picked up over the past few years, or we kind of know but aren't totally sure if we are using them correctly.

So here are a few of the most common terms, just to refresh the memory or clarify some things. This is an abridged version of the list of basketball terms on the International Basketball Federation site (FIBA). I've chosen the terms I felt were most common to the game of basketball, but if you want a more complete list from FIBA, you can find it on their site on the basketball glossary page.

Common Basketball Terms

  • Assist: A pass to a team-mate that directly leads to a basket.

  • Blocked shot: When the defense deflects or stops a shot attempt with their hand while the ball is still on its upward flight

  • Defensive rebound: Grabbing the ball from the missed shot attempt by an opponent.

  • Double foul: Two opposing players commit fouls against each other at approximately the same time

  • Field goal: A basket scored from an action on the playing court except free throws

  • Free throw: An opportunity given to a player to score one (1) point, uncontested, from position behind the free throw line and inside the semicircle

  • Offensive foul: When an offensive player, with or without the ball, makes illegal contact against an opponent. It will be also charged as a turnover to this player

  • Offensive rebound: When a player grabs his/her own or a team-mate's missed shot attempt

  • Personal foul: Player foul which involves illegal contact with an opposing player, whether the ball is live or dead

  • Playing position: The role a player plays in the team's offensive pattern. The most common playing positions used are:
    • Guard (1: Point Guard or 2: Shooting Guard)
    • Forward (3: Small Forward or 4: Power Forward)
    • Centre (5: Centre)

  • Points in the paint: Points scored inside the painted (restricted) area

  • Scorekeeper: Official responsible for filling score sheet before and during the game (keeping a record of the names and numbers of players who start the game and all substitutions who enter the game, keeping chronological running summary of points scored, recording personal and technical fouls called on each player, recording technical fouls called on each coach, recording the time-outs charged); indicating the number of fouls committed by each player; indicating the team fouls using team marks

  • Starting line-ups: Starting line-ups represent the five players of each team which will start the game

  • Steal: A defensive action, which causes a turnover by an opponent

  • Team fouls penalty rule: When the players of a team, in a period of a game (10 minutes), have committed four (4) player fouls (personal and/or technical), all subsequent player personal fouls shall be penalised by two (2) free throws. Note that these figures - time and number of fouls - are specific to FIBA rules - if your team plays in a league that uses different rules, the time frame and number of fouls required to put your team into penalty may be different

  • Technical foul: A deliberate or a repeated infringement of the proper conduct of the game or of the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play.

  • Twenty-four (24) second rule: When a player gains control of a live ball on the court, a shot for goal must be attempted by his team within 24 seconds. Infraction of this article is a violation

  • Three (3) second rule: While his team is in control of the ball, a player shall not remain for more than three (3) consecutive seconds in the key. Usually referred to as "Three in the Key." Infraction of this article is a violation

  • Turnover: If the offensive team loses possession of the ball without attempting either a field goal or a free throw.

  • Violation: An infraction of the rules of the game:
    • Travelling
    • Illegal dribble or double dribble
    • Carrying the ball
    • 3 second violation (in the key)
    • 5 second violation (being closely guarded)
    • 8 second violation (offense must get the ball over half)
    • 24 second shot clock violation
    • Ball returned to back court
    • Out of bounds
    • Intentional foot ball
    • Basket interference

And there are plenty more basketball terms out there. I would attempt to add in current slang you'd hear on the courts, trash talk or just the current lingo players are using to describe the game. But I would probably get half of it wrong, and by next week it will all be different!

So these are the most common basketball terms that spring to mind, but check out the FIBA website for more, as well as some other great things (they have some decent videos demonstrating basic skills, performed by European pro players, for example, as well as a listing of FIBA rules).

Another link to more information is the Basketball 101 pages on Specifically, check out their Basketball Terms page - although keep in mind that this is in the Hoopedia section, a section of pages created and edited by the public in the same way as Wikipedia is. Don't take this information as gospel, since you can't be sure who is writing it.

It's always good to keep learning.

Leave Basketball Terms to go to the Better Basketball Coaching home page

"There are three reasons we make mistakes - don't know, don't care, or not able (ignorance, apathy, ability)."
- Mike Davis

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