American football is the
national sport of the United States, where it has a nationwide following at both college
and professional levels. It is a game of explosive action, as two teams of big and
powerful men try to carry or pass the oval ball into their opponents' end zone. The
players are made to look even more fearsome by the helmets with face guards, and the mass
of protective padding under their uniforms.
The game is played 11-a-side. Professional football teams have squads of 45 players, but
only 11 are allowed on the field at any one time. There are entirely separate teams for
offence (attack), defence and special kicking situations. A game is divided into four
15-minute quarters, but the clock is stopped for a variety of reasons and games usually
last 3 hours or more.
A touchdown worth 6 points is scored by taking the ball across the goal line or by
catching a pass while in the end zone. The offence advance the ball in a series of plays
called downs. Teams have four downs in which to move the ball at least 10
yards towards their opponents' end zone. If they do not make 10 yards, the ball is handed
over to their opponents.
The ball is moved by running with it or by passing one forward pass is allowed on
each down, and only to a designated receiver. Only the ball-carrier may be
tackled, but players may obstruct opponents by blocking. An extra point may be scored
after a touchdown by kicking the ball over the crossbar. If they are close enough to their
opponents' line by the fourth down, a team may attempt a field goal worth 3
points, made by kicking the ball over the bar.
The American code of football goes back to 1874, when a visiting team from the Canadian
McGill University (Montreal) brought English Rugby to Harvard, where students played a
soccer-like kicking game. The American students liked the new running and tackling style
so much that they adopted it and introduced it to other eastern colleges, and the sport
developed independently in the USA.
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Baseball is the national summer sport of the
United States. It is now played in many other countries and achieved full Olympic status
Baseball is played nine-a-side. Each side has nine innings at bat. A pitcher throws the
ball and a batter tries to hit it and run. A run is scored when a player moves safely
round the three bases and back to home plate, not necessarily at one turn.
Innings and outs
An inning is over when three players are out. Batters may be out in several ways: by
striking out, when they make three strikes (fail to hit the ball three times);
by flying out, when a fielder catches the ball before it hits the ground; or by grounding
out, when, after hitting into fair territory, they fail to reach first base before a
fielder with the ball touches the base or tags them. Runners may also be out if they fail
to reach their base.
A team must keep the same batting order throughout. Substitutes take the order of the
player they replace. In some competitions, such as the American League and the Olympics, a
designated hitter may bat in place of the pitcher.
A world apart
The World Series, staged annually since 1903, is a best-of- seven decider between the
champions of the major leagues in the USA, the National and American Leagues, which also
include some Canadian teams.
Other countries where baseball is a major sport include Australia, Japan, South Africa,
the Netherlands and many in Latin America. Cuba, which has dominated the World Amateur
Championships, first held in 1938, won the 1992 Olympic title with ease.
Women play baseball in some countries, but softball, a scaled-down version of the game, is
a more popular option.
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Basketball is one of the few
major sports to have been invented from scratch. It was devised in the USA in 1891 by a
Canadian-born YMCA instructor, Dr James Naismith, to keep his students occupied in the
severe New England winters. He hung a peach basket from the balcony at each end of the
gymnasium for them to throw balls into and that is how the game got its name.
Basketball is now the most widely played of all indoor sports, with more than 190
countries affiliated to FIBA, the sport's world governing body. It became an Olympic sport
for men in 1936 and for women in 1976. The top stars of the US professional league, the
National Basketball Association (NBA), are among the world's most highly paid and
Play and rules
In basketball, the ball may be thrown, passed, tapped, bounced or rolled. There are rules
to govern how players can turn and move with the ball.
The international rules of basketball differ in some ways from those of the NBA, which
plays four 12-minute instead of two 20- minute periods. International rules provide for
10-player teams, as opposed to 12 in the NBA, but in all types of basketball teams may
have only five players on court at any one time.
All players in a team play both defence and attack, depending on which side has
possession. Players may move freely about the court, but the usual formation is two
guards, two forwards and a centre. The guards direct the attack, starting most of the
moves. Forwards are usually taller than guards, and look for shots close to the basket.
The centre is usually the tallest and most important member of the team, and the centre
aims to be the first to catch rebounds from the ring or backboard.
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"Oxford Children`s Encyclopedia", OUP 96)