The Other Sports—There’s More than Just Soccer in Spain

Soccer, soccer, soccer. Or—if you must—football, football, football. (As an aside, please do not get Mario started on this topic about the inane naming of a sport where you hardly use your feet.)

Living in Spain means being constantly surrounded by the sport and custom football team uniforms. I tried to resist, but resistance is futile. Grin and bear it until your grin is no longer fake. Empecé a cogerle cariño (I started to almost like it) in the summer of 2010, when Spain was fighting to win its first World Cup title. Iniesta, you changed my life. I do love the Spanish national team, but when it comes to La Liga or la Champion’s, you can count me out.

Camiseta Selección Española

Besides, I’m a Hoosier. We eat, sleep, drink, and dream basketball.

Hoosier Hysteria

But—believe it or not!—there are other sports in Spain. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.


Motorsports include Formula One, IndyCar, Stock Car (see: NASCAR), Motocross, and all other sorts of racing involving motorized vehicles. In Spain, the most popular ones are Formula 1 and some involving motorcyles (e.g., MotoGP).

Fernando Alonso 2012 Grand Prix

[Source: Wikipedia]

Some of the most famous Spanish athletes in this category include: Fernando Alonso, a Formula One driver (piloto, as they in Spanish), a two-time World Champion, who races for Ferrari; Jorge Lorenzo, a motorcycle road racer and World Champion in 250cc and MotoGP; and Dani Pedrosa, a Grand Prix motorcycle racer and champion in 250cc Grands Prix.


People do like basketball in Spain, and the NBA is very popular here, sometimes even more popular than back at home. (In Indiana, we’re college-basketball fans.) Sometimes when I mention that I’m from Indiana, someone will excitedly shout at me, “Indiana Pacers!” There is also a Spanish league, called La Liga ACB, and it’s regulated by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA from its name in French). This league is regulated quite differently from the NBA and is populated by many Americans who weren’t quite good enough to make it back home as well as others who desire to play in the competitive European leagues.

The Spanish league competes to win the Copa del Rey, the King’s Cup, (just like in the soccer league) as well as in the Euroleague.

Some Spanish-basketball-player names you may recognize:

Pau Gasol

Pau Gasol, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, is four-time NBA All-Star and has won two NBA championships with the Lakers.

Ricky Rubio

Ricky Rubio, who plays for Minnesota Timberwolves, was the youngest player ever to play in the Spanish league at age 14. He was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2009, and thus became the first player born in the 1990s to drafted by the NBA.

Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka, who plays for Oklahoma City Thunder (formerly the Seattle Supersonics), is a Spanish player who was born in the Republic of the Congo. He is the third youngest of eighteen (!) siblings.


Perhaps the biggest reason tennis is so popular is Rafa Nadal, considered to be the best Spanish tennis player of all time.

Rafa Nadal

Rafa, also known as “The King of Clay” for his incredible success on clay courts, is only 26 years old, but has won eleven Grand Slam singles titles (including seven French Open titles) and an Olympic gold medal in singles in 2008. His success, charisma, and general likability have turned him into the singular reason for the sport’s popularity in Spain.


Futsal (fútbol sala) is like soccer, but played indoors on a smaller field. Its name comes from the Portuguese futebol de salão, “hall football.” Spain’s team has won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice and the UEFA Futsal Championship six times, making it second after Brazil.


Perhaps the most surprising of all to me, handball (balonmano) is quite popular around the country. In handball, two teams of seven players pass the ball (with their hands, surprise surprise!) in order to score a goal. There are two thirty-minute halves. Goals are scored quite frequently, and the game moves fast, making it enjoyable to watch.

Handball Spain Champions


In 2013, Spain won the World Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Denmark 35–19.


Cycling is also quite popular here, and has been since the mid-1900s. The Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, is one of the most important events in the cycling world alongside the famous Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

The Tour de France is unquestionably the most famous of the three, and there have been Spanish champions, including Federico Bahamontes, Luis Ocaña, Pedro Delgado, Óscar Pereiro, Alberto Contador, and Carlos Sastre. But perhaps the most famous is Miguel Indurain, who won for five years running between 1991 and 1995 and held the record until broken by Lance Armstrong. (This is not to say there hasn’t been cycling controversy here the same as in the US.)

Miguel Indurain

Miguel Indurain in 1996

So there you have it. Spain: it’s not all about football. (But it is mainly about football. No denying it.)


Guest Post: Mario

Please welcome my second-ever guest poster, the one and only Mario. You all know about him, so there’s no need to say that much about him. I’ll let him speak for himself for once!

Kaley asked me many weeks ago to write a guest post for her blog. I don’t usually procrastinate, but somehow many weeks passed and I still hadn’t been able to find a topic that would be interesting enough for those who read her blog. I knew for sure that my topic choice would be about the USA. But what could I say about it? I know that NYC or LA are a big thing for Spaniards (Europeans in general, I would say) who want to visit the States, and I’m pretty sure there are a bazillion blogs praising the magnificent skyscrapers in Chicago or how cool San Francisco can be or how intercultural NYC is.

Suddenly, as I was watching Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, I had a light-bulb moment. In the movie, Colonel Rufus J. Plummer (Millard Mitchell) mentions he comes from Indiana. That reminded me that in North by Northwest the famous plane attack against Cary Grant is on a road between Chicago and Indianapolis (although it seems to be a movie mistake), and I started to remember all the movies and TV series in which Indiana is mentioned: one of the soldiers in Band of Brothers comes from Kokomo (Floyd Talbert); the Notre Dame football team is mentioned in The Simpsons. In another category would be films about Indiana, where Hoosiers ranks number one. The name Lew Wallace probably says little to you. Maybe the film Ben-Hur sounds more familiar. Before the film, there was a book Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, whose author, Lew Wallace, wrote part of his famous work in Crawfordsville, which happens to be in … Indiana!

Let’s face it: a European is very unlikely to cross the pond to visit Indiana, unless you are a talent scout from a basketball team and you want to find some exceptionally good players in Indiana University (Florentino, Cody Zellermust be signed by Real as soon as he graduates). You would also visit Indiana if you were my father who has always wanted to see the vast fields of crops he has seen in documentaries.

You know what? It’s a pity a European would never visit Indiana. These are my five reasons why foreigners should visit Indiana:

1. People are very nice.Okay, my view might be a bit biased, since Kaley’s family is super nice to me. Helpful people will open their hearts to you. Whenever I’ve been there, Kaley’s parents have always scheduled all kind of activities so that I could have the best taste of Indiana: Spring Mill State Park, Indianapolis Zoo, a good rib-eye steak, tailgating …. Her dad, a great sports fan, has taken me to a Cubs’ game and Indiana University basketball and football games. I had never owned the Spanish national soccer team jersey, but when Spain won their first World Cup in 2010, they gave it to me, and I will proudly wear it this year to support Spain in the Euro Cup. He also got me a Miami Dolphins’ jersey!


2. Nature. Not the scientific journal, but the green stuff. You can find it in two forms: wild and farmed. I love hiking and nature, and I think it’s a pity we don’t have more places where you can go hiking. In Indiana, in a two-hour drive you can be in a park. I have been to Brown County and Spring Mill State Parks (I was so excited to see a raccoon), but there are twenty-six more state parks remaining to be visited; there are fifteen state forests, one national forest, etc. Visit Indiana and you can enjoy them! (I sound like Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation). Indiana, with its large extensions of crops (mainly corn and soybeans), is located within the US Corn and Grain Belts. An interesting visit would be to drive in the countryside and stop to enjoy the traditional red-painted wooden barns. Last summer I visited the farm owned by the Kaley’s brother’s fiancée’s father. Man, it was huge!


3. Good food.My brother and some friends recently returned from a trip to NYC. They all are on cloud nine but agree that the food could have been much better. American food tends to be tagged as “unhealthy” or simply “not good.” I disagree. My point is that it takes all sorts and that you have to find the right place and know what to order. When I was there and had lunch or dinner out, I only at fast food twice: once at Pizza Hut and once at Buffalo Wild Wings. I’ve been to many other restaurants, and the food has been good. I have to admit I like meat, and whenever I had the chance I ordered a burger. I was never disappointed, whereas in Spain if you order a burger, the outcome is unexpected. I can’t remember the name of that restaurant we stopped on our way back home on Black Friday, but I clearly remember telling the waiter that the burger was supreme. I still salivate thinking about the rib-eye steak at the Steak House in Covington. I have had good Mexican and Italian food. We went to a restaurant in the Amish area, and it was delicious. I have never had heartburn because of the food, and I didn’t gain weight (and—believe me—I eat a lot). Plus, in Kaley’s family there are great cooks, so when we had lunch or dinner at home, I could enjoy great meals. I was there for Thanksgiving, and I was happy because everything was delicious: the turkey, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce made from scratch. And, of course, the desserts—especially cookies. It’s true that you don’t usually find lentils or chickpeas in restaurants, but it’s not that they just have meat on the menu; they do have veggies, and they usually serve a salad as a side order.


4. WYSIWYWIF: What You See Is What You Watch In Films.This particular reason applies to all states. People in films usually live in houses with a front and/or backyard; you find that here. Yellow school buses? Check. High schools with these amazing gyms that you can’t imagine in a Spanish high school? Check. Enormous SUVs and trucks? Check. Huge Wal-Mart with long aisles with thousands of different types of cereal? Cheeeeeeeeck. A farmer wearing dungarees and a John Deere hat? Check. Amish people riding in their buggies? Check. A huge green campus? Check. A bake sale? Check. Tailgating? Check.


5. Basketball. Do you like basketball? If you are a fan of hoops, Indiana is a must—the basketball state par excellence. But forget the NBA. In the States there exists something better: college basketball. Some college kids do the required “one-and-done” to jump into the pro league. Indiana University’s philosophy is quite different: basketball players graduate, so along with their basketball experience they have a diploma, which comes handy in case you get injured and can’t keep playing basketball. Thanks to Tom Crean, the current coach, who is forging a very competitive Cream and Crimson team, Indiana basketball is back. This year they made it to The Sweet Sixteen. Next year? My bet is that they will be in the Final Four.


Visit Indiana and remember: it’s Indiana!

So Sorry, So Boring

Do you still read this blog? It’s okay if you don’t. Except you’d be lying. You’re reading this right now.

I realize my life lately hasn’t been all that exciting, but I wanted to tell you all—exciting things are right around the corner. I know, I know; I wish I could post about them now, too, but it wouldn’t be prudent, and, you see, I’m all about being prudent. Bo-ring.


My cousin, Bailey, and me

So, here’s a few little life updates for you:

  • My super-smart, fantastic boyfriend received some amazing news that he totally deserves because he worked his you-know-what off for four years to get a very difficult degree. He would go to class from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and then study afterwards. Dedication—it pays off. Good job, amor!
  • My favorite basketball team, the Indiana Hoosiers, are doing super well—and, well, that makes me happy. Go Hoosiers!

Men's Basketball vs. Illinois, 02/09/12_Mike Dickbernd

  • I am studying for the DELE exam, which, for those of you who don’t know, stands for the “Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language.” It’s a diploma issued by the Cervantes Institute in Spain saying you talk real good in Spanish. Okay, it’s not just speaking, it’s also comprehension (reading and listening), and general knowledge of Spanish. I’m going for a tough one and can’t devote a ton of time to it (hello, full-time job!), but I’m going. Slowly. It helps to have Mario quiz me and give me helpful hints. I have my own personal practice examiner!
  • People are getting married: I just attended my cousin’s wedding (congratulations to Bret and  Kelsey) and my brother’s wedding is in September. My “baby” brother. See also: smart, successful, and has a beautiful fiancé! Plus, there are others (who shall not be named)! Also, doesn’t it seem like everyone on Facebook is either heading for holy matrimony or having a kid? When did we get so old?!

I know, lame post, Kaley. But there has been a lot of exciting news lately, not the least of which is that Mario has picked up a new hobby: paddle tennis. This is totally a thing in Spain. Also: he’ll be running a half marathon later this month, most likely (100%) way faster than I could.

¡Vamos Mario!