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.)


“English” Words Spaniards Use

Spaniards love to use English in advertisements, to make things sound cooler. Nowadays it’s hip to say things like, “Soy runner” or “Es el manager” instead of using their equivalents in Spanish.

It’s natural that languages adapt words. English wouldn’t be what it is without the myriad of words we’ve borrowed from other languages, most notably French. English has become a very influential language, especially in the areas of technology. It makes a lot of sense to use words like “smartphone,” “Internet,” “click,” and many more. These words have the same meaning in Spanish as in English. However, during my years in Spain I’ve come to realize there are several which have very different denotations in Spanish than in English. Obviously, I love them and need to share them with you. Here are some of my favorites.


Nothing to do with shocking anyone with rays of electricity. Nope, this is your basic channel surfing. In Spain as well as in the US, men are especially gifted at this practice.



Meaning: to go jogging, to go for a run, as Spain’s former prime minister is showing us in the above picture.


(Also known as pantimedias.) My mother-in-law asked me if I needed one of these for a wedding. I was rather surprised to hear the question, as I associate panty with panties—you know, underwear. Nope, un panty is just a pair of pantyhose that also cover you up to the waist. You know, the normal kind, or at least what I considered to be normal. Medias, the word I use, can also mean the kind that only go up to your thighs, so be forewarned, ladies.


Similar to the panty, un body covers even higher up.


A top is an article of clothing for women that has no sleeves or straps, but I’m pretty unsure on this. If you go into any Mango store, you’ll see a section for tops. Maybe my readers can help clarify if this is true!


When I learned Spanish in high school, I learned to say “sweater’” as suéter, a term obviously derived from English. I was very surprised when I came to Spain and learned that the term here is jersey. For me, jersey is the shirt athletes wear, whether it be in basketball, soccer, or football.

By Incal (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons


This is so funny to me. We do indeed have a smoking jacket, also called “black tie,” so it makes sense that Spaniards call this un smoking, which is alternately spelled un esmoquin.


This is close to the original English meaning, but you’d have to add “lot” for it to make any sense. “A parking” without “lot” is meaningless to me. After all, it could be a “parking space” or a “parking spot” just as easily.


Tu hijo puede ser un crack -- Jaime Alguersuari


A crack has nothing to do with with our definition of “a slight opening, as between boards in a floor or a wall.” Nope, crack in Spain Spanish usually means a really great athlete. For example, Rafa Nadal or Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Personally, I’ll go with my favorite, Victor Oladipo.


This has nothing to do with weight. No, a heavy in Spain is a word derived from the music genre of heavy metal. Un heavy listens to heavy-metal music, and lots of it. Some “tips” for being heavy, according to this website, include wearing one’s hair long, wearing spiked bracelets, and saying things like, “Mi rollo es rock.”


Usually spelled friki, it means freak. Yes, it is very close to the English “freak,” but I love that in English this word would be an adjective, whereas here it’s turned into a noun. In 2012, the Royal Spanish Academy which is responsible for regulating the use of the Spanish language, added the word to its latest dictionary edition. If you understand Spanish, I recommend checking out the Wikipedia entry for this term, as it delves into the different levels of “frikismo,” among other things.

What other “English” words have you seen being used here in Spain or in other countries?