Goal refers to a method of scoring in many sports. It can also refer to the physical structure or area of the playing surface where scoring occurs.
In several sports, a goal is the sole method of scoring, and thus the final score is expressed in the total number of goals scored by each team. In other sports, a goal may be one of several scoring methods, and thus may be worth a different set number of points than the others. A few of these sports use the term field goal to distinguish one scoring method from another.
The structure of a goal can vary widely from sport to sport. In sports where goals are the sole method of scoring, the goal is often a rectangular structure that is placed at each end of the playing surface. Each structure usually consists of two vertical posts, called the goal posts, supporting a horizontal crossbar. A line called the goal line is also marked on the playing surface where each goal is located, parallel to the crossbars. Thus, the objective is to send the ball or puck between the goal posts, under the crossbar, and across the goal line. There is often a net to catch the ball or puck as it is sent into the goal. Other sports have very different structures, but have a variation on the theme of goal lines, goal posts, crossbars, and nets.
Methods of scoring
In some sports, the goal is the sole method of scoring. In these sports the final score is expressed as the number of goals scored by each team, with the winner being the team that accumulated more over the specified time period.
In other sports, a goal is the primary, but not the sole method of scoring. In these sports, the goal is worth a set number of points, and there is another method of scoring which scores fewer points (often one point). In these sports, the score is expressed as the number of goals plus the number of alternate scores and the combined total of points with the winner being decided on total points. For example, in Australian Rules Football the score may be expressed as follows:
In this example Sydney scored 10 goals (at six points each) and 4 behinds (one point each) for a total of 64 points. Brisbane scored 9 goals and 12 behinds for a total of 66 points. Despite having fewer goals, Brisbane won the game.
Other sports use a field goal as one of several methods of scoring. The field goal can be a primary or secondary score and is used when there are several possible scoring methods. In these sports, the object of the game is to score a greater number of total points than the opponent. Scores are expressed solely as numbers of points.
In many games, at each end of the field of play, there are two vertical posts (or uprights) supporting a horizontal crossbar. In some games, such as association football or hockey, the object is to pass the ball between the posts below the crossbar, while in others, such as those based on Rugby, the ball must pass over the crossbar instead. In Gaelic football and Hurling, in which the goalposts are similar to those used in rugby, the ball can be kicked either under the crossbar for a goal, or over the crossbar between the posts for a point. The vertical supports are usually called goal posts and the horizontal top is usually called the crossbar. A goal in these games normally requires that the ball or puck be sent between the posts, under the crossbar and completely behind the goal line.
In Australian Rules Football, there is no crossbar but 4 uprights instead. In netball, a single post at each end of the court supports a horizontal hoop that the ball must fall through. In basketball, the hoop and net used for scoring can be supported on a post or mechanism at each end, or in smaller buildings attached directly to the wall.
In American football, especially at the collegiate level, fans flooding onto the field and tearing down the goalposts  after an upset victory by the home team is a widely practiced, although dangerous  means of celebrating. In recent times stadium staff often lower the posts themselves to prevent spectators from taking down the posts if they see that fans are coming onto the field at the end of a game.
The goal is the only method of scoring in several games. In each of these cases the winner is the team that scores the most goals within the specified time.
In association football, the goal is the only method of scoring. It is also used to refer to the scoring structure. A deliberate attempt on goal is referred to as a "shot". To score a goal, the ball must pass completely over the goal line between the goal posts and under the crossbar and no rules may be violated on the play (such as touching the ball with the hand or arm). See also offside.
The goal structure is defined as a frame 24 feet (7.32 m) wide by 8 feet (2.44 m) tall. In most organized levels of play a net is attached behind the goal frame to catch the ball and indicate that a goal has been scored; however, the Laws of the Game do not mandate the use of a net and only require that any net used not interfere with the goalkeeper.
In ice hockey, scoring a goal is similar to scoring a goal in football. The puck must be put completely over the goal line between the posts and under the bar either off an offensive player's stick or off any part of a defensive player's body. The puck may not be kicked, batted, or thrown into the goal, though a goal may be awarded if the puck is inadvertently deflected off an offensive player's skate or body into the goal. The goal structure is a frame 4 feet (1.2 m) tall and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide with a net attached. In most higher levels of play the goal structure is attached to the ice surface by flexible pegs and will break away for safety when hit by a player. The goal is placed within the playing surface, and players may play the puck behind the goal.
In field hockey, a goal is scored when the ball passes completely over the goal line under the crossbar and between the goal posts, after being shot from with a semicircle 14.63 metres (48.0 ft) from the goal. The goal structure in field hockey is 3.66 metres (12.0 ft) wide by 2.14 metres (7.0 ft) tall. Nets are required to hold the ball in.
A goal in handball is scored when the ball is thrown completely over the goal line, below the crossbar and between the goal posts. The goal structure in team handball is 2 metres high and 3 metres wide. A net is required to catch the ball.
Lacrosse goals are scored when the ball passes completely through the goal mouth, under the crossbar and between the goal posts. Goals can be disallowed if there is an infraction by the offensive team. The goal structure in Lacrosse is 6 feet (1.8 m) tall and 6 feet (1.8 m) wide and a net is used to prevent the ball from reentering the field of play. Lacrosse goals are not positioned on the boundary line, and behind the goal play is allowed.
A goal in water polo is scored when the ball passes completely across the goal line, under the crossbar and between the goal posts. A goal may be scored through contact with any part of the attacker's body except a clenched fist. The goal structure in water polo is dependent upon the depth of the water. The goal mouth measures 3 metres across and is either 0.9 metres above the surface of the water or 2.4 metres above the floor of the pool, whichever is higher. Nets are required.
In polo a goal is scored if the ball passes completely between the goal posts, regardless of how far off the ground the ball is. The ball must be between the goal posts or the imaginary lines extending above the inside edges of the posts. A ball passing directly over a goal post does not score a goal.
The goal structure in Polo consists of two poles, at least 10 feet (3.0 m) high and exactly 8 yards apart. There is no crossbar and no net is required. The height at which a goal may be scored is infinite.
Games with secondary scoring other than goals
The following games have more than one possible method of scoring where the goal is the primary method, i.e. the method that scores the most points. In most cases the score is shown as the number of goals, plus the number of secondary scores (usually 1 point), plus the total number of points. The side with the higher number of total points is the winner.
Australian rules football
In Australian rules football a goal is scored when the ball is kicked by an attacking player completely between the goal posts. The ball may not contact or pass over the goal post, touch a player on the defensive team, or be touched by any part of the body of an attacker other than the foot or lower leg. The ball may be punted, drop kicked, or kicked off the ground if the ball is loose. The ball may cross the goal line at any height from ground level up to an infinite height, and may bounce before crossing the line. A goal scores six points. The alternate method of scoring is a behind, which scores one point; if the ball passes between the goal posts but is not awarded a goal by the above provisions, it scores a behind. The goal structure consists of two posts at least 6 metres in height and spaced 6.4 metres apart. There is no crossbar and no net.
Gaelic football and hurling
In Gaelic football a goal is scored when the ball passes completely beyond the goal line, between the goal posts and under the cross bar. The ball can be played with the hands, but a goal cannot be scored off a player's hand. In hurling the ball must also pass completely beyond the goal line. The ball may be played by any legal method except by the hand of the attacker. A ball in flight may be deflected into the goal off the hand of an attacker. Hurling and Gaelic football use the same goal structure. It is a 6.4 meter wide frame with a net attached. The goal posts are at least 6 meters high, and the crossbar is 2.44 meters above the ground. A goal is scored when the ball crosses below the crossbar and a point is scored when the ball passes above it.
The primary object of basketball is to score by throwing the ball into the goal, officially termed the "basket". A basket is scored when the ball passes completely through the basket ring from above; however, the number of points scored with each basket can vary by distance, and a team need not necessarily score the most baskets to win the game. A basket scored during normal play is called a field goal and is worth two points if shot from within or on the three-point line, and three points if shot from beyond the three-point line. The three-point line's distance from the goal varies by level. Points are automatically awarded to the shooting team if, while the ball is in its flight towards or is over the basket, the defending team illegally touches the ball or basket; this is known as goaltending or basket interference.
The alternate method of scoring in basketball is the free throw, which scores one point. A free throw scores the same way as a field goal, except that it is taken unopposed from the free-throw line after a foul. Basketball scores are expressed in total points.
The basket consists of a metal ring 18 inches (46 cm) in internal diameter, suspended horizontally 10 feet (3.0 m) above the floor such that the center of the ring is equidistant from each sideline and 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) from the end line. The basket ring has a net attached below to briefly check the ball's downward progress and indicate a score. The ring is fastened to a rectangular backboard 6 feet (1.8 m) wide by 3.5 feet (1.1 m) tall, though in lower levels of play or recreational use the backboard may be smaller and/or fan-shaped. The entire structure is supported from behind and anchored to the floor beyond the end line at higher levels of play; the structure may be anchored to a wall or ceiling at lower levels of play. The ring, net, and the front, top, bottom, and sides of the backboard are all considered inbounds, while the back of the backboard and the support structure – even those parts suspended over inbounds areas of the court – are considered out of bounds.
Sports with goals as secondary scoring
The following sports have a goal, sometimes called a field goal, as a secondary method of scoring. The field goal is worth a set number of points that vary with the sport. These sports express their scores solely in points.
American and Canadian football
A field goal in American or Canadian football is a secondary method of scoring; it is scored when the ball is place kicked or drop kicked completely over the crossbar and between or directly over the goal posts. A field goal scores 3 points in both versions of the sport. In the American game, the now rarely used fair catch kick, if successfully made, also scores 3 points. A goal kicked during a try following a touchdown is worth one point. These are the only methods of putting the ball through the goal that award points to the kicking team; no points are scored if the ball is punted or thrown through the goal, or if the ball goes through the goal on a kickoff.
In both sports, the goal structure consists of a crossbar suspended 10 feet (3.0 m) off the ground and goal posts (colloquially known as "uprights") placed 18 feet 6 inches (5.64 m) apart and extending at least 30 feet (9.1 m) above the crossbar. In lower levels of play the goal posts may be placed further apart and/or not extend as far above the crossbar; for example, in high school football the posts are 23 feet 4 inches (7.11 m) apart. NFL and CFL rules mandate that a ribbon be attached to the top of each goal post. In American football the goal is centered on each end line; in Canadian football the goal is centered on each goal line. A retractable net may be placed behind the goal, well beyond the field of play, to prevent the ball from entering spectator areas.
In arena football the field goal is nearly identical to that in American and Canadian football. A field goal in arena football scores three points, unless it is drop kicked, in which case it scores four points. The goal structure in arena football consists of a crossbar 15 feet (4.6 m) above the playing surface and 9.5 feet (2.9 m) wide. The goal posts are attached to nets on either side of the crossbar which are taut to allow the ball to rebound back onto the field of play. The nets are 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 37 feet (11 m) high. These nets do not represent a scoring area, but keep the ball in play and prevent it from entering the crowd.
Rugby league and rugby union
A goal is scored in either rugby code by place kicking or drop kicking a ball over a crossbar and between goal posts. In rugby union, a goal scored from the field either as a drop kick during normal play or a place kick after a foul scores three points. In rugby league, a goal scored from the field as a drop kick scores one point, and a goal from a place kick after a foul scores two points. In both codes, a goal scored by place kick after a try (a conversion) scores two points. The kick is taken from a position that is back in line from where the try was scored giving an incentive for teams to try and score near to the centre such that the kick is more attainable. Rugby league goal posts are generally "H" shaped, 5.5 metres in width, with the cross bar three metres from the ground
The expression "moving the goalpost", which means to make a set of goals more difficult just as they are being met, is often used in business but is derived from American football. It is commonly used to imply bad faith on the part of those setting goals for others to meet, by arbitrarily making additional demands just as the initial ones are about to be met.
In business, the concept is more abstract, with some performance measure or target being set as a goalpost while achieving the target is often known as achieving a goal.
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