Contact sport

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A tackle in Australian rules football

A contact sport is any sport where physical contact between competitors, or their environment, is an integral part of the game. For example, gridiron football. Contact may come about as the result of intentional or incidental actions by the players in the course of play. This is in contrast to noncontact sports where players often have no opportunity to make contact with each other and the laws of the game may expressly forbid contact. In contact sports some forms of contact are encouraged as a critical aspect of the game such as tackling, while others are incidental such as when shielding the ball or contesting an aerial challenge. As the types of contact between players is not equal between all sports they define the types of contact that is deemed acceptable and fall within the laws of the game, while outlawing other types of physical contact that might be considered expressly dangerous or risky such as a high tackle or spear tackle, or against the spirit of the game such as striking below the belt or other unsportsmanlike conduct. Where there is a limit as to how much contact is acceptable most sports have a mechanism to call a foul by the referee, umpire or similar official when an offence is deemed to have occurred.

Contact sports are categorised by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) into three main categories: contact, limited-contact and noncontact. In attempting to define relative risk for competitors in sports the AAP have further defined contact sports as containing some element of intentional collision between players.[1][2] They define such collision sports as being where: "athletes purposely hit or collide with each other or with inanimate objects (including the ground) with great force", while in limited-contact sports such impacts are often "infrequent and inadvertent".[1] While contact sports are considered the most high risk for injury, in some sports being a major feature (such as boxing or other martial arts), limited-contact and noncontact sports are not without risk as injury or contact may come about as a result of a fall or collision with the playing area, or a piece of sporting equipment, such as being struck by a hockey stick or football or even a piece of protective wear worn by a teammate or opposition player.

Some definitions of contact sports, particularly martial arts, have the concept of full contact, semi-contact and noncontact (or other definitions) for both training and competitive sparring. Some categories of contact may or may not be combined with other methods of scoring, but full contact is generally considered to include the potential for victory by knockout or submission depending on the form of combat.[3][4][5] An example of this is full contact karate and taekwondo where competitors are allowed to attempt to knock out an opponent through strikes to the head or otherwise bringing the opponent to the floor.[6][7] Full contact rules differentiate from other forms of the same sports that may otherwise restrict blows to the head and the use of elbows or knees.[5] Such full contact sports may be defined as combat sports and require a of change equipment, alter or omit rules, and are generally differentiated from contact sports by their explicit intent of defeating an opponent in physical combat.[8][3][5]

Some contact sports have limited-contact or noncontact variations (such as flag football for American football) which attempt to replace tackling and other forms of contact with alternative methods of interacting with an opponent, such as removing a flag from a belt worn by the opponent or outlawing specific actions entirely such as in walking football.[9]


Current medical terminology in the United States uses the term contact sport and collision sport to refer to sports like rugby, American football, ice hockey, lacrosse and roller derby. The term limited-contact sport is used to refer to sports such as soccer, baseball and handball, and the term noncontact sport to sports like badminton, running and swimming.[2]

The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement was revised in 2008 to include the following definition:

In collision sports (e.g. boxing, ice hockey, American football, lacrosse, and rodeo), athletes purposely hit or collide with each other or with inanimate objects (including the ground) with great force. In contact sports (e.g. basketball), athletes routinely make contact with each other or with inanimate objects but usually with less force than in collision sports. In limited-contact sports (e.g. softball and squash), contact with other athletes or with inanimate objects is infrequent or inadvertent.[2]


Full-contact martial arts[edit]

A full contact sport is primarily any combat sport that allows the competitor to attempt to knock-out or otherwise defeat their opponent by physically incapacitating them. Examples of this would include most professional martial arts such as Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing and some forms of Karate and Taekwondo. Defeating an opponent generally takes place using in isolation or combination actions such as striking and grappling depending on the rules of the sport.[citation needed]

Full-contact martial arts include:

Semi-contact martial arts[edit]

A semi-contact sport is typically a combat sport involving striking and containing physical contact between the combatants simulating full-power techniques. The techniques are restricted to limited power, and rendering the opponent unconscious is forbidden. Some semi-contact sports use a point system to determine the winner and use extensive protective gear to protect the athletes from injury. Examples of semi-contact sports include karate, kalaripayattu, Kenpo, various Korean martial arts that incorporate contact rules sparring, kendo, some types of historical European martial arts, fencing and taekwondo.[citation needed]

Contact sports[edit]

A basketball game (FIBA Europe Cup Women Finals 2005 in Naples, Italy).

As defined by the AAP, and also considered collision sports.[2] The AAP notes Martial arts can be subclassified as judo, jujitsu, karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do; some forms are contact sports and others are limited-contact sports.

Limited-contact sports[edit]

As defined by the AAP.[2] The AAP notes Martial arts can be subclassified as judo, jujitsu, karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do; some forms are contact sports and others are limited-contact sports.


As defined by the AAP.[2]

Sports injury and prevention[edit]


St. Louis Blues player David Backes with ice hockey helmet.

As a result of the risk of injury, some sports require the use of protective equipment, for example American football protective equipment or the gloves and helmets needed for underwater hockey. Some sports are also played on soft ground and have padding on physical obstacles, such as goal posts.

Most contact sports require any male players to wear a protective cup to protect their genitalia.

There has been an increasing medical, academic, and media focus on sports involving rapid contact in the late 20th to early 21st century and their relationship with sports injuries. Several sports' governing bodies began changing their rules in order to decrease the incidence of serious injuries and avoid lawsuits. In some countries, new laws have been passed, particularly in regard to concussions.

Concussion protocols[edit]

At the professional level, America's professional football league, the National Football League, implemented The Concussion Protocol in 2011, banning concussed players from re-entering the same game in which they were injured in order to reduce the risk of further injury and damage.[10]

In Canada in 2018, Rowan's Law was passed after the death of a young Canadian female athlete. Rowan Stringer died in 2013 of second-impact syndrome, "...the result of suffering multiple concussions playing rugby three times in six days."[11]

See also[edit]


  • Moenig, Udo (2015). From a Martial Art to a Martial Sport. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781317557333.


  1. ^ a b "Recommendations for Participation in Competitive Sports". Pediatrics. 81 (5): 737–739. 1988. doi:10.1080/00913847.1988.11709513. PMID 27403556.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Rice SG (2008). "Medical conditions affecting sports participation". Pediatrics. 121 (4): 841–8. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0080. PMID 18381550.
  3. ^ a b "Rules for Full-Contact Sanda". World Fighting Martial Arts Federation. 2019. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  4. ^ "FAQ - Sparring". World Martial Arts Championships. 2019. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  5. ^ a b c "WMAC Contact Levels Summary v2.5". World Martial Arts Championships. 2015. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  6. ^ Michael Feehan and Anna E Waller* (1995). "Precompetition injury and subsequent tournament performance in full-contact taekwondo". BJSM. 29 (4): 258–262. doi:10.1136/bjsm.29.4.258. PMC 1332238. PMID 8808541.
  7. ^ Moenig, Udo (2015). The origins of full-contact sparring. ISBN 9781315733227. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  8. ^ Moenig, Udo (2015). Forms versus sparring. ISBN 9781315733227. Retrieved 2023-07-09.
  9. ^ "Youth Football Safety and Injury Prevention". NFL FLAG. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  10. ^ "Concussion Game Day Checklist" (PDF). Oct 2022. Retrieved 23 March 2023.
  11. ^ "Rowan's Law". Rugby Ontario.