Follow TV Tropes


Improbable Sports Skills

Go To
Taking football to whole new heights.
In real life, most teams of a certain sport look fairly similar to each other. Top-class players may have different styles among them, but everyone's figured out what the "best" techniques broadly are. Victory mainly comes from being better at executing those techniques, having better strategies, or better teamwork.

In fiction, however, sports can become physics-defyingly awesome. The characters will have special moves like jumping all the way across the basketball court or swinging the tennis racket at light-speed. Spectators may be astounded, but nobody will act like what's happening is actually impossible. It's simply a fact of life in that world that really good hockey players can Flash Step across the ice.

Appears a lot in Shōnen anime and comics. Fighting Series also involve this a lot, since fighting is a sport if rules are enforced. Often the skills will depend on Heroic Spirit, so protagonists in these series can pull off David vs. Goliath victories. These skills frequently involve Calling Your Attacks and There Is No Kill Like Overkill (although it might not be overkill if the other team also has such skills).

Compare Fictional Sport, whereas in this trope it's about playing a real sport with fictional techniques, and Blood Sport, whereas in this trope the game itself isn't deadly; it's the players who hold potentially deadly skills. Also compare Martial Arts and Crafts. See also I Know Madden Kombat, the inverse of this trope (using non-combat sport skills in combat situations), and Muggle Sports, Super Athletes, where the skills come from explicit superpowers.


    open/close all folders 
  • An anti-steroids PSA features a soccer player breaking the laws of physics.
  • In this commercial for All Sport energy drink, by 2044 basketball hoops are 20 feet tall, courts are 100 yards long and the basket moves around randomly to make the game harder. After everyone started drinking All Sport the game just got too easy.
  • In this unaired Gatorade commercial, a ball girl at a minor league baseball game makes an incredible catch of a foul ball (via wires).
  • These commercials for fantasy football showing NFL players pulling off increasingly impossible stunts before telling the audience to pick them for their fantasy team.
  • McDonald's made this commercial with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird playing a game of Horse over who gets the Big Mac Michael had bought. A sequel commercial saw them still going at it a year later. A third commercial starring Miami Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich and Washington Redskins Kicker Chip Lohmiller doing the same thing but kicking footballs this time.
  • Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 had a glitch known as The Jesus Glitch, where a ball could land on water and still be playable, making the golfer look like he could pull off a divine miracle, hence the name. EA Sports came out with this ad, explaining that it wasn't a glitch, Tiger Woods is just that good.

     Anime and Manga 
  • Sporting events in Battle Athletes tend to involve Improbable Sports Skills, Improbable Sports, or sometimes both at the same time. Examples include high school girls who can outrun Usain Bolt, ride bicycles on roller coaster tracks, and drag cement rollers cross-country through minefields.
  • Blue Lock: High-school footballers display skills even professionals would gawk at. The players' weapons range from only somewhat improbable (e.g. Chigiri's speed and Bachira's dribbling) to nearly impossible (e.g. Nagi's super-traps and Reo's ability to copy any move with 99% accuracy.
  • Played for laughs in Azumanga Daioh, during an impromptu soccer game between Yukari and her class. Sakaki is shown moving to intercept Yukari, as the latter charges upfield with the ball. Then Sakaki casually steals the ball from Yukari as she literally walks past her!
  • Captain Tsubasa is famous for this. We have soccer player protagonists who shoots football that follows any arbitrary curve, shots that blow the goalkeeper away and hurt anyone who block them, soccer player that jump on posts and crossbar and many other examples.
  • In Eyeshield 21, American football becomes one - a Magnificent Bastard who always outsmart other teams, runners who are rumored to have lightspeed (or to be accurate, 50 yards in 4.2 seconds) with improbable counter-attacks to stop players from blocking them, pass receivers who run backwards even faster than most people can run forwards, and catch long-range passes without looking at the ball.
  • The Prince of Tennis is full of this - we have players who can perform instant serves, lightning-fast reaction speed, shots that always hit your wrists, or even take away your five senses during a play. The protagonist? A Game-Breaker which can use his sixth sense to play tennis while copying everyone's special moves, and is unbeatable even when he suffers from memory loss.
  • In the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's manga, Nanoha, Fate and co are playing dodgeball. Predictably, Fate uses her supersonic flight and Super-Reflexes to her advantage. But Nanoha's friend, the Passionate Sports Girl Suzuka Tsukimura, surpasses her by showing superior reflex; she manages to Catch and Return the ball that Fate throws at her, and making Fate unconscious in the process.

     Films — Live-Action 
  • Shaolin Soccer did this by putting Kung Fu in soccer. In short, a bunch of superhumans playing soccer, and making shots on goal so strong that they blow away all 11 players plus the goal post.
  • The Ultimate Game of basketball is this in Space Jam, wherein Elmer Fudd can dunk, lardbucket Stan Podolak can sink a shot while buried under five Monstars, and Michael Jordan can reach the rim from the half-court line. Of course, since the game is being played in the cartoon universe, the Laws of Physics and the Rules of Basketball are reduced to suggestions.
  • Baseball film The Scout has an utterly ridiculous scene in which Steve Nebraska 1) pitches a perfect game (possible if extremely difficult- there's only been 23 in MLB's 218,000+ game history,) 2) by striking out every batter, 27 in total (ridiculous, as no pitcher has ever struck out more than 20 batters in a game and more than 15 strikeouts is pretty uncommon) 3) on the minimum 81 pitches (about a billion times more unlikely than the 27 strikeouts).
  • The Mighty Ducks: Both shots of goal-snipers Fulton Reed and Russ Tyler are physically impossible to perform in real life. Tyler's knucklepuck cannot be launched as shown in the movies (the puck would tumble along the ice for a few feet before sliding to a stop) and violates aerodynamic laws as it travels every which way in mid-flight; Reed's slap shot is more straightforward but the tracking shots make the puck seem to travel all of three miles an hour, plenty of time for opposing players to skate out of the way and for the Hawks goaltender to let out a scream before being blown into the back of the net.

  • Discworld:
    • Death is The Ace at pretty much every sport or game he tries his hand at. Because he's Death. However, when he takes a stab at being human in Reaper Man, he has to learn how to be bad at things, and so becomes impossibly bad at them, which takes a great deal more skill than being merely good.
    • Soul Music: At her school, Death's daughter Susan demonstrates unerring and somewhat inhuman accuracy at any sport involving sticks, being able to swing a hockey or lacrosse stick with such strength and accuracy that the ball or puck goes exactly where she wants it to go. Apparently being able to swing a long stick with precision runs in the family. But to Susan's chagrin, the more she points this out to her peers, the more likely she is to be picked last for a team.
    • And one more with Death — as described in the Deaths Domain Mapp, the grounds of his home include a golf course, but he had to include dimensional instabilities and Gravity Screw areas in order to make it even slightly challenging for himself.

     Live-Action TV 
  • In The Greatest American Hero, Ralph goes undercover as a pitcher in a baseball team. He uses the supersuit to throw pitches at well over 100 mph.

    Video Games 
  • Touhou Project has a fan-game called Touhou Soccer, i.e soccer in Touhou style. Everyone uses overpowered skills, which usually don't involve kicking the ball, to play soccer - from dribble, tackle, passes, shoots, saving, while you can even use danmaku to stop opponents going further by invoking a foul. And by overpowered, see it yourself. Probably the most exaggerated example ever seen.
  • Inazuma Eleven has junior high school kids playing soccer and throwing bona fide Elemental Powers and other supernatural stuff around like no tomorrow.
  • The Tecmo game Super Shot Soccer runs in this trope. With national Association Football teams, no less (South Korean players shooting the ball in fire? yes please). In a The World Cup setting. Fitting, as the game is a full homage to Shaolin Soccer (the film's soccer team even appears in the game as the Hong-Kong national team. With the actors' full names rather than their movie names and Stephen Chow himself being the team's captain.)
  • In Final Fantasy X, The Jecht Shot is this in-universe for the sport Blitzball (some mixture of rugby and soccer and played underwater). It involves bouncing the ball off the goal post (or a defender's face) and swimming up to kick the rebound into the goal with a lot of spinning thrown in.
  • NBA Jam, the NBA Street series, and to a lesser extent the NFL Street series, give real-life athletes apparent superpowers. Nobody can jump over the rim while pulling off highlight-reel dunks as consistently as the players do.

    Web Original 
  • DSBT InsaniT: The volleyball scene in 'Beach Brawl' contains a lot of artistic liscense on physics. This is even pointed out by the characters. The soccer match in 'Store Story' has some crazy physics too.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Played straight in "The Beach" episode, which has Azula, Zuko, Mai, and Ty Lee dominate an opposing team in a volleyball match by using gravity defying stunts and trick shots. Including one instance where Ty Lee lands atop the net and strikes a pose, after acing a shot, and another where Azula roundhouse kicks the ball in midair, at about 20 ft. above the court! The shot scorches the net and is the game winning point.
  • The Boondocks: "The Red Ball" episode culminates in a showdown between Huey and Ming, that has him airbend the ball, then roundhouse kick it at her, in the exact same fashion as the above example. Ming returns fire by kicking the ball hard enough to set it ablaze, and breaks her shin! You can see it here.
  • All those years of cheerleading and martial arts classes was how Kim Possible was able to pull off all those death defying moves and fights. Then in the Postscript Season, Ron stole, er, secret borrowed Kim's super suit from So The Drama to become a star football player, until he is forced to give it back, at which point he is able to maintain his star role because of all the time he spent running from bad guys.
  • Speedster Mercury of Filmation's Space Sentinels amuses himself by playing one-man baseball. He throws the pitch (a fastball, of course), then runs to the plate ahead of the ball to bat it toward the outfield. Mercury then circles the bases multiple times before once again arriving ahead of the ball to catch it. "You're out!" he declares, though not before the scoreboard has recorded 46 runs.
  • One episode of Hanna-Barbera's The Harlem Globetrotters had the titular basketball team boast that they could beat their opponents blindfolded. The antagonists took them up on that boast, forcing the team to play sightless. Somehow, Team Mom Granny was able to use a fresh-baked apple pie swung around on a fishing line to guide the players around the court, and clue them in to the hoop's distance and direction. The Globetrotters' accuracy remained phenomenal.

    Real Life 
  • It is rare to the vanishing point for a sportsman to be so good at more than one un-related discipline that (s)he can earn a professional salary at both. Most people fortunate enough to be so good at a sport that they can earn a living at it focus on one. But they have existed.
    • Ian "Beefy" Botham combined playing first-class cricket in the summer with a winter job playing professional football for Scunthorpe United. He only gave up football because the winter season is when the English national cricket team tours abroad against other first-class national sides.
    • In the so-called "Super Bowl Era" (i.e. since 1967), only seven athletes have managed to make the teams for both professional American Football and American professional Baseball. Of those, only two had stellar careers in both: Bo Jackson, the only person to be named a first-string Pro Bowler and All-Star, respectively; and Deion Sanders, the only person to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series.
    • Ellyse Perry has represented Australia at both cricket and soccer, being declared the Australian women's cricketer of the year three times and the international women's cricketer of the year twice; she has been dubbed Australia's most marketable sportsperson.
    • Danny Ainge was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and later by the Boston Celtics. He is also the only person in history to be high school All-American in baseball, basketball and football.
    • Otto Graham is one of two people to win a championship in the four major North American sports leagues, being the star quarterback for the Cleveland Browns when they went to the championship game ten straight times, winning seven of them. He also was a starting guard for the Rochester Royals in the '45-'46 season that saw them win the NBL (the precursor to the NBA) championship. The other was Gene Conley, who was an All-Star pitcher for several teams, winning the World Series with the Milwaukee Braves, and also winning three NBA Finals titles as a backup forward with the Boston Celtics.
  • A number of people have also been great in one sport as an amateur before moving on to another sport as a professional.
    • John Elway was such a good baseball player that his threat to go play for the New York Yankees was serious enough that the Baltimore Colts (who Elway refused to play for) were forced to trade his draft rights to the Denver Broncos (who Elway would go on to a Hall of Fame career with) so they could get something out of him. His lone season in Single-A ball saw him lead his team in batting average.
    • Jim Thorpe is probably the single greatest example, as not only is he a Hall of Fame football player, both collegiately and professionally (which also helped to solidify pro football and the NFL), but also put on one of the greatest displays ever in the 1912 Summer Olympics, winning gold in the decathlon and pentathlon, often times Curb Stomping his opponents, and the times he didn't were because he was participating in an event he had never done before. He also was a better than average baseball and basketball player. There's a reason he was named Greatest Athlete of the 20th century.
    • Jim Brown is known for being quiet possibly the greatest player to ever play football, but he was also an outstanding lacrosse player, with the Premier Lacrosse League naming their MVP award after him, and also being elected to the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He was so dominate that for a while, a rule was set that a player had to keep their stick moving while holding the ball to lessen his dominance. He was also a terrific basketball player, and made it to the NCAA finals in track and field in the decathlon his junior year.
    • Jackie Robinson is of course known as a Hall of Fame baseball player, breaking the color barrier in the Majors, but he was also a star player for the UCLA Bruins football team, where to this day he still holds school records in rushing and punt returning, won the 1940 National Championship in the long jump, and also lettered in basketball. Ironically, baseball was his worst sport, as he hit a paltry .097 in his lone season with the Bruins. He was in fact starting out as a star football player in semi-pro leagues with the intent to go to the NFL, but America's entry into WWII and more money to be made playing baseball nixed that.
  • In the 1960's, American High Jumper Dick Fosbury developed a new and counter-intuitive method of performing the high jump, revolutionising the sport. His technique, the Fosbury Flop, is now the standard technique in the sport.
  • Dave Winfield was a Hall of Fame baseball player, and a decent college basketball player, leading the Minnesota Golden Gophers to their first Big Ten title in more than half a century. He was such an amazing athlete that he was drafted by four different teams in three different sports.
  • Professional basketball player Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is seen by many as the best pure shooter in the game. Why? Not only because of his incredible ability in making 3 point shots almost at will, but his ability to shoot the ball and make baskets at angles that defy logic. Simply put, if there are just seconds left on the clock during a quarter, don't let Curry have the ball. Most players who shoot desperately from down court will miss, but in a lot of cases he won't.
  • In the world of Professional Gaming, there is Daigo Umehara's victory over Justin Wong in Street Fighter III: Third Strike at EVO 2004. Playing as Ken, Umehara was on the ropes against Wong's Chun-Li. When Wong fired off Chun-Li's 15-hit super attack, Umehara successfully parried every hit note  before following up with his own game-winning super attack, immortalizing him in fighting game history as "The Beast".
  • American gymnast Simone Biles is known for doing utterly insane moves even by the standards of elite gymnastics, in other words a sport that's defined by doing incredibly hard skills. It's to the point where some of her original skills have been deliberately under-valued by the international gymnastics board out of fear that if the value is too high, other gymnasts will try them and get injured.