English question ~ What's the difference between an athlete and a player?


It's Spring! As the weather gets warmer people start going outdoors and getting ready for summer sports! The winter Olympics just ended in South Korea and during the games we heard the the word athlete used a lot to talk about people competing from countries all over the world.

One of my private students here in Japan asked me "What's the difference between an athlete and a player?" It’s a good question and I thought maybe other people studying English have the same question so I'd like to answer it in this blog post. I hope it's helpful for you!

Athlete vs Player

    Click for pronunciation
player - a person who takes part in a game or sport
a tennis/rugby/chess, player etc.

2 chess players

     Click for pronunciation
athlete - a person who competes in sports
"Canada's Olympic athletes marched together for the opening ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver winter games."


What's the difference?

Athlete is a more general word that can be used to describe a person involved in sports or physical activities.

The Olympics has teams with players, but only for sports like tennis, soccer etc. Sports that use a ball. 

Events that are not measured by goals but measured by time, (the fastest skater for example) 

~ measured by distance (the longest ski jump for example) 

~ or scored by judges (snowboard half-pipe, figure skating etc.) 

the participants are usually called athletes not players.

~ Rock climbers are athletes but we don't call them players.





Player is more specific, it's used for games or sports that you "play" against another person or team. (You can also play a game against a computer) Play is used for sports with a ball. We also play hockey (hockey uses a puck) and badminton (badminton uses a shuttlecock).

~ Lionel Messi is considered one of the best soccer players alive.


*For many Olympic sports we call the participants by their sport name + er. The same way someone who washes windows is a window washer, someone who snowboards is a snowboarder, someone who skates is a skater etc.


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