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What is a Turnover?

By Leo J
Updated May 23, 2024
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A turnover in sports is a play in which one team unintentionally gives possession to the opposing team. In many sports, how often this happens to a team is thought to measure offensive carelessness, defensive excellence, or both. American football is probably the sport in which the most weight is given to this statistic. In football, it is either an interception — a pass thrown by the offense that is caught by the defense — or a fumble by the offense that is recovered by the defense. There are other plays in which possession changes hands, such as kickoffs, punts, and unconverted fourth down plays, but only fumbles and interceptions qualify as turnovers.

Statistics have long shown a strong correlation between turnovers and success in wins and losses. The team that turns the ball over less in a given game is significantly more likely to win that game, and therefore a large emphasis is placed on both protecting the ball on offense and forcing fumbles and interceptions when on defense. Interceptions are calculated into the formula that is used to evaluate quarterbacks, and runners are often judged poorly if they are prone to fumbling. The turnover margin, a statistic which compares the number of turnovers created to the number committed, is commonly used to show the overall effectiveness of a team's offense and defense.

A turnover in basketball can occur when a player passes the ball to the opposing team or commits an offensive foul or some type of violation that gives the ball to the other team. In basketball, like football, it is a statistic that is given a lot of weight both for teams and for individual players. For a point guard, the player who handles the ball most frequently and who is assigned the task of distributing the ball and running the offense, the ratio of turnovers to assists — an assist is recorded when the player passes the ball to another player who then scores — is often used to show efficiency, or lack thereof.

In most sports, though, the term is used even when it is not kept as a statistic. In hockey or soccer, for example, it can be committed when a player loses control of the puck or ball and it is then gained by an opposing player. It doesn't have the significance it has in football or basketball, though, as the fluid structure of hockey and soccer allows for a consistent flow of possession from one team to the other.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By andee — On Apr 27, 2012

I have watched many football games where a turnover such as in interception or fumble has made the difference between winning or losing the game.

When it comes down to the wire like this, I can understand how tense it would be on the field, and how much easier it would be to make mistakes like this.

If you are the opposing team, a turnover is like a gift that you take and use to your advantage. It would be interesting to know the statistics of how many games have been won because of a turnover.

When it comes to companies and sports teams, reducing turnover is always seen as a positive thing.

By golf07 — On Apr 27, 2012

I can think of other examples when turnover is not a positive thing. In finance, if you own an investment that has a lot of fund turnover, that is usually not a positive thing, as there is not much stability in your investment.

I also know that many companies want to know how to reduce employee turnover. A strong company will usually have employees that have been with them for a long time.

This means they have high company morale and are a good company to work for. Some companies are used to a high turnover rate - especially if they hire a lot of teenagers like a fast food restaurant.

Overall, a high turnover can be a big expense for a company because you are constantly in the process of training someone new.

By LisaLou — On Apr 27, 2012

I know I am not much of a sports fan when I see an article about turnovers and immediately think of a warm, apple turnover.

I thought this article was going to talk about how to make a fruit turnover, and I had my favorite recipe in mind.

Even if you are not much of a cook, you can use frozen puff pastry sheets, some apples, butter, sugar and cinnamon and make some great tasting turnovers.

I don't know where apple turnovers got their name. A turnover when it comes to sports is a negative thing, but when it comes to food, it is yummy!

By John57 — On Apr 26, 2012

When I was in high school, I was a manager for the basketball team, and kept track of the statistics during the games.

Marking down when turnovers occurred was an important part of the job. There were many times when a turnover made by one team towards the end, cost them the game.

Even if you weren't keeping track of the number of times a turnover happened in the game, they can tell a lot about how the game is being played.

If one team has a lot of turnovers, it usually means their head is not in the game and they are being careless and over-confident.

When you looked back at the games they won, you would also notice they had very few turnovers during that game.

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