Popular Sports in Korean: 75+ Athletics Terms, Cultural Notes and Audio

If you’ve watched any high-profile sports program, from world cups to the Olympics, you’ll know that Koreans are a steady presence in the lineup.

This is for good reason, as the country boasts a strong passion for athletics of all kinds. You yourself might already know an impressive roster of internationally-renowned Korean sports players!

So, if you’re to follow the sports trends and icons that hail from Korea, you’ll need to know the basic vocabulary involved.

Here are the most popular 스포츠 — sports in Korea, plus essential vocabulary for discussing teams, players and more.

Contents


Popular Sports in South Korea

야구 — Baseball

Baseball was exposed to South Korea around the year 1900 due to United States influence. Because of the restrictions on when baseball could be played during the country’s eventual occupation by Japan, the sport unofficially became a symbol of Korean nationalism.

Modern Korean baseball is famous for its cheering culture.

Forget off-key chants, whoops and crowd waves. South Koreans take it a step further by basically making a cheer session into a concert, complete with catchy songs and choreographed dancers. Each team has its own unique cheer, too!

축구 — Soccer

Soccer has taken the Korean world by storm as the second most popular sport in the country.

It’s not hard to see why when you take a gander at the records of some of the Korean soccer players that are making international waves, such as Son Heung Min, Kim Min Jae and Lee Kang In.

But even before these idols took to the field, soccer has been a favorite for Koreans since the 1980s and 90s as the country built a reputation for being one of—if not the best—Asian football teams around.

There is still much pride for the national team, the 태극전사 (Taegeuk Warriors).

배구 — Volleyball

Volleyball is readily accessible, which is a big reason why it’s so widely played throughout South Korea both recreationally and competitively.

Women’s volleyball in particular has been of keen interest, with Kim Yeon Koung being one of the most memorable players to date. In the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, women’s volleyball was the most watched sport by the Korean populace.

The Korea Volleyball Federation (KOVO) is the Korean governing group for professional competitions for the sport. It runs the KOVO Cup and V-League competitions within the country.

골프 — Golf

Go to your local golf club, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you see one or two Koreans decked out in the latest and shiniest gear. And because of its priciness, golf is commonly considered a symbol of status.

South Korea’s landscape is surprisingly suitable for hosting unique golf courses. Currently, there are over 500 courses on the peninsula.

While the sport is popular for both Korean men and women, Korean female golfers have really taken to the international circuit, winning both esteem and prizes in LPGA championships.

E-스포츠 — E-sports

We’re not talking about your casual Candy Crush-ers here. To be involved in e-sports, you can’t just like video games. You have to passionately know the ins-and-outs of the game’s mechanics and dedicate a significant amount of time to honing your skills.

The e-sports boom is a relatively recent phenomenon, but it’s made its roots in South Korea just as in other countries. The game that started the trend a few years ago was the smash-hit StarCraft.

As of 2024, League of Legends has become the top competitive game, with the unshakeable “Faker” being its most prolific Korean e-athlete.

태권도 — Taekwondo

The showy aspect of taekwondo involves people in white outfits and colored belts jumping in the air to mercilessly kick helpless pieces of wood to smithereens.

But it’s more than just fancy wood-breaking. Taekwondo is a martial art that emphasizes integrity, honor and respect. I would know, as I took taekwondo classes in my younger years and gained more discipline from my instructors than from my own parents.

Taekwondo is the revered national sport of South Korea, used for both recreational and combat purposes. It’s become incredibly popular outside the country’s borders as well, being one of the newest martial arts sports officially included in the Olympic games.

More Sports in Korean

Ball Sports in Korean

While baseball and soccer are still the undisputed kings of ball-based sports in South Korea, many others that aren’t set in the dirt and green are actively played and appreciated. There are both passionate clubs and national teams for all of the sports listed below.

Martial Arts in Korean

Besides taekwondo, many Koreans keenly practice other forms of martial arts that differ significantly, in practice and protocol, from the national sport.

In most cases, Korean martial artists fall into the lightweight category, making them swift and slippery opponents.

Racket Sports in Korean

The most popular racket sports in South Korea are table tennis and badminton. In the professional sector of each, Koreans have become formidable foes.

South Korea also hosts the Korea Open, a professional tennis tournament open to international players and most recently boasting a top prize of almost US$260,000.

Water Sports in Korean

Being a peninsula surrounded by some gorgeous waters, as well as hosting some unique swift-running currents within its borders, it’s no surprise that Korea has taken to water sports like a duck to…water, I suppose!

Natives enjoy the whole range of water sports, from passive fishing that takes all day to fierce rafting that may last only minutes.

Other Sports in Korean

In many of the sports listed below, South Koreans have won recognition and numerous awards in competitions.

Just tune into the most recent Olympics and you’ll see what I mean—the Korean athletes are absolutely nothing to sniff at. Expect a strong Korean line-up in the next games as well!

Useful Korean Sports Vocabulary

It’s not just the sports you should know. If you ever want to tune into a Korean-language sports show, then you should familiarize yourself with the basic lingo that the sportscasters and reporters are certain to use.

It would also help to learn (or brush up on) Korean verbs if you want to watch sportscasts.

And if you think the announcers talk intimidatingly fast at first, don’t fret! Get some more Korean listening practice under your belt and you’ll be gold in no time.

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