False start

False start

In sports, a false start is a movement by a participant before (or in some cases after) being signaled or otherwise permitted by the rules to start. Depending on the sport and the event, a false start can result in immediate disqualification of the athlete from further competition, a warning in which a subsequent false start would result in disqualification, or a penalty against the athlete's or team's field position.

False starts are common in racing sports (such as swimming, track, sprinting, and motor sports), where differences are made by fractions of a second that often cannot be comprehended by the human mind, and where anxiety to get the best start plays a role in the athletes' behavior.

A race that is started cleanly, on the contrary, is referred to as a fair start or clean start.

False starts in various sports

American football

In American football, a false start is movement by an offensive player (other than the center) after he has taken a set position. For offensive linemen, this movement might be as minute as a couple of centimeters. A false start brings a penalty of five yards.

At the end of the 2005-2006 NFL season, owners complained regarding false start penalties on players whose flinches have little effect upon the start of the play, such as wide receivers. In response, the NFL competition committee has said that they plan to inflict fewer false start penalties on players who line up behind the line of scrimmage.

Athletics (track and field)

In track and field sprints, the sport's governing body, the IAAF, has a rule that if the athlete moves within 0.10 seconds after the gun has fired the athlete has false started. This figure is based on tests that show the human brain cannot hear and process the information from the start sound in under 0.10 seconds. This rule is only applied at high-level meets where fully automated motion sensor devices are built into the starting blocks that are tied via computer with the starter's gun. In the vast majority of lower-level meets, false starts are determined visually by the officials.

Since 2003, IAAF rules state that after any false start committed, all athletes are warned. Any subsequent false start by any athlete leads to immediate disqualification. Previously disqualification occurred only after the same athlete false-started twice.

Horse racing

In thoroughbred horse racing, a false start occurs when a horse breaks through the starting gates before they open. A notable example was the 2006 Preakness Stakes when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke through the gate early; he was reloaded and the race was started properly.

Ice hockey

In ice hockey, a false start is the movement of a player in the face-off circle before the puck is dropped. When this occurs, the player is "chased" from the circle and another player must come in to take their spot.


In sailing, a boat which crosses the starting line within the last minute before the starting signal is not disqualified, but is required to return, round an end of the starting line and cross it properly before continuing the race.


In swimming, any swimmer who starts before the starting signal is given an automatic disqualification.

A notable example during the 2008 Olympics occurred when Jiaying Pang was disqualified due to a false start. This allowed Libby Trickett to advance to the final round, in which she won a silver medal.

In entertainment

On television broadcasts, usually those that are live, a false start is an intro to a song that is quickly cut short to another song. One famous example is Elvis Costello playing "Radio Radio" on Saturday Night Live.

The version of the Beatles' song "I'm Looking Through You" which appeared on the American edition of Rubber Soul has a false start at the beginning. There's also a false start on "Dig a Pony", from Let It Be when one of the band members, mostlikely Ringo, yells "Hold it!" to stop the song so he could sneeze.


Search another word or see false starton Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature