What Is A Hat Trick In Soccer?

Why Are 3 Goals Called a Hat Trick?

Soccer is a sport that’s full of confusing terms and phrases that might not make sense to a casual observer.

For example, if a particular player has a very good game, you may have heard commentators talking about something called a hat trick.

A hat trick is simply when a soccer player scores three goals in a single game.

However, while this definition clears up what the term means, why it’s called that is still a mystery to most people. Let’s take a closer look at this bizarre phrase…

Why Is It Called A Hat Trick?

We know that a hat trick is when a player scores three goals in a soccer match but what exactly is the origin of the term? Why did people start calling it that?

Interestingly, it is thought to have originated from another sport: cricket. In 1858, a cricketer called H.H. Stephenson took three wickets (the cricket equivalent of scoring three goals), which was a seriously impressive achievement at the time.

As a reward for his exceptional play, the rest of the team held a collection. People placed money into a hat to give to Stephenson as a reward. The hat bought with the money that had been collected in it was then awarded to Stephenson. This is where the ‘hat’ part of the term, ‘hat trick’, is thought to have originated.

The phrase is still used to this day in the sport of cricket. It refers to a player taking three wickets in a single match. It shows up in many other sports too, such as hockey, handball, and lacrosse. Pretty much any sport where you score goals.

There is another theory about why the phrase, ‘hat trick’, has remained so prominent in soccer. As you probably already know, a hat trick is also something that a magician would do onstage. Where they pull a mysterious item from their magic hat. A hat trick in soccer is also something unexpected and impressive so the similarities are clear to see.

However, this is likely just a nice coincidence. The rest of the world agrees that the cricket story is the origin of the term.

Incidentally, if a player scores two goals in the same game it is called a “Brace.”

Hat Tricks And Caps

Another peculiar piece of jargon from soccer is a cap. Interestingly, the origin of this term within the sport has a similar story to that of the hat trick!

A cap is basically another word for an international appearance made by a soccer player. For example, if a Brazilian player plays in one game for Brazil, they earn one cap. These days, the cap is just another number next to your name on the statistics sheets but, historically, it had a much more literal meaning.

In the late 19th century, English soccer players were awarded a commemorative, embroidered cap as a reward for representing their nation in a soccer match. This was a prestigious prize that players could wear while back home in England.

Sadly, this tradition is not what it used to be and players don’t often receive any kind of physical reward for representing their country. However, it is interesting to see the similarities between caps and hat tricks in soccer. In fact, not too long ago, a player who scored three goals while representing their country might have gone home with two pieces of headwear!

How Hard Is It To Score A Hat Trick?

As you might expect, scoring a hat trick in a professional game of soccer isn’t easy, that’s why it has its own prestigious title. To achieve one for yourself, you need to have great teammates around you, be on top form yourself, and rely on some poor defending from the other team. That’s a lot of things you need to go just right!

The answer to this question depends largely on the position a player plays. For example, goalkeepers and defenders will likely never score a hat trick in their entire career.

Team scoring a goal - What is a hat trick in soccer

This is because their job is to defend their own goal. That means they have fewer chances to score goals.

Midfielders have a slightly more attacking role but will still rarely score in a single game, let alone three times. However, midfielders have scored hat tricks in the past, and it is seen as an even more impressive achievement because of their position.

Attackers are the most likely players in a team to score a hat trick. Although it still isn’t easy for them. Even the best strikers in the world will be lucky to score one hat trick every season. If they score any at all. For example, Australian forward, Tim Cahill, scored 56 goals across 226 games in the English Premier League. But he never scored a single hat trick!

What Is A Perfect Hat Trick?

If scoring three goals in a single game wasn’t an impressive enough achievement for you, another neat feat that soccer fans recognize is the ‘perfect hat trick.’ To score a perfect hat trick, you need to score one goal with your left foot, one with your right foot, and one with your head. Basically, scoring a goal in all the main ways you can in soccer.

The most recent example (at the time of writing) of a perfect hat trick in the English Premier League is Christian Pulisic’s against Burnley, in 2019. The American winger first scored from a tight angle with his left foot. Tthen in a similar position with his right foot, before finally scoring his third with a header from a teammate’s cross.

Who Has Scored The Most Hat Tricks?

The title for most hat tricks in professional soccer is debated somewhat to this day. Guinness World Records recognizes Pele, a Brazilian legend, as having scored the most. However, the Rec Sports Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) gives it to German player, Erwin Helmchen.

Helmchen is recorded to have scored at least 141 hat tricks in his career, between 1924 and 1951. Having scored a total of 987 goals in the 578 official matches he played, German defenders must have hated playing against him!

On the international stage, Cristiano Ronaldo holds the hat trick record, scoring 10 for Portugal in his career. Because international teams play far fewer matches per season than soccer clubs,  it’s no wonder that the record for international hat tricks is so low.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning all about soccer hat tricks in this article. This feat is something that happens rarely in the sport so it’s important to recognize it properly when it happens.

Next time you’re playing a match, see if you can replicate the achievements of soccer’s greats by scoring a hat trick for yourself. Be warned, though: it’s really not that easy!

Bryan Coe

Bryan Coe

Bryan is the founder of The Soccer Handbook. He has been playing soccer since he was 8 years old, continues to play, and has also done his share of volunteer coaching over the years. Bryan’s mission is to help coaches coach better and help people enjoy the beautiful game throughout their lives.


Our Recent Posts

Table of Contents

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get the latest soccer updates in your mailbox

Social Media