Now, I know before I write this that it is going to upset some people. I know this, because it almost always does. That’s ok. Nobody else talks about this and people need to know the truth.
For some reason, people want to say they played sports when they were a kid or that their kids or grandkids play sports. I’m not sure why. They just do. So when you tell someone they participated in an activity instead of a sport, they aren’t too happy with you.
I don’t mean to upset anyone. That is not my intention. I don’t think negatively of all activities that aren’t considered a sport. In fact, there are some sports I don’t like.
It’s just something that came up in conversation between me and my two best friends in college one evening as we watched basketball in the lobby of our residence hall. I don’t remember how exactly we got on to the topic, but at some point in the evening we started discussing what exactly is a sport?
The first place everyone, well, just about everyone, goes to learn the meaning of a word is the dictionary. They treat the dictionary as if it is law. But different dictionaries define words slightly differently. Sport is no exception to this.
Dictionaries simply record what a word means to most people and how it is commonly used. Nobody is in charge of an official definition. We use words so we can communicate with each other. But dictionaries are not always right, and they aren’t exactly right about the word sport.
Most dictionaries define sport as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess or something like that. But that’s not what most people think of when they think of a sport. At least, I don’t think of that. I think it’s more than that.
What is a sport?
So what is a sport? I can’t guarantee I will remember everything we decided on for the definition in college. We didn’t write it down, and I don’t have the best memory. You can ask my wife about that. And I can’t remember which parts of the definition we agreed on in college, and which parts I have added in the years since then, but a sport has to include a few things:
Physical, athletic activity
When someone mentions sports, I think everyone immediately thinks of something with physical, athletic ability. Nobody would think of chess. This should be easy enough for us to agree on. A sport needs physical activity of some kind. And while some will say that auto racing will drop out with this requirement, let me just say that there is a lot of physical activity in NASCAR.
I know that in college we agreed that a sport requires defense. If there is no defense, then you are performing an activity. There are many cases where activities are performed with more than one participant, but without a defense, it can’t be a sport. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just not a sport in my mind.
Ball or ball-like object
I’m going to be honest. The “ball-like object” was added to the definition to include hockey if I remember correctly. Everyone would agree that hockey is a sport, but when we initially defined it as requiring a ball, we soon realized that left out some obvious sports. So we fixed it. See, we aren’t without compassion.
That’s the gist of it. It’s not that difficult. The problem is that some people get upset, because they think they participated in sports when they were younger and I have to break it to them that they participated in an activity, but not a sport. Again, that’s ok!
Let me give you some examples
So, let’s go through and decide what activities are sports and what are not, just to clear things up a little.
Some are obvious. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey and other similar activities are clearly sports. You can easily see how they meet the requirements listed above.
What about others? And you might be surprised with some of my answers.
Gymnastics – I can’t think of a more physically draining activity than gymnastics. You are going to think I’m crazy, but no, it’s not a sport. It’s just an activity. It only meets requirement 1 above. It fails 2 and 3. This really upsets people. And it’s not just the people who did gymnastics as a kid. It upsets people who have put their kids in gymnastics even more. Oh my. People really don’t like this.
Racing (all kinds) – Obviously cross country is not a sport. Some have tried to argue that there is defense. Even if I give them that, which I’m not convinced, there is no ball or ball-like object. So, it is not a sport.
Air hockey – Yes! If you have ever seen my brother and I play air hockey, you will see that it can be a very physical activity and does require some athleticism. There is definitely a defense in stopping the puck. Oh, and it has that ball-like object. Sport? Check!
Ping pong – Same as air hockey. Yes!
I think you get the idea. I have discussions about this with people that last over an hour sometimes. People are very passionate about it.
Let me know what you think. Send me an email and let me know where you think I’m wrong. I’m not, but I’m interested in knowing where you disagree. And if I realize I am missing something, I’ll fix it. The definition is not set in stone. It can change if needed. And if you correctly realize that I’m right? Well, let me know that as well.