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Louis Ades

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Why did humans invent sports and why do so many people love watching and playing competitive sports games?

I'm not asking why certain individuals are attracted to sports. Obviously people find it exciting, thrilling, entertaining etc. My question is why do people find it to be so exhilarating?? Why is it exciting? Why is it entertaining? Why do athletes enjoy sports so much? Is it simply the sublimation of our evolutionary drives in a way that is accepted by society? What are the psychological, historical, scientific, etc. reasons for us creating and participating in competitive sports?

Also, how do you think we can use the popularity of sports to make the world a better place?

  • Nov 26 2012: Sports is for the most part, a by product of our evolutionary path. Back when we were prey, many of the things such as speed and strength were hardwired to impress others of the society. It allowed for the best of the best to carry on their genes, as the ones desired by people were those that could survive due to their traits. In this modern day however, there is no real way for the average person to enjoy such physical show offs, so they watch sports. Also, studies have shown that men actually get more of a 'boost' out of winning or competing as a team, which shows why team sports such as baseball or football are so popular.
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      Nov 27 2012: "...were hardwired to impress others of the society" because our genes are themselves hardwired into thinking "ooh, I want to breed with the strongest gene poo, and the only way I can do that is to impress". Then, what if the need to "impress" and be rewarded by status/mating/etc was actuallya genetic Catch 22 where the need for reward overcame the fear of death, so that the human had enough "courage" to actually go out and hunt/survive?
  • Nov 25 2012: The endorphine rush. Goals and glory. Initially, men could test their strength / skill without killing each other.
    Also, they could show-case their prowess and hopefully impress the girlies. Pretty much the same reason some elderly men drive fire-engine red sports cars, it screams "Check me out, ladies, see what a hunter / gatherer I am !" But that's the same reason that men do practically everything. Like gorillas thumping their chests, like stags clashing their antlers, like birds flashing their plumage and adorning their nests. A universal imperative if a chap hopes to reproduce and pass on his genes. We can't help ourselves. It's our inner cave-man !
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      Nov 25 2012: Haha, love the way you explained that. But what about watching sports? Why would someone sit home on their couch watching someone else engage in these "cave-man" like acts and get entertained by it? If anything we should become jealous or angry.
      • Nov 25 2012: We admire them, we'd like to be like them but realise we've missed the boat, or, if we're honest, we admit to ourselves we don't have what it takes. So we adopt them as mascots and enlist them into the service of our tribes. I use the term "tribe" loosely. Your neighbourhood, your city, your school, your nation..........
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          Nov 25 2012: But there are plenty of people who have never played sports themselves and never wanted to, yet they can watch others play and they'll still enjoy it. And it's not because they want to be like them and realized that they can't....
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        Nov 26 2012: Some sports are beautiful to watch, so people might watch them in the same way that people might view a painting they could not paint, listen to music they could not play, or watch a ballet they could not dance.

        There may be an innate attraction to the narrative of a hero's journey- observing or sharing in the journey of heroes, with sporting events modeling struggle, failure, and success.
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        Nov 29 2012: Each cave-man member of the winner colony would get a piece of the booty. That is why the “watchers” supporting the winners are happy instinctively, though in vain today.

        Hence, watching sports is a kind of INVALID happiness.

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    Nov 28 2012: Can I recommend Brian Sutton-Smith's excellent book The Ambiguity of Play. It has the best thinking on the slippery topic of "play" and why we do it. He considers 7 major rhetorics of play and I see those rhetorics occurring in the conversation here.

    As to why we enjoy "watching" sport? I think there are many answers to that but one that interests me is beauty. Try this quote...

    “Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.
    The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.”
    David Foster-Wallace - Federer Both Flesh and Not.

    I'm quoting from the version in the book Federer Both Flesh and Not but there is another version here called Federer as Religious Experience http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?pagewanted=all
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    Nov 25 2012: The sport is in us, we just see the evolution.
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    Gail . 50+

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    Nov 25 2012: The Olympics began as athletes competed in sports that were part of the necessity of survival - who could run the farthest to the next village with an important message about his village being under attack with help needed. Who could throw a discus the farthest as self defense. Who could throw most accurately. Sports were part of survival techniques.

    Sports is something very different today. It is a money-grounded entity. I don't find sports exciting at all. I find it barbaric. I don't see any significant difference between a football game and a war.
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      Nov 25 2012: I understand your first point. But sports being barbaric? What about figure skating, golf, tennis, gymnastics? The expertise and beauty needed to participate in some of these sports on a professional level is far from barbaric.
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        Nov 25 2012: My problem is with "competitive" sports. Improving one's abilities is an art form, not a sport - unless you want to make it into one.
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          Nov 29 2012: Yes!
          It is barbaric, as I replied to Lawren Jones next.
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    Dec 1 2012: For me, sport isn't just a simple discipline, but it's a lifestyle, it teaches us the principles of life, the best way to win.
    athletes like sports, perhaps because they feel good, or maybe because it brings money.
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    Nov 30 2012: Also see games that animals play.
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    Nov 30 2012: Historical reasons for 'inventing sports' probably won't be easy to find. Games develop randomly. Let's say you are in a forest, and you pick up a rock. Your friend says 'lets try throwing the rock at that tree'. A game has been 'invented'. It is a way to challenge ourselves, to gain new skills, to have fun, to be social, and the competition part of it seems to snow ball.

    The popularity of sports does make the world a better place, the Olympics for example. It is a great way to have nations come together and revel in our similarities and differences.
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    Nov 26 2012: I just finished watching the Toronto Argos win the Grey Cup. .... I have never played football, I have never had or have any desire to play football yet, I found this moment entertaining and I am excited for the home team. For me now, it is the camaraderie and the celebration, which is a positive one. .... as for my thoughts on the evolution of sports.... it's a big puzzle that makes the picture. You need the team, the prize, and the adoring fans. The reward is a massive hangover due to the consumption of a lot of beer during this celebration. All these puzzle pieces make for a wondrful picture. Sorry, my friends are waiting, gotta go. lol
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    Nov 25 2012: Well it all started with Abner Doubleday...

    Only a psychologist would try to screw up something perfectly good like sports.

    I think it started when we had free time. Then we could live vicariously through our team.
  • Nov 25 2012: Ok, I am going to argue for sports here and live with the abuse.

    Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences talks about a kinesthetic intelligence. "The core elements of the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are control of one's bodily motions and the capacity to handle objects skillfully. Gardner elaborates to say that this intelligence also includes a sense of timing, a clear sense of the goal of a physical action, along with the ability to train responses so they become like reflexes" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinesthetic_learning

    Learning the skills of a sport and them demonstrating them through competition is artistic and a means of training future learners.

    Competition in all forms is just part of life. Darwin's survival of the fittest is alive and well today.

    The primal chaos present on the screens today in SOME sports makes those that know they could not compete uncomfortable. The strong will generally win a contest of strength, and when it comes down to a struggle, and civilization is lost in a struggle between two men. It is civilization that tells us that what we are observing is wrong. It is important to note that not ALL sports should be lumped in this category.

    I think it is exciting because you do not known the outcome, either one-on-one, or with a team until the matter is proven on the playing field. Many of the weak are also power voyeurs. It is entertaining because you get to see a blend of power and skill demonstrated. It is not talk, it is action. These are people that must perform weekly for judgement. If they do not perform, they are discarded and a performer is found. As a prior writer mentioned, it is also an acceptable arena for settling differences of opinion about who is stronger, at the personal or team level. Albeit carnage on TV, there are referees to control.

    I do believe that the instant it goes from sport to fight, society's rules should kick in and arrests made to send the right message.
  • Nov 25 2012: Good Lewis and lawren But you have me thingking of bread and circuses.
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    Nov 25 2012: "Is it simply the sublimation of our evolutionary drives in a way that is accepted by society?"

    That's precisely what I believe. It's millions of years of tribal instincts adapted to modern civilization.
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      Nov 25 2012: So why do so many people enjoy WATCHING sports?
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      Nov 29 2012: Yes!
      It is the bio-recapitulation of our instincts. But it plays in the wrong conditions of today’s highly developed civilization rather than 10,000 years ago.
      Hence, it is INVALID or out of the valid scope of our instincts.
      And thus it gives us INVALID happiness. It wastes our time in vain or even injures ourselves as in the case of football-fan violence.

      (For INVALID happiness, see the 1st article, points 1.1-3, at https://skydrive.live.com/?cid=D24D89AE8B1E2E0D&id=D24D89AE8B1E2E0D%21283&sc=documents.)