Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is a Sport?

Here is an exceedingly narrow definition sure to provoke some arguments:

A sport is a contest of physical prowess characterized by scoring with symmetrical objectives, offense and defense, with the purpose of entertainment.  This excludes all marksmanship events, races, and indirect competitions.  Track and field, golf, basically anything you can have a world record for doesn't count because if defense was meaningfully part of the competition, we wouldn't be able to compare achievements.

Some typical sports:

football, american football, tennis, rugby, basketball, baseball

Some surprising not-sports:

golf, all track and field events, nascar, darts, snowboarding, motocross, ballet, cheerleading, competitive dance, american idol, swimming, synchronized swimming

Some surprising sports:

croquet, ping pong, pool & billiards, water polo, quidditch (albeit a sport with terrible and ridiculous rules), fencing, starcraft

Please note that this is not a value judgement.  I don't think croquet is more awesome than motocross or the 100 meter dash, or that golf players are less skilled than fencers, or that swimmers are less athletic than quarterbacks, I just think that my definition of sport usefully describes a similar set of physical contests.

Ready, set, irrelevantly disagree with me!


  1. Why the "physical prowess" requirement? and what does that mean?

  2. also most races that don't keep the participants in a confined lane do have defense, and time can be considered a form of scoring where low == good. This would include stuff like nascar && horse racing.

    also, who really considered ballet a sport?

  3. I half acknowledge the point about lanes, but don't know if it counts enough for me to really care.

    No one considered ballet a sport, but I felt the need to throw it in for amusement.

  4. What about Mother Nature playing defense against the human attempting to set a world record?

    Also, how does ultimate not make the list?

  5. Ultimate clearly makes the cut. The sports lists presented aren't meant to be inclusive.

    Also, Mother Nature has asymmetric goals to the runner, and generally isn't a competitor in the event.

  6. Snagging the last comment on one of Rory's posts -- definitely a sport.