Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Fuller Definition of Sport

Many have undertaken to define Sport more thoroughly. At first, my enterprise was the same. I set forth by making a list of every Sport I though was a sport and every Sport I didn’t think was a sport. As I went along I realized I couldn’t really figure out why I was ruling certain sports out. That’s when I looked up Sport in good ol’ Webster’s, and realized that the word is flawed if it is used the way I use it. This is the definition: (1) physical activity engaged in for pleasure (2) a particular activity (as an athletic game) so engaged in.

As one may see this didn’t help for clearing things up. So I set out to find a better word and this is what I came up with: when I say sport I really mean contest.

Entry Word: contest
Function: noun
1 an earnest effort for superiority or victory over another
2 a competitive encounter between individuals or groups carried on for amusement, exercise, or in pursuit of a prize

3 a physical dispute between opposing individuals or groups

I am particularly concerned with definition numbers 2 and 3, because I think together they capture the definition of sport as I use it. When I made this distinction the lines between what is sport and what is not became clearer. So for me sport is no longer sport simply; it is now contest. So if sport is contest, then what is sport and what is not? It is easier to define theses parameters by taking the whole and trimming off the things that don’t qualify, thus building a set of qualifiers for what is a sport.

Does the “sport” require competition between individuals or groups?

This question trims off “sports” in which an individual competes against a course or some apparatus. Now some would argue that gymnasts and golfers do compete against each other, but they only compete against each other based on an individual performance against the course or apparatus. This also rules out events which are scored by judges based on presentation, such as figure skating, or freestyle skating or biking.

Does the “sport” require physical competition?

If one defines physical loosely then no sport is trimmed away by this qualifier, but as you might have guessed I define it strictly. A sport must have, as a friend of mine once said, hustle. I think that nicely defines the physicality of sport, but I will define further. Strength is the ability to exert force, and power is the ability to exert force quickly. Power is 90% of the physicality of sport, the other half is precision. Power is nothing without precision. Now think of these holistically in an individual and set a minimum, then you have what I think of as the physicality of sport. Moreover, concerning physical equipment, it is important for sport to have a certain ratio of individual physicality. I say that the majority of physical exertion needs to be done by the competitor over his/her equipment, thus NASCAR and horse racing are ruled out, while bicycle racing is not. So now we can also trim Poker, Billiards, Scrabble, and the spelling bee. I felt like I had to name everything I’ve seen on ESPN.

Now, these qualifiers are preliminary and meant to be conversational. Please add to me what I lack. Tell me what I haven’t considered.


Katie said...

What?!? You mean the Spelling Bee isn't a sport?!? And here I thought I'd made it to a real national championship...TWICE...

Just kidding. Actually, I always wondered why they put the National Spelling Bee on ESPN, even though it was kind of cool. But I disagree with your ruling out of indiiviidual sports or those presided over by judges. Athletes compete in sports, and you're not telling me that gymanasts, golfers and ice skaters aren't athletes. They train just as hard as any competitors in "contest" sports. And by the way, gymnastics and ice skating require just as much "hustle" as any football game.

Well, there's my two cents...good luck refining your definition, my friend.

rkw said...

Well, I am making a distinction between athletes that play sports and athletes that do other athletic things. I am not contending that Gymnists are not athletes, they may be some of the most athletic people around, but I am saying they don't use their athleticism in a sport.