Sport is truly amazing.
Somehow, at the same time, it can be illogical, predictable and hypocritical. It’s a paradox that we can’t seem to look away from.
To some, it’s a reflection of us a society and as individuals, and to others it’s nothing at all. But what does it mean?
In theory, sport means absolutely nothing and yet at times, to millions of people, it clearly means everything.
Sport’s power is that collective groan from the crowd as the ball hits the post. It’s a catch going to hand in the Sunday cricket leagues.
It’s the feeling of connectedness as the final whistle sounds and the tensions fade from thousands at once.
It’s not in the words of the commentators, but in the memories of the all-consuming effort, the elation of winning and the despair of losing.
Sport is fascinating because it exists outside of language.
Players and spectators alike do not need language to engage in sport.
As such, it’s something we can connect meaning to directly without articulation, without sacrifice and without the alteration of the personal meaning it bears with it.
Where does this first wordless impression of sport come from?
Sport is just a glorified version of play. It’s an adult’s version of play. It’s unavoidably human.
By the age of four, when children begin to really communicate, they have taken part in, and most importantly attributed value to, play.
Without words or communication, an idea has formed of what play is.
The actions and behaviours of adults hold more meaning for children.
As they grow up, sport carries all the values inherited from play; winning and losing, effort and capitulation — but it has the added meaning associated with adulthood heaped onto it.
Sport’s physical nature and almost universal saturation means that at no point does anyone ever really ask you, “Why sport?” and if they did, you’ve already formed a meaning associated to sport that predates language, and as such you’d be unlikely to be able to answer.
Sport can be all things to all people, at whatever stage of life.
Sport can take a break for a few years and re-ignite later in life, or it can carry on being important to someone forever because of the subjective nugget of personal meaning wedged at its core.
For me, my own meaning is play fighting with my brothers.
It’s backyard cricket and classic catches. It’s watching football with my father. It’s a run out from point in Under 14’s. It’s vomiting after squash. It’s serving double faults and choking in big moments.
It’s beers spilling four at a time. It’s pizza and drinking on the last Saturday in September. It’s effort, passion, skill, satisfaction, desire and just a touch of something I can’t put into words.
So, did you learn anything from this article?
Probably not. You already knew that sport was great.
This article first appeared on The Sporting Chance Magazine.