I was tempted to call this Sports Thoughts, which would have been a great title, but which also would have implied a connection to the previous four posts. And there isn’t one. At all.
Instead, this one ties back to a post from last June: Digital & Analog Sports (which, obviously, you should go read now). That one mainly explored how sports can be grouped in terms of continuous (“analog”) versus interrupted (“digital”) play. It also touched on how sports can be viewed in terms of their MacGuffin (often some type of ball, but sometimes a puck or “birdie” or some other object), and it considered their field of play (location, size, configuration).
This time I’ll explore sports in terms of opponents and teams.
What I’m doing in both posts is called reduction, because it reduces something to its essential aspects with the goal of being able to “compare and contrast” things that don’t seem very much the same at first glance.
You may recall high school English assignments that asked you to “compare and contrast” two things. The compare part seeks to find the similarities; the contrast part seeks to find the differences.
For example, we can say all sports are — due to the name — “sports” which reduces them all to a single thing. But that isn’t very interesting. That all people are people is an important social view, but what makes us fascinating is our differences.
Reduction needs to go far enough to make comparing and contrasting possible but not so far that it removes important aspects. Humans, oak trees and rocks are all made from atoms, but — again — it’s how those things differ that makes for interesting conversation.
That earlier post divided sports into two fundamental categories: those that involve continuous play interrupted by moments of idleness (e.g. basketball, hockey) versus those that involve idleness interrupted by moments of play (e.g. baseball, football). The former might be viewed as marathons requiring endurance; the latter might be considered sprints requiring quick reactions.
This post divides sports into two other fundamental categories: those that are interactive with others versus those that are solo efforts. But, as you’ll see, this categorization turns out to be a bit less clear than the first one.
I haven’t played computer games in decades, but I would imagine there are online multi-player games where teams of humans play against the computer. (I know there are online games involving teams of humans against humans. Those are essentially team sports played in a virtual reality.)
Long ago my best friend and I used to play a Commodore 64 game, Castles of Dr. Creep. It was a two-player game (each player having their own joystick) where both players worked as a team against the computer. It seems reasonable to assume there are modern versions of such games.
Multi-player games aside, many computer games feature the user against the computer. The classic one might be computer chess, although that may date me. (I wonder how many people actually even play chess anymore.) In any event, that brings us to the other side of today’s dividing line: solo sports.
I use “solo” in opposition to sports that interact with an opponent rather than its more obvious meaning of “single person” opposed to team.
But, presumed team-against-the-computer games aside, most sports without (human) opponents, that is, what I’m calling “solo” sports, are single-player sports.
Golf is essentially a solo sport as are most forms of racing. Yet in both cases, there can be others playing the same game “in parallel” and winners are determined by who has the best performance. But you can golf alone — essentially playing yourself or an objective goal (e.g. par).
Bowling is also essentially a solo sport (you can play it all by yourself), but it can be played in a team, and individual or team performance can be gauged against other teams or individuals.
Darts and archery are very similar in that you can play them alone against yourself, or you can play them against others. And teams can be involved, but note that teams usually implies opponents in all these. After all, what would be the point of a team effort if not opposing another team (or teams)?
Contrast those against tennis, ping-pong, racquetball, or volleyball, all of which involve direct interaction with the opponents (either one-on-one or team against team). This is the real division here: whether a sport involves facing off directly against others or whether it involves comparing individual performances.
Rodeo, and the uglier sport of bullfighting, are solo sports in lacking human opponents, but feature humans versus animals (I always root for the bull). Hunting and fishing, which are sports as well as professions, also feature humans against animals. (More humanely, for sport, you can hunt with a camera or fish with barbless hooks, releasing what you catch.)
Chess, go, mahjong, checkers and most other board games require opponents, although the computer can step in for these as well as for most card games. Note, too, that there are mahjong and “peg” forms of solitaire.
You may have noticed (even objected to) a conflation of “games” and “sports.” The latter term can be hard to define. Not all sports are truly “games” (consider NASCAR, hunting or mountain climbing, for example). And not all games are universally considered sports. Is chess a sport? Are computer games really sports?
It depends on your definition of sports. For purposes of this article, I am lumping them all together as sports. The dictionary definition usually includes the terms “competitive” and “physical activity” and often also “skills” (it’s the “skills” part that allow me to lump them together).
But it certainly requires skills, and it certainly does involve some level of (not terribly strenuous, but rather terrifying) physical activity.
Similarly, NASCAR drivers probably don’t burn a lot of calories sitting in cars going around and around, but not instantly crashing requires enormous skill and experience. And, unlike card or board games, it is definitely physical (just not strenuous). It’s also outdoors, which somehow makes it more sport-like.
So, to wrap things up, as you watch sports, you can be thinking about whether they involve teams or individuals as well as whether they involve direct interaction against others, side-by-side comparison of individual performance, or are entirely solo efforts.
It turns out that there aren’t many truly solo sports. Competition is a key aspect to sports, and competition usually involves another party.
There is also that watching someone play themselves isn’t that much fun for spectators.
And even playing yourself does involve a competitor (you). But the fun for spectators often involves the question: “Who will win? The one I’m rooting for or not?”
Keith Olbermann recently unveiled a brand new George Carlin joke sent to him (if I recall correctly) by Carlin’s daughter from a large collection of joke notes the Grand Master of standup left behind. The joke is about how the great thing about sports is that half the players and spectators go home disappointed.
You can turn that around and note that half of them go home elated!
Tonight is the last game of the Major League Baseball World Series. The baseball season consists of 30 teams playing 162 games (nearly 5,000 games of baseball during the summer). The modern post-season starts with ten teams, quickly reduces to eight. Those eight reduce to four in the Division Series. The four reduce to two in the Championship series.
And tonight, after being tied after two, tied after four, and tied after six, it comes down to game #7 and a single winner taking it all. I’m hoping fans in Kansas City go home elated tonight with their first World Series visit (and win!) since 1985.
More on that next time! GO ROYALS!!