How would you explain your favorite sport to someone that knows nothing about it?
I personally don't understand the appeal of baseball and American football, two sports that basically don't exist around here. At the same time, I know that in the US many people fail to understand the appeal of other sports, like soccer. Eventually, some mocking takes place. Maybe we can use this thread to enlighten each other!
Okay so the appeal of American football to me:
You highlighted some great structural reasons why the NFL is great so let me add some reasons why the actual game is also great:
Every play is equal parts strategy and execution. Every snap your offense has plan. Which players you send out, how and where they line up are all based on maximizing your plan's chance to succeed but they also can telegraph your intentions to the opposing defense who then send out their personnel group to stop your plan. There's lots of room for misdirection and trickery. Execution still matters, but so does coaching. A sport like hockey for instance has lots of strategy but it's also very dynamic. The game itself is very fluid and while breaking out of your zone or establishing possession in the opposing zone have some strategic elements it's a lot more reliant on player execution. Same thing goes for basketball in my opinion.
With a 53 man roster, team execution and roster matters. Basketball is notoriously a superstar driven sport -- 3 or 4 players on your team drive your chance of success moreso than anything else. In football, there are certainly positions that matter much more (e.g. QB) but the best QB in the league can't prop up an otherwise poor team. You have to balance your salary cap and draft picks around a set of very diverse player needs and because you can't meet them all you end up with a team identity dictated by your players strengths -- "we're going to run the ball" or "we're going to pressure your quaterback and stop you from running the ball" which also ties in to the above point.
Watching football commands less attention and is inherently more social than watching a sport like hockey. Some people dislike this aspect of football, but I like it. When I watch playoff hockey with my friends, no one can look away because every goal is a bad pass and fortunate puck bounce away. Even with playoff football I feel like I can easily be cooking or talking with friends without missing watching the game.
I find this really interesting because this is actually my biggest complaint with football and one of my favorite parts of most the sports I watch! I love series and replaying the same team! I think the adaption process is really neat and an interesting dimension to look at. Team 2 get shut down in game 1 come back with completely changed lineups the function differently and try to get a different result. If it works out you get to see how Team 1 adapts to Team 2's new strategy. You can end up seeing completely different styles of play and levels of aggression in ways that just can't happen in a single game due to how little time there is to process what is happening and what isn't working (I know adaption does happen within game, but not to the same degree that happens when you have 2 days between games to watch tape and think of new strategies).
This one I do agree with though. For a game as physical as hockey there is no reason to have 82 games in the regular season, plus 4 BO7's in the play-offs. That's WAY too many games. IMO it should be closer to 40 games regular season, BO3 in playoffs until the Stanley Cup, which is still a BO7.
Cricket! Sit around in the sun with mates and a few beers, maybe your knitting or a book. Watch a team try to bowl towards a pair of batters, and spend the entire match trying to work out what all the bizzarely esoteric rules are. Marvel at the umpire's unusual hand actions to signify what just happened. Try to make sense of what the scoreboard is telling you, and exactly what an "over" is. Squint with awe at a set of wickets exploding when the ball slips past an armour-clad batsman.
It's a superb, all-day affair, and incredibly relaxing to watch. Minimal athleticism on display. The illusion of tactics. My kind of sport.
I've been pleasantly surprised with soccer's takeover of the US. I have friends who would never give soccer the time of day 15 years ago that now say it's their favorite sport to watch in part because you get 2 halves of 45 minutes without interruption for commercial breaks. That is a unique advantage for the sport. Every other sport in America is cramming commercial breaks wherever they can, and it's killing their entertainment value. I'm a lifelong fan of American football, but it's borderline unwatchable at this point. The only way to enjoy college football is when there are dozens of games on at once and I can flip between them (or use a multicast view) to limit commercial break interruptions. I also don't watch NFL unless it's a commercial-free RedZone stream on Sundays.
I absolutely loathe advertising in general. So imagine my delight when I went to my first college football game this last month (or any professional sport for that matter) ever and discovered that they take "media breaks". When possible they would do this during a natural pause, such as a time out. Other times they would just announce a media break in between plays. Meaning that it isn't enough that the broadcast network play a ton of commercials, advertising is so integral to how the sport is funded that they will literally halt the entire game for 60,000+ people in the stadium who have already paid to be there to show ads.
At least all of us in the stadium didn't have to actually watch the ads on the jumbotron. The entire crowd in the stadium booed every time it happened.
In case anyone wants MMA (think the UFC) explained:
It's pure martial arts where the only rules are to prevent permanent (-ish) damage to the fighters (think things like crotch hits, eye gouging, fishhooking, kicks to grounded opponents (except in Japan for a while), , etc. -- those are all banned, but everything else is game).
Two fighters enter the ring (octagon if you're the UFC) and they do whatever style they use to win. In something like Karate competitions you have way more restrictive rules, and everyone has to use (duh) Karate. Same goes for things like Judo and the like. Think boxing -- no kicks, only punches and clinches. You don't have the fear of getting taken down, so you only concentrate on defending punches. In MMA you could be a boxer, but then you have to worry about a Brazilian guy taking you down and throwing you in a choke to make you quit. Or you could be a boxer and fight against someone heavy in kickboxing or Muay Thai, and now your body is getting kicked to hell -- or in the recent meta, your calves are getting kicked to hell until you have trouble with mobility during the fight and your opponent outmaneuvers you.
Anything is game (except for things like crotch hits, etc.), and it's up to you to find the things that work. The fighting styles that work are the ones that actually work, and not the ones mandated.
It's a pure game of two people agreeing to try and destroy the other person, putting your body out there and getting hit to try and be a bit better than the other guy.
i love MMA. Going back to other combat sports like boxing, there are so many stoppages that disrupt the excitement.
I really hope they keep the small audience for the ESPN Fight Nights. I think we get better fights when the fighters can hear their corner the entire time.
I'm in the interesting position where I don't follow any sports, but really want to begin to get invested in one. My candidates so far are Basketball, Football, or Soccer. The biggest barrier to entry, it seems to me, is context-building:
It seems like there's no single place which is set up to help a beginner in a sport understand this stuff. It's all sort of scattered around 100 different sources or sites. Most sports writing seems like quite in-the-weeds analytical writing that assumes the reader knows all of this stuff. Any advice for building context?
I just wanted to say you're absolutely starting at the right place. Narrative context is what makes watching sports so great. Now it's totally reasonable to not enjoy watching sports but when people say they don't like it because of something akin to "it's boring to watch people kick a ball around" it would sort of be like dismissing reading books because sitting in chair turning pages is boring. Narratives and context are everything!
As for building context, unfortunately I don't have any direct tips other than you will start to build context over time just from watching. Ultimately context in the sporting world is mostly limited to the lengths of active players' careers anyways -- knowledge of the sporting world pre-2000 (and largely pre-2010) isn't really necessary to understand most of the narratives in the sporting world that I'm aware of.
Thanks for the advice :)
It's fun to sit around on a hot sunny day with your friends, drinking a tall boy while watching some jacked guy (who may also look a little rotund) absolutely demolish a ball with a piece of wood.
That's baseball, right? :)
Yes, but I suppose that really does apply to a lot of sports.
Croquet certainly comes to mind.
It's like playing volleyball 2vs2, but instead of playing over a net, you smack the ball on a net, so that it bounces. Once you get good at it, it's really fun, and you run around the net like crazy
I got really into this a few weeks ago with some friends, and we're all hooked now 😄
Its tough to find games, but hurling is basically field hockey and lacrosse mixed with rugby and a little baseball. The games are fast and super fun to watch.
Here's a decent video that breaks it down. Here's a video that's been floating around for a while.
Hurling is basically everything in one sport. I love it.
I'm not a huge watcher of sports, but I know enough to watch Football and Baseball - as those are the common sports that are watched socially. Both are somewhat slower to watch, with constant starting/stopping of action. Some folks like that aspect - however I'm not a huge fan of it. I get a lot more out of watching the highlights on youtube later.
The two sports that I will occasionally watch are Hockey and Lacrosse. Both are much faster paced, with much more constant and interesting play. It helps that I played Lacrosse growing up, and have a basic understanding of the strategies (beyond just the rules).
And then the sport I still play (casually) is Ultimate (Frisbee). Quick clarification, Frisbee is to "Flying Discs" what Kleenix is for Tissues - so saying Ultimate is correct, but most people will recognize Frisbee. Anyways, the sport is fast-paced, similar to Hockey/Lacrosse, but has gameplay elements of Football (attempting to reach the endzone, with turnovers that swap who is on offense/defense) and even basketball (planting on a pivot foot, defending, and picks). All you need is a disc, which makes it pretty similar to Soccer/Futbol in how accessible it is. The rules are also fairly simple and very adaptable for casual play. Its picking up steam in North America, Japan, and some European countries. Theres some "professional" leagues, but nothing near as established as the more popular sports, but it tends to have what I consider a "clutch play:standard play" ratio - that is, you get to see a lot of cool plays and athletic ability compared to other sports. Soccer has 90+ minutes, but a lot of that is back-and-forth and not the exciting drives towards a goal. Likewise, football and baseball have a lot of stopping/starting and a lot of "standard play" - such as short running plays to gain <5 yards and move the football up the field. As others here have pointed out, that makes it a good sport for social watching - but isn't what I typically like.
I'd highly recommend giving ultimate a shot if you can find a pick up group or hat league. Most groups I've found have been pretty good about helping and teaching newer players, but obviously it will depend on the group. It isn't hard to pick up the rules - and the floor for developing some basic short-range throws and catching ability isn't too difficult. However, theres a high ceiling with lots of growth - reading the disc's flightpath, learning to throw "forehand", learning complicated/trick throws like hammers, and putting varying levels of spin and height to put the disc into the receiver's hands while putting it around/above the defenders.
...and some of us don't understand the appeal of watching any sport, regardless of origin. :)
(though I do occasionally watch a little bit of ice skating or half-pipe during the winter olympics)
I grew up in a house that didn't do sports. My brothers and I did Little League and some other things during the summer, but that was mostly our parents trying to keep us occupied. My Dad was/is very much "meh" about any and all sports, so it was never a part of my childhood in any meaningful way.
It took me until my mid 20s to really understand what the deal was. It's about doing something together. Weather that's actually playing the sport and getting some exercise, or watching a sport together. The sport isn't really the point, it's the social bonding and feeling of inclusion. I don't sportsball, but I do video games. A lot. Often with friends. And the worst video game is 10x better playing (suffering, sometimes) through with friends than most of the best ones are played solo. I'm still not really "in" to sports, but when a friend invites me to go to watch something, I'll usually accept now, no hesitation.
But you’re talking about playing sports, but the comments before (including mine) were all about watching sports. I’m all for participating, though am personally more into solo sports.
Edit: rereading the original post, I may have read too much into it, it’s not so specific.
I intended to try and ascribe the social appeal to both playing and watching. Though I get that some people like one and not the other, even when dealing the same sport. I personally don't much care for watching others play video games, unless it's designed to be competitive. On the flip side I don't like playing competitive video games (unless it's with a very specific set of friends who are chill about it).
I'm curious, what sports do you consider solo?
Tennis? Ping pong? Running?
It's fun to see people at the absolute top of their craft compete. It's even more fun when they're tangentially related to you in some way (e.g. the team of your city, the team your dad watched with you, Jeremy Lin when you're an Asian American in the 2010s).
It's even more fun to then take that and pay attention to the drama like it's a soap opera playing out over real life -- such as the current Kyrie Irving not being vaccinated drama where the coach and other players have to find ways to say things that don't sound negative about him when he's clearly thrown a gigantic wrench in to the gears of their lives.
I currently don't watch any sports, really. I watch series and documentaries about sports, but no actual matches. There's just too many things fighting for my attention these days. But I kinda want go back to following soccer, and maybe Formula 1.