Do you ever wonder what classifies a sport as a sport?
Why do some hobbies and pastimes make the cut while all those others, which some people say may be a sport, like cheerleading, do not?
Is it the number of players involved, the arena it’s held in or the equipment used?
Well, I think it’s all three of these and more that ensure the title of it being a sport.
Broadly speaking, all sports share certain underlying characteristics.
Almost all involve a ball, uniforms, points, judges and the physical and mental rigors of training.
Yet, even speaking broadly, some sports don’t have all of the aforementioned qualities. Now, it gets tricky.
All real sports have time periods, whether they’re broken up into halves, quarters, short periods, rotations, rounds, matches or races.
Every athlete also wears special gear, like cleats for soccer players, masks for catchers and goalies as well as for fencers.
Besides the gear, there’s the equipment. Gloves, bats, sticks, swords, clubs, rackets and starting blocks all make the cut.
These sports also tend to begin with the noise of a whistle, gun, buzzer or coin toss.
Extreme sports are different. They developed, like most other sports, from a hobby, but grew into something new and different in the last 10 years. I usually say that if it’s in the Olympics, then it’s a sport, and snowboarding is definitely one, while skateboarding and in-line skating are not.
These sports share qualities with professional ones, but still do not share the same popularity with the public as swimming, track and field or basketball.
There are also set rules for sports. Guidelines are in place on how to play the game, what’s fair or not and what happens to un-sportsmanlike conduct.
Every professional sport has rule books and judges or referees who enforce those rules.
Rule books also help explain the point system, which is the blueprint for each sport.
Points are universal in most sports unless the clock decides the winner. This means whoever is the fastest wins.
And most of the time it’s based on the individual athletes performance. Swimmers, long-distance runners, sprinters and speed skaters all count, as well as the teams that are racing against time like in bobsledding, rowing and relays.
Real sports are also held in some sort of arena that serves as the showcase for the sport and its athletes.
An arena is usually an enclosed location where only athletes can play and referees serve as judges.
Referees are the only ones who actually get to be involved in the game while scrutinizing it and its players to make sure that the game is being played the way it should be.
Referees and judges are also the fans’ eyes and ears when they are not able to make out what exactly happened to cause the referee to pull a yellow card out or call a team foul.
Arenas vary in their structure and layout.
Almost any sport can be played outdoors as well as indoors, on grass fields, courts, tracks, diamonds or pools. Yet, they can also be held in gymnasiums, hotels, stadiums, centers and domes.
And when there’s an arena for a sport to be played, there are fans. Tons of fans.
The staple of any sports team is the people who come out and support them.
Football stadiums, ice rinks, aquatic centers and boxing rings are all built with the fan in mind.
It’s no wonder that it’s the legion of fans that enclose the sport and shield it from the outside world.
Every real sport also has many leagues within it.
Usually there are the majors, minors, college and then little leagues. The more extensive the network of leagues for a sport, the more definite and permanent the sport lies in our culture and in my definition of a sport.
So, if you ever wonder if foosball, inline skating or cheer and song teams make the cut, look at the above qualifications.
Any real sport can meet each of these qualifications and still have a little extra to offer.
That extra is what makes the team and athlete something extraordinary.
It’s something that is not external, but internal. It’s the talent, skill and innate sense a player and his or her team have to make the sport awe-inspiring and constantly evolving. That is what differentiates a sport from a hobby or pastime.