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Why We Watch Sports – (And It’s Not What You Think)
Whether you want to believe it or not, we love watching sports for very different reasons than you think. In fact, the real things that make us love sports are in every person, whether we love sports or not. What can we learn about human nature just by looking at our fascination with competition? The answers might surprise you. Not only are the answers interesting on their own, but they can also help you in other ways.
There are some pretty simple and obvious explanations for why we love sports. Sport teaches us loyalty, perseverance and honor. It allows us to bond, it’s cathartic and we identify with the teams and the players. We live vicariously through the players we watch. We have our favorite players, and there are teams that we grew up on because our brother or our father loved them, and now we still support them today. Or we can follow a sport now that we practiced as a child.
But there are also deeper, more powerful and more fascinating reasons.
We’re all just big kids
Whether you want to believe it or not, all adults are just big kids. We are all just big kids. We just hide our true feelings and thoughts with highly developed skills (or at least most of us do). We still want to belong or be accepted by our peers, we all still want to be liked, we still feel emotional pain, and we still find ourselves giving in to instant gratification when we know better. And yes, some of us still lie and cheat in our normal daily lives.
We certainly hide things better and often successfully “act” like we don’t care about belonging, love, pain or anything. Deep down we are a little more mature and wise, but we are really just children. We may not say it out loud anymore, but we still say to ourselves sometimes, “That’s not fair!” We prefer to play than to work. Some will say, depending on whether they urinate standing up or sitting down, this is especially true for men. Maybe that’s why there are more male sports fans than female.
You see, watching sports gives us a perfect, safe and secure, black and white little microcosm of life. Following a player, a team or a match allows us to experience ups and downs and a whole range of emotions, just like in real life, but we are not really affected by them.
And unlike life, sports and games are generally fair! There are rules and a crystal clear framework or paradigm that all participants and spectators know. There are never adjustable wrenches in a sports game, like the rules that change during the game, for example. If the rules are broken, the offender is penalized. They don’t get away with it frustratingly sometimes like in real life.
In the end, there is an unambiguous winner and loser. We can pretend that the game we are watching is life, where everything is perfectly fair, everyone plays by the rules and everything makes sense.
Children tend to think of things in much more black and white terms. It is only as we live and mature that we realize that all of life is a series of grays. But we all still yearn for a simpler and easier life. When things are seen only in black or white, things do indeed seem simpler and easier, but life is not so cut and dried.
This helps explain why politicians who break down their platform into simple soundbites and terms devoid of complexity often do better than politicians who talk about life as it really is, a complex and interrelated world of nuance.
Watching sports offers us a temporarily safe and socially acceptable way to become more like our true nature, and our true nature is frighteningly childish. So the next time you deal with a difficult person, remember that they are just a big kid, like you and everyone else, and maybe this knowledge will help you deal with them a bit more. easily.
What do watching a horror movie and playing sports have in common?
Have you ever wondered why so many people, maybe including you, love watching horror movies so much? They offer people a safe way to experience high levels of suspension without actually being in danger. Sport can be the same way. Again, watching sports allows us to enter a perfect world where the suspenseful outcome has no bearing on our real lives (unless you have a nasty sports gambling problem of course).
People love drama, suspension, and resolution, which are all inherent elements of sports. In fact, the tighter the match, the more suspension. If we identify with a player and he wins, we are vicariously happy with the success. However, if the player’s team loses, you feel the defeat a bit too. But our lives are not affected. And sports announcers usually just add drama and suspension.
A sports game is a kind of story. There is a beginning and an end. There is a protagonist (your team) and an antagonist (the other team). There is a stage and a setting, the stadium at noon, and there is a plot, which is the action. Only after the matches are over, and depending on whether your team won or not, is it decided whether to call it a fairy tale ending or a tragedy.
Reptilian brain and war
Whether you want to believe it or not, humans are much closer to nature and the animal world than most people like to think. We are not only close to nature; we are part of it! Evolutionarily speaking, we are much closer in time to our unintelligent animal ancestors than we are to a sentient species transcended outside of nature. Our behavior is much more guided by our “primitive brain” than by our more recent neocortex, which is the seat of our intelligence. The primitive brain, or lower brain function, deals with fight-or-flight behavior, hunger, fear, and sex, among others.
A common, but misguided, concept is that the human brain is the result of billions of years of evolution. Our primitive or reptilian part of the brain is so old, but the very large neocortex of our brain, the thing that separates us from other mammals, appeared only a few million years ago, a mere drop in the bucket of the evolution. The neocortex hasn’t had much time to develop, so our primitive brain plays an important role in our lives.
Our basic flight or fight mentality manifests itself in sport. We can understand, on a deeper, unconscious level, the guy running with the ball towards the end zone and being chased by a mob of angry men. We can understand what it feels like to check out another hockey player and slam them into the boards. Or we can sympathize with the NASCAR driver who gets passed by a competitor, but kicks him into high gear and chases him.
Our primal desire for dominance is represented in sport. When our team wins, we experience a kind of domination over the opposing team and its supporters.
Our predatory nature lights up when we see a linebacker racing through a mass of football players, waiting for the perfect moment to hit his prey with a tackle. Watching someone chase the man with the ball in basketball, football, or baseball affects us in the same way.
Our tribal instincts are fulfilled by sport. We all want to belong to something; it is a basic human need since we are such social animals. We identify with a team as our ancestors would identify with their tribe. This is especially true for modern man in the Western world, where community has taken precedence over independence.
Our primitive warrior nature is satisfied by sport. There seems to be an innate desire for war, even in so-called “modern” man. Indeed, look at the world today and the number of wars going on, and you will see how far we are from real peace. Pathetically, that last statement is true at almost any point in history, regardless of when you’re reading this. Again, this boils down to the fact that we are ruled more by our “primitive” brain, focused on survival, fight or flight, than by our reasonable and intelligent “modern” brain.
Every sports game is like a small war between tribes, with an end and a declared winner. But there is an important distinction; unlike war, no one has to die in sport.
One of the reasons going to a game is more exciting than watching it on TV is that there’s a kind of energy created when so many people come together and root for a cause. You might even liken it to a mob mentality. We need look no further than our own stadiums where pandemonium has erupted in protest at an appeal or to celebrate a victory. The sport appeals heavily to humans’ instincts for play and wrestling.
And since our modern lives no longer contain any real physical danger and all our basic needs are immediately taken care of, we now have a void that must be filled as best we can, our primitive brain expects it. Sports do the trick. It gives us the illusion of a reality where there are no consequences. It gives us the illusion of battle, war, victory and defeat, without the consequences. And it gives us the illusion of being a child again, even if it’s only temporary.
You might not like sports at all, but we’re all pretty childish on the inside. We all crave some level of drama in our lives. And we are all constantly affected by our primitive brain. Watching sports is a great way for people to reconcile these hard facts.
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