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« Silly Sports | Main | Boring Post About Cameras »

November 08, 2009

Incomprehensible Sports

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I recently wrote about how silly many sports can seem to people disinterested in them.

Today the subject is sports that are incomprehensible to ignorant spectators.

Sports such as basketball, soccer and hockey are probably easy to figure out because an object has to be moved about until hit enters a target zone.

For me, one sport I watched that made almost no sense is cricket. Without researching the rules, mere observation yielded only a sketchy sense of what was happening.

Any other nominees?



posted by Donald at November 8, 2009


Cricket is easy to understand. A ball is bowled ("pitched" in baseball) at a batsman ("batter" in BB) who tries to hit the ball between fielders (without it being caught) then run to the other side of the "crease" for a run before the fielders return the ball to one of two "stumps" to "run out" either the batsman or his partner. (Kind of like in baseball getting the ball to a base before the runner). Unlike in baseball the batsman doesn't have to run after his shot. The bowler tries to make his "delivery" (once again "pitch") as difficult as possible for the batsman to get a well placed hit from or even better hit the stumps to get the batsman out (ie an instant strike-out).

It is a bit less complicated than baseball - I learned both sports at the same time and found cricket simpler - and much MUCH less complicated than North American football ("gridiron") which seems to be mostly about fast food and beer commercials between very short yet elaborate plays.

Posted by: CanadianObserver on November 8, 2009 11:33 PM

Allow the Manolo to suggest, Kabaddi, the national game of Bangladesh.

Do not forget the rule by which the raider must always be either holding his breath, or repeatedly saying the word "kabaddi-kabaddi-kabaddi-kabaddi"

Posted by: Manolo the Shoeblogger on November 9, 2009 12:13 AM

I suspect Baseball would be incomprehensible to someone coming on it without a friendly guide. Fortunately, since it is a wonderful game, deserving of widespread apreciation, almost no one comes to a baseball stadium without some schoolyard or backyard experience.

Posted by: mike shupp on November 9, 2009 1:05 AM

Australian Rules Football is baffling, I don't know that the hell is going on. Although the refs have the slickest uniforms in all of sports.

Posted by: JV on November 9, 2009 12:13 PM

What's that Afghan game on horseback where they drag around a goat carcass? Fantastico!

Posted by: kg on November 9, 2009 5:49 PM

Curling? what is with the brooms anyway

Posted by: scott on November 9, 2009 8:32 PM

Ice hockey. What ARE they doing? Penalty box?

Jai Alai. Looks...strange.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on November 9, 2009 10:48 PM

All sports are incredibly weird.

They're unproductive, dangerous, expensive, and consume a huge amount brainspace in every developed nation. Why are hundreds of millions of fans so hell-bent on donating family fortunes of div 1 football schools, cracking open the skulls of non-Manchester United fans, and getting up at 6am three days a week to drive their son to hockey practice?

Here's my general theory of human athletics: Sports appeal to humans to the extent that they press buttons in our brain architecture that we evolved for 1) War, and/or 2) Hunting.

Rugby is probably the best, or at least my favourite example, of a sport that mimics hunter-gatherer tribal warfare. From what I've read (although I'm suspicious, as most sources are liable to be tainted with Rousseauvian Noble Savagery) tribal warfare way back when didn't result in a whole lot of casualties, in the rare case that it was group-on-group. Tribes tended to have elaborate warfare rituals that were dangerous, and certainly killed people, but minimized the costs of war for both sides to as great of an extent as possible. Football, lacrosse, and most other team sports fall under this category.

Golf is the quintessential sport that mimics The Hunt: A group of men go out early in the morning and launch projectiles at a common target. Any student of evolutionary biology has heard that humans' appreciation of a landscape is proportional to that landscape's desirability as a hunting ground. Golf courses could hardly be better designed in this regard. Bowling, bocce ball and (of course) archery, shooting etc. all fall under this category as well, but golf is the big one.

The third category of sports are those which are useful as a means of individuals signaling their genetic fitness. Track and field, mainly, although this proximate cause applies to all sports to some extent.




Posted by: Zdeno on November 10, 2009 12:17 AM

Hold-the-[ball]-and-move-it games are usually fairly obvious. Rugby is perhaps an exception. American football has a lot of stoppages of play.

Volley games aren't too difficult to figure out, unless played in a closed court (handball, jai alai).

Curling is unobvious. So is lawn bowling. And billiards.

Baseball and cricket are also unobviousm in part because much of the action is no-effect, especially in cricket.

ISTM that if one knows the rules of either baseball or cricket, one could follow the action of the other, provided one knew it was the same basic structure.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on November 10, 2009 12:25 AM

"Kabeddi" sounds exactly like a game I played with a bunch of Vietnamese kids in high school - they called it the "U-game" since you had to hum "U" constantly or hold your breath - and they said it was a traditional game in Vietnam. I'd guess this sort of game is common in South & SE Asia.

Posted by: Foobarista on November 11, 2009 2:49 AM

"Here's my general theory of human athletics: Sports appeal to humans to the extent that they press buttons in our brain architecture that we evolved for 1) War, and/or 2) Hunting."

I hate to break it to you, Zdeno, but calling it "your" theory makes you sound like a college freshman. That's the most widespread theory of sports that I am aware of. I was under the impression that this is considered general knowledge.

Many people, myself included, consider sports the opposite of wasteful. Given that there is an aggressive, warlike, tribal architecture in human (especially male) brains, a cultural activity like Division I football seems like a much healthier way to satisfy it than, say, a team of commandos from Ohio invading the campus of the University of Michigan and trying to kill as many people as possible. Pointing up the banality of sports is a little like bemoaning the male preference for sexy women. All very enlightened and above the proles and whatnot, but not exactly very useful.

Posted by: Daniel on November 22, 2009 6:03 PM

Oh, and I'd say that American Football has an easily discernible goal (get the ball to the other end of the field to score points), but incredibly complex rules to the point of seeming arbitrarily absurd. The four-down rule alone confuses many casual observers.

Posted by: Daniel on November 22, 2009 6:06 PM

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