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Why We Watch Sports – (And It’s Not What You Think)
Believe it or not, we love watching sports for very different reasons than you think. In fact, every person has real things that make us love sports, whether we like sports or not. What can we learn about human nature just by looking at our attraction to competition? The answers may surprise you. The answers are not only interesting in themselves, but they can help you in other ways as well.
There are some pretty straightforward and obvious explanations for why we love sports. Sports teach us loyalty, perseverance and honor. It gives us a way to bond, it’s cathartic and we identify with the team and the players. We strangely live through the athletes we watch. We have our favorite players, and there are teams that we grew up rooting for because our brother or father loved them and now we still root for them. Or we can now follow a game we used to play as a child.
But there are also deeper, more powerful and compelling reasons.
We’re all just big kids
Believe it or not, all adults are just big kids. We’re all just big kids. We hide our true feelings and thoughts with highly developed skill (or at least most of us do). We still want to be liked or accepted by our peers, we still want to be loved, we still feel emotional pain, and we still give ourselves instant gratification when we know better. And yes, some of us still lie and cheat in our normal daily lives.
We hide things well and often successfully act as if we don’t care about belonging, love, pain or anything else. Deep down we are a little more mature and wiser, but basically still just kids. We may not say it out loud anymore, but we still sometimes think to ourselves, “This isn’t fair!” We’d rather play than work. Some might argue that, depending on whether they urinate standing or sitting, this is especially true for men. Maybe that’s why men are more sports fans than women.
You see, watching sports gives us a perfect, safe and secure, black and white, little microcosm of life. Following a player, team or sport allows us to experience a whole range of ups and downs and emotions, just like in real life, but doesn’t actually affect us.
And unlike life, sports and games are generally fair! There are rules and a clear framework or pattern that all participants and audiences know. Sports games never throw monkey wrenches in, like changing rules mid-game. If the rules are violated, the offender is fined. They don’t go away hopelessly like in real life.
In the end, there is a clear winner and loser. The game we’re watching is life, where everything is perfectly fair, everyone plays by the rules, and everything pretends to make sense.
Children think of things in more black and white terms. It is only through living and maturing that we realize that the whole of life is a gray series. But still we all yearn for a simple and easy life. Things seem really easy and simple when things are only seen in black or white, but life is not so clear cut.
This helps explain why politicians who break down their platforms into simple sound bites and uncomplicated terms often do better than politicians who talk about life, a complex, interconnected world.
Watching sports gives us a temporarily safe and socially acceptable way to be like our true selves, and our true selves are frighteningly childlike. So the next time you’re dealing with a difficult person, remember that they’re a big kid just like you and everyone else, and maybe that knowledge will help you deal with them a little easier.
What do watching horror movies and sports have in common?
Ever wondered why so many people, including you, enjoy watching horror movies so much? They provide a safe way for people to experience high levels of suspension without any real danger. The game can be the same. Again, watching sports allows us to enter a perfect world where a questionable outcome has no bearing on our real life (unless, of course, you have a nasty sports gambling problem).
People love drama, suspense, and resolution, which are inherent elements in all games. In fact, the closer the game, the greater the suspension. If we identify with a player and he wins, we enjoy success. However, if the players’ team loses, we also feel a bit of defeat. But there is no effect on our life. And sports announcers usually just add drama and suspense.
A sports game is a kind of story. There is a beginning and an end. There is a hero (your team) and an antagonist (the other team). There is the scene and the setting, the afternoon stadium, and there is the plot, which is the action. Only after the game is over, and depending on whether your team wins or not, is it decided to be a fairy tale ending or a tragedy.
The 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 think. We are not only close to nature; We are a part of it! Evolutionarily speaking, we are much closer to our ignorant animal ancestors than to the hypersensitive species far removed from nature. Our behavior is guided more by our ‘primitive brain’ than our recently developed neocortex, which is the seat of our intelligence. The primitive brain, or lower brain function, is associated with fight-or-flight behavior, appetite, fear, and sex, among other things.
A common, yet incorrect, concept is that the human brain is the result of billions of years of evolution. The primitive or reptilian part of our brain is that old, but the extra-large neocortex of our brain, which separates us from other mammals, arrived only a few million years ago, just a drop in the evolutionary bucket. The neocortex has not had much time to develop, and so our primitive brain plays an important role in our lives.
Our basic flight or fight mentality is reflected in sports. We can relate, on some deep and unconscious level, to a man running into the end zone with a football and being chased by a gang of angry men. We can understand what it feels like to check another player in hockey and slam him into the boards. Or we can sympathize with a NASCAR driver who gets passed by a rival, but kicks into high gear and chases him.
Our primal desire for dominance is expressed in sports. When our team wins, we feel a sense of dominance over the opposing team and their fans.
When we see a linebacker running after football players, our predatory nature shines and waits for the right moment to hit our prey with a tackle. Watching someone chase down a man with a ball in basketball, soccer, or baseball affects us in a similar way.
Our tribal instincts are fulfilled through sports. We all want to own something; This is a human need as we are social animals. We identify with a team as our ancestors identified with their tribe. This is especially true for modern man in the Western world, where community has taken a backseat to freedom.
Our primitive fighting nature is satisfied by sports. Even so-called ‘modern’ man seems to have an innate desire for war. Indeed, look at the world today and see how many wars are going on right now, and you will see how far we are from true peace. Sadly, that last statement is true for almost any time in history, regardless of when you’re reading this. Again, this goes back to the fact that our ‘primitive’, survival-based, fight-or-flight brain rules us more than our reasonable and intelligent ‘modern’ brain.
Every sports game is like a small war between tribes, with an end and a victory declared. But there is an important difference; Unlike war, no one has to die in sports.
One of the reasons to go to a game rather than watching it on TV is that there’s a certain energy that builds when so many people come together and root for a cause. You can also compare it to mob mentality. We need look no further than our own stadiums where chaos erupts to protest the call or celebrate the victory. Games strongly appeal to the gaming and conflict instincts of humans.
And since there is no longer any real physical danger in our modern lives and all our basic needs are met instantly, we now have a void that must be filled somehow, our primitive brain expects. Sports fit the bill. It gives us the illusion of reality where there are no consequences. It confuses us with war, war, victory-loss, without consequences. And it gives us the illusion of being a child again, even if it’s all temporary.
You may not like sports at all, but we’re all like kids inside. We all crave some level of drama in our lives. And we are all constantly influencing our primitive brains. Watching sports is an excellent way for people to reconcile these inescapable facts.
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