“What is it with men and sport?” I sometimes get asked.
In fact I used to find most sport boring, and woudl love to say “The score is the same whether or not you watch” but as I get older I find it more fascinating rather than less. Maybe because I don’t play it so much now… Because one of the things about watching sport is that you believe that it’s you playing it. I was quite disappointed recently when kicking a football around in a friend’s garden that I was unable to curl the ball in from the wing like Beckham – I honestly thought I could, having seen him do it so many times,
Other psychological reasons why men particularly might be attracted to sport are
a) it’s as near as we get to tribal warfare, or to hunting
b) it involves practising our hunting skills – throwing things, judging relative speeds of moving objects, fitness in pursuit and evasion, etc
c) you don’t have to talk while watching it
d) you get so involved in it (known as Flow) that you forget all your day to day hassles and stresses
e) it’s one of the few things that really is completely unpredictable: two goals in extra times, or Hamilton losing a whiloe minute on the final lap (or was that fixed??) etc
f) you get a sense of belonging as you watch your tribe win, or when you discuss afterwards with people what happened
g) just like Desperate Housewives or Grays Anatomy you get the one off episode (the match) and the evolving longer term plot (the championship, will the new players or strategy or manager succeed) so you get hooked
h) the challenge of trying to understand it – why do England lose, why didn’t Murray get the third set, should he have come to net more, etc.
But finally I would like to add one of my favourite bits from The Inner Game of Tennis (I do think that a 5 set tennis match is the best of all if you want to observe the psychology of people under pressure) which says that there are only 3 reasons to play sport, and 2 of them are crap
1 – to beat the other person. This is a road to nowhere since there will always be someone better than you, so it will only work if you pick on people worse than you and beat them, and that’s rather a hollow victory
2 – to master the game. Forget this, you never will. Even Federer misses some shots, espesially when having a close game. There is always going to be an even harder shot to try to master next. You’ll never be satisfied
3 – to just enjoy the good bits. To savour the shots that go well, that backhand down the line into the corner, oh yes!! And of course the same goes for every sport, and maybe every thing in life.
Onwards and upwards!