Chris Croft's Personal Blog

March 2, 2010

Sport, Happiness, and blokes

Filed under: Happiness, Sport — chriscroft @ 10:10 am

“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!



  1. How wierd. None of a) – h) or 1-3 do it for me at all I’m afraid. It’s not even ‘on the radar’. (And I don’t buy all the anthropological hunter/gatherer stuff at all!!)

    The most enjoyable sport experience I can recall was a hockey game at school when I was about 12, in heavy snow – such that you couldn’t see for more than about 5 yards let alone the other end of the pitch. I was in goal so I didn’t have to do anything at all and could carry on a proper conversation about something else with someone standing nearby. It was also totally, fantastically surreal in that anyone was bothering to play on in the snow. If the ball came near we just hit it away and carried on with the conversation. (I suppose that would have counted a saving some goals…) Also hockey was ‘slightly’ fun in terms of hitting a ball quite hard, but the snow was better…. Gave up all sports permanently at the earliest opportunity, in favour of ‘chopping up old ladies’ as community service was affectionately known.

    There’s a book called Foul Play: What’s Wrong with Sport, by Joe Humphreys. I haven’t read it but I might be tempted to do so.

    Comment by Paul — March 3, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

  2. The other thing that really gets me if ever I am subjected to it, (and actually that is during the news every day – and female sports commentators do it too) is the mock heroic and quasi-technical language used because what is being described is so amazingly banal. “He makes no mistake from the spot” – apparently he stands in one place and kicks a ball into a net. Etc. And all the stuff about the boot of some random bloke called Wilkinson. Please..

    I did therefore enjoy an advert some years ago for something that had a commentator speaking from the stand “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings, Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare. The lone and level sands stretch far away….. etc. Fantastic!

    Then the interviews about whether someone might win (or not). Well yes, they might (then again they might not …) Then again when they did win or didn’t, and all the endless tortuous (and from where I see it utterly pointless) post-mortems. It is totally unwatchable even from an ‘off-the-scale’ bad TV curiosity perspective.

    [Don’t get me started!] But it’s ‘probably just me’ to coin a phrase. Those sports enthusiasts should just go ahead and enjoy it. (But please someone take it off the Natioanl News and put it all on some remote pay per view satellite channel. And don’t pay footballers more than about 50k per annum if they’re really good. But then the same goes for J Ross and the supposed Media stars – that’s all getting to be an out of hand circus too, pointless cults of ‘personality’ etc.)

    Comment by Paul — March 3, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  3. interesting analysis, although it is like being questioned why you’d drink wine in a working man’s club!

    I don’t follow a footy team, or know tennis/golf/F1 drivers except when it is plastered over the paper.

    to me, sport has to be a personal thing – something that you do, rather than pay someone else to do for you. Yes, there are those who are very good at wjatever it is, but they are really people to learn from.

    BTW I have female friends who are far more into sport than I, so is the gender actually a factor here?

    Good post!

    Comment by Frog — March 4, 2010 @ 8:03 am

    • Yes – you are right that it’s not only a male thing. And actually somehow it all seems even more spooky when you see/hear females going on about sport, it all makes somehow even less sense (don’t know why, so maybe reverse engineering the logic that gives some credence to the anthropological stuff I dismissed) – and one wonders if they are just doing it to be ‘one of the lads’ or something. (But maybe that is sexist and I apologise in advance). However in my case it would, de facto be a 150% turn-off, albeit very surreal, for a woman to try to engage me in conversation about sport. It hasn’t happened yet though, I’m glad to say.

      If it did, I think I’d have to say (as to cold calling salespeople) – “forgive me but I am going to have to stop you there…, etc. I don’t accept unsolicited sports talk under any circumstances, and it is nothing personal against you, but please desist and do not do this again, and remove my details from your mailing lists.”

      I did once find myself watching Irish Hurling (… sounds like a vomiting competition!….) (but it was 3.00 am and the TV had been accidentally been left on) – it was about 30 x faster and more impressive than anything in sport I had ever seen. There is v. nice, heartwarming c. WWII period B&W film about an Irish Hurling champion (it’s about him, not the sport).

      I also remember being horrified at some kind of wrestling that was on TV some years ago (maybe they’ve banned it as it was really not good to watch, staged or not). Ditto boxing – that cannot possibly, by any stretch of the imagination be categorised as sport (although I suppose if Australia are campaigning for pole dance to be an Olympic sport, it’s just a matter of time before underwater basket weaving and tiddlywinks are up there with beach volleyball and and formation swimming or whatever that is called (and whatever that is all about…).

      It seems a contradiction in terms to have a university boxing club (or even chess + boxing that I have heard about). You WILL be brain damaged by it and it is about deliberately hurting the other person, so … why ???? !!!!

      How is can it possibly be of any interest or entertainment in a civilised society to pay to watch people beating each other up?

      Comment by Paul — March 4, 2010 @ 9:25 am

      • I had to laugh at the wrestling comment… I think the term is “Sports Entertainment”. Strangely that and boxing/martial arts ARE something that I would happily watch (without knowing any of the form of the competitors). Wrestling is a brilliant piece of entertainment – but I recognise the training that the athletes go through in order to make what they do look like it does.

        I had to chuckle at the University Boxing – one is putting sense in and the other is knocking it out!

        I think that these sports however have a more base, raw, gutteral feel to them – it’s recognising and allowing the animal out (although for boxing/martial arts there is a skill in not just giving in to raw anger, but controlling and supressing to allow the effort to be directed in attack and defence. In most cases)

        Comment by magpieschest — March 5, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

    • Analogy with “why are you drinking wine” – indeed, but the difference is that I would never say (other than in this general, neutral discussion environment) “why are you talking about sport?” any more than I would expect people to say to me “why are you not talking about sport?” – except effectively the latter has happened does happen (disbelief that I am not interested and walk away, or don’t know anything about Sheffield Wednesday and offside and reverse knock-on touch, underhand camshaft rules, and stuff (which of course is why Mornington Crescent is bloody funny…..)

      Comment by Paul — March 4, 2010 @ 9:55 am

    • (And, NB: I would NEVER pay anyone to do sport for me!!!) But I know what you mean!

      Comment by Paul — March 4, 2010 @ 9:57 am

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