Why We Watch Sports – (And It’s Not What You Think)

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Why We Watch Sports – (And It’s Not What You Think)

Believe it or not, we like to watch sports for a lot different reasons than you might think. In fact, the real things that make us love sports are in everyone, whether we like sports or not. What things can we learn about human nature by looking at our desires with competition? The answers may surprise you. Not only are the answers interesting in themselves, but they may just help you in other ways too.

There are some straightforward and clear explanations for why we want sports to be convincing. Sports teach us about loyalty, perseverance and honor. It gives us a way to connect, it’s cathartic, and we identify with bands and artists. We live vicariously through the players we watch. We have our favorite players, and there are teams that we grew up with because our brother or father used to like them, and now we still root for them today. Or we can follow a sport that we used to play when we were children.

But there are some deeper, more powerful and even more surprising reasons.

We are all great children

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 be or be accepted by our peers, we all still want to love, we still have emotional pain, and we still find ourselves giving instant gratification when we know better. And yes, some of us still lie and cheat in our normal day to day lives.

Of course we hide things well and ‘make it’ as if we don’t care about being, or love, or pain, or anything. Deep down inside we are a little bit older and wiser, but basically still a child. We may not say it out loud anymore, but we still think to ourselves sometimes, “That’s not fair!” We would rather play than work. Some may argue, depending on whether they are standing or sitting, that 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 game allows us to experience ups and downs and all kinds of emotions, just like in real life, but we are not actually there.

And unlike life, sports and games are generally fair! There are rules and a crystal clear process, or pattern that all participants and observers know about. There are no monkey wrens thrown into a sports game, like mid game changing rules for example. If the rules are broken, the offender will be punished. They don’t get frustratingly taken away and born in the real world.

In the end, there is an uncertain winner and loser. We get to pretend that the game we’re watching is life, where everything is fair, everyone plays by the rules and everything makes sense.

Children tend to think of things in much more black and white terms. Only through movement and development do we realize that all life is a series of grays. But we all still wish for a simple and easy life. When things are only seen in black or white, things really seem simple and easy, but life is not cut-throat.

This helps explain why politicians who break their platforms down into simple sound bites and uncomplicated terms often do better than politicians who talk about life as it really is, a complex , the interrelated world of nuances.

Watching sports gives us a temporary security and socially acceptable way to be more like our true selves, and our true selves are like a scared child. So the next time you meet a difficult person, remember that they are big kids, just like you and everyone else, and maybe that knowledge will help you deal with them more easily.

What do watching horror movies and sports have in common?

Ever wonder why so many people, including maybe you, enjoy watching horror movies so much? They provide a safe way for people to experience high levels of relaxation without actually being in any real danger. Sports can be the same way. Again, watching sports allows us to enter a perfect world where the expected outcome has no effect on our real lives (unless you have a nasty sports problem of course).

People love drama, suspense, and resolution, which are all elements found in sports. In fact, the closer the game, the more delay there is. If we stop with a player and he wins, we are vicariously happy for success. However, if the player’s team loses, we feel a little defeated as well. But our lives are not affected. And sports promoters often add only profit and delay.

Sports is a kind of story. There is a beginning and an end. There is a winner (your team) and an opponent (the other team). There is a scene and a setting, a stadium in the afternoon, and there is a plot, which is the action. Only after the games are over, and depending on if your team wins or not, make a decision to call it the end of history 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 want to think. We are not just close to nature; we are part of it! In terms of evolution, we are much closer in time to our unintelligible animal ancestors than we are to past species that are different from nature. Our behavior is guided much more by the ‘primitive brain’ than our recently developed neocortex, which is the seat of our intelligence. The primary brain, or lower brain function, deals with fight or flight behavior, hunger, fear, and sex, among other things.

A common, yet erroneous belief is that the human brain is the result of billions of years of evolution. The ancient or reptilian part of the brain is old, but the large neocortex of our brain, the thing that separates us from other animals, came about two million years ago, a mere drop in the evolutionary bucket. The neocortex does not have much time to develop, and therefore our primitive brain plays an important role in our lives.

Our basic flight or fight mentality is reflected in sports. It can be explained, at a deep and unconscious level, with a person who runs with the ball into the end zone and is chased by a pack 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 is passed by a competitor, but throws him into a higher gear and chases him.

Our first love for leadership is represented in sports. When our team wins, we experience such power over the opposing team and their fans.

Our predatory nature is triggered when we see a stalker following the running back of several football players, waiting for the perfect moment to attack his prey with the prey. Watching someone chase down a man with the ball in basketball, soccer, or baseball is one of the same ways.

Our tribal instincts are fulfilled through sports. We all want to belong; It is a basic human need because we are such social animals. We identify with a group just as our ancestors would identify with their tribe. This is especially true for modern Western society, where community has taken a back seat to freedom.

Our primary combative nature is satisfied through sports. It seems that there is an innate desire for war, even in so-called ‘modern’ people. In fact, look at today’s world and how today’s wars are going, and you will see that real peace is a long way from us. Interestingly, that last statement is true for almost any time in history, regardless of when you read this. Again, this goes back to the fact that we are governed more by our ‘primitive’, survival-oriented, fight or flight brain than the ‘modern’ brain of intelligence and understanding.

Every sport is like a mini-war between tribes, with an end and a declared victory. But there is one important difference; unlike war, no one dies in sports.

One of the reasons that going to a game is more fun than watching it on TV is that there is a kind of energy that is created when a lot of people come together and root for a cause. You can even compare it to mob thinking. We need look no further than our own stadiums where pandemonium erupts against a call or in celebration of victory. Sports appeal to the game and instincts of people.

And since modern lives don’t involve any real physical danger and all our basic needs are taken care of immediately, we have a void that needs to be filled somehow, our primitive brain expects it. Sports fit the bill. It gives us an illusion of reality where there are no consequences. It gives us the illusion of war, war, victory and defeat, without consequences. And it gives us the illusion of being a child again, even if it’s all temporary.

You may not like exercise at all, but we are all quite a child inside. We all hope for some level of play in our lives. And we are all constantly influenced by our first brain. Watching sports is the best way for people to deal with impossible facts.

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