I had long planned to write a paper categorizing all types of sports. However, it was while watching the 2000 Olympics on television that I made up my mind to finally write this thing.
What we call athletics originally began as training for warfare. During war, people have to engage in certain activities. In order to learn how to do them, and maintain their ability to do them during peacetime, they would have to practice them. These practice sessions for what you have to do during war became the first sports. All of the athletic activities in the Ancient World were somehow relevant to ancient warfare. In war, you had to outrun people. You had to swim across rivers. You had to throw things. Running, chariot racing, wrestling, boxing, javelin, and shot-put were all obvious simulations of war. It's not just in the ancient world that practicing for war became sport. In medieval Europe, the joust was an obvious simulation of combat, and continued as sport for centuries after it ceased to exist on the battlefield. The modern equestrian events in the Olympics were originally serious training for cavalry officers in the 19th Century. Cavalry horses had to effortlessly jump over fences, etc. In fact, until 1956, the Olympic equestrian events were only open to actual cavalry officers and their mounts. The modern pentathlon was designed to test the skills needed in Napoleonic warfare. Other Olympic events such as archery, fencing, and shooting are of obvious military origin. In a more subtle way, the strategy of team sports such as football can be viewed as analogous to the military strategy of controlling armies on the battlefield. Board games, such as chess, were also invented to test military strategy. Thus, in the ancient world, sports originated as practice for war. Sports, invented to practice a type of military skill, often continued after the skill was no longer used in the military. Chariot racing was popular in Ancient Rome long after chariots ceased to be used in war. Jousts were popular in Europe long after mounted armored knights were no longer used in war. Today, we have equestrian events in the Olympics although we no longer use cavalry in war. In Ancient Greece, people then engaged in sports in order to impress people with their ability. Also, a muscular body became viewed as attractive. Games were common at funerals. Then they were done at regularly scheduled times such as the ancient Olympics and the Isthmusian games.
In the ancient Olympics, the athletes were in the nude. For this reason, married women were not allowed to attend, because it would be tantamount to committing adultery with their eyes, and might encourage physical adultery. Unmarried girls were allowed to attend in hopes of finding a husband, or at least to give them an idea of what to shoot for. They also had a footrace for teenage girls, although they wore clothes. Also, the last event in the ancient Olympics was a race for men in which they ran while wearing full battle armor.
The Romans also had funeral games. The ancient games popular throughout Greece and Rome evolved into the Roman gladiatorial games. Politicians tried to gain popularity by staging the most elaborate games possible. These games were often fought to the death. Officially, the gladiators were slaves, the lowest rung in Roman society. However, they were highly admired as being the ultimate macho men. There was a fiction that women were just ga ga for these men. The sweat of gladiators was sold as an aphrodisiac. There were even a few upper class aristocrats who gave up their status and everything else to become gladiators.
What we think of as modern sport began in the late 19th Century. Part of the liberal politics at the time was a movement to give workers one or even two days off each week. This was the invention of the weekend. On Sunday, they might go to church, but what would they do on Saturday? Some people were afraid that if poor men had too much free time, they would just get drunk and beat their wives. Therefore, playing sports and watching sports were chosen as a good thing for people to be doing with their newly found free time. Civic groups, churches, schools, and labor unions arranged organized sports for low income people to play and watch. Colleges also played sports, although a tiny percentage of the population attended college. Later, it became so popular that it was realized that you could make money simply by charging admission, and professional sports became big business.
I will hereby list categories that all sports fall into. Let me define sport. I do not include board games such as checkers, chess, etc. I do not include card games, or games played with dice or dominoes. I do not include what can be called parlor games, such as hide-n-seek, or charades. These are the only two examples that are famous today, but there are dozens of such games that were immensely popular in the 19th and early 20th Century. Even though these games were sometimes very physical, the winner is not determined by the physical abilities of someone's body. Also, my definition of sports does not include activities for which there is no winner, such as mountain climbing, scuba diving, or bungee jumping. According to my definition, skiing all by itself is not a sport although a race between skiers would be a sport. Also, my definition does not include means of artistic expression, such as painting or sculpting, even if they are physically done with the body, such as dancing. I should point out that many Olympic events have an obvious artistic aspect, such as gymnastics, synchronized swimming, or figure skating. These are not included in my list of categories of sports, but since they are so famous, I can hardly write a paper on sports without mentioning them. Therefore, after I list the types of the sports, I will list the types of entertainment, of which sports are a subset, so these famous Olympic events can be included in this paper. However, I leave them aside for now. Lastly, the following categories include things that are not sports but I list them anyway because they fall into these categories.
This category is the one most obviously derived from warfare. This is when you have a fight between two individuals. The sport is a form of mock combat. All Oriental martial arts fall into this category. For more information on martial arts, read my paper on the subject which I have on my homepage. Also, Spanish bullfighting falls into this category even though one of the participants isn't human.
A race is a contest that determines who can go a pre-selected distance in the shortest length of time. This is probably the most popular type of sport. There's a very large number of types of races. They vary according to the means of locomotion. Examples include running, swimming, cycling, rowing, sailing, skating, and skiing. There are variations within these. For instance, in swimming, they have different races for different types of strokes. In swimming, there are four types of strokes commonly used: freestyle, breaststroke, butterfly stroke, and backstroke. There are also different races for different amounts of distance traveled. In the Olympics, the distances that the runners race include the 100 m, 200 m, 400 m, 800 m, 1500 m, 10,000 m, and the marathon which is 26 miles. They also have variations such as hurdles and steeplechase, where you have to jump over things, and speed walk racing, where you can't lift both feet off the ground. They also have relays, where different sections of the race are raced by different people. In the ancient world, they had chariot racing. Today, you have horse racing and auto racing. However, that doesn't really convey the amount of variation among the types of races that exist. Virtually any object capable of motion has been raced at one time or another. I've heard of ostrich races with people riding ostriches. Some small town has exciting snail races. The children's games of musical chairs and duck duck goose are races since the players race to get to the available seat first.
One of the reasons why the Titanic sank is because the captain was trying to break the world's record for shortest time to cross the Atlantic. That could be viewed as a race even though the people vying for the title weren't crossing at the same time.
3. Get the ball in the goal
This is by far the most popular type of team sport, and the second most popular category of sport. In this genre, there is a field with a goal at both ends. Each team tries to get the ball in their goal, and prevent the other team from doing the same. When you get the ball in the goal, you get a certain number of points. After a pre-selected length of time has past, the team with the most points wins.
This is an immensely popular type of sport all over the world. The Maya and Aztec had ball games of this type. Buzkashi is an unusual sport played in Afganistan, where the "ball" is a slaughtered goat. There's an enormous amount of variations among the different sports that fall into this category. They vary according to how you can touch the ball. Sometimes, you can use only hands (basketball, handball). Sometimes only feet (soccer). Sometimes both (football, rugby). Sometimes you hit the ball with a stick (field hockey, lacrosse). Sometimes, you're on horseback (polo). Some versions are played on ice (ice hockey) and other versions are played in the water (waterpolo). The game of soccer, which most people call "football" is the most popular sport on Earth. Basketball combines categories 3 and 6, to be discussed later. Some games have a goalie, whose purpose is to protect the goal.
4. Hitting the ball and running around
This is really an oddball category because there are really only two games that fall into this category, and variations of them, but they are among the most popular games in the world. In this category, you propel a ball, and then see if you can run around an area while the other team tries to get the ball. The two main sports in this category are baseball and cricket. A version of baseball played on a smaller field, and where the ball is thrown underhand, is called softball. Sometimes in Elementary schools, they play a game called kickball, similar to baseball, where a ball is kicked around instead of thrown and hit with a stick. Today, cricket remains immensely popular throughout the former British Empire.
5. Keep the ball in the air
This is a broad category of games in which a ball is bounced back and forth between two people or teams who are trying to keep the ball in the air, or prevent it from going out of bounds in some way. If someone drops the ball, or somehow fails to return it to the other person or team, the other side gets a number of points. After a certain length of time has past, whoever has the most points wins. It could be played between either individuals or teams. The simplest version of this is simply the game of catch, often played between very young children. A famous version of catch is the water balloon toss. Some people play catch with a medicine ball, which is a very heavy ball. You could play catch with a Frisbee, or really anything you can throw back and forth. Two Elementary school games which fall into this category are four square and tetherball. A subcategory of this category is racket games, where you use a racket to hit the ball back and forth. The most famous game in this category is tennis.
Juggling actually falls into this category even though juggling is not a sport, unless you have a juggling contest. If you are juggling several balls, your two hands could be viewed as the two players, and you're trying to keep the ball in the air.
6. Target practice
In these sports, you are trying to get an object as close to a target as possible. This category, like category #1, is obviously related to warfare. The most obvious examples are archery and the shooting events. Basketball contains an element of this category. If you are not playing the official game of basketball but are instead "shooting hoops" in your driveway, then that is 100% in this category. The game of basketball is a combination of #3 and #6. Lots of games at carnivals fall into this category, such as trying to throw bean bags into a thing with holes in it.
The thing you are propelling is the projectile. The thing you are trying to hit is the target. In bowling, the target is the pins. In pool, marbles, and bocce, the targets are other balls. In these cases, the same objects can serve the roles of both projectile and target. A target might then go hit a secondary target. In dodge ball, the targets are other players.
Archery was immensely popular in medieval England, which is what inspired the character of Robin Hood. Kydo is the Japanese martial art of archery.
A subcategory of this category is when the target could be viewed as an infinitely distant object. You are trying to get your object as close as possible to this infinitely distant object. In other words, you're trying to propel your object as far as possible. Examples include the shot-put and discus from the ancient world, and the bar and hammer throw from medieval Europe. However, some strange things have been thrown. In the Scotland highland games, they throw the kaber, which resembles a telephone pole. Some Scotsmen were even fond of throwing midgets. This subcategory actually includes the frog jumping contest in Calavaras County because you're trying to make your frog go as great a distance as possible. Also, some Elementary schools would release helium balloons into the sky, or bottles into the ocean, to see whose would travel the farthest distance.
A subsubcategory of this subcategory is when the object you are trying to propel the greatest distance is your own body. This includes the long jump and broad jump, where you're trying to fling yourself a horizontal distance, and the high jump and pole vault, where you're trying to fling yourself a vertical distance. It also includes the ski jump, which also includes a technical element.
I place this in a category all by itself because it doesn't fall into any of the above categories. You are measuring someone's ability to push their body to its limit. You could have other examples of this such as who could throw a baseball the fastest, who could do the most push-ups, who could stand on one foot the longest, or who could hold their breath the longest. I've never heard of any such contest. I'm just making them up. In county fairs in the Midwest, they sometimes have pie-eating contests. It would certainly be an odd category if it was "weightlifting and/or pie eating". Therefore, I'll just put weightlifting in its own category.
Here are the events of the Ancient Greek Olympics, and what categories they fall into. As you see, all their sports fell into categories 1, 2, or 6.
The 2000 Olympics had over 300 events. There were 928 medals, 301 of them gold. The vast majority of the events fell into the above 7 categories, but many famous ones did not. One of the most popular events in the Summer Olympics is gymnastics. One of the most popular events in the Winter Olympics is figure skating. They don't fall into any of the above categories because I don't consider them sports. I consider gymnastics to be more akin to circus performing. I consider figure skating to be more akin to ballroom dancing. I was originally going to write a separate paper describing all types of entertainment. However, I decided I might as well put it here so these famous Olympic events could be mentioned in a paper on sports, although I don't consider them sports.
Here I describe all the reasons why someone would choose to watch or otherwise enjoy any form of entertainment. This is from the point of view of the audience, or the end user, and not the participants, or those who created it.
People are interested in various things, and usually enjoy learning about things they're interested in. This is like educational shows on TLC, the Discovery Channel, PBS, or nonfiction books. It could be some intellectual subject but it could also be some mindless subject. An MTV biography of some rock star would fall into this category. It's purest form would be a textbook or documentary but you learn something from watching or reading almost anything.
Most entertainment is in some way a work of fiction. There is a plot. You enjoy the story, and want to find out what happens to the characters. This category includes most TV shows, movies, novels, short stories, and drama. It includes folktales and legends that existed as an oral tradition before being written down. It includes epic poetry. Most songs contain a story of some sort.
These are things that make you laugh. Something is funny if there is some sort of contradiction or unlikely juxtaposition. For more information, read my paper titled "Humor" on my homepage. In its purest form, you have stand-up comedy. However, humor is often incorporated into fiction. Often public speakers try to incorporate small amounts of humor into otherwise boring subjects.
These are things that are supposed to be beautiful. You look at it because it gives you pleasure to see something you consider beautiful. The original purpose of art was simply to record what things looked like as accurately as possible. However, with the invention of photography, the traditional media of painting and sculpting became obsolete for this purpose. For more information, read my paper titled "Art" which I have on my homepage. Today, people think of art as giving some aesthetic pleasure to the viewer. In its purest form, this category includes painting, sculpture, poetry, classical music, and modern dance. However, it is also used in architecture, design, novels, etc. Most people, when they make or do something, don't want it to be ugly.
5. Who will win?
This is when something has winners and losers, and you want to find out who will win. People participate because they want to be the winner. People watch because they want to find out who is going to win. Often the people watching are rooting for someone. This category includes all sports. It also includes beauty pageants, children's spelling bees, and political elections. It includes all game shows on TV. It includes the TV show "Survivor". It includes any sort of contest. Often works of fiction include an element of this in the sense that you want to find out which character will come out ahead.
6. Impressed by their ability
This is when someone's doing something very unusual or difficult, and the audience is simply in awe of their ability to do it. In its purest form, you have circus performers doing stupendous feats on the trapeze or high wire. In vaudeville in the early 20th Century, you had some unusual acts that fell into this category. You had contortionists who could twist themselves into inhuman knots. You had living statues that could remain motionless for ridiculous lengths of time. On the Ed Sullivan show, you had novelty acts such being able to spin a bunch of plates on sticks. You see elements of this in many other things. Part of the reason watched Fred Astaire was the beauty of his dancing (not his face), and part of the reason was because they were greatly impressed by his ability to do it.
7. How did he do it?
This is the category of magicians. The pleasure you get from watching stage magic is wondering how they did it. You enjoy the desire of wanting to know how it was done. Ironically, if you did know how it was done, you would not have the feeling of wanting to know how it was done so you would not enjoy it.
8. Maybe he'll die
This is if you're watching a live performance of someone doing something extremely dangerous, and you don't know if you'll be treated to a death or not. This is in fact part of the appeal of watching the performance, evidenced by the fact that they often tried to ham it up to make it seem more dangerous than it is. In its purest form, you have dare devils who do things like jumping over objects on a motorcycle. It includes circus performing where they're doing high wire or trapeze without a net. It includes escape artists. Obviously, there's overlap between magicians and escape artists. The official difference is that magicians aren't actually doing whatever it is, and escape artists are. Yet many magic acts are very dangerous, and escape artists also ham it up. This category is about the nail biting edge of your seat feeling promoted by circuses.
This is a sick category that is thankfully less popular today. In 19th Century circuses, they had a cottage industry of side show freaks. They had people with the most unspeakable birth defects. People would pay money to see the most foul result of God's demented sense of humor. The reason is because some people, thankfully not many people, enjoy being grossed out. There were also people who engaged in horrible self-mutilation. I once saw on TV, a man who squeezed his body through a tennis racket. Fortunately, this is not common today. In some sense, it's the exact opposite of category 4. Here profound ugliness is appealing in some way. This category does continue to exist in the milder form of horror movies. Some people enjoy being grossed out by horror movies. Of course, the gross stuff in horror movies is fake. The gross stuff in sideshows was sadly quite real.
10. Sexual arousal
This is anything that people watch or read in order to be sexually aroused. In its purest form, you have pornography. Hard-core pornography overlaps category 9. Glamour nudes like Playboy overlap category 4. In a milder form, it's incorporated into many works of fiction and art. All Marilyn Monroe movies fall into this category. It's not like they hired her for her brilliant acting ability.
Many things, of course, are combinations of these 10 categories. Works of fiction that contain humor are combinations of 2 and 3. There are many things that are both a work of fiction and artistic (2 and 4), or a work of fiction and educational (1 and 2). A movie could have a plot, be artistic, and educational (1, 2, and 4). A circus act on the trapeze or high wire is both impressive and dangerous (6 and 8). A magician doing a dangerous trick is a combination of 7 and 8. A beauty contest is probably a combination of 4, 5, and 10. A contest between magicians is 5 and 7.
Now to address the Olympic events that I don't consider sports. Real sports, like all those I listed earlier, are almost entirely category 5, who will win, with perhaps a touch of 6, impressed by their ability. The quasi-sports that also Olympic events, differ from those in that a large part of the reason for watching them is because of other categories. That's the difference between them and true sports. I consider gymnastics to be basically the same as circus performing, except that it's a contest, and it's not as dangerous, so I'd list it as 5 and 6. Women's floor exercise is also artistic. I'd list that as 4, 5, and 6. Rhythmic gymnastics is even more artistic. Rhythmic gymnastics also includes contortion. Contortionists were one of the miscellaneous acts of circuses and vaudeville. This weird ability is virtually nonexistent today, except for rhythmic gymnastics in the Olympics. Circus and vaudeville contortionists were partly in category 9, gross out, which is not part of the Olympic event. A circus or vaudeville contortionist would be 6 and 9. Rhythmic gymnastics would be 4, 5, and 6.
Many Olympic events have two scores, or the scores measure two things, the technical and artistic. The technical score is a measure of category 6, measuring their ability to do a difficult thing. The artistic score is a measure of category 4, measuring how beautiful they are. Many Olympic events measure these two things. Examples include gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampoline, diving, synchronized diving, synchronized swimming, the dressage in equestrian, figure skating, and the ariels in skiing. Ski jumping also includes a technical score. Non-Olympic events that are also examples of this include competitive cheerleading and competitive ballroom dancing.
One thing you notice is that many of these events involve a person flying through the air, and while flying, they flip their body around in different ways. The flipping around is difficult, and thus impressive (category 6) and can also be considered beautiful (category 4). There is actually quite a similarity in the way you flip around even though the events are otherwise different. In artistic gymnastics, you fly through the air when you hit the springboard on the vault. You do it when dismounting various apparatus, and are falling to the floor. You can also do it while jumping in the air during the floor exercise, and to a lesser extent on the beam. You jump very high on the trampoline. You fall through the air while diving. You can jump in the air in figure skating. You also flip around in the air during the bizarre sport of ariels in skiing. While in midair, you can rotate your body about the vertical axis (twists, axels), the horizontal axis coplanar to your chest (flips, somersaults), or horizontal axis orthogonal to your chest (cartwheel). Thus you have similar moves in artistic gymnastics, trampoline, diving, figure skating, and ariels. Cartwheels are almost never used. The only example of cartwheels in the Olympics is as one of the ways that synchronized swimmers first enter the pool. In the X Games, people on bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, snowboards, or wakeboards go off ramps or the side of a halfpipe, and flip around in the air. In addition to the flip around in the air quasi-sports, you have very difficult moves in rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and dressage in equestrian.