Why don’t people create new sports?

Just came across this piece from Wired by Clive Thompson that asks why people don’t create new sports. Specifically, he writes about a game called Wiffle Hurling, invented by an MFA grad student at Rutgers in 2005. Take a look:

One of the sources of enjoyment of playing a new game/sport, according to Thompson, is that it allows the participant to explore the space of possible moves, to test what limits the rules place on the competitors. This is the same argument for what makes many video games enjoyable (and is one of the topics explored by Steven Johnson in Everything Bad is Good for You). While the “exploring the boundaries of the game” aspect of video games and new “sports” is an interesting topic, the reason people are drawn to the major sports is something completely different.

The reason that there are no new major team sports is that team sports provide a shared experience for people, and there are already enough sports to do that. People are drawn to the major team sports because other people are too. Kids watch or play a sport because their family does, or their friends do, or they can see it on TV. For most people, the dominant sports of a culture are enough (and they are popular enough that they generate the shared experience). Existing sports are just simple enough that many people can play them, yet are complex enough to allow for strategy, statistics, rules arguments, etc.

There’s nothing inherently better about any one established sport over another. Soccer is king in most of the world, yet has never become a major sport in America. Conversely, football is king in the US, but is a niche sport at best in the rest of the world. In some countries, rugby is the sport of choice. In others, cricket is. The dominant sport itself is inconsequential- I’m sure that the biggest football-loving, soccer-hating US fan would be the soccer hooligan had he grown up in Europe. Really, the sports we play are what they are because they simply reached the “tipping point” somewhere in history.

So really, the reason we don’t have new sports is because we don’t need them. Some people don’t want the same shared experience that the major sports provide. And that’s why they create kickball, roller derby, or Wiffle Hurling leagues. They still want some kind of shared experience, just on a smaller scale. I may be wrong, but I’d venture to say that if Wiffle Hurling really caught on, it wouldn’t be cool anymore.

(link via Kottke.org)


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