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What science can tell sportswriters about why we love sports

Us Vs Them

Human beings have always been motivated by being a part of a certain group, while automatically being at ‘war’ with the other group(s). 

This basic ‘us vs. them’ attitude is hard-wired in most of us.

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What science can tell sportswriters about why we love sports

What science can tell sportswriters about why we love sports

https://archives.cjr.org/full_court_press/science_sportswriting.php

archives.cjr.org

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Key Ideas

Sports Fans

Sports is a big deal across the world, with die-hard fans who are extremely emotional towards their home teams. It is hard to pinpoint the motivations of a sports fan, and why a win or a loss of a team matters so much.

Sportswriters have to be careful to navigate the complex emotional landscape, writing about sports in a way politics is written about: Avoiding verbal minefields.

Why We Love Sports

Sports psychologists have a list of why people love sports:

  • Sports carry self-esteem benefits.
  • Commercial reasons (money bets etc.).
  • Peer pressure of being part of their group.
  • Sports are exciting.
  • Sports is an aesthetically pleasing activity.
  • A venue for emotional expression.
  • Sports is an escape from real-world problems.
  • Sports provide a sense of connectedness and belonging.

Explaining Sports Appeal

  • Talent-Luck Theory: Sports appeals to a lot of people due to its ability to balance skill with randomness.
  • Mirror Neurons: Many fans are able to feel what the player is feeling, and experience the excitement first-hand in his mind, with no barrier between the self and the outside world.

Us Vs Them

Human beings have always been motivated by being a part of a certain group, while automatically being at ‘war’ with the other group(s). 

This basic ‘us vs. them’ attitude is hard-wired in most of us.

The Fans

Sports fans are like us only, having a common set of values, beliefs, and life experiences. 

Sports is like a thrilling emotional roller coaster ride for them, a movie to which they have surrendered themselves.

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Sports fans

Sports fans are sports fans because it’s entertaining.

  • The high drama. Because so many people are involved, it creates drama, which makes it a big hit.
  • It’s fun to watch greatness. People have a fascination with greatness. Sport is a place to watch the top .001% against each other while you who rank much lower can sit on a couch and judge them.
  • It taps into our creepy side. Part of people wants to sit in the ancient Roman Coliseum and watch people fight to the end, destroying their dreams in front of 20,000,00 people.
  • It’s aesthetically pleasing. This is a huge appeal of many of the Olympic sports.
Sports connect 
  • On a micro level, sports connects family and friends. Sports are a talking point that can add a level of closeness to friends or family that would otherwise not be there.
  • On a macro level, it gives the greater community another thing to bond over. Sports create an "us versus them" feeling, which allows people to be part of the collective "us."
  • Sports can give two people that find each other awkward, something to talk about.

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Sports in The Time Of Pandemics
Sports in The Time Of Pandemics

Due to the lockdown restrictions and sweeping curbs in outdoor activities, there are no new sporting events happening.

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'No Audience' TV Sports

The option of conducting major sporting events for TV, without any live audience is being considered, but the risk to the hundreds and thousands of sports players, who would have to ignore health guidelines and play for other’s entertainment simply cannot be ignored.

Even if there is no audience, and there is ample testing done on the players, the sporting events are still a huge gathering of players, staff, officials and media personnel.

Bubble Environment

Playing in a closed and virus-free ‘bubble’ environment is discussed, but experts find it complicated and far-fetched. There are logistical, security and hospitality issues to grapple with.

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Wisdom Of The Crowd

Collective intelligence or group thinking is an idea that by many minds working together, we can correct each other's errors in judgment and provide good results.

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Groupthink

The phenomenon of 'Groupthink' leads to ego clashes and reinforcement of existing biases. They somethings fail to reach any decision and may complicate matters further by incorporating all points of view. Design by Committee is something best avoided.

Brainstorming, on the other hand, involves creative, divergent thinking, which is different from the restrained, critical thinking that may be required to come to a decision.

Collective Intelligence

An extensive study in 'Groupthink' which included testing the social sensitivity, as well as the IQ of the individuals, showed that:

  • Equal participation was a key ingredient of better performance. Group dynamics can get worse if team members clash frequently.
  • If team members are pitted against each other for a common prize, like a promotion, then group work suffers.
  • If team members are not open to ideas from other members or are interrupting them, it can sabotage group performance.
  • Teams with a higher proportion of women have better collective intelligence.

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