Games are thought to be helpful in reducing stress and taking one’s mind off mundane tasks and daily routines. Some games have grown to be recognized as official sports with strict rules, governing institutions, and international events. Out of all sports, football, soccer, and basketball have grown to be the most popular in the United States due to their simplicity and the fact that not only professional sportsmen and sportswomen can partake – ordinary people can also take pleasure in playing.
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The United States has always been a powerhouse in the world of sports. Even before I have learned proper names and game rules and gotten to experience the thrill of the play first-hand, I saw how sports-oriented the US culture is. People around me have always taken an avid interest in the three sports discussed in this paper – football, soccer, and basketball. Surely, sometimes their passion would take extreme forms – we all know reckless soccer fans making headlines every once in a while. However, for the most part, what has been ingrained into me since childhood is the bonding potential of playing of watching sports and the prioritization of the healthy and active lifestyle that they promoted.
One of the sports that I became aware of quite early on was football. Personally, I have never had close experience with it as it appeared to be quite violent and not to my taste. Yet, it was interesting to do some research and find out about its origins. One of the insights I had during the literature review was that probably one of the reasons why Americans are so attached to this type of sports is due to patriotism. Back in the 19th century, American students tried to come up with their own game that would be a successor of the British sports of rugby and soccer (Gems et al. 120). I take it that has created a game of their own that then became popular across the board has given the nation another reason to take pride in itself.
Interestingly enough, the early version of the game was even more violent than it is today – something that I did not expect. The issues that plagued 19th-century American football included bendable rules, a large number of players, and high injury rates. Still, the game was popular enough for many north-eastern colleges of the era to adopt it. Eventually, in 1920, the National Football League (NFL) was founded to regulate player transfers. Strangely enough, health concerns were taken into account no earlier than in the 1930s (Gems et al. 140). Before that, players did not even wear helmets to protect themselves from injuries. Over time, the game had grown to be more standardized so that competitions could be held at higher levels and all participants complied with the same set of rules.
In general, American football players must follow rules such as:
- There are two teams consisting of 11 players each, that compete during four 15-minute quarters;
- The aim of the game is to advance the ball into the oppositions’ “end zone”;
- The latter can be accomplished by either running with the ball until attacked or bypassing the ball to a teammate;
- The ultimate aim is to score as many points as possible – through touchdowns (6 points) and field goals (3 points).
Soccer ranks second on the list of the most popular games in the United States. For me, however, it has no rivals as the simplicity of the concept and the thrill it delivers make it fun for people of all genders, ages, and paths of life. Many memorable moments of my life have something to do with soccer. At first, it was a family activity as my father, my cousins, and I would often play in the park. Later on, as I started middle school, soccer was something that helped students make friendships, learn to play fair, and develop good sportsmanship. I think that as simple as this game is, it still taught me many life lessons that would have otherwise taken a lot of philosophizing to conceptualize. I learned to be honest and humble and not cheat even when the odds were against me. Besides, I had to face healthy rivalry and refine my skills to stay at the top of my performance.
It came as no surprise to me that soccer was one of the oldest games known to humankind. The first mentions of a team game involving a ball are dated as early as over 3,000 years ago (Cox 81). Ancient China, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Rome also had their own variations of the game. Actually, it was the Roman culture that brought soccer to the British island (Cox 84). By the 12th century, England had developed their own version of the game that involved not only kicks but also hand punches (Cox 87). Overall, it took soccer centuries to take its modern form. There were no recognized rules or standards regarding the size of the ball, the number of players, or match duration as well as there was no clear distinction between soccer and rugby.
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I think what made soccer so great and popular is its accessibility regardless of social status. Back in 19th century England, the working classes were the players and the fanbase, not the elites. To my understanding, only something that was created by the people can truly stick with the people while elitist trends come and go. The best evidence is how many people attended soccer matches back then despite the lack of modern marketing tools. It is not surprising that holding matches were soon recognized as potentially beneficial, and they were monetized. In 1888, the soccer league was established, and ten years later, soccer became one of the official Olympic sports (Cox 110).
Today, soccer players need to comply with the following rules:
- The aim of soccer is to score more goals than the opponent in under 90 minutes;
- The match is split into two halves, 45 minutes each;
- Each team has 11 players, one of which is a goalkeeper and the rest are outfield;
- To score, the ball must go into the opponent’s goal and cross the line.
Basketball is the third most beloved sport in the United States. Interestingly enough, akin to soccer, this type of sports originated in a gymnasium of Springfield college, Massachusetts (Cox 201). A group of young men was restlessly roaming the building. They were assigned to mandatory indoor physical education classes; however, since the football season was over, they did not have much to do. The gymnasium offered them a range of activities to pick from such as marching, calisthenics, and apparatus work. Yet, they were seen as underwhelming substitutes for the thrill that football and lacrosse had to offer. The school board felt that students’ idleness was a threat to the system and came up with the idea of playing with the ball and two baskets.
Basketball was an instant success not only at the Springfield gymnasium but also statewide. In 14 years, in 1905, the game was officially recognized as an official winter sports activity by high schools and universities (Cox 250). Over the years, the rules have been somewhat tinkered, but the essence of the game remained the same. As of now, the following applies to the sport in question:
- The object of basketball is to throw a ball through a hoop to score points;
- The game is played on a rectangular court, and the number of points that one scores depends on the section of the court from which the ball is thrown;
- Each team has 12 players with only five partaking at any time;
- Their positions are Point Guard, Defensive Guard, Center, Offensive Forward, and Defensive Forward. Regardless of their positions, players are allowed to move around as they see fit;
- The game is split up into four quarters, twelve-minute each;
- Winning the game of basketball means scoring more points than the opponents.
The key to the popularity of any sport lies in its simplicity and accessibility by people of varying skill, age, and social status. Nowadays, some of the most popular games recognized internationally include football, soccer, and basketball. Out of all these sports, soccer is the one that I have had the most experience with while being more or less aware of football and basketball. Yet, it was compelling to research all the types of sports discussed in this paper and track their history back to the very beginning. My findings confirm my initial guess: these sports are so popular due to the fact that they were created for the people by the people. For decades, they remained an activity popular with students and the working class before making it big and becoming legalized. As of now, football, soccer, and basketball have professional and amateur teams and are fun to both play and watch.
Cox, Richard, editor. British Sport – A Bibliography to 2000: Volume 2: Local Histories. Routledge, 2014.
Gems, Gerald, et al (2nd ed.). Sports in American History, 2E: From Colonization to Globalization. Human Kinetics, 2017.