Sports as Social Studies

Sports are an important part of just about every society, every country, every part of our planet. In one way or another, everyone is involved in sports or some sort, whether they're playing or watching or just know someone who does either.

Sports come in many sizes. Golf is an individual sport. Even though golfers play on the same course, they are really competing against one another only with their scores. Unlike tennis, in which one player must beat the other to finish a match, golf features each player against every other player, with the one who takes the fewest strokes to sink the ball into 18 holes declared the winner.

Baseball, basketball, and soccer are team sports. Teams of five, seven, and nine square off against each other, with team members helping each other to win as a team.

Sports are played for fun or for money (or sometimes both). Just about every sport has both professionals (those who compete for money) and amateurs (those who compete not for money). Many amateurs who are really good at their sport become professionals.

Sports bring people together and also set people apart. They bring together in that a team (usually professional but sometimes college or amateur) can inspire many fans to cheer for that team. And each team has its own set of fans. So, when two teams compete against each other or two individual athletes go at each other, the fan base is divided in two. Such classic rivalries as Yankees-Red Sox in baseball and Lakers-Celtics in basketball can last for years and years and years, with fan traditions being passed on from generation to generation.

Sports feature every part of social studies in one way or another:

* Geography: In order to compete against others in your sport, you as an athlete usually have to travel at least a little bit in order to make that competition happen. You are changing your geography when you do this, and your fans who follow you (either literally or figuratively) are also expanding their knowledge of geography. If you are a tennis fan, you learn what cities the Grand Slam tournaments are in (Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon, and New York). Also, people who live in wintry climates (like Scandinavia) usually do better in winter sports. For example, Norwegians and Swedens usually do very well at the Winter Olympics.

* Economics: Sports cost money, from the athletes, from the fans who watch them, and from the people who make those athletic contests possible. Many professional athletes make millions of dollars every year; others make only a few thousand. Amateur athletes don't get paid when they win, but somebody has to make places available to stage those amateur contests and the athletes have to spend money to travel to those contests.

* History: Every sport has a history of some sort. Passionate fans remember lots of their favorite sport's history. Baseball especially has a long history, full of amazing feats and a whole lot of numbers. Many people can remember the last time the Dallas Cowboys won the Super Bowl (1996) a lot better than they can when the Constitution came into being (1781).

* Cultures: Sports often reflect the culture of the countries in which they are played. Countries like Kenya, with their wide open spaces and their culture that emphasizes walking and running, produce excellent long-distance runners, moreso than any other country.

* Archaeology: We can even find sports in archaeology. An example of this is archaeological evidence of the ancient ball games that the Mayas played in which they tried to throw a ball through a ring. Sound familiar? We now call something just like it basketball.

In many ways, sports define a society. They show what people are interested in watching other people do and what they will pay to see. They show how people can make a living by being athletic and entertaining other people. They give people ways to test their athletic skill against other people. Most of all, they give people something to focus on and follow that is a sort of release from the weighty cares of everyday life. By:

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