Why Do Sports Matter to So Many of Us?
According to a recent report, Americans spent $100 billion on sports within a 12-month period. Just let that settle for a moment. That’s more than the gross national income for many countries around the world. $6 billion of this amount was spent on sporting events, $33 billion on athletic equipment, and $19 billion went on gym memberships. It’s that first figure which is most impressive, though; Americans invested $6 billion into watching their favorite teams and players do what they do best.
Without doubt, spectator sports – football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey, and more – play a critical role in modern society. They occupy the thoughts of millions of children and adults in the United States, and millions more across the globe. Those who have no interest in sports whatsoever might feel confused by this ongoing passion people bring to watching teams play, not to mention why one of the world’s biggest nations would spend so much money on it. So, why DO sports matter to so many of us?
The Sheer Excitement of the Competition
Watching your favorite sport, be it football, baseball, ice hockey, basketball, can be an emotional experience. Perhaps your team has been leading the game up until the final quarter, and it all starts to go wrong. If you’re in the stadium, you’ll probably be up on your feet, screaming and shouting, pumping your fist in the air, cheering your team on to keep the upper hand. If you’re watching at home, you’ll likely have a strong, though not quite so energetic, reaction.
Should your team win, you’ll no doubt feel elation, a real rush of euphoria. If they lose? Well, the most dedicated and engaged fans will likely shed a tear or two; you may even be unable to talk about the outcome for a matter of hours, or even days. When you support a team for years or even decades, you feel a sense of personal investment. It’s not just that you enjoy watching them play: it’s that you feel the team’s successes and failures are your own.
Science explains this as the human body’s response to watching others take part in activities. Mirror neurons are triggered in such conditions, and remain fired for the same period of time that the event itself runs. This apparently gives us the impetus to not only identify the direction and overall goal of a sporting event, but even to engage with the emotions arising from the flow of action. To put it simply, watching someone perform a strenuous activity will cause our mirror neurons to fire up our own heartbeat and respiration. One study revealed that monkeys watching another grab an object in a specific way caused reflective brain-activity, demonstrating a subtle empathic response.
What does this have to do with sports? Well, even if you’ve never taken part in a certain type of sport before, watching it will still be as engaging, as your mirror neurons will hook you by connecting to similar situations you have been in. For example, if you’ve never picked up a baseball before, your brain will help you connect to watching others play by relating it to times you, say, threw crumpled paper into a bin.
There’s also the fact that our brains release dopamine when your team wins, while cortisol is produced after a loss: when your team or favorite player is having a good game, you can feel a real sense of personal achievement and superiority, even if you’ve done little more than watch the event unfold from your armchair. This is motivation enough to keep you coming back again and again.
Identity and Connectivity
Another reason so many of us love sports is the sense of identity and belonging. When you’re one fan among hundreds of others at an event, standing with dozens more at a bar, or even just watching at home, you’re sharing an experience. You feel part of a group, all focused on one specific goal. Together, sports fans are all rooting for one team or player. The atmosphere can be electric enough to keep even the most casual follower hooked for the event’s duration, and help them bond with those around them.
Research has revealed that some of the most committed sports fans enjoy a higher sense of self-esteem, while feeling less lonely or alienated. Wearing team colors, a shirt, a baseball cap, or other identifiers can be a simple way to connect with others; you might walk into a bar and find yourself sharing a high-five with strangers, or find it easier to strike up a conversation with a fellow fan in an elevator.
It’s a small thing, but this shared bond can be immensely powerful. Sports fans can find their entire day to day lives transformed by their team’s successes and failures, on a group level. Fans will be able to console each other and lift their communal mood by looking to the future, by trying to come up with ways in which their favorite team can reverse their fortunes. Likewise, when groups of fans come together to celebrate their team’s victory, there is often a greater sense of well-being. This can be a powerful distraction from other areas of everyday life, specifically more difficult ones. In this sense, sports are a form of entertainment, fulfilling the same role as a great movie or book, triggering certain responses and engaging you enough to disconnect from other situations.
When you’re watching your team play ball, the minute-by-minute thrills and tensions may be strong enough to take your mind off your day at work, your responsibilities, and more.
The team-dynamic works in a similar way, too. Sitting or standing as part of a group, be it in a bar or a stadium, strips away some of your personal identity: you stop being John or Jane Doe from Delaware, and become just another Eagles fan. For the duration of the game, you can lose yourself in the moment and cheer your team on to victory; it’s a welcome distraction, and fulfills an often-essential human desire to belong.
A Link to the Past
Nostalgia and tradition is yet another motivating factor that keeps sports fans hooked. Let’s say your mother, father, uncle, aunt, brother, or cousin used to take you to watch sports when you were younger. It’s likely that you will continue to spectate on a regular basis to continue the tradition and recapture those past joys, even if you go through periods of watching fewer events or lose that enduring passion.
Nostalgia is incredibly powerful, and a sense of longing and/or affection for those happy times can sustain a lifelong fandom. During your most challenging periods, you may find yourself immersing yourself in your favorite sport more and more, drawing hope and inspiration. The same can be true if you used to play the sport yourself, or developed friendships based around it. For example, you and your circle of buddies might only see each other to watch Monday night football or to hit a few rounds of baseball on the weekend. The sport itself becomes a mutual connection, the glue that keeps you together over years and years.
At Dynasty Sports and Framing, we’re dedicated to helping sports fans like yourself get the best memorabilia and custom frames based around your favorite teams or players. You can surround those precious pictures from the most iconic games in high-quality frames bearing the team colors and logos; you can even find durable cases in which to display trophies, signed pictures, and more. And, of course, we host player signings too, giving you the chance to meet your heroes.
Whatever the reasons behind your love of sports, whether you subscribe to the evolutionary explanations or prefer to focus on the sheer thrill you feel when cheering your team, you can trust Dynasty Sports and Framing to help you get the most out of your passion!