The difference between a game and a sport

Why are some people active and others not? And if it’s true that young people play less outdoors, what’s stopping them? I talked to half a dozen ten year old children after school over a game of badminton & archery.

What became clear very quickly was that the group of children I was talking to were not interested in ‘sport’, but were very happy to play games:

Do you play outside much?

Matt: No…Because all the other kids are out there and once one of the other kids bullied me.

Ali: There’s no one outside. All of them are toddlers in our neighbourhood. I only play with my sisters but they don’t come outside… They [the toddlers] barely come out anyway, and if they do they come with their parents.

Sarah: I ride my cycle. I play tig, I build up, and yeh, that’s it.

Molly: I play less sport now…Probably because when you’re little is more about the fun but now it’s more about competing and things like that…It’s more just competing and that’s what everyone thinks about. Sports you need to put more work in to it, but games are just straight up fun.

Matt: Yes, there’s a big difference [between sport and games].  In games there’s no arguments, but in sports there’s tonnes and tonnes.

Paganel Primary After-school Archive Club explore games and sports.

A conversation about playing outside led quickly to sports and games, and the differences between them. Possibly chatting while playing badminton and archery led us to talk about games and sports. Also it was Paganel Primary School Archive After-school club I was chatting with, and typically ‘outside’ at school means P.E.

‘Adults’ had different things to say about games and sports:

  • Sport is what one’s servants watch on television; game is what one shoots, Yanworth, Glos.
  • The use of the word ‘sport’ has changed historically, but these days it is often felt that the need for physical prowess differentiates a sport from a game. Chess, being relatively cerebral in comparison with rugby, would be regarded as a game; fishing, being relatively passive, might be better classed as a recreation. Games and sports are both rule-bound competitive activities in which efficient means of victory are sacrificed for less efficient means (e.g., not being able to move a knight diagonally in chess, not running in a walking race, not being offside in football). But if physical prowess, rule-boundedness and competition are the key characteristics of a sport, why isn’t ballroom dancing regarded as one? And if the Olympics are games, what are all those sports doing in them? Such problems result in others arguing that because ‘sport’ seems to cover everything from ice-dance to boxing, it cannot be reduced to any essential essences which make it a definable category or group of activities. So the answer is probably that sports and games are what you and various institutions (usually the media) want them to be.John Bale, School of Human Development, Keele University, Staffs.
  • You can smoke while playing a game but not while playing a sport.Nicholas Pritchard, Southampton.
  • I understand that ‘sport’ was originally what we now call blood sports namely hunting and the like. It was a demanding physical activity carried out for a thrill. Only when someting becomes a contest is it a ‘game’ e.g. seeing who can shoot the greatest number of ‘game’ birds. Athletic activities were introduced as ‘field sports’ as a cheaper and safer way of encouraging physical prowess. Later field games such as football and cricket were added to the repertoire in the public schools.Martin Pitt, Sheffield
  • I reckon that the key difference between a sport and a game is that a sport requires physical exertion which is not compulsory in a game. Also, a game is essentialy competitive while a sport need not be. Individual series of a sport can be described as a game, e.g. “a game of football”.Remi Adeseun, Lagos, Nigeria
  • It seems to me that the difference between a game and a sport is the need for continuous movement. A chess game consists of singular movements not necessitating an immediate follow up…The debate I always find myself in is whether golf is a game or a sport. Cocky, Tokyo, Japan
  • A game becomes a sport when you have to pay to watch it.Adam McCully, Edinburgh, Scotland

Sports and games, for adults and children, are linked to class and identity, health and fitness, fun and rigour. While not everyone agreed on differences between sport and games, sport seemed more linked to personal achievement while games had more to do with playing together.

I was interested to find out more about children playing with adults, and why it wasn’t happening outdoors:

Why don’t children play outdoors?

Sarah: Computers and technology.  We were talking about technology in class today.  People are really addicted to games on the internet, like fortnite. 

Ali: People don’t go outside as much and they don’t play games as much…It’s a bad thing because people are not getting the exercise they should.

Molly: It’s not bad, but it’s not good at the same time.  It’s good if you don’t…it’s alright if spend time with you family and you can play.

Sarah:It’s actually bad because of your eyesight and it’s taking your time.  It’s taking you away form you family and stuff.  You only pay attention to your game and not your family.

Molly: It’s good because if you’re at home and you’ve got nothing to do, but when it’s time for physical activities and your family then that’s not nice.

Sarah: They’re addicted, they can’t stop playing.

When do you play with adults?

Sarah: No, they’re too old, they don’t like [it], they won’t really enjoy it.  When you get old you don’t enjoy stuff anymore.

Molly: That’s not always true because my Grandad still plays with me.  He plays badminton with me.

Sarah: .  When people get older they are not interested in computer games.  Our grandparents play games from their time, when they were young, they used to play.  They like to play those games more than technology games, so I think they will be more interested to play with us because they used to play them games when they were little.

Ali: My Dad’s really busy, for the whole holiday he goes to work.

Molly: My Grandad does play games with me and my mother too.

Sarah: When my father is free we enjoy playing snap and cards, it’s quite fun to play together.  I think we should play board games more so that we can spend time with the family rather than on the internet when you’re alone.

Molly: No, you’re not alone on the internet, you can play with your friends.

Sarah: You can play with your friends but it’s not that much fun.  With a board game you can actually physically talk to your mother and father.

I asked the group about school too – all agreed there was more ‘sport’ at school and not enough time for ‘games’ with their friends. It was interesting that so many games, like badminton, were learnt from home and not school and even though everyone enjoyed playing games with adults too, as the children got older there were fewer opportunities for play with adults. The children wanted more time for play and games outdoors with their friends, and more time for games with their family.

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