The love of – nay, dependancy to – competitive and solitary sports cuts across all social-economic strata and throughout the entire demographics. Whether as a passive consumer (spectator), a fan, or as a participant and practitioner, everyone enjoys one form of sport or an alternate. Wherefrom this universal propensity?
Sports cater to multiple psychological and physiological deep-set needs. In this they are unique: no other activity responds as do sports to so many dimensions of one's person, both emotional, and physical. But, on a deeper level, sports provide more than instant gratification of primal (or base, based on one's point of view) instincts, such as the urge to compete and to dominate.
Sports, both competitive and solitary, are morality plays. The athlete confronts other sportspersons, or nature, or his (her) own limitations. Winning or overcoming these hurdles is interpreted to be the triumph of good over evil, superior over inferior, the maximum over merely enough, merit over patronage. It is a vindication of the principles of quotidian-religious morality: efforts are rewarded; determination yields achievement; prime quality is on top; justice is done.
The world is riven by seemingly random acts of terror; replete with inane behavior; governed by uncontrollable impulses; and devoid of meaning. Sports are rule-based. Theirs is a predictable universe where umpires in bigger section implement impersonal, yet just principles. Sports is about how the world should have been (and, regrettably, isn't). It is a safe delusion; a comfort zone; a promise and a demonstration that humans are capable of engendering a utopia.
That is not to say that sports are sterile or irrelevant to our day-after-day lives. On the very contrary. They are an encapsulation and a simulation of Life: they incorporate conflict and drama, teamwork and striving, personal struggle and communal strife, winning and losing. Sports foster studying in a safe environment. Better be defeated in a football match or on the tennis court than lose your existence on the battlefield.
The contestants are not the only ones to benefit. From their detached, safe, and isolated perches, observers of sports games, however vicariously, enhance their trove of experiences; be informed new skills; encounter manifold situations; augment their coping strategies; and personally grow and develop.
In sports, there is always a 2d chance, usually denied us by Life and nature. No loss is permanent and crippling; no defeat is insurmountable and irreversible. Reversal is but a temporary condition, not the antechamber to annihilation. Safe in this certainty, sportsmen and spectators dare, experiment, venture out, and explore. A sense of adventure permeates all sports and, with few exceptions, it is rarely accompanied by impending doom or the exorbitant proverbial price-tag.
Nothing like sports to encourage a feeling of belonging, togetherness, and we-ness. Sports involve teamwork; a meeting of minds; negotiation and bartering; strategic games; bonding; and the narcissism of small differences (when we reserve our most virulent emotions aggression, hatred, envy toward those who resemble us the most: the fans of the opposing team, for instance).
Sports, like other addictions, also provide their proponents and participants with an "exo-skeleton": a feeling of meaning; a schedule of routine; a regime of coaching; rites, rituals, and ceremonies; uniforms and insignia. It imbues an otherwise chaotic and purposeless existence with a feeling of mission and with a direction.
6. Narcissistic Gratification (Narcissistic Supply)
It takes years to develop into a medical doctor and decades to win a prize or award in academe. It requires intelligence, perseverance, and an inordinate amount of effort. One's status as an writer or scientist reflects a potent cocktail of natural endowments and hard labour.
It is far less onerous for a sports fan to acquire and claim expertise and thus inspire awe in his listeners and gain the honour of his peers. The fan may be an utter failure in other spheres of existence, but he or she can still stake a claim to adulation and admiration by virtue of their fount of sports trivia and narrative skills.
Sports therefore provide a shortcut to accomplishment and its rewards. As most sports are uncomplicated affairs, the barrier to entry is low. Sports are great equalizers: one's status outside the arena, the field, or the court is irrelevant. One's standing is genuinely determined by one's degree of obsession.