No truly new sports invented in over 100 years — why?
An almost never commented-upon reality of the sports world is how Old World it is
Football, basketball, baseball, tennis, ice hockey, modern soccer – they all originated in the 19th century.
Basketball is the youngest of the sports popular in the United States. The original peach-basket version was created by Professor James Naismith in 1891, although here’s a little-known fact: The rules for Naismith’s basketball didn’t even include dribbling. A pretty distinctive element of the game, wouldn’t you say? Golf is the old man of the major sports. There is a literary reference to a hole on a green dating back to 1505.
Given how much fun and money there is to be had in sports it’s amazing that no new popular sport has emerged in more than 100 years. Think of it, it’s as if we are driving super-advanced versions of the horse-and-buggies our great-great-grandparents used.
That’s why I’m issuing this challenge to my fellow Sporting Iconoclasts:
Invent a new sport.
I’m not talking about a variation on an existing sport, like indoor soccer or disc (Frisbee) golf. Nor am I talking about performance art like figure skating or free-style snowboarding, which is all about putting on a show and trying to convince a panel of judges that your show was the best.
I’m talking about a completely original game that involves physical exertion and yields a clear winner. It also has to be more complicated than a contest of who can run/jump/throw/swim/skate/drive, etc. the highest/fastest/longest.
Close your eyes sometime and try to dream up a new sport. Unless you’re a genius, you’ll inevitably find yourself drifting back to elements of existing sports and potential variations on them. Shake those thoughts out of your head and try again.
Here are some ideas that may help with the thought process:
- Purposeful goals: You could intentionally design your sport to improve aerobic fitness or strength. It could require teamwork or self-sacrifice, perhaps even a certain amount of cooperation between competitors. You could shape the action to produce more of the exciting movements of existing sports, like diving catches.
- Sell shovels to the prospectors: Just because you dream up the concept of a sport and write the rules doesn’t mean you’ll get rich. The real money, at least to start, may be in sales of sporting equipment.
- Capitalize on modernity: Technologies exist today that no one, except maybe Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, could have dreamed of in the infancy of today’s sports. Could your sport incorporate GPS or some other modern invention? All the Wii does, unfortunately, is create hologram versions of existing sports.
- Think retrofit: The world is full of football/soccer stadiums and basketball arenas. It would be more practical if your sport could fit into existing venues.
- Gender inclusiveness: Invent a sport where women and men can compete as equals. I think such a sport already exists – golf. Just let the women hit from the women’s tees.
- Be spectator-friendly: Football and baseball are obviously more popular and more practical as spectator sports than is cross country running or skiing. Then again, golf would seem to be an unlikely spectator sport because of the huge playing area, but it works great on TV.
- Be age-friendly: Thanks to the demographic aging-tsunami that’s carrying the baby boomer generation into its retirement years, older people are going to make up an increasing share of the population. You might want to tailor your sport to the capacities of this huge market.
Join the Sports Invention Workshop
Most of what we do in our lifetimes is going to be forgotten, but as we’ve seen, a good sport can bring enjoyment to the world for centuries.
If you’re inventive and the thought of being a founding mother or father of a sport appeals to you, leave a comment here. I’ll get back to you about the Sports Invention Workshop concept.