The FIFA Women’s World Cup enraptures fans across the globe, who have filled bleachers armed with homemade signs supporting their beloved players. Messages like, “Eat, Sleep, Play Soccer” and “Go Team U.S.A.!” dot the crowd, and as audiences cheer, the colorful, marker-scrawled messages crinkle and shake.
At home, soccer enthusiasts stock up on greasy game day food and shout encouragement to their favorite teams. Afterward, sports lovers can enjoy highlight reels, speculate on future games and await the next competition. It’s undeniable that athletics generate a gigantic fan base, but there are also lots of individuals who steer clear of the sports industry.
Countless factors can fuel an aversion to athletics. Many people are simply uninterested and prefer to invest their time elsewhere. These people may join in on impromptu game day parties, perhaps with more cheerful confusion than excitement, but they will gladly binge eat free hot wings and chatter with like-minded friends during games. Their praise goes to the teams with the most colorful jerseys, or to whoever made the spinach dip.
But there are also many people who actively loathe the athletics industry. Soccer balls evoke images of torturous high school gym classes because, for the athletically-challenged, picking teams was the worst part of any day. Sports only ever led to embarrassment. Typically, individuals with horrific past experiences choose to opt out of watching games; after all, why would they willingly relive the most mortifying moments of school?
And eventually, that hesitancy can evolve into hatred of all physical sports. Video blogger Hank Green, while addressing the mindset, once said, “I do have a little of that ‘sports are dumb’ mentality left over from when I was socially discounted and occasionally punched by athletic people.” Understandably, lots of individuals live with the “sports are dumb” mindset.
Most of the time, a hatred of sports will have no effect on everyday life, because within the adult sphere, people celebrate the diversity of interests and hobbies. But an obligatory game day party will occasionally arise. In such situations, how can a bitter nerd survive the night? Is there a way to redeem sports for the hopelessly uncoordinated?
Often, fans of athletics only seem to concentrate on the competition; they disparage opposing teams and revel in their enemy’s defeat. As a result, the beautiful movement within sports receives little attention.
Maureen Kovich, a Cincinnati gym instructor, passionately wrote, “We need to point out that skilled movement, no matter where performed, can be an artistic performance, that sport is a basic form of artistic expression. … (T)he greatest significances of sports experiences can come, not from the score, but in man creating art in movement through the medium of sport.” Sports, like any other art, can give great aesthetic pleasure.
Plenty of revered minds detect the artistry in athletics. David Foster Wallace, renowned author of “Infinite Jest,” claims, “Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.” With intense training, athletes learn to take advantage of ordinary human faculties and, inadvertently, display the human body’s beautiful potential.
When reluctant spectators search for the elegance in an athlete’s skill, sports take on a new significance. Their mind is no longer consumed by embarrassing memories, and athletics begin to seem worthy of respect, instead of appearing archaic and brutal.
After all, each athlete achieved expertise through intense training, and after years of practice, no motion is superfluous. Every twitch of the wrist is indispensable; vital team members flex their arms, legs and brains in order to achieve a goal. If the human body is beautiful because, as Ayn Rand speculated, “it hasn’t a single muscle which doesn’t serve its purpose,” then athletes constantly demonstrate its graceful vitality.
Admittedly, not everyone perceives beauty within the same areas, but soccer demonstrates an elegance that’s difficult to ignore. Fans around the world refer to soccer as “the beautiful game,” and, in some instances, the sport lives up to that lofty nickname.
For example, in 1997, Brazilian player Roberto Carlos planted a snowy soccer ball in a sea of green, and prepared to launch a thirty-five meter free kick. His opponents blocked any opportunity for a straight shot to the goal, so in response, Carlos attempted a difficult and delicate kick. The ball began to soar unflinchingly towards the right, far from the goal, but seconds before flying out of bounds, the ball curved sharply and sailed into the net.
At first glance, the huge swerve seems like a product of fate; after all, who could choreograph such an unlikely path? But as it turns out, the player engineered his famous moment, and by manipulating the spin, Carlos sent the soccer ball on its remarkable journey.
Carlos’s kick attests to the presence of beauty in athletics. Sports, like any other passion, contain moments of majesty. Sadly, fans often fail to recognize the aesthetic elements within their beloved hobbies; they wait impatiently for the soccer balls spiraling through the air to land and get on with the game; when strong, capable legs slice through the air, enthusiasts only look at the scoreboard; goalies knock down opposing shots with their foreheads, and spectators rarely stop to marvel at the feat.
Such moments, although trivial to some viewers, are the lifeblood of soccer, and although admirers can rarely articulate the logical value of exquisite instances, their impact remains.
With enough practice, even the hopelessly uncoordinated can discover an aspect of athletics to admire. As beloved players desperately sprint down the field, a viewer’s legs ache in solidarity. In a fan’s imagination, the soccer ball’s shiny leather exterior thumps against their own chest and forehead. If nothing else, it’s always fun to imagine Alex Morgan kicking an enemy in the shin.
The beautiful moments within sports can transform game day festivities from agonizing to bearable. Eventually, you’ll forget all about any horrific memories of your past athletic endeavors. Newcomers will find that athletics are not only about brute strength and competition; rather, implicit artistry courses through most athletes’ veins.