Sparks (or not)
Emitted from the fire, their tiny illumination endures for the briefest of moments…then, they are gone

The Origin of Sport and Our Link With the Animals

Olympic Pandas Leave Beijing for Home

My grandpa used to say, “There’s book-learnin’, there’s common sense and there’s farmer sense.”

Farmer sense has to do with feeling the soil, sensing the mood of the wind and observing the body language of animals.

Living on a small farm, I’m often treated to a lesson in animal behavior. I watch with interest as playful pups enact the more serious death-dance of their cousins in the wild.

I’m captivated as two mini horses chase one another up and down the fence line – nipping here, kicking there. The amusing game is but a rehearsal of actual survival tactics in another more cruel arena outside our barb-wired enclave.

These animals instinctively practice the skills necessary to maintain their species. They don’t yet know they will probably never need them in their domesticated sphere of safety.

Occasionally, these lessons shed light into human behavior – and perhaps, the origin of sport.

In a time when it was man against beast, our premium attributes were strength, speed, coordination and at least more brains than the beast. Forget courage, or a sense of rivalry. It was simply a matter of do-or-die when facing the sabre-toothed tiger or woolly mammoth.

The competitive spirit possibly came into play as food sources became more scarce. Then, it was  tribe against tribe—possibly even family against family. In addition to the physical attributes necessary for survival, an inner sense of pride,  loyalty and territorial ownership fueled the muscles beyond the normal adrenaline rush.

Perhaps the infancy of war?

Regardless, it became convenient and advantageous to practice the art of battle in the times between the heat of battle. These friendly episodes of play-acting, seasoned with the competitive spirit, quite possibly were the forerunners of sport.

How high, how far, how fast were some the deepest questions asked in those days.

As the methods of warfare became more refined through the ages, so did the playful games which served as dress rehearsal for the real thing. Think of the javelin throw, fencing, or American football and their relationship to combat.

Regrettably, war is still with us, with it’s terrible cost. Let us be thankful for the avenue of sport to vent our competitive energies. And while even our games sometime result in injury or death, they more often end with a handshake or embrace.

* * *

A shrill whistle and a show of food unlocks the four-legged combatants on our farm, confirming that it’s only play.

An educated anthropologist or behavioral science major could probably blow my theory to bits but standing here, leaning on the gate, watching…it sure makes sense to me.

(written March, 2009)

2 Responses to “The Origin of Sport and Our Link With the Animals”

  1. Love it my darling brother, u always write with such passion and find the most interesting topics to deal in

  2. Good observation…well written!

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