When I was growing up, I didn’t play much sport. I think this is down to having a disabled father who wasn’t able to play football with us kids. More importantly (for this post) we never had a TV in the house, so watching sport was never even an option. The first time I tried watching a football (soccer) match, when I was maybe 16 or 17, I found it quite tedious, and wondered why anyone would put themselves through that experience for entertainment’s sake.
One of the main reasons I didn’t enjoy it, I think, was because I really didn’t understand what was going on. After seeing more games, I understood much more, and could appreciate it on a more tactical level. But it’s still pretty dull.
As a juggler, and an entertainer, I try to do something new, or say something interesting, or make the audience laugh at least once every 10 to 15 seconds. That means, in a 45 minute long show, about 200-250 points of engagement.
With soccer? Something interesting happens only once every two or three minutes, and the vast majority of those end in failure. The rest of the time the guys just kick the ball about, tediously lining each other up, getting into position, faffing about, diving on the floor at the merest touch. Yawn…
So, this is why (among other reasons) I enjoy watching tennis. There’s a constant one-on-one battle, and within a minute someone WILL score a few points. And every contact between the ball and a racket has importance, as if it isn’t perfect (or lucky) they’ll be a point or game or set or match down. In soccer, if someone makes a bad pass, it probably won’t matter, as the other side probably won’t score, and they’ll get possesion back in a minute or so.
Which brings me to American Football, a sport I’ve been watching more and more over the last few years as I’ve worked on cruise ships. ESPN is always available, and you can see games every night of every weekend at this time of year. Now, when I first watched a game, I was put off by how often it stopped, and how many adverts they showed between plays. There was also the whole average time between engagements thing too, where the stop-start nature meant that something interesting happened only once every few minutes. And, as it’s an excruciatingly complex game, I had the not-really-understanding-what-the-hell-is-going-on problem too. And the games a looooong.
That’s a lot of negatives. But I’ve been completely won over.
First, I don’t mind the adverts, because outside of the USA ESPN shows its own adverts, talking about their own programming, not those for other companies, and as they repeat them so much they are completely ignorable. And it’s not as if we’re missing anything during the adverts. I bet you could play as many adverts during a soccer game, over the time that they’re tediously kicking the ball to other players on their own team, without missing anything interesting too!
Second, I understand what’s going on now, and really appreciate the depth of the game. Some of the rules seem a bit “Um… what? Okay then…” and it’s funny that quite a lot of the players don’t know the rules in many situations… “Wait, was that a forward fumble or an interception? And if I touch the ball now does that mean something or not?”
Third, while the average time between engagements is long, every single play is filled with immense skill, strength, tactical depth, athleticism, huge guys pounding each other into the grass, etc. What’s not to like?
Forth, each one of those engagements has a much higher chance of success. Unlike soccer, where success on the part of the attacking team comes maybe two or three times per game, almost every play in American Football gets the team closer to their goal.
Fifth, mistakes matter! If your team makes three or four mess-ups in a game, and your opponents only make one, you’re screeeeeeeeewed.
Sixth, there’s no faking injuries when someone sneezes near another player on the field.
There’s probably more things I could say about what I like about watching American Football over soccer, but I’ll leave it there.
Now basketball… there’s a sport where engagements happen four times a minute, but each one is so repetitive and meaningless that you might as well not bother watching. I have ideas about how to make that sport more interesting, but I’ll save them for another post.