Evolution in Sports
Evolution is a concept majorly associated with the human body and mankind’s development since ancient times. However, every aspect of our life and society is constantly evolving; be it the norms that guide our lives or even activities people look forward to. From the way children are educated, to the way businesses are conducted; it is all rapidly changing.
Three thousand years ago, the Romans gathered to watch intense chariot racing and today, humans fill stadiums to watch Lewis Hamilton race a car. What does this tell us? It tells us that even thirty centuries later, it is inevitable that man will turn to sports for entertainment.
Though sports have been a constant in human lives and society, they too have been subject to immense evolution in short periods. The way the game is played, the mentality and ability of athletes, are all so different as compared to thirty years ago.
Today, I answer three simple questions;
1. Where can we see this change?
2. How has this change come about?
3. What is the meaning of this change?
The longevity of athletes is the first clear sign of evolving sports. Sir Don Bradman, one of the greatest cricketers of all time, has a career spanning only fifty-two test matches. Despite only having a forty-year gap between their careers, Sachin Tendulkar played 150 more test matches.
Increased entertainment in sports is another huge change that has come about. The introduction of T20 format in cricket is an example which shows that sports evolve to keep themselves entertaining. In 1990, the average points per game in the NBA was 95 and currently, it stands at 117. This increase has come about to keep the game entertaining and boost viewership. The above point may not seem very scientific, but compare it to Herbert Spencer’s statement -: “Survival of the fittest”. This is the reason why UFC has overtaken Boxing in viewership, and test cricket is a format on the verge of dying – they are simply not entertaining enough for the audience.
The adaptability and changing nature of sports is a clear sign that it is always subject to evolution. The same way plants and animals need to adapt to their changing surroundings, sports need to too. For example, last year the world nearly shut down due to a global pandemic. Yet, the NBA managed to finish its season and so did nearly every football league. The how of this matter will be discussed later in the article.
There are two major factors responsible for the increased longevity of athletes in today’s game. Firstly, the improved technology and equipment available to athletes help in exercising the right muscles to reduce the chances of injury. For example, several basketball players these days wear compression gear, which ensures that constant jumping does not lead to calf or hamstring pulls.
Secondly, top athletes of today are conscious of their legacy. This means that they compete not only with their generation but also with the past and future generations as well. Because who knows if thirty years from now, athletes may be able to compete at the age of forty as well. The emergence of sports science as a field of study and increased focus on the mentality of athletes has also helped in prolonging careers.
Herbert Spencer’s theory can easily be applied to sports. Only those sports have a chance at survival which can continue to attract viewers and keep the cash flow high. For example, the NBA realized that a fast-paced and high-scoring league is more enjoyable to watch. Thus, they increased the number of fouls called in a game, which led to a smoother and more entertaining style of play. When ICC recognized the T20 format officially, not only did it manage to increase the number of viewers, but it also increased the market value of cricket as a sport. Therefore, a sport which realizes when to change will stay evergreen.
This brings us to the adaptive nature of sports. When football returned last year, how did football clubs manage to not go bankrupt without fans in stadiums? It is simple, they simply stuck huge advertisements in the seating area and pocketed huge amounts of revenue. How quickly and readily a sport can change for different situations will determine its relevance in today’s world.
This article is not saying that sports are improving, but rather trying to highlight that change and evolution in sports is necessary and inevitable. Evolution does not only apply to physical organisms, but also to abstract concepts such as sports, business, exploration etc. In this case, natural selection does not affect us, rather we humans apply it, leading to constant evolution.