What Makes Something a Sport?

Pass time, hobby or sport… that is the question? Does it matter who calls what a sport? Not really but… some of those things just aren’t. Is everyone that does a certain sport and athlete? I would say yes but others may say the way I play tennis makes me a comedian a lot more than it makes me an athlete! Some take a lot harder line than me as I’m inclined to include things like paddling, figure skating, trampoline and maybe even ping pong as sports. I also don’t think you have to be any level of good to include yourself as an athlete of that sport. Everyone starts somewhere and sometimes we don’t go far. Does any of this matter, no not really but if you’re taking yourself too seriously in these endeavors you should probably know that others aren’t. If you want to still call your thing a sport and that’s cool with me too! The way some people shop could be a sport so I’d say you’re good. Let’s look into what make something a sport and some that just aren’t.


I usually put the most important thing first and today is no exception. You have to put out a certain amount of physical effort in order for something to qualify as a sport. No one says it has to be a lot of effort but some. I’m not sure I can define it beyond that you can certainly do some sports while sitting so that makes it hard. Perhaps it must be an activity that can at least elevate your heart rate. No one says it has to be in the target zone but lets say that the top athletes in the field do. Getting your heart rate up is important on its own for cardiac health but its also an indicator of other health outcomes. Getting your heart rate up is linked to burning more calories, muscle development, joint health and better lung health too. Even if you don’t reach very high into that target heart rate zone getting close at least some of the time is probably necessary for your activity to be considered a sport. So if you’re a slow walker that probably counts but maybe restorative yoga doesn’t?


Let’s get this one out of the way early too. Do you need to have skill to be considered an athlete? No, no you do not. You might want more skill in your activity than you have now and you might actively be working on it but even if you hardcore suck it can still be at a sport. Honey used to be quite the tennis player and has some skills. Let me tell you when I played with him I was the one working harder chasing down all those balls I missed! I doubt that you’ll stick with a sport for long if you have absolutely zero skill. Just ask me the last time I tried tennis! But lots of real sports don’t require a lot of skill or knowledge like walking, cycling or running even.


So if you spent a bunch on money on all sorts of stuff at a sporting goods store then you’re doing a sport right? Maybe but it doesn’t make it so. You might have bought golf clubs or a fishing rod for example. On the flip side plenty of sports don’t require much gear at all. Supposedly for running you only need shoes but… I’ve got dressers, closets and one great big bin that suggests otherwise. None of those extras makes running any more of a sport or me any more of an athlete on their own. Lots of expensive gear might be necessary for your sport (like hockey) but just because you spent big on a boat that doesn’t make yachting a sport.

Organized competitions 

Given enough spare time people who are weirdly competitive will organize and find a way to potentially win at anything. Did you know for example there are pole dancing and paddle boarding competitions? There are fishing derbies, bowling leagues and Nascar races too. Just because a bunch of people get together and measure stuff that doesn’t mean they are athletes in a sport. On several occasions I’ve found out about the competitions for a certain activity and thought “wow, well I guess that is a sport then”. For example did you know that someone has walked a marathon in less than 3.5 hours, I guess that does make speed walking a sport then! Since there are so many weirdly specific ways to win out there I would say that for something to be a sport there needs to be a competition for it somewhere in the world for it even if you never participate. 

Olympic inclusion

Some would argue that if you can’t win an olympic gold doing something then it’s just not a sport. However there’s a lot more factors that go into olympic events than just athleticism. The WOC is notoriously temperamental and sometimes appears random. Certain things are definitely sports but since they aren’t popular worldwide the olympics just aren’t the right place for them, think American style football. Other sports are axed because one country is so dominant like Canada in women’s hockey. Plus there are tones of sports like obstacle racing that probably should be included at this point. On the other hand certain activities that probably aren’t sports sneak in. Shooting and dressage are in the olympics even though hitting a target with a gun and making a horse dance are clearly not sports. If you open up the list to past events it gets even more ridiculous. Tug of war, solo synchronized swimming ???, croquet, underwater swimming and dueling were all olympic ‘sports’ of days gone by. So just because someone does or doesn’t have an olympic gold medal for something it’s clear olympic inclusion isn’t enough to define something as a sport!

Can you do it while drinking?

If you can do your favorite sport while being over the legal alcohol limit then it’s a pastime not a sport. Sorry. This is the downfall for so many potential sports. Darts, golf, bowling, pool and fishing all fall down in this category. Most of the people partaking in these activities on the regular are well and truly sloshed. Same goes if anyone ever ran a tab while participating. If that’s the case I’m sorry your thing isn’t a sport even if you never do it drunk. Occasionally you’ll see a misguided way of including alcohol into a sport which doesn’t necessarily discount them entirely but it also isn’t a generally great idea. Recently (last year) I saw a winery run with no fewer than 10 wine stops on a 5k course. Since in general most runners aren’t drinking along the way it still gets to be a sport. It did make me wonder how they were ever getting insurance for that event though!

Controversial things that aren’t sports

I said this was going to be controversial so come at me, but I don’t think these activities qualify as sports at the end of the day. Most people don’t either. It’s also probably not an exhaustive list. #sorrynotsorry.

  • Golf
  • Darts
  • Bowling
  • Fishing
  • Skydiving
  • Shooting (on it’s own)
  • Yoga (its something just not a sport)
  • Pool or snooker
  • Racing something with a motor
  • Video games
  • Arm wrestling
  • Sailing or yachting
  • Archery

What sport do you think gets a bad rap? Which one doesn’t get the respect it deserves? Which ‘sport’ just isn’t one in your opinion? Leave it in the comments below.

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