Sports, as a general concept, has connotations: of athleticism, feats of strength and skill the likes of which many of us cannot hope to achieve – at least, without vigorous training from an early age. Watching well-built athletes sprinting the length of a football pitch to deftly land a goal, or weathering four hours of tennis and continuing to return 140mph serves, is almost an act of escapism, living vicariously through the superhuman abilities of our favourite sports stars.
However, this view of sports does an incredible disservice to the other side of the coin. Sports is not all about physical ability; indeed, strategy can play a crucial part in success with a great many competitive games, and in some cases can define the sport entirely. Here we’ll examine some key examples, at least two of which may surprise you given the style of play involved.
A common first impression of golf is that it seems a remarkably peaceful sport – an undeniable fact, especially for those that enjoy casual play after work or over the weekends. But golf is far more than a walk in the park and even more still than the ability to drive a golf ball more than 200 yards. As a golf player, you benefit yourself in learning to read a given golf hole’s distance and topography; understanding distances and elevation allow you to choose between your driver, irons or woods for the perfect shot.
Where football is sometimes described as a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans, rugby is described as a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen. From outside a match, rugby can be easily misconstrued as a sheer competition of brawn and muscle, with players vying for the ball over scrums and hurling their body weight into tackles. However, there is much more going on beneath the surface than meets the eye.
Take the scrum as a case study; far from being a wrestle for the ball, the scrum is a vital opportunity to control the flow of play on the pitch. Depending on how close the scrum is to a team’s try-line, their goals will differ and their play style will adapt to suit. On an individual level, players are constantly analysing the actions of their counterparts in order to adapt their own play.
American football gets an honourable mention here, being a close cousin to rugby and illustrating in a much clearer way the sheer importance of coaching and strategy. While rugby is an incredibly tactile and adaptive sport, American football almost resembles chess in the way coaches and teams play set-pieces off of one another, testing defences in order to find the right breakthrough.
Lastly, the noble sport of fencing is not the sanitised form of swashbuckling it might be construed as. Fencing is much more of a cerebral sport than a physical one; brawn will not win you a point. Instead, fencing is about understanding and outsmarting your opponent, using a limited move-set to out-manoeuvre and discover weaknesses in play.