My History with Sport
Last week, I wrote about how birding can stave off Alzheimer’s disease and keep a person feeling young (ish). I also made the bold claim that birding is one of the biggest sports in the United States.
In this edition of Self-Care Sunday, I’ll explain what qualifies birding as a sport (stop giggling). First, let me explain my relationship with exercise and sport. I may have run a half-marathon and a marathon last year, but let me assure you, I don’t consider myself athletic.
As a youngster, although I could impress the uninitiated with walkovers, round-offs, and splits, I lacked the grace and coordination (ok, going backwards scared me) to move beyond the basics of gymnastics. In 7th grade I broke my middle finger attempting to catch a basketball. My classmates chose me last for kickball, dodgeball, softball, and anything else that required coordination. Walking up stairs whilst drinking from a bottle of water proves dangerous to my dignity
I knew so little of organized sports that I didn’t find out until after graduation that our high school gym had a locker room. Granted, I transferred to my alma mater after my sophomore year, so I had no cause to enter a locker room in my new school. Sports and I, well, we didn’t get along.
Birding? A Sport?
You can imagine my surprise when I read a sign at the Roma Bluffs overlook, part of the World Birding Center, that I had unknowingly stumbled into the fellowship of the most popular sport in the United States. When I proudly informed my husband that I participated in the most popular sport, he chortled. Ok, he may have snorted, “Birding isn’t a sport!”
We’ll let the statistics tell the story. But first, let’s define the word ‘sport.’ Dictionary.com defines sport as: “an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.” Birding requires skill. One needs to know how to identify and classify birds. Learning about bird behavior and where they lurk helps, too.
While the lure of letting the dictionary settle the argument appealed to me as an English teacher, I thought I should check other sources. In an online article in Newsweek, sport, according to John Walters has these four elements:
- a competition of undetermined outcome
- codified rules
- a pronounced element of athleticism
Birding as a Sport
1. Birding always has an undetermined outcome, and competition always exists. Some days, only house sparrows show up—and the birder must decide to cry ‘uncle,’ and give up, or wait around a while longer, or walk a little further. Not to mention what happens when more than two birders show up—it’s all about life lists, and most rare sightings. So, competition exists either between the birds and the birder or birder verses birder. If you don’t believe me, watch The Big Year.
2. The sport of birding has a codified set of rules. You can check out the American Birding Association’s rules for safe birding and for competing in the official Big Year.
3. Birding requires a pronounced element of athleticism. Ok, not everyone who birds needs to demonstrate athleticism—just like everyone who plays football after Thanksgiving Dinner doesn’t display athleticism. I have hiked rough terrain, jumped over streams, and done all sorts of things I wouldn’t normally do—just to find a rare bird.
4. Defense in the sport of birding constantly changes. Angry birds? It’s not just the name of a game. I have a friend who has had a hummingbird stab him in the neck. I’ve almost stepped on a rattlesnake whilst looking at a bird in high up in a tree. One can’t just wander around, binoculars glued to one’s eyes.
Birding by the Numbers
Alas, the sign at Roma Bluffs had outdated data—bicycling (street and mountain biking combined) has edged out birding as the most popular sport in the United States. In 2016, 45.83 million people identified themselves as cyclists, while a mere 45.1 million people participated in the sport of birding in the same year.
Whatever the case, the sport of birding had 20 million more participants than golf (27 million). Running, on the other hand, only had 18 million finishers (of course, not everyone who runs, races, and not everyone who runs runs in only one race . Football, America’s pastime, has fewer than 2 million competitors from high school to pro football.We don't have to let our past define our present OR our future. #birding #sport Click To Tweet
Although I write partially tongue in cheek (or tongue in beak) to prove to my husband that birding really IS a sport, I really want to make a different point. We don’t have to let our past define our future. Just because I didn’t participate in organized sports as a child, doesn’t mean that I can’t participate in organized sports now that I’ve grown up.
In order to take care of ourselves, we need to participate in physical activity—whether we run, walk, jog, hike, skate, play tennis, or bird. My mom’s cousin, Lillian Miller, took up birding AND running later in life. She ran 50 marathons after her 50th birthday.Even if you've never thought of yourself as 'athletic,' you can still enjoy participating in sports (such as #birding). Click To Tweet
Whatever you do, don’t stop moving. Even if you’ve never thought of yourself as ‘athletic,’ find a sport. Find reasons to explore the great outdoors and soak in the wonders of creation. Take care of yourself physically—we only get one body.
Q4U: What is your relationship to sports? Did you grow up participating in organized sports? Have you found a sport you love as you got older?
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