sportMy 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?

Have you ever wondered what makes birding a sport? Find out here! #birding, #sport,#birdwatchingYou 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.’ 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
  • defense.

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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  1. Anita, I so enjoyed this post perhaps because I have had birds teach me a lesson or two the last few days :)m May we not stop moving. Continue to get outside and enjoy ourselves. It might just be the way we stay strong in body, soul, and mind!
    Joanne Viola recently posted…The Early BirdMy Profile

  2. I’ve never gotten involved in many sports in my past, though I do love a good volleyball game and still go hiking with my hubby whenever the weather permits, Anita. I love that you have challenged us to get active in some type of sport–even the “sport” of birding! I’m paying more attention to birds now that you’ve had some posts on your adventures. You’re inspiring me, my friend!
    Beth recently posted…Comment on Ways to Align Mismatched Sex Drives in Marriage by Ways to Align Mismatched Sex Drives • Bonny’s Oysterbed7My Profile

  3. I love your point about not letting the past define the future. I’m not really into sports- the occasional game of volleyball is about as far as it goes. I do like keeping fit and active though- walking and dance-based fitness classes, which I guess don’t count as sport as they’re not really competitive. I agree about being open to try new things. One of the most fun things I’ve got into in the last year or so is Clubbercise, which is a dance class with disco lights and glow sticks! It’s not the sort of thing I thought I’d enjoy at all but I went with a couple of friends and we all enjoy it now and go regularly.
    Lesley recently posted…My Year Of “Focus” So Far…My Profile

  4. I would definitely classify bring as a sport after seeing your pictures. You find such amazing birds and produce such beautiful photos. It is important that we get outside. I am happiest when I can enjoy the outdoors regularly. Love your words and tongue in cheek humor.
    Mary Geisen recently posted…A Pull Heavenward ~ A Book ReviewMy Profile

  5. I remember hearing about birding as a sport and wondering, Really? But like you I am not athletically inclined. Although in my brain I am a gymnast on the par of someone in the Olympics. In reality, my cartwheels are something to laugh at. So I am with you. Birding is a sport I can excel at. Even beat my athletically inclined husband and son who make fun of my slow twitch muscles. 🙂

  6. Great tips here, Anita and I love how birding is considered a sport. We golf and people sometimes scoff at that being called a sport, too. But we know, don’t we? Anything that engages body and mind is good for me as well as our brain! Thanks as always for the inspiring message!

  7. Ok I’ve got to admit – I never thought about birding as a sport! However, my oldest just received binoculars and now I think we may have a good use for them!

  8. I believe you. 🙂 This makes me think of my mother. She always had bird books and binoculars. I try to take pictures of them in my backyard sometimes…when I manage to not scare them away. 🙂 — My relationship to sports? I wasn’t into them as much when I was younger, but in my adulthood, fitness has become one of my mainstays. 🙂
    Brenda recently posted…Snow Still Falls in SpringMy Profile

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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