All sports can be games, but not all games are sports

The difference between a sport and a game

The words sport and game are used almost interchangeably these days. But they don’t mean the same thing. I’m going to teach you the traditional meaning of these words.

Learn the difference between sports and games, and you learn a new way of thinking about physical fitness and all the activities which require it.


When you engage in purely physical activities, you’re engaging in athletics.

Things like running, jumping, and throwing are athletic activities.

Sports are extensions of useful activities

There are countless physical activities that are useful to us in our everyday lives. Things like shooting a gun, catching a fish, fighting, automobile driving, and running are all indispensable activities that someone, somewhere, relies on for their life, liberty, and/or happiness.

By practicing an activity that requires some expertise, you’re engaging in a sport.

Target practice, for instance, is a sport because, even though it is enjoyable, it has a practical value. The same with race-car driving. It is a sport because even though it is an indulgence, it has its basis in practicality. You get the idea.

Traditionally, sportsmen were men of leisure who had the time and resources to devote themselves to pushing the envelope of human performance. In many cases, these sportsmen were also instrumental in driving technological advances. Without sportsmen, we would have no idea how well the human mind and body can perform in concert with technology.

Games are for fun, but they are not necessarily sports

Soccer, baseball, tennis, etc. are games. They have no practical value beyond the enjoyment we derive from them.

We can take a sport and turn it into a game by using it as a form of competition with others or against the clock (or some other metric).

For example, javelin throwing is a sport. But it becomes a game when a bunch of javelin throwers get together and see who can throw the farthest (or the most accurately).

The same with weight lifting. It is a sport because it is based in usefulness: when you bulk up, you get stronger and more physically capable. But it can also be a game when you use it as the basis for a competition.

All sports can be games, but not all games are sports

For instance, soccer and baseball are games, but they will never satisfy the traditional definition of the word “sport”.

Now that you know the difference between these two concepts, I hope you can appreciate that there is a sport for virtually everyone! There’s no need to sheepishly say that you’re no good at sports; odds are, there’s a sport that suits you just fine. All you have to do is try it out!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin September 16, 2010 at 4:10 pm

I love this website, I read every article, loved them all, but I disagree with this one.

The skills that someone can develop from playing tennis are or could be useful in our everyday lives ie: hand eye coordination, quick reflexes, prolonged intense concentration,muscle memory, strategy, managing emotional and psychological pressure, explosive speed, and stamina.

Needless to say Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are like supermen to me, but the point is, to me a sport trains you to learn skills 0f any kind that may become useful in any other aspect of your life.


Deja November 8, 2010 at 8:39 pm

I’m gonna have to say I disagree. I don’t even like sports(I’m a musician to the core…can’t risk lossing a finger), so I’m not biased. If soccer isn’t a sport…..then football and basketball aren’t sports either. Why do you need to know how to kick a foot ball in between to polls or dribble a basket ball? If I went up to a player of either of these “games” and told them they don’t play a sport they’d beat me to a pulp. I believe the difference between a sport and a game, is that in a sport you can hinder your oppent from winning. For example, football and basletballSo no, I don’t consider golf a sport. And no offense to cheerleaders , but neither is cheerleading. And no matter how much I love marching band, neither is marching band.Those three are technically games(which does not make them any less important!)


Thomas November 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Yes, yes, I understand that there are lots of people who think it is somehow nobler to engage in a sport rather than play a game. These folks bristle at the mere suggestion that what they’re doing isn’t a sport, in the traditional sense of the word.

These days, it’s perfectly fine to call anything and everything a ‘sport’. But it wasn’t always so. This article attempts to explain why there is still confusion about this subject.

Thankfully, the English language isn’t set in stone. It changes rapidly, and the vocabulary increases steadily. Lots of people claim the English lexicon is several times as large as that of even the most sophisticated of the other modern languages.

As time passes, word meanings change. It is interesting and instructive to learn how words were used in the past, and how we’ve distorted the original meanings in modern times.

I’m an amateur writer, and I’m always trying to improve. So I take an interest in the meaning of the words we use.

Also, I minored in history. Like most history buffs, some aspects of history intrigue me more than others. One of my favorite topics is the history of sports.

So, to be precise, a sport is a worthwhile activity taken to extremes. A game is a competition. I can’t distill the concept down any more purely than that.

Thanks for the comments, keep ’em coming. They add to the discussion value of this page.


kato edward December 14, 2010 at 10:17 am

With sport there is no winner but in a game there is a winner.


Chris February 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm

I agree, it’s about time that someone clearly conveyed to the idiotic undereducated masses that they are religiously pursuing GAMES , very much like children. This same group often believes that footwear built using child labor for 50 cents overseas and sold here for 150 dollars will make them jump higher…gentlemen…there is a place called the MEN’S dept, and they sell REAL handmade footwear there.


TheManFromTaco August 12, 2015 at 12:22 pm

I thought for sure that I had posted a comment on this article, but now I don’t see it, so let’s try this again…

Language usage changes over time. Otherwise we would still be wearing SPORT coats for actual sporting activities instead of wearing them to the office and semi-formal functions.

Sure, “sport” meant a certain thing to the upper crust in 1885. But today, basketball, football, baseball, rugby, etc. most certainly are considered serious “sports” activities; more specifically, “team sports” and “professional sports,” whereas the word “game” by itself sounds frivolous and often brings to mind simple playground activities or even board and/or video games that don’t involve physical exertion.


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