The Concept of Sports and Physical Activity

Sports are organized physical activities and competitions. These satisfy the need for competition, physical activity and play. In other words, all sports are potential competitors. This is actually the key distinction between sports and recreation, leisure or physical activity. While sports may not necessarily compete with other sports, the interaction with other athletes, the sharing of skill, the exchange of power-whether it is physical or mental, the sharing of energy, and the recognition of accomplishment-leads to an environment in which all players can feel a sense of achievement and so come out of the game better equipped and more capable individuals.


The real distinction between sports and recreation is not really a differentiation of kinds but rather of levels of complexity. Sports are inherently more complex than recreational pursuits and more than purely intellectual. As a result, sports require real-time dexterity, athleticism, athletic ability and physical stamina that cannot be achieved easily during leisure time. This is what sets sports apart from other kinds of intellectual endeavors and makes them particularly challenging-not to mention physically demanding-for athletes and non-athletes alike.

So how do we differentiate sports from recreational sports? First, we must recognize the fact that the real differences between recreational sports and competitive sports stem from their underlying purposes and the nature of their competitions. Athletic competition stems from the desire for personal glory and recognition. Sports involve active, sustained action of an unusual variety directed toward a discrete objective. Finally, sports require superior physical fitness and/or agility.

Therefore, there is a clear difference between sports as recreation and sporting events organized for the purpose of competition and events in which skill, athleticism and physical strength are the objectives. In addition, sports may not include elements of strategy. Finally, it is also important to note that “sport” has become a much broader concept than “sport”. In the US, for example, many observers define “sport” as participation in competitive athletics, but this definition is problematic because it typically includes activities that take place outside of the classroom, such as fishing, ball-and-ball, tennis and even horseback riding and polo. Olympic competition is generally thought of as the most important example of “sport”, but this is simply because it takes place in Olympic venues and involves Olympic-level athletes.

There is widespread confusion, however, about the distinction between competitive and sporting events. Some people argue that there is some degree of skill required for winning at sports events, but this is not the case when comparing sports with games of other types, such as chess or bowling. While skilled players at games of these types will generally gain an advantage over novice competitors, they would fare no better in a contest of equal level, where skill alone is not an advantage. Likewise, it is not true that the rules of a game of golf or a game of tennis determine whether or not players are exercising fair play. If a player resorts to cheating techniques or foul play, he is clearly guilty of a sportsman’s guilt – irrespective of whether he is playing in an Olympic tournament or just a regular local club game.

The important issue here is what constitutes an athletic activity, as opposed to what constitutes a physical fitness routine. The fact that participants engage in aerobic exercises during their regular every day life does not make them engaged in a sport or physical exercise. Similarly, engaging in high intensity, endurance exercises on one hand while engaging in an athletic activity on the other does not make the participant engaged in gymnastics. Thus, it may be more useful to use the term “physical activity” than “athletic activity” in this discussion.