We sit in our chairs and watch sport. We watch the news. We catch up on what friends are up to on Facebook and Twitter. Very few of us actually do anything. This is both worrying and amazing.
I’ve been watching the Commonwealth Games from Glasgow in Scotland. Sitting on the sofa I see the Silver Ferns of New Zealand play England at netball in the semi-final. (I’m glad the Silver Ferns won, of course, but you can’t help feeling sorry for the English team.)
The team members are healthy, fit and professional in their attitude towards the game, and I include both teams in that assessment of course, and they take it seriously. You can see the joy on the faces of the New Zealand team and despair on the face of the English team who came so close.
Then I look at myself. I’m reasonably fit, reasonably healthy, but I’ve not dedicated my life to a sport. I possibly could have been a reasonably good runner had I pursued my inclinations at school, but there was always someone better than me. I did enjoy running for its own sake though.
So given that not everyone can be a top sports person, why do we spend so much time watching sport? We hope that our support and the fact that the sports people that we are supporting are aware of our support and that it helps them.
Hmm, I’m not so sure. When a Silver Fern player is trapped after the event by a media person, they will quite often acknowledge the support of the “people back home”. On occasion a sports person will dedicate a match to a relative who may have recently died, or to close family, wife and babies, or even the general supporter who stays up late to catch the broadcast of the event.
But I still wonder. When I have played in sport in the past, the sheer involvement of playing the game drives out all thoughts of supporters or other spectators. The roar of the crowd is not heard, the sideline cameras are invisible and the only thing that is experienced is the game, team mates, opponents, match officials. OK so I’m extrapolating more that a little here, but I think that it is true!
I’m not saying that support does not help a team. It definitely seems to but not at a conscious level as the conscious level of the brain is fully occupied by playing the game or it should be.
Sports people who are interviewed after a game do credit the support from people “back home” and friends and families, and I believe that in a way the support does help a team play well. A visiting team is always at a disadvantage because of the home support.
Sports men and women, after a game are asked for a snap diagnosis of the game. The best will credit the supporters for helping them win, and the best losers will accept the responsibility for the loss, which is slightly unfair if you think about it, as they cannot pass any responsibility for the loss to the supporters.
It is true that the best teams attract the most fanatical supporters, but equally, fervent supporters can help to create success for a team. So what do the supporters get out of it?
Well, there are active supporters and passive supporters, by which I mean that some supporters actually go along to the game, and some watch it on television. Both types of supporter may collect “memorabilia” of the team and this can be very lucrative for the team, and possibly help to provide the team with equipment to help them succeed.
But the “memorabilia” and the support provides the supporter with a feeling of belonging or association with the team. Some supporters purchase team shirts with name and number of their favourite player, thus associating themselves with the player. I believe that this is not really an attempt to be that player, which would be delusional, but to tell the world of their association with their favourite player in a way that is instantly recognisable to another fan.
However, what televised sports give to the supporter is an idea of what it is to be a football player or a racing driver, or even a manager or a coach. Every change to a team or the support staff is avidly reported in the press or television. Supporters then take the information and discuss the pros and cons.
For the supporter, it is almost like being a coach or manager. He or she sees what it is to be a coach or a manager, at least to some extent. An avid supporter of the team may know almost about as much about the team as some people on the staff of the team, or so they would like to think.
A good manager knows this and may put out bulletins on an injured player’s recovery and coaching staff may provide limited access to training sessions. This is done to provide a rapport with the fans, so that the fans support the manager.
When the team takes the field, spectators at the ground get a feeling of participating at an event. There is a crowd noise, a sort of voiceless roar, modulated at times by team songs and cheers and groans when points or a goal are scored. I recall being at a netball match, though I can’t recall why. The crowd noise there was headachingly high-pitched.
The way to become the centre of the event is to become a player, but most people don’t have the skill to take part in sport at a high level. With the television cameras and other technology that is available today, a spectator at home can almost come to believe that they are on the field of play.
In car racing this is taken to the next level, with cameras in cars that show, pretty much, the view that the driver sees. In field and other sports slow motion replays allow the viewer to see more than even the on field officials can see. An official might have a tenth of a second of action on which to base his decision, but the slow motion replay allows the armchair supported the luxury of several seconds and several different angles from which to view the incident.
All of which give a supporter the feeling of being at the event and of being part of it. Not everyone can become David Beckham or Usain Bolt, but being a supporter can almost get you there in a way.