Sports

Americans love sports! Children, teenagers and adults participate in and watch a variety of sports. Even before reaching school age, children begin learning to play sports including soccer, basketball, hockey and tennis. Most public schools have school teams that represent them against other schools with similar resources. By high school, if these athletes can earn an acceptable degree of success, scouts and recruiters offer them scholarships based on their athletic skills, offering full or partial tuition to attend their colleges and universities, and play for their teams while earning a degree. If athletes achieve success at the collegiate level, they might have the opportunity to pursue a career in their particular sport. Scouts from professional teams closely follow college teams and individuals to determine which athletes might make the cut at a professional level.

And many Americans who used to play sports enjoy watching high school, college and professional athletes compete. Many Americans consider attending games and competitions a highlight activity or event. Millions of dollars are spent annually to present, promote and televise sporting events. Tickets to watch professional athletes compete can cost hundreds of dollars. You will find that many American sports fans take their teams very seriously, regardless of whether they play at the amateur or professional level.


American Football
The most popular sport in the U.S. is known as football, not to be confused with the “other” football, which Americans call soccer. A full contact sport, American football players wear pads and helmets to lessen the chance of injury; but in spite of their protective gear, injuries are common. The way to stop the opposing team from scoring requires tackling, and most of the players are very large, strong men.

Football games capture the nation’s attention throughout the fall and until the first week in February. High school games usually occur on Friday evenings, college games fall on Saturdays and professional games take center stage on Sundays. Colleges compete during the fall and the teams with the best records after the regular season go on to compete in a variety of “bowl games” across the country in late December and early January.

The National Football League (NFL) organizes 32 professional teams from cities around the country. Every team competes in a 17-week season, playing 16 games against the other NFL teams. The American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) each have four divisions. At the end of the season, the winners of each division, along with two wildcard teams compete in the playoffs, narrowing down to one NFC and one AFC team who play in the Super Bowl, the most watched sporting event in the country.

A football game consists of two teams of 11 players each facing off on a rectangular field approximately 120 yards long by 53 yards wide. The offense of one team attempts to move the elongated ball down the field against the defense of the other team, striving to reach the end zone in a series of four-down plays. If the offense cannot gain at least 10 yards by passing or running the ball within the four downs allotted, they turn the ball over to the other team. The defense then takes the field to try to keep the other team from advancing to the opposite end zone.

Running or passing the ball into the opponent’s end zone constitutes a touchdown, worth six points. The scoring team then has the opportunity to add on an additional point by kicking the ball from the 20-yard-line through the uprights in the end zone, or two additional points by running or passing the ball into the end zone from the two or three yard line, depending on the level of competition (professional or amateur).

If the offense did not get enough yards to earn another set of four downs, but they have gotten close enough to the end zone, they can also attempt to score by kicking a field goal through the uprights from that point. If the ball goes through the uprights, the team earns three points. If it does not, the other team takes over on offense from that point.

Whichever team has scored the most points at the end of the four quarters wins the game. College and professional games play four 15-minute quarters (for a total of 60 minutes), and high school games play four 12-minute quarters (for a total of 48 minutes). However, most football games take several hours after you factor in stopping the clock for penalties, measurements and time outs.


Baseball
Many Americans refer to baseball as the “national pastime.” Kids and adults alike enjoy playing in baseball and softball leagues throughout the spring and summer. Many consider baseball a family-oriented sport, both to play and to watch.

Professional baseball began in the U.S. in 1865 and continues to entertain fans with games played between April and October by teams from more than 30 cities around the country. Minor league and major league baseball players earn a living playing the game professionally. At the minor league level they gain experience, hoping to compete at the major league level eventually. Major league baseball players earn huge salaries and can have a career from their early twenties into their late thirties.

At the professional level a baseball game can last from 2 ½ hours to more than 4 hours, depending on the number of hits and runs scored during that particular game. Professional baseball teams travel all over the country playing teams in other cities and states. During the regular baseball season, teams compete an average of five times a week, playing some series (2 to 4 games) on their home field and others in the stadiums of the teams they compete with.

Major League Baseball (MLB) has two leagues, the National League and the American League. Each of these leagues has three divisions. Teams accumulate win-loss records while playing 162 games throughout the season. The teams who win more games than any others in their division go on to the playoffs where they play a series to move on and eventually narrow down to two teams. At the World Series championship event, the one American League team that has made it through that half of the playoffs faces the one National League team that has made it through their half.

Two teams, one with nine players on the field (defense) and the other with nine players in the dugout (offense), face each other on a baseball diamond anchored by four bases, surrounded by a large field. The pitcher on the defense pitches a small leather-covered ball to the batter (from the offensive team) at home plate. The batter attempts to hit the ball into play with a wooden bat. The outfield team tries to keep the batter from making his way around the bases to score at home plate before the offensive team has accrued three outs. Once the offense makes three outs (fly balls caught, runners tagged between bases or strike outs), the defense and offense switch roles. This continues for nine innings; one inning equals both teams on offense through one cycle of three outs each. The team with more runs scored at the end of nine innings becomes the winner of the game.


Basketball
According to the National Sporting Goods Association, more Americans play basketball than any other team sport. Beginning in grade school, children learn to dribble the ball and shoot for the hoop. Many families erect either portable or permanent basketball hoops in the driveway, or at the curb to encourage “pick-up” games in the neighborhood. While people of all shapes and sizes play impromptu basketball games on make-shift courts across the country, competitive basketball games generally take place in an indoor gymnasium to eliminate weather related effects.

School teams and leagues begin training kids from the primary grade levels. By high school, athletes hustle up and down the court trying to win championships and earn scholarships to help them attend college. College basketball draws a huge fan base throughout the collegiate season, culminating in the highly touted Final Four national Championships every March.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) pays basketball players enormous salaries to compete on one of 30 professional teams around the U.S. The Eastern and Western Conferences each have three divisions with teams playing a total of 82 games from late October through late April when the playoffs begin. The teams with the most wins at the end of the season compete to determine who will play in the final championship in May.

The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) offers an opportunity for women to play competitive basketball at a professional level. The league began in the mid 1990s and plays from May through August to avoid conflicting with NBA schedules and venues. Currently 13 teams play 34 games each and then the four teams with the best records compete in a championship in September.

Invented in Massachusetts in the late 1800s by a P.E. instructor looking for a good way to keep his students occupied and active during the long winter months, basketball has evolved into is current form over the years since. Two teams of five players each bounce (dribble) the large orange ball up and down a rectangular court attempting to throw the ball through a round hoop suspended 10 feet above the court on either end. Every time the ball falls through the hoop the team scores two points, or three if the player released the ball from behind the 3-point arc. The team with the most points at the end of four 12 minute periods (48 minutes total), wins the game.


Tennis
Millions of people of all different ages play tennis as a form of exercise and recreation. Once considered a sport for the wealthy, tennis has enjoyed a shift toward the common man. Tennis courts dot parks all across the U.S. and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) offers training, coaching and tournaments for all levels.

For singles, two people hit a hollow rubber ball covered with felt back and forth across a low net using a stringed racquet, attempting to land the ball within the lines on their opponent’s side. For doubles, teams of two people face each other and the boundary lines extend a little farther than the singles court.

Professional players for the U.S. compete individually in tournaments all around the world, focusing on the four major grand-slam events that occur every year. The tennis season begins in January and runs through November, with each tennis player deciding how many and which tournaments to participate in based on their ranking and previous level of success.

The U.S. Open, the only grand slam tournament played in the U.S. takes place in New York City at the USTA National Tennis Center in a public park during late August and early September.

Professional tennis players rarely compete as a team representing the United States; only during the Davis Cup (men) or the Federation Cup (women) competitions. These events take place at different times throughout the tennis season, pitting tennis players from one country against those of another in single and doubles play.

The Olympic Committee voted to include tennis as a full medal sport again beginning at the 1988 Summer Games. Since that time the U.S. has sent competitors to vie for the bronze, silver and gold medals every four years.


Bowling
In the United States bowling can offer family entertainment, friendly competition or professional rivalry. Indoor bowling alleys across the country provide lanes to the public to rent. They also set up leagues and tournaments.

Modern bowling alleys or centers now use a synthetic material that imitates wood to construct 60 foot lanes that line up against one another across the width of the building. Using a heavy round ball with finger and thumb openings, players roll the ball down the lane attempting to knock down as many of the 10 pins standing at the far end of the lane as possible. Each player has two chances in each turn to accomplish this feat. If all the balls fall down in one roll, the player has scored a “strike.” If the player can knock down all the pins in his/her two rolls, he/she scores a “spare.” After 10 turns, the player with the highest number of points awarded wins the game. A perfect score, or 10 continuous strikes would earn a score of 300. Computers now generally take care of the complicated system of scoring.

Families enjoy bowling as a form of recreation; adults often join bowling leagues for social and recreational purposes. Bowling alleys rent balls of varying weights and special shoes required for the specially waxed floors. Those who bowl often purchase their own balls and shoes and bring them along to the bowling center when they compete.

Professional bowlers earn money to compete against one another in tournaments set up around the country.


Hockey
Ice hockey has become a popular sport in the U.S., thanks in part to Canadian influence, as well as modern inventions that have facilitated turning indoor arenas into temporary ice rinks. In certain parts of the country hockey has a very strong presence, offering instruction and teams for children as young as four years old. Although its popularity has increased with man-made advances, it remains most prevalent in parts of the country where the natural elements tend toward wintry weather, like the Northeast, the upper Midwest and Alaska.

This highly physical sport requires agility, stamina and speed. It has a reputation as a rough sport due to the tendency of the players to slam one another into the sides and onto the ice in an attempt to gain the upper hand. Spectators expect to see at least one fight during the course of a game.

Players wear ice skates and protective equipment and use long handled sticks to slide a small circular disk called a puck across the ice, attempting to insert it into the opponent’s netted goal on either end of the rink. Six players make up a hockey team; one goaltender and five players who switch from offense to defense according to their location in relation to their goal and the puck.

The National Hockey League (NHL) has 30 teams from the U.S. and Canada who either play for the Eastern or Western Conference. Each team plays 82 games from October through April. At the end of the regular season, the top eight teams in each conference advance to the playoffs played in May and June, with one team representing each conference and making it to the Stanley Cup Finals to compete for the championship.

Twenty four of the 30 teams in the NHL play for U.S. cities, and only six for Canada, but Canadian players outnumber U.S. players by a ratio of 4:1. And about 30% of all NHL players come from countries other than the U.S. and Canada, including Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and Russia.

The United States competes as a team at the Winter Olympic Games every four years. They and six other countries have won 162 out of the 177 medals awarded since hockey became a medal sport in 1920.


Soccer

Known internationally as football, the U.S. calls the world’s most popular sport soccer. Only since the 1990s has professional soccer begun to gain more attention and popularity in the U.S. Instructors, coaches and soccer clubs offer training for kids as young as 4 years old, and adults of all ages now play on soccer leagues all across the country.

Although historically less popular than American football, soccer has begun to make inroads on this perennial fall favorite. As Latin American immigration has increased, so has the popularity of soccer in the United States. Soccer programs also cost much less to operate than football at the high school and college levels, and the lower risk of injury and subsequent insurance costs have attracted many schools to offer soccer programs in addition to, or instead of football programs.

Major League Soccer (MLS) and the men’s and women’s national soccer teams have garnered the attention of a younger generation who grew up playing soccer at school and in leagues around the U.S. As these kids have learned to compete as amateurs and college athletes, they have gained the attention of professional scouts and entered the professional ranks, helping to bring the U.S. more of a presence at the international level.

Two teams of ten players each attempt to kick the soccer ball down the opponent’s side of the field into an opening to score a goal while keeping the opponent from scoring in their goal. Only the person guarding the goal (the goalie) can use his/her hands on the ball.


Golf
Golf courses in America play host to many business relationships and transactions. While plenty of people play the game as a leisure activity or to unwind, many business people conduct meetings and conversations on the golf course instead of or in addition to the conference room. Since the sport requires several hours and little exertion, it lends itself well to conversation, deals and relationship building.

A golf game includes 18 numbered holes on an outdoor course that averages about 75 acres and typically traverses grass, sand and water. Specialized groundskeepers and equipment maintain the golf course in top form. Players must pay a fee to play on a golf course, usually at a country club or on a public course. Golfers can play alone or in groups of up to four, walking the course or riding in a golf cart between putts. Hazards like bunkers, water and vegetation create obstacles along the way, increasing the challenge and difficulty level. The United States has approximately half of the 32,000 golf courses in the world.

Each golfer uses one of a variety of clubs to try to hit a small dimpled synthetic ball into the appropriate hole on the green, in numerical order. Scoring depends on the number of strokes necessary to get the ball in the cup; the lower the score, the better the golfer.

The PGA operates the main professional golf tours for the U.S. men, offering the most lucrative winnings and attracting the best golfers in the world. Golf tournaments draw large crowds to the actual event, as well as television viewers. The U.S. based LPGA provides the most prestigious golf tour for women.

Miniature golf provides a less prestigious and more economical recreational alternative that families and adults can enjoy. Felt greens copy the larger courses on a smaller scale, creating man-made obstacles like water, sand and rocks to increase the challenge in a much smaller area.