The Difference Between Sports and Exercise

Sports are typically governed by some sort of rules or traditions, which ensure fair play, and enable consistent adjudication of the outcome. In popular sports, statistics of performance may be recorded, and for less popular sports, such as American football, this information can be widely broadcast or reported. However, there is also the ever-present challenge of ensuring that the rules of the game are not manipulated in one way or another, in order to advantage one side or the other. This is particularly so in games such as tennis, where changes to the surface, weight distribution or the addition of water to the court have all been attempted in an attempt to gain an advantage.


The term sport itself is used to describe any form of physical exertion. The word was borrowed from French in its meaning ‘a contest of arms’ and has since then been used to describe any contest involving a degree of physical dexterity, athletic ability or physical strength. Although most modern definitions tend to narrow down the application of the term to involve only contact sports (which include boxing, tennis, rugby, golf and so on), the original concept is still very much alive in sport terms. A perfect example of an example of a sport with no physical contact involved is mountain climbing, where one end of the rope is attached to the rock face and the other is securely affixed to the climber’s harness. Such a sport would not be classified as a sport at all, but as an extreme sport. It is very different to most other forms of competitive athletics.

Some sports are categorised as recreational rather than sporting. Such sports may include camping, fishing, hiking, boating, skiing and swimming. These activities do not involve a degree of physical dexterity or a degree of endurance, but require that the participant take an active part in the activity, and benefit from the experience. Camping and boating, for example, would be classed as recreational rather than sporting, but fishing and hiking would certainly be considered as sporting activities.

A further sub category of sports activity is that of participation in competitive athletics. Unlike most forms of physical activity, there is normally very little leeway for error in the sporting activities relating to sprinting up a set of stairs, throwing a football or attempting to vault over a gap. In most sports terms, this is known as ‘sprinting’ or ‘athletic’. The term of sport in this context is usually confined to motor skills, although there may also be some use of other terms, such as ‘athlete’ or ‘dancer’. Physical games such as wrestling, boxing and cycling would almost certainly be classed as sporting games.

There is a great deal more flexibility in the definition of sports than meets the eye. For example, basketball is often described as a sport even when it is played with only two players, both of whom are never actually ‘fighting’ in the true sense. Another common example is table tennis, which has become very popular as an indoor game. These games obviously involve a lot more physical contact than most other sports, but the rules of the game indicate that they are not to be considered as sporting games. The same goes for fencing, basketball, field hockey and badminton.

As you can see, there is considerable variation in the meaning of the word ‘sport’. A lot depends on the exact type of physical activities that are being defined. In many cases, the word sports will apply to a variety of games that involve at least two people. Other examples include horse racing, ice skating, swimming, aerobics, tennis, badminton, figure skating, cricket and football. Some other popular examples include cheerleading, rugby, gymnastics and ice hockey.