How do I develop an interest in football?
November 21, 2013 12:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm a dork who's never been interested in any sports at all. I've never played or watched any sport. I don't see why it's so interesting. But sports, especially football, is one of the most-watched type of show on television. The Superbowl is like a national holiday. I feel like I'm missing out on something big. How do I develop an interest in football (or other sports) after a lifetime of disinterest? What makes football exciting that should be obvious?
posted by Sleeper to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The full answer to this is a complex one and it might depend on what of person you are. I will say that Fantasy Football is a gateway drug to watching more football and understanding it better.

The other thing you can do is find someone that really understands the game (not just someone who watches it often) and ask them questions while the game is going on that they can pause and rewind to explain. The grace and precision of what the players do on the field is staggering. The level of team-wide timing and coordination necessary to properly execute an NFL offense is really impressive. The instincts and athleticism needed to defend against those offenses is similarly extraordinary.

What may appear to be controlled chaos on its face truly is not. A quarterback can come to the line before a play and change the planned play on the spot with a couple of words that everyone on the team knows. Based on what the defense looks like he changes it to exploit what he sees to be a defense's weakness. When a wide receiver runs a route, they must be in a precise spot at a precise time in order to be where the ball will be. A quarterback has often thrown the ball before the receiver has turned around or in some cases before the receiver is even open. When a quarterback decides where to throw, they are not even looking at their own teammate, they concentrate on the defense and understand where and when the opening will be based on everything from the defensive players spacing and position to which way their hips are pointed.

On top of that, almost everyone on the field is a world class athlete. Even the big "fat" guys on the line... there is an extremely good chance that they are faster than you and most people you know. People that big should not be able to move that fast... awe-inspiring.
posted by milqman at 12:48 AM on November 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

I like sports because they are an intersection of math and feelings and grace. The relentless logic of this far and not that far; the emotion that powers athletes, the narrative that gives certain contests and moments their deep weight; the things players can do: that shit is awesome. But the story is my favorite, so I really like to read sportswriting. Maybe drop by Grantland and Deadspin and get sucked in.

Also, I am not saying you are doing this, but sometimes very smart people think sports are very dumb. And they approach then with this chip on their shoulder, prove-yourself attitude that is not really very conducive to finding the beauty. So as you said, people love this shit. People dedicate their lives to being awesome at it. They probably don't do it because they are idiot stupid-heads, right? Just like some art takes time and context to appreciate, so do sports. I think if you approach it in that frame of mind, it will really help.
posted by dame at 1:03 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

What makes football exciting that should be obvious?

In American football, I love the foot speed of running backs and wide receivers, and the footwork/athleticism of the running backs. I love it when a dude eludes like three guys on the other team and then breaks a tackle. It's so cool to watch them pivot, dodge, leap over a guy and then just shrug off some dude who weighs like a gajillion pounds.

Also, it's okay to just watch a few games, google stuff you don't understand until you at least have a basic grasp of it, ask questions, etc, until you find a part you like naturally. That's how I learned most of what I know/understand about sports. Most sports that I've watched at least a few games or matches of I have ended up finding at least one or two things to like about it, including football. By the fifth or sixth game you'll know if you enjoy it or if it's a chore and it's okay either way!
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:10 AM on November 21, 2013

Try a console based football game?

For tennis or baseball, manga may be a way of learning the rules and suchness of the game.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:12 AM on November 21, 2013

You might enjoy reading Advanced NFL Stats depending on your specific genre of dorkery. I am a math and probability dork, and I went to a great sports statistics conference in September that has really awoken my interest in sports from a statistics point of view. Brian Burke (the proprietor of Advanced NFL Stats, and now a contributor to the NYT sports page) does some fancy statistical modeling of real-time football game win probabilities that you might find interesting.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:37 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I started liking the other football (soccer) when I started to think of it in terms of strategy and not just winning and losing. Not only does the game become more complex and interesting, but I got to play armchair coach and critique what I thought were bad decisions by my team's coach.

It also really helps to watch the sport with people who are really, really into it. I didn't care about soccer until the last World Cup, when living in Spain meant that I was surrounded by ardent fans everywhere I went. Their enthusiasm was so infectious that I came to enjoy watching and talking about matches in a way I had never experienced before.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 2:45 AM on November 21, 2013

If sports are played in your community at the little league, t-ball or junior varsity level, go out and watch as the coaches try to mold the youngsters into their roles on the field. You'll see the basics being taught, and hear verbal descriptions of what the coaches want the kids to accomplish. You will definitely see the exhilaration of victory and the agony of defeat.

This is also in large part what causes the parents to be so vocal; they learned these rudimentary skills when they were young, and failed to excel, so they are venting their frustration from their achieved level.

Once you have seen how very difficult it is for kids to make this particular thing happen at this particular time, you will probably gain a much greater appreciation of how comparatively effortless it is made to look at the high school or college level. Professional sports are just jaw-dropping.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:47 AM on November 21, 2013

I think sports are interesting for a couple different reasons, the first being the perfomative one --- it's fascinating to watch the best in the world at anything exhibit their talent. Just seeing someone pull off a catch that looked impossible, or throw a ball 40 yards downfield and hit a moving target with perfect timing, is compelling to watch just for the sheer physical grace on exhibit. But more than that, the structure of sport lends those actions a context that gives them the same quality as the best drama --- more so perhaps because the outcome is undetermined. You're watching 11 people try very very hard, to the best of their very high abilities, to accomplish this goal, and you don't know if they'll be clever enough and skillful enough to pull it off.

Football, in particular, has qualities which set it apart from other sports. In a game like soccer or rugby, the players practice certain set pieces and plays but a lot of the action on the field is improvisational. Football has some of that, particularly on say, a kickoff return or a reception when the receiver has to juke and dodge in order to break free of the defense and run upfield. But the core of the game is more explicitly strategic: The two teams line up in front of each other, and the offense is going to have less than three seconds to attempt to get its guys to very specific spots on the field in order to create the opportunity for a play. As an observer, those strategies are fairly clear to you, and you can judge how well they're being executed. You can see what they're thinking, basically, and whether or not it's working and if it's not where it's breaking down. That makes it interesting to watch, because different teams have different strengths --- different players, too, on that level --- and watching them attack each other is compelling to see how they attempt to apply those strengths. Each down creates a new inflection point which makes certain tactics more useful and others less, so you're always wondering, okay, so how are they going to approach this new problem? Yet there's still enough room for sheer talent and luck to make a difference that the outcomes rarely feel inevitable.
posted by Diablevert at 2:50 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get John Madden football for your console. It's a good intro to the game.
posted by empath at 3:06 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

For me it was simple: find a reason to root for one team over the other.

Even knowing what unbelievably honed skills these top notch athletes are demonstrating, even acknowledging that I am witnessing feats of coordination that few in the world can equal, I still find that the game leaves me cold unless I have some sort of stake in it.

If there's a reason to prefer one team - they're from my home state, or they're a team my mother-in-law hates, or the other team has a history of playing dirty - then I can follow with interest. And then suddenly the athleticism and finely tuned strategy really are a thing of awe.
posted by wjm at 3:34 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do you want to like it or do you just want to be able to take part in Superbowl-type festivities, like watching the game, without being bored out of your skull?

I find I don't really care about sports in general, but I'm particularly bored if:
- I don't know the rules
- I don't know anything about the teams/players
- I have nobody to watch it with and share the excitement

So ... when I decide to participate in sports-watching of some kind, I find some people who enjoy the game and make them explain the rules to me and tell me about their favourite team and/or player. Then I just watch and sort of root for the my friend's side and enjoy the spectacle of athleticism.

I mean, I still don't really care, and there are some sports that I just don't enjoy watching despite knowing quite a lot and having people to watch it with (such as golf). But I spent a very enjoyable afternoon watching Aussie rules football by doing just that, and have followed that sport (albeit in a very cursory fashion) ever since.

(If, on the other hand, you would like to Cultivate A Serious Interest, that's probably not going to help you.)
posted by Xany at 3:37 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

[A couple of comments deleted; not the place to have pro/anti-football discussions, or quiz the OP on why they want to learn more about the sport. As usual, just answer the question, please. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:20 AM on November 21, 2013

There is an element of sports that is a soap opera for men. Professional wrestling exaggerates this to an extreme.

Every sports fan knows the players on his team, and they get wrapped up in the personal success and failure of the players. One way into sports fandom is through the lens of celebrity and drama. That alone is fairly compelling, and might be better suited to draw you.

Once you have some initial interest, then you might begin to appreciate the physical skill and artistry involved.
posted by Flood at 4:22 AM on November 21, 2013

If you ever wanted to see a good football game, there will be a gem on this coming Sunday night at 8:30 PM EST. It's going to be Broncos at Patriots, which means the classic Peyton Manning vs Tom Brady rivalry, two all-time great quarterbacks still playing at the highest level. Sunday Night Football is always a very accessible broadcast. Get into watching the way the offenses line up, and how they move once the ball is snapped. See whether you can pick up on any patterns from how the offenses act - Peyton and Brady are masters of the chess game and will often be playing 11th dimensional chess with defenses. Look up any terms you don't understand from the commentators, and read a write up of the game afterward for some context.

If you enjoy the experience, find a team you like and start to watch their games and read commentary. Some people will think it's weird if you don't like the local team, but honestly that's your choice.
posted by graymouser at 4:27 AM on November 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Football's not my thing, and I'm never going to be able to make it my thing, and I've made my peace with that. It may not be your thing, either, no matter how hard you try. And while some people may look at you funny, it's totally fine to like the Super Bowl just for the commercials and nacho dip.

But even if you don't get football, you may be into other sports. I like baseball just fine and tried to follow it semi-seriously for a while. I liked college basketball. I enjoy watching boxing and MMA. And there's always the Olympics.

The best way to get into any sort of sport is to find a hook that personalizes it for you: a local team (especially if there's a chance of them making it to their sport's Big Game), an individual player who seems interesting, or a friend who really loves the sport and is happy to geek out about it to a newbie. Beer and snacks are optional, but they don't hurt.

I think a lot of the appeal of spectator sports is that they give people something to go "wow, did you see that?" about. You know when something newsworthy happens and you really want to talk about it? Sports provide that on a regular basis, and since enough people watch them, there's no shortage of people who just can't believe last night's amazing play or that unfortunate injury. It's the most common, most socially accepted fandom out there, and it's ongoing - there will always be another game, a new season, something to look forward to.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:35 AM on November 21, 2013

Go to a local sports bar with someone who knows football and watch the hometown team play. Everyone will be cheering which will get you into the excitement of the game, and you can ask questions about what's going on.
posted by jshort at 4:58 AM on November 21, 2013

Football is a game of strategy - the strategy of the current play, and the strategy of the overall game. If everyone executes well, no touchdowns are scored. It is only when someone screws up a play (or misreads their opponent) that a point is scored. Therefore, football is a game of flukes and mistakes.

Football is war, with generals and troops enacting strategic moves to penetrate the opposition.

Football is like a game of chess. Like in chess, each player has a set of typical moves, and the game is played in a series of moves against the opponent.

Football is full body contact chess.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:11 AM on November 21, 2013

Another protip: watch the Sunday night game on They have options of what camera view you want to watch. Sometimes I get tired of the "static" camera angle that comprises about 80% of the shots in a game. They have views from both end zones and even cameras focused on specific players. It gives you a bit more of a sense of how much is actually going on during a football play.
posted by kuanes at 5:13 AM on November 21, 2013

Let me make it easier.

First, you pick a team you like. In my case the Denver Broncos, because it was a requirement in my marriage. : )

Then, get invested in whether or not they win a game.

Over the years of keeping up with them I have learned to enjoy a football game immensely, and that is without me really knowing much about what any of the players do besides the quarterback and the place kicker. It helps to watch with someone who is knowledgeable, but not required.

And the Super Bowl is mostly for the commercials UNLESS your team made it there. ;-)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:14 AM on November 21, 2013

This answer from 2009 will help you with football!
posted by jgirl at 5:19 AM on November 21, 2013

I went to every home football game in high school. I was invested because my friends were on the field, as players, cheerleaders and the pom squad, so we went to support them. (I went to a VERY small high school.) I learned just enough about how the game is played to appreciate it. We sat near the band because that's where the fun was and went to Farrell's for ice cream afterwards.

I went to a few college games, I knew one or two of the players and I was there mostly for the comeraderie of the friends I went with. I was not so excited to be in a huge stadium with drunks. So I stopped going.

I never did get into the game on a professional level. Yes, if the Steelers played, then I rooted for them. But I couldn't really be bothered to actually follow the team or watch the games unless I was at a party or something.

I don't really like football. It's slow, boring and now that we know what we know about head injuries...

All that said, we met some friends for dinner last Saturday and ended up at a Sports Bar where the Georgia/Auburn game was BLASTING from all 300 TVs in the joint. Couldn't NOT watch it. Even to me, a person who doesn't LIKE football, I could appreciate it for being a great game.

So I guess the answers are:

1. Learn enough about the rules to appreciate the play.

2. Find some way to be invested, fantasy football, friends on the field, the team of your old alma mater etc.

3. If you still find that you're not having fun watching it, chalk it up to understanding that sometimes certain entertainments just aren't entertaining.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:39 AM on November 21, 2013

I don't know anyone into football, or any other sport, that doesn't have a rooting interest in at least one team. It might be the hometown team, or the team you were born to follow because your parents were fans, or a team whose uniform you like, or whatever. But I think you have to have that emotional investment in a team or even a single player in order to care about the outcomes.

I suppose it's possible to have a cold, analytical approach to to the game, but even Bill James, a major stats guru for baseball, has a favorite team.
posted by COD at 5:42 AM on November 21, 2013

Another approach you could take if you have the time is to play some touch football or other sport with a friendly group. I think that trying the techniques and strategies yourself can unjumble what may appear to just be a bunch of rapid running around right now.

Way back when, I was interested in MMA, but felt the grappling parts of it was boring, even if effective. After doing some judo, it all came to life for me. I noticed a lot of amazing feats and tense situations that previously just looked like competitive hugging. I knew what could be done from various positions and what people were trying to do and how hard it was. Things as mundane as guard passes or mount escapes became beautiful and exciting.

In the same way, I also gained extra insight into the sport after trying some boxing. Striking became more than just a visceral thrill, and people that had great defense were far more exciting than huge sluggers henceforth.
posted by ignignokt at 5:53 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I thought I'd never get into football but finally did when I watched some games with my boyfriend--it definitely helps to watch with someone knowledgeable and to root for a particular team. Plus, I was happy to indulge my natural tendency to support the underdog (Giants) which I do not do in my main sports watching (Yankees). Note: it took me a couple years before I was actually interested/stopped reading my book during games.
posted by mlle valentine at 6:56 AM on November 21, 2013

It sounds silly but watching the whole run of Friday Night Lights got me much more interested in football than I had been before. There isn't a whole lot of actual football playing in the series but you get to see how people learn to play the game and what skills are involved, and you also see how important the game is for some people and different reasons why it's important.

Now whenever the game is on I have to ask my husband if that's a Matt Saracen or a Smash Williams running on my TV.
posted by EmilyFlew at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Football, especially if you can't skip commercials, has a lot of sadly long, drawn out boring parts. There are also some parts where the teams sit there, going back and forth over the same few yards for a while. THEN, though, THEN there is an incidence of brilliance, a spectacular throw or catch or run or play or error by a coach that makes it all worthwhile. Sometimes a bunch of these happen in a game, especially in a game between two huge rivals. Now, that's a formula for addiction :D

(well, minus the commercials. I loathe those)
posted by Jacen at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2013

football is just ballet improved with team competition, violence and useful metrics for gauging performance.
posted by bruce at 7:22 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fantasy football was definitely my gateway drug to paying attention to football generally. I never felt enough connection with any professional team to root for them, but when I have my own fantasy team I have ownership of, then I'm invested in how well "my" players perform.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:56 AM on November 21, 2013

There's a lot going on during each play and it can be far harder to ingest than a more visually straightforward sport like baseball. Me personally I needed a systematic approach to understanding the game after decades of not caring about it.

I started with the simplest of things - the action moving down the field. I already knew that each team had four chances ('downs') to move the ball 10 yards, so I just started watching each play and thinking about the yardage. Did it make it ten yards? If not, how far did it look like they got? I would then listen to the announcers call how far they thought it was, then look at the official result on the screen, and go again. What yard marker are they on? How far down the field are they?

I spent several games just doing this, concentrating on this basic idea of watching the progress of each team during their possession. It helped me understand that passing isn't as frequent as I thought it was, and helped cement the idea that if on the first down you only run the ball 3 yards that's not a huge failure, that's one more step towards that next set of downs.

Once I understood all that I started learning about why a team would choose to go for that 4th down versus punt the ball, or how far down the field someone would have to be to get within field goal range, the general idea of field position, etc.

After I felt like I really understood the mechanics of a drive really well I started looking at the plays. They used to be absolutely opaque to me - I would have no idea if they were going to try to run the ball, to pass it, or what. Once I was comfortable watching a drive and had some vague idea if the ball was likely to be run or passed I was able to see player formations a lot better. That's when I started watching the game in more of a predictive way than a reactive way, and after that everything really came together.

My point is that trying as a newcomer to consume a football game in its entirety can be daunting. If you're like me then finding the parts you do understand and concentrating on those until they're second nature will slowly allow you to get the big picture.

In conclusion: WHO DAT?!
posted by komara at 9:13 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are not alone. I am the same way about spectator sports. I had lots of fun playing sports when I was young, but it ended there. I sometimes feel like a fish out of water when at social events and the only thing other men talk about is football, often referring to specific games and players. Would you believe this even caused a lot of friction with my wife because she loved spectator sports and the social spin-offs of sports even more. She would be downright angry with me about it. Eventually she divorced me.

As I age I am starting to watch a football game on TV when I have absolutely nothing else to do.

I know your pain. You're not alone. I say try to find other ways to enjoy life and forget doing football just to please others and be more social. If you must, start watching games on TV and it might grow on you.
posted by nogero at 6:40 PM on November 21, 2013

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