List O’ Ten Popular Sports Origins

Have you ever wondered where you favorite sport came from and how people actually came to play it? How did the rules develop? This list presents some of the most popular sports around the world, with the origins of our favorite games.

10. Volleyball

List O' Ten Popular Sports Origins-volleyball-history

The sport originated in the United States in 1895, when William G. Morgan, an instructor at the Holyoke YMCA, Massachusetts, decided to create an indoor game for his students, who were mainly older businessmen, that would involve less physical contact than basketball. But that does not mean that volleyball is an old folks game!

Morgan decided to incorporate elements of basketball, handball, tennis and baseball. The volleyball net had its origin from tennis, but was raised 6 feet and 6 inches from the floor. The sport was initially called Mintonette, but was changed to volleyball when a spectator commented to Morgan that the players seemed to be “volleying” the ball back and forth. In 1900 the rules were modified and published by the YMCA, with the match set to 21 points and the net raised to an official height of 7 feet 6 inches. Read more here

9. Boxing

List O' Ten Popular Sports Origins-boxing

Boxing is one of the oldest contact sports. Archaeologists have found evidence that the sport might have existed in the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations from 3000-1500 B.C.. However, ancient boxing differed dramatically from its modern version, as boxers did not use gloves or protective headgear then, nor was the fight divided into several rounds. Boxing was so popular back then that it became an Olympic sport around 688 B.C.
Modern boxing originated in England around the 17th century. The first documented boxing match took place in 1681.

In 1743, rules were introduced to prevent deaths in the ring. In 1867, John Chambers devised the rules – known as the Marquess of Queensberry rules (as the rules were published under her patronage)- for an amateur championship held in London. Since then, these rules have governed the modern sport of boxing.

8. Bowling

List O' Ten Popular Sports Origins-bowling

Archaeologist have found remains of bowling balls and pins in ancient Egyptian graves dating back to 3200 B.C. The first written record of bowling was in 1366 when King Edward III of England banned the game as his soldiers were neglecting their military training over this game.

The game was popular in Europe and it was introduced to America by the early settlers. Although the game appealed to many in America, it was only in 1887, when A.G. Spaudling came up with the rules for the modern game. By late 19th century, bowling clubs began sprouting up all over America, a trend which has continued to this day.

7. American Football

List O' Ten Popular Sports Origins-american fotoball

American football was derived from the English game of rugby. It was Walter Camp, a football player and coach in Yale University, who first devised the rules for the game in 1879 and is known as considered the “Father of American Football”. Camp’s contributions included reducing the number of team members from 15 to 11, creating the line of scrimage, quarterback and center positions, the forward pass and standardizing the scoring system.

The origin of professional football can be traced back to 1892, with William “Pudge” Heffelfinger’s $500 contract to play in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club. In 1920 the American Professional Football Association was formed. This league changed its name to the National Football League (NFL) two years later, and eventually became the major league of American football.

6. Baseball

The modern game of baseball was based on the English game of rounders, which became popular in the United States in the early 19th century. It was Alexander Cartwright of New York who, together with members of the Knickerbocker Baseball Club, first came up with the modern version by designing the diamond-shaped field and the first set of rules in 1845. While there were also other versions of the game at that time, it was Cartwrights version which eventually became the most popular.

5. Basketball

List O' Ten Popular Sports Origins-basketball

Basketball was invented by James Naismith, a Canadian physical education teacher, in 1891. At Springfield YMCA, Massachusetts where he was teaching, Naismith was instructed to come up with an indoor game that could help keep the students in shape, was not too rough and yet not take up too much space.

After discarding the idea of adapting outdoor games like soccer and lacrosse, Naismith recalled the concept of a game of his school days known as duck-on-a-rock that involved accuracy attempting to knock a “duck” off the top of a large rock by tossing another rock at it. Starting from there, Naismith developed a set of 13 rules that gave origin to the game of basketball.

The first game was played with a soccer ball and two peach baskets nailed 10-feet high used as goals, on a court just half the size of a present-day court. The baskets retained their bottoms so balls scored into the basket had to be poked out with a long dowel each time and dribbling (bouncing of the ball up and down while moving) was not part of the original game.


The sport was an instant success and the popularity of this new game quickly grew. Although Naismith never saw the game develop into the spectacular game we know these days, he had the honor to witness basketball become an Olympic sport at the 1936 Games held in Berlin.

4. Tennis

top ten list-origins of popular sports-tennis

Tennis originated from a French court game called paume (palm). Played in the 12th century, the game initially involved hitting the ball with one’s palms. until later when rackets were developed. The sport gained popularity in France and England, where it was played by the aristocrats who in turn appealed to the masses by constructing public playing area.

In 1869, Walter Wingfield, a British army officer, invented the game of Sphairistike, which was the immediate predecessor of the modern game of lawn tennis. By 1873, Wingfield began marketing the game together with the racket and rubber balls to the general public, which quickly caught on its appeal.

3. Ice Hockey

top ten list-origins of popular sports-ice hockey

Ice hockey is considered to have evolved from stick-and-ball games, played outdoors, and adapted to the icy conditions of Canada in the 1800s. Early 1800s paintings show “shinney,” an early form of ice hockey with no standard rules, being played in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was James George Creighton, a Canadian, who was believed to have first devised the rules for the game in 1875 and also helped to popularize it.

The first recorded indoor hockey match took place in Montreal, Canada in 1875. The game attracted widespread attention and subsequently led to the formation of other ice hockey teams. * read more here*

2. Golf

top ten list-origins of popular sports-golf history

No one knows the precise origins of the game of golf. Some think it really began in medieval times, with shepherds hitting pebbles around the hillsides with their crooks. Another suggestion is that the game derived from the ancient Flemish pastime of chole, which was already known about and played in England by the mid-14th century.

Perhaps the most likely forerunner was the Dutch game of kolf, documented as early as the end of the 13th century and portrayed in many Dutch landscape paintings by the 16th century.

It was in Scotland, however that the game really developed. Up and down the east coast, it apparently became so popular a pastime that in 1457 King James II, in an Act of Parliament, banned golf because it interfered with archery practice, at a time when skill with the bow and arrow was crucial to keeping the English out of Scotland. However, when James VI of Scotland also became King of England he took the game south. At Blackheath in South London, the Scottish noblemen laid out a seven-hole course so they could continue playing their beloved game.

Rules developed over the years and formal golf clubs with members and official courses were formed. The oldest of these, the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers – now based at Muirfield – was founded in 1744, while ten years later the Society of St. Andrews’ Golfers was created.

As for the modern golf ball, it was only in 1905 when the dimpled pattern was first adopted by William Taylor, a maker of golf balls, who noticed that this design enabled the ball to travel further.

1. Football (AKA Soccer)

top ten list-origins of popular sports-football soccer

In pre-Columbian Meso-America, the Aztecs played a game called Ulama though the game was played primarily with the hips and scoring was done in a wall-mounted hoop, similar to basketball. These were truly life or death games - the losing team captain was sacrificed.

A more direct (and FIFA recognized) origin comes from a game called Cuju (literally kick ball) was played in ancient China, during the Han Dynasty. The ball was made of panels of leather sewn together and inflated with hair and other soft fillings rather than air. A variation of the game called Kemari was later documented in Japan.

It was in the England where the modern game was institutionalized and popularized. According to English records, in 1815 at Eton College where the rules of the modern game were first introduced. In 1863, the English Football Association was established to define the rules and manage other aspects of the game.

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